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Not Simple, Not Soon

...and not safe. Nice catch by Jon Goff that no one else seems to have picked up on:

Basically, unless this source is bogus, or I'm completely misreading things, it's saying that even NASA admits that their odds of losing a crew or a mission using the Constellation architecture are far worse then they had originally claimed. In fact, at least for ISS missions, we're talking almost an order of magnitude worse. For ISS, they're claiming a LOC (probability of losing the crew on any given flight) of 1 in 231, with a LOM (loss of mission) of 1 in 19! If I'm reading this right, that means they expect right now that about 5% of missions to the space station will end up not making it to the station. For lunar missions, the LOC number is 1 in 170, and the LOM number is 1 in 9! That means of every multi-billion dollar mission, they've got an almost 11% chance of it being a failure. While some of these numbers have been improving, others have been getting worse.

In other words, it appears that NASA is admitting that the Ares-1 is not going to be any safer than an EELV/EELV derived launcher would've been, and in fact may be less reliable.

I've never drunk the koolaid that Ares/Orion was going to be more safe than Shuttle (or any previous system). Part of the problem is that (particularly with all of the vibration issues) they're being forced to put systems in that introduce new failure modes. The other is that in their determination to have a crew escape system (as I've mentioned before), they are adding hazards on a nominal mission.

There is only one way to get a safe launch system. We have to build vehicles that we can fly repeatedly, develop operational experience, and wring the bugs out of, just as we've done with every other type of transportation to date. When every flight is a first flight that has to fully perform, you're always going to have a high risk of problems. Unfortunately, NASA decided to do Apollo again instead of solve the space transportation problem.

And along those lines, I should say that I fully agree with Jon:

Quite frankly, I'd almost rather see a gap than try filling it with a kludge like keeping the shuttle flying. The fundamental problem is that even though "commercial" companies like Boeing and LM and Orbital (and hopefully SpaceX if they can get their act together) have been providing the majority of US spacelift for the past two decades, there is no commercial supplier of manned orbital spaceflight in the US. That's the bigger problem, IMO than the fact that NASA can't access a space station that it really doesn't have much use for.

I'd rather see more focus on how NASA and DoD can help encourage and grow a strong and thriving commercial spaceflight (manned and unmanned) sector than how NASA can fix its broken internal spaceflight problems. Once the US actually gets to the point where it has a thriving manned orbital spaceflight sector, there won't be any gaps again in the future. A strong commercial spaceflight sector with a weak NASA is still a lot better than a strong NASA and a weak commercial spaceflight sector.

Unfortunately, absent a real crisis, the politics seem determined to not encourage that to happen. And the ISS crisis, if it is perceived as one, is likely to cause a panic that still won't cause it to happen, though it may still result in something better than ESAS (not that we could do much worse).


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Dennis Wingo wrote:

Uh, without that space station "with little use for" space tourism would still be the province of the gigglers at NSS conventions.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Dennis, without that space station, they would be going to Mir, which would probably still be flying. Also, space stations have nothing to do with the demand for suborbital flight, which is where the near-term action is, in terms of using it to reduce launch costs.

Jim Harris wrote:

And the ISS crisis, if it is perceived as one, is likely to cause a panic

Oh come on, Rand, put your libertarian thinking cap on. The ISS will fall into the drink, but there won't be any panic. Just as Langley's Aerodrome fell into the drink and nobody panicked.

You're right that NASA is a crazy agency these days, but the solution is to concentrate on the NewSpace projects that now generate the headlines.

Rand Simberg wrote:

ISS is not Langley's aerodrome. This is a stupid analogy.

ken Anthony wrote:

NASA decided to do Apollo

If only. Saturn 5 had a perfect 12/12 record and had over 100 ton ability. Any resemblance is only superficial.

They need to replace NASA with a single person at a desk ordering services from the commercial market.

Well... you get the idea.

Jim Harris wrote:

Other than NASA and Roskosmos themselves, nobody panicked when Skylab and Mir fell into the drink either.

Why is any of this such a big deal compared to what the NewSpace companies are doing?

Anonymous wrote:

Also, space stations have nothing to do with the demand for suborbital flight, which is where the near-term action is, in terms of using it to reduce launch costs.

You know, we will never know for sure but I spent years going to NSS conferences where tourism was talked about but nothing ever came of it. It took Tito ponying up cash at just the right time and with just the right publicity going to ISS to change the perception about space tourism. Earlier space tourists had gone to MIR and no one even noticed, especially not the rich people like Paul Allen that funded Burt. Ask Burt about the timing between his funding and the final funding for the X Prize.

Without a proof principle for a market, the market would just as likely continue to be stagnent and unfulfilled. Now with Burt you never know, but with him getting on in years now, it is at least open to doubt whether it would have happened.

Fletcher Christian wrote:

NASA have solved the space transportation problem, at least for the next fifteen years or so. They've prevented safe, economical transport of people to LEO for about that long, just as they were supposed to.

Anonymous wrote:

>>Earlier space tourists had gone to MIR and no one even noticed,

Huh? Who? name one.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

The Japanese journalist in 1990 for one.

Kelly Starks wrote:

Glad to see the safety issue get some public notice. With the high vibration levels, complexity, expendability, etc the Aries would obviously be expected to be less safe then a RLV or partial RLV like the shuttle. But there’s been a lot of push down from the top to cut safety and reliability corners. For example the life support and thermal control systems are only supposed to be analyzed to be functional after one failure of one component or subsystem. Two things go down at once, no idea, no ones supposed to look at it.

Its making some folks on the program a bit queasy..

Good stuff check out mine

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on August 31, 2008 10:11 AM.

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