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Unaffordable And Unsustainable
The Space Foundation has put their new white paper on line. Released at the conference this weekend (and summarized by Leonard David), it calls for cancelling Block I of the CEV (the one that's designed to go to ISS), and using the funds to increase COTS funding, and restore aeronautics and space science that has been cut over the past couple years.
I should note that I haven't been blogging much this week because I'm busy reviewing and rewriting requirements and verification statements for CEV Block I...
There are a lot of reader comments over at NASA Watch.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 25, 2006 04:20 PM
I was wondering when the "robots in space" guys would put some report bashing CEV together. This is a familiar scenareo for anyone who's followed the defense spending cycle. A big program gets started, goes long enough to generate some bad reviews/overruns and then gets hit with a press offensive by arbitrary advocacy group with reports by "experts". The give away is the "we should use these funds for (insert pet project here)".
Not that I'm a big fan of CEV, I'm not. But something like this would have more credibility for me if they stuck to their objections and dispensed with the suggestions of where the money from the "wasteful" program should go. It should be a rule that funding for programs that get canceled automatically gets returned to the taxpayers. If advocacy group X wants money, let them make their case in front of congress beginning at square one.Posted by K at July 25, 2006 06:18 PM
I think the white paper was highly effective in illustrating how far NASA has deviated from the clear objectives of the Vision for Exploration.
NASA has made a joke of this directive: "NASA’s role must be limited to only those areas where there is irrefutable demonstration that only government can perform the proposed activity."
The fact that NASA is spending an order of magnitude more on the Block 1 CEV development (Earth to ISS) than it is on the COTS market - a market that would affordably eliminate the need for a Block 1 CEV - demonstrates that the agency has failed to learn from three decades of space transportation mistakes.
NASA's funding of the Block 1 CEV is the exact opposite of the intent of this directive: "The Commission recommends NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations with the specific goal of allowing private industry to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit."
It is most comfortable in the centrally-planned socialist approach to space exploration. It cannot help but monopolize American human spaceflight transportation and ignore or marginalize any private sector alternatives.Posted by John Kavanagh at July 25, 2006 06:44 PM
I was wondering when the "robots in space" guys would put some report bashing CEV together.
The Space Frontier Foundation is "robots in space" guys?
Who knew?Posted by Rand Simberg at July 25, 2006 06:47 PM
K wrote: "I was wondering when the "robots in space" guys would put some report bashing CEV together."
You must have confused the Space Frontier Foundation with another group; SFF advocates for the human development and settlement of space.
If you had read the third page of the white paper you would have also recognized that they're not bashing the CEV. The CEV variants for Moon and Mars exploration show fidelity towards the Vision for Space Exploration - a Vision that the SFF endorsed.
SFF calls attention to NASA's Block 1 CEV - a project that blatantly disgregards the directive given to NASA to not operate where the private sector can provide a service for hire.Posted by John Kavanagh at July 25, 2006 06:51 PM
We have the paper up at FFO so people can comment on it to us directly. The idea is to provide a central comment area so they all don't get diluted.
If the site doesn't behave as you all think it should, smack me upside the head with an email full of suggestions and I'll get on them. 8)
Re-launch FFO in Scoop? Well d0ne!Posted by Bill White at July 26, 2006 06:04 AM
The "White Paper" is a poorly put together product, long on very heated (verging on paranoid) pronouncements, but very short on supporting facts. Because of that, the recommendations are nonstarters.Posted by Mark R Whittington at July 26, 2006 06:38 AM
The recommendation that NASA should gamble on access to ISS by canceling a vehicle to get there and taking the risk that COTS companies will provide it is not very smart, and totally politically impractical. None of the current COTS bidders have any human spaceflight experience, and there is no reason to believe that they will be able to produce a viable spacecraft design in time. What happens if we get to 2012, 2014, 2016 and the COTS approach has not produced a vehicle because these companies lack experience? Do we pay the Russians (and the Chinese?) for access to space?
This is like advocating that the US Navy stop buying submarines from the companies that know how to build them and instead open the bidding to companies that have never built them in an effort to save money. Why don't we do that too?Posted by Dave Renholder at July 26, 2006 08:30 AM
Let me get this straight, SFF wants NASA to cancel CEV Block I and give the money to COTS to fund a LEO only vehicle, while going ahead with CEV Block II.
In other words NASA will fund two totally different spacecraft (COTS LEO only / CEV Block II) rather than two versions of one spacecraft (CEV Block I and II).
The overall cost of getting to a lunar capable CEV Block II is going to be little different if the Block I is cancelled. Building a Block I first would be a learning experience that would be directly applied toward the Block II, without the Block I all of that experience will have to be obtained further down the road and it won’t be any cheaper later.
The "White Paper" is a poorly put together product, long on very heated (verging on paranoid) pronouncements, but very short on supporting facts.
An assertion is not an argument, Mark.
Let me get this straight, SFF wants NASA to cancel CEV Block I and give the money to COTS to fund a LEO only vehicle, while going ahead with CEV Block II.
No, SFF wants NASA to give the money to COTS to seed multiple LEO-only vehicles, which (unlike CEV Block I) will have other markets. Ultimately, I suspect they wouldn't mind if Block II was never built either. I certainly won't (other than for the selfish reason that I'm currently getting income from the program).Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 09:22 AM
Rand - As an example, the "White Paper" cites an internet news story that asserted that COTS spending was going to be cut. The only problem is that this story was refuted by--Rand Simberg. The "White Paper" is filled with similer instances.Posted by Mark R Whittington at July 26, 2006 09:26 AM
None of the current COTS bidders have any human spaceflight experience, and there is no reason to believe that they will be able to produce a viable spacecraft design in time.
Nor is there any reason to believe that the CEV contractors will, either (and much reason to believe otherwise, based on track records).
No one has any human spaceflight experience, if you mean developing new launch vehicles. No one has done it in over a quarter of a century.
And companies don't have experience--people do. To the extent that they have people with such experience, the COTS bidders do in fact have such experience, since many of their employees do.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 09:53 AM
This is like advocating that the US Navy stop buying submarines from the companies that know how to build them and instead open the bidding to companies that have never built them in an effort to save money. Why don't we do that too?
Gee, Dave, if the submarines didn't work any better than say, the X-33 or even the Shuttle, I'd be all over getting some new players in the mix. Submarines spend over half their service lives on actual patrols. Until NASA - or anyone - can build vehicles that are in space half the time, I think we NASA skeptics have a legitimate bitch going.Posted by Dick Eagleson at July 26, 2006 10:13 AM
In spite of what Mr. Whittington (accurately) notes as a few out-of-date references and a few grandiose claims, the white paper pretty much crystalizes every criticism that I personally have against ESAS. At the very least, it gives detractors a coherent document to point to for critiques and recommendations.
Another interesting suggestion--as usual--comes from Chair Force Engineer's blog, where he suggests that a potential compromise could be found in developing a somewhat lighter version of the Ares V (roughly equivalent to a shuttle C), which could deliver around 60-70 tonnes to low-Earth orbit. Such a launch vehicle could serve the dual role of CEV and cargo launch; would require (probably) less development time and money; and would (possibly) enjoy a higher flight rate than either the proposed Ares I or Ares V. Because it would keep the approximately 8.4 metre ET and 4 segment SRBs, much of the shuttle expertise and tooling could be preserved.
This certainly has the appearance of a reasonable compromise between the heavy-lift advocates and people such as myself (who prefer smaller vehicles and high flight rates, and maturing our in-space capabilities). It would give NASA a "quick" HLLV option, which would preserve the shuttle workforce and allow them to defer making a decision to grow their ETO capabilities until a demonstrable need came to exist. It would also allow NASA to consolidate its launch vehicle development plans into a single new vehicle, freeing up needed cash for COTS and other NASA programs suffering from cuts.
Of course, it's doubtful that it could ever play out that way...Posted by Grant Bonin at July 26, 2006 10:24 AM
I think that these "a few out-of-date references and a few grandiose claims" undermines the argument of the "White Paper." What we have left is an attempt to make technical decisions into the subject of political controversy and (some might say) an attempt to siphon off funding from NASA and award it to SFF's friends in alt.space.
If one is going to launch an assault on the most ambitious government space initiative since Apollo, it would behoove one to be a little more thorough in gathering ones arguments.Posted by Mark R. Whittington at July 26, 2006 12:17 PM
Point taken, Mark. However, the notion that "technical decisions" weren't originally coloured by political issues from the word 'go' is a matter of some debate in and of itself.
Some would argue (er... well, I would argue) that what you refer to as "SFF's friends in alt.space" are also NASA's potential best friends. And as the SFF document details, a diverse portfolio of NASA investment in alt.space must certainly prevail over the option of putting the lion's share of funding into a single government spacecraft--one which won't encourage private investment in space launch at all.
Mike Griffin noted some time ago that it is "unacceptable" for NASA to not have a way of accessing ISS if commercial providers fail to materialize. But the notion of investing NASA funding in a *single* vehicle seems to have even greater potential for failure in this sense: if the CEV itself fails to materialize, we'll have nothing at all, and will have starved many potentially innovative providers.
Even if NASA continued block I development, and simply decided to human-rate and fly with existing EELVs, a fair bit more money could immediately be freed for COTS funding.
In short: isn't it just better planning to invest in several vehicles, and at a level that at least gives them a _chance_ at success?
(NB: I don't know that I understand your objection to 'launching assaults' on ESAS. Would you prefer that the entire space community remain quiet, and not levy any criticism at all? Is dissuading active discussion and debate something you'd like to see? Ceasing to challenge government decisions and party lines notionally disturbs me quite a bit more than the "assaults" in question...)Posted by Grant Bonin at July 26, 2006 12:39 PM
Mark will brook no criticism of NASA during Republican administrations, Grant.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 12:54 PM
I think that these "a few out-of-date references and a few grandiose claims" undermines the argument of the "White Paper."
Not sufficiently so as to allow one to ignore it. Or do you think that OJ was innocent because some of the evidence might be tainted?Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 12:56 PM
Grant, while you make a few good points, I think there are some that need addressing. The idea that ESAS is politically motivated needs to be proven. Asserting, for instance, that it is nothing more than a scheme to keep the shuttle standing army together doesn't hold up. The shuttle standing army is going away regardless, but much of it is retiring.
I agree that many of the small, commercial companies can be (and are to a certain extent) "NASA's best friends." I suspect even NASA knows this. COTS was a NASA initiative and NASA did fly a small payload on Genesis 1. I expect this kind of synergy to continue. What we will not see is somehow the libertarian dream of NASA 'withering away" and the plucky, alt.space companies taking it's place. It will not happen in the physical universe we live it.
I'm not convienced that going with a "modified EELV" is going to buy more capacity than the current plan (likely it will buy less) or that it will cost less. I'm willing to be convinced, however.
Nor am I opposed to outside criticism of NASA. I've done it myself (and yes, Rand, even during Republican administrations; I attacked the decision not to repair Hubble with great vigor, for example.) I do object to criticisms that are ineffective, unfounded, and/or not supported by objective real. In my opinion, the "White Paper" is such a shoddy piece of work that NASA will have no problem ignoring it. While I support ESAS (with certain reservations and ideas for improvement), I think I could mount an assault on it better than the Foundation has.Posted by Mark R Whittington at July 26, 2006 02:17 PM
OK, Mark will brook no criticism of NASA by anyone except Mark.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 02:46 PM
That a program of such magnitude could actually be immune to political pressures or considerations would be a dream come true--but I would contend that it remains a dream nonetheless. While I do agree with the SFF's assessment of the political motivations in ESAS, it remains little more than a qualitative notion, and all but impossible to prove either way.
With regards to the shuttle and it's 'standing army': I would tend to be concerned with the apparent desire to preserve jobs at the expense of creating wealth (the creation of wealth being something that COTS and similar programs have far greater potential to do, in my opinion). I'm not sure why alleging there to be a strong desire amongst the powers that be to maintain existing jobs is an assertion that 'doesn't hold up'.
It is not my intention to suggest that NASA should 'whither away', to be replaced by alt.space. However, I still have yet to be convinced that pouring taxpayer resources predominantely into a single government spacecraft (CEV) is somehow a smarter path than investing in a diverse number of potential providers.
Moreover, I've also yet to see a good case for continuing to under-utilize the *already existing* Altas V and/or Delta IV in favour of developing an *entirely new booster* (or boosters) at great taxpayer expense. Mark, are you suggesting that developing the CLV will somehow cost less than human-rating an Atlas V? If so, please elaborate?
Also of note, NASA Watch has posted on the release of the GAO's assessment of the agency's implementation of the VSE. Quote:
"NASA's current acquisition strategy for the CEV places the project at risk of significant cost overruns, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls because it commits the government to a long-term product development effort before establishing a sound business case. NASA plans to award a contract for the design, development, production, and sustainment of the CEV in September 2006—before it has developed key elements of a sound business case, including well-defined requirements, a preliminary design, mature technology, and firm cost estimates."Posted by Grant Bonin at July 26, 2006 03:02 PM
Well, you know that GAO, Grant. What do they know--they're probably just a bunch of "internet rocketeers."Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 03:17 PM
Something I don't understand about these arguments: why would NASA's buying a big expensive LEO vehicle that is expensive to fly have any negative effect on private development of much cheaper LEO vehicles?
Is it because if the government is funding NASA's dinosaurs it can't fund private development? But why does it need to? If it's as obvious as some say that LEO vehicles that are just as good but cheaper to fly can easily be developed -- then private investors will step forward to supply the development money, surely. Everyone with a billion dollars in the bank would like to turn it into forty billion.
Is it because a government-funded vehicle needn't repay its investors and can therefore be priced lower and siphon off the market for private launches? But...isn't a big premise here that government-funded vehicles are hideously expensive to operate as well as develop? That private vehicles will inevitably be much cheaper to operate? In that case, wouldn't the private vehicles very naturally capture the market as soon as they come on line?
Not trying to be difficult, here. But I'm puzzled by the apparent contradiction between the assertion that (1) NASA is doing LEO transport terribly and expensively, and that (2) this will suppress private development. Naively, perhaps, I would have thought that in general when only a single supplier exists for a product, and that supplier's product is so shoddy it can obviously be improved upon, and the supplier is so fossilized it isn't likely to respond aggressively to competition -- it doesn't even patent its research or make skilled personnel sign NDAs -- that this is pure red meat to investors and entrepreneurs. Feeding time in the shark pool, et cetera.
What am I missing?Posted by Carl Pham at July 26, 2006 03:35 PM
Not trying to be difficult, here. But I'm puzzled by the apparent contradiction between the assertion that (1) NASA is doing LEO transport terribly and expensively, and that (2) this will suppress private development.
That's not the argument. The issue is that by developing its own vehicle, it is precluding the private sector from a large and potentially valuable market (ISS support). The other part of the argument is that NASA's money could be spent much more effectively seeding (multiple) private providers than by developing and operating its own (extremely expensive) vehicle. COTS providers have all said that they'll still move forward without COTS, just more slowly.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 26, 2006 03:43 PM
With respect to 'why NASA's expensive CEV will have a negative impact on private vehicle development', I would contend that (unfortunately) NASA money is the largest source of capital investment that private ETO providers can expect to get at present. Money spent on the CEV is money NOT spent on 'bootstrapping' the private launch market--and, since there's only going to be one fully-funded vehicle in such a scenario, Earth access from North American soil will hinge upon its success.
Now, whether or not NASA should be investing money in "bootstrapping" that industry is another matter, wholesale. But some would contend that--after decades of demonstrable inefficiency as a space access provider--it might be time for NASA to try something different.
The government has the ability to help create new markets (which, admittedly, simply might not come into existance on their own) by increasing funding to programs such as COTS. However, I will certainly concede that a pre-existing business case for such access is weak at present.
The hope is that--by funding private launch technologies to their natural conclusion--the ensuing cost reductions to orbit (and multiple paths thereto) can encourage the kind of experimentation needed to fully realize the economic potential of space. The problem (as Space Cynics excel at pointing out) is that such arguments aren't enough to encourage significant private investment.
NASA, however, is in the business of (or should be in the business of) getting people to space. Thus, in the context of *their* options, funding private providers seems to prevail as the logical choice. Worst case scenario: only one or two vehicles materialize, no new markets are created, but NASA still gets their access to ISS at lower cost than the CEV. Best case? The dreams come true.
But right now, the only people who are going to bother investing in space are those with a mandate to get there. And to that end, they should be making (I would contend, anyway) the smartest possible ones.Posted by Grant Bonin at July 26, 2006 03:58 PM
Rand - If I'm the only one who can critique NASA effectively... (G)
Re GAO. You're being silly.
Grant - Some people I talk to suggest that modifying a launch vehicle that's not designed to carry people to do so might be more expensive than building one designed to do so from scratch. Others obviously disagree. As many people point out, I'm not a rocket scientist, but those who are have varied opinions.
The GAO report is interesting. I'm not sure what they are recommending. At some point one is going to have to commit to something and get on with building it. The report is quite correct that costs can be uncertain, especially in the early stages of a project. On the other hand, at what point does one become "certain" of what a new system costs? In my experience, it's usually just before or as one finishes building it.Posted by M at July 26, 2006 04:05 PM
"I don't know that I understand your objection to 'launching assaults' on ESAS. Would you prefer that the entire space community remain quiet, and not levy any criticism at all? Is dissuading active discussion and debate something you'd like to see? Ceasing to challenge government decisions and party lines notionally disturbs me quite a bit more than the "assaults" in question...)"
There is zero evidence that any of this criticism is having any effect where it counts, in Washington. SFF is not really a serious group (look at their website, does that look like a professional organization's website?). Their leader has a ponytail and once led a room of people in a chant to get rid of the NASA administrator. In the past two years, there hasn't been a single congressional hearing dedicated to discussing the best method of implementing the return to the moon.Posted by Dave Renholder at July 26, 2006 05:53 PM
"I think that these "a few out-of-date references and a few grandiose claims" undermines the argument of the "White Paper."
"Not sufficiently so as to allow one to ignore it."
They make it look amateurish, as if it was written by some college students. This undercuts their argument. Suppose you were writing a contract proposal and somebody found errors in your math. Wouldn't that undercut your proposal?
"The GAO report is interesting. I'm not sure what they are recommending. At some point one is going to have to commit to something and get on with building it. The report is quite correct that costs can be uncertain, especially in the early stages of a project. On the other hand, at what point does one become "certain" of what a new system costs?"
GAO reports tend to be problematic for lots of reasons. Quite often they are used by members of Congress to prove narrow points ("essentially as attack analysis"). But their bigger problem is that often they are so bland, bureaucratic, and filled with business and accounting jargon that it is difficult to figure out what they think needs to be fixed and how. Taken them with a grain of skepticism.Posted by Dave Renholder at July 26, 2006 05:59 PM
A few general observations about the SFF white paper:
-they over-personalize their argument by referring to "Dr. Griffin" repeatedly, instead of discussing NASA as an institution. Ultimately, the tone of the paper appears to be anti-Griffin, who still happens to be very popular and highly respected by both parties in Congress. That's not the kind of argument that will get them very far with decision-makers.
-there are other problems with tone as well. For instance, any paper that tries to be serious and reputable and then has a footnote that says "Don't laugh." is not serious and reputable.
-they make way too big a deal of the 2004 President's space commission. As should be blatantly clear by now, that commission was DOA when it produced its report. None of its recommendations have been implemented two years later. They were not even endorsed by Sean O'Keefe. And the paper implies that Griffin was somehow violating the direction from a commission that had the weight of the presidency behind it. Here's the way it works in Washington: if the White House had liked the commission's report, they would have _made_ NASA obey it. The fact that they have not enforced the report should tell you something. Dragging up this long-dead report looks anachronistic.
-take a look at the footnotes and sources. Any "white paper" that cites NASAWatch and Wikipedia and the Mars Society as sources isn't trying very hard--and is not going to be taken seriously by decision makers. These are not sources that have good technical or credibility reputations. Listing popular websites as sources is the kind of supporting material that you would expect from a high school student, not a serious think tank or policy organization.Posted by Dave Renholder at July 26, 2006 06:18 PM
WRT "Their leader has a ponytail and once led a room of people in a chant to get rid of the NASA administrator."
Rick cut the ponytail off quite some time ago. And he led that chant many times. BFD. I had a countdown clock on NASA Watch marking the days off until Goildin would be gone.
As for being taken seriously, I can think of at least three times that Rick has testified before Congress (House and Senate) - about NASA - and how its exploration plans could be better implemented.
Rick was also sitting in the small auditorium at NASA HQ when Bush announced the VSE. That was a a rather unqiue invitation to get.
How many times have YOU been invited to testify before Congress?
"Rick cut the ponytail off quite some time ago. And he led that chant many times. BFD. I had a countdown clock on NASA Watch marking the days off until Goildin would be gone."
Ah, the signs of professionals. Serious people.
"How many times have YOU been invited to testify before Congress?"
None. So?Posted by Dave Renholder at July 26, 2006 07:21 PM
Dave check your post. You stated that "SFF is not really a serious group".
If being asked to testify multiple times before Congress as the leader/representative of a group is not being "taken seriously" then I don't know what is - and neither do you.Posted by Keith Cowing at July 26, 2006 07:30 PM
Of course, Wikipedia _can_ be reputable:
Dave Renholder Says
"Listing popular websites as sources is the kind of supporting material that you would expect from a high school student, not a serious think tank or policy organization."
The logical conclusion to this is that someone who's only known contribution to society is posting on blogs is to be disregarded?
If you Google Keith Cowing, Rick Tumlinson, or myself (a contributor to NASA Watch and many other news sites) you will find an extensive bibliography of articles, books, and real work. Today the MLI handbook of references gives clear direction on how to site websites as reference material.
It is clear that NASA is not paying attention to the administration when it comes to the philosphy behind the VSE, which is the economic development of the solar system as I have pointed out in numerous articles. This is the key weakness in the VSE and really in the Foundation document as it does not go after this particular weakness.
Ponytails or the lack thereof make no difference in the quality of a presentation, or any body of work.
Posted by Dennis Wingo at July 26, 2006 07:32 PM
"Ponytails or the lack thereof make no difference in the quality of a presentation, or any body of work."
Actually, Dennis, it has been my experience that males who criticize other males for having ponytails secretly wish that they could grow one ;-)Posted by Keith Cowing at July 26, 2006 07:38 PM
I thought he was refering to Bob who still has one. 8)
They are more of a pain than they are worth I think.Posted by Alfred Differ at July 26, 2006 07:58 PM
Personally I like the ponytails you can buy attached to baseball caps that are on sale at Ron Jon's surf shop in Cocoa Beach.
GB: That a program of such magnitude could actually be immune to political pressures or considerations would be a dream come true--but I would contend that it remains a dream nonetheless.
Too many space enthusiasts have an ingrained habit of deploring political "interference" with Pure Technical Merit.
The short and unsweet answer is: when your technology becomes cost-effective enough that it can sustain and advance itself without money raised through the political system, you can be as pure as you like.Posted by Monte Davis at July 27, 2006 07:53 AM
GB: A few general observations about the SFF white paper...
Some good calls (ponytails excepted :-) The SFF organizational style -- or maybe "attitude" is a better word, as they have plenty of that -- is very effective within the small world of those who think a lot about space. As a professional phrasemonger, I'm well aware of the many labels and arguments they originated or have popularized that have become common coin here, on the space newsgroups, and occasionally even from NASA podiums.
Unfortunately, it's also very effective at turning off or bewildering the wider public, which fosters a "plague on both your houses" response.Posted by Monte Davis at July 27, 2006 08:21 AM
Sorry, the quoteback in that last was from Dave, not Grant.Posted by Monte Davis at July 27, 2006 08:23 AM
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