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A Vision, Not A Destination

With a new administration coming in, there's a lot of speculation about potential shifts in civil space policy, ranging from whether or not Mike Griffin will stay on as administrator, and if so, who will replace him, to whether or not we have the right architecture to achieve the outgoing president's Vision for Space Exploration, or even whether the VSE itself is still valid. Yesterday, the Planetary Society seemed to convert itself to the Mars Society, with its statement that we should bypass the moon, so now we can't even decide what the goal is.

I'm having a sense of deja vu, because we're rerunning the debate we have every few years over space policy, and as always, we are arguing from a set of assumptions that are assumed to be shared, but in many cases are not. I find that the longer I blog, the harder it is for me to come up with new things to say, particularly about space policy. Almost five years ago (jeez, how the time flies--was it really that long ago that we celebrated the Wright Centenary?), I wrote a piece in frustration on this subject. Sadly, nothing has really changed. A vision isn't a destination. I'll replay the golden oldie, because I think that it might be useful to guide the current debate, assuming anyone of consequence reads it.

Jason Bates has an article on the current state of space policy development. As usual, it shows a space policy establishment mired in old Cold-War myths, blinkered in its view of the possibilities.
NASA needs a vision that includes a specific destination. That much a panel of space advocates who gathered in Washington today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight could agree on. There is less consensus about what that destination should be.

Well, if I'd been on that panel, the agreement would have been less than unanimous. I agree that NASA needs a vision, but I think that the focus on destination is distracting us from developing one, if for no other reason than it's probably not going to be possible to get agreement on it.

As the article clearly shows, some, like Paul Spudis, think we should go back to the moon, and others, like Bub Zubrin, will settle for no less than Mars, and consider our sister orb a useless distraction from the true (in his mind) goal. We are never going to resolve this fundamental, irreconciliable difference, as long as the argument is about destinations.

In addition, we need to change the language in which we discuss such things. Dr. Spudis is quoted as saying:

"For the first time in the agency's history there is no new human spaceflight mission in the pipeline. There is nothing beyond" the international space station."

Fred Singer of NOAA says:

The effort will prepare humans for more ambitious missions in the future, Singer said. "We need an overarching goal," he said. "We need something with unique science content, not a publicity stunt."

Gary Martin, NASA's space architect declares:

NASA's new strategy would use Mars, for example, as the first step to future missions rather than as a destination in itself, Martin said. Robotic explorers will be trailblazers that can lay the groundwork for deeper space exploration, he said.

"...human spaceflight mission..."

"...unique science..."

"...space exploration..."

This is the language of yesteryear. This debate could have occurred, and in fact did occur, in the early 1970s, as Apollo wound down. There's nothing new here, and no reason to think that the output from it will result in affordable or sustainable space activities.

They say that we need a vision with a destination, but it's clear from this window into the process that, to them, the destination is the vision. It's not about why are we doing it (that's taken as a given--for "science" and "exploration"), nor is it about how we're doing it (e.g., giving NASA multi-gigabucks for a "mission" versus putting incentives into place for other agencies or private entities to do whatever "it" is)--it's all seemingly about the narrow topic of where we'll send NASA next with our billions of taxpayer dollars, as the scientists gather data while we sit at home and watch on teevee.

On the other hand, unlike the people quoted in the article, the science writer Timothy Ferris is starting to get it, as is Sir Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, though both individuals are motivated foremost by space science.

At first glance, the Ferris op-ed seems just another plea for a return to the moon, but it goes beyond "missions" and science, and discusses the possibility of practical returns from such a venture. Moreover, this little paragraph indicates a little more "vision," than the one from the usual suspects above:

As such sugarplum visions of potential profits suggest, the long-term success of a lunar habitation will depend on the involvement of private enterprise, or what Harrison H. Schmitt, an Apollo astronaut, calls "a business-and-investor-based approach to a return to the Moon to stay." The important thing about involving entrepreneurs and oil-rig-grade roughnecks is that they can take personal and financial risks that are unacceptable, as a matter of national pride, when all the explorers are astronauts wearing national flags on their sleeves.


One reason aviation progressed so rapidly, going from the Wright brothers to supersonic jets in only 44 years, is that individuals got involved ? it wasn't just governments. Charles A. Lindbergh didn't risk his neck in 1927 purely for personal gratification: he was after the $25,000 Orteig Prize, offered by Raymond Orteig, a New York hotelier, for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. Had Lindbergh failed, his demise, though tragic, would have been viewed as a daredevil's acknowledged jeopardy, not a national catastrophe. Settling the Moon or Mars may at times mean taking greater risks than the 2 percent fatality rate that shuttle astronauts now face.

Sir Martin's comments are similar:

The American public's reaction to the shuttle's safety record - two disasters in 113 flights - suggests that it is unacceptable for tax-funded projects to expose civilians even to a 2% risk. The first explorers venturing towards Mars would confront, and would surely willingly accept, far higher risks than this. But they will never get the chance to go until costs come down to the level when the enterprise could be bankrolled by private consortia.


Future expeditions to the moon and beyond will only be politically and financially feasible if they are cut-price ventures, spearheaded by individuals who accept that they may never return. The Columbia disaster should motivate Nasa to set new goals for manned space flight - to collaborate with private groups to develop a more cost-effective and inspiring programme than we've had for the past 30 years.

Yes, somehow we've got to break out of this national mentality that the loss of astronauts is always unacceptable, or we'll never make any progress in space. The handwringing and inappropriate mourning of the Columbia astronauts, almost eleven months ago, showed that the nation hasn't yet grown up when it comes to space. Had we taken such an attitude with aviation, or seafaring, we wouldn't have an aviation industry today, and in fact, we'd not even have settled the Americas. To venture is to risk, and the first step of a new vision for our nation is the acceptance of that fact. But I think that Mr. Ferris is right--it won't be possible as long as we continue to send national astronauts on a voyeuristic program of "exploration"--it will have to await the emergence of the private sector, and I don't see anything in the "vision" discussions that either recognizes this, or is developing policy to help enable and implement it.

There's really only one way to resolve this disparity of visions, and that's to come up with a vision that can encompass all of them, and more, because the people who are interested in uses of space beside and beyond "science," and "exploration," and "missions," are apparently still being forced to sit on the sidelines, at least to judge by the Space.com article.

Here's my vision.

I have a vision of hundreds of flights of privately-operated vehicles going to and from low earth orbit every year, reducing the costs of doing so to tens of dollars per pound. Much of their cargo is people who are visiting orbital resorts, or even cruise ships around the moon, but the important things is that it will be people paying to deliver cargo, or themselves, to space, for their own purposes, regardless of what NASA's "vision" is.

At that price, the Mars Society can raise the money (perhaps jointly with the National Geographic Society and the Planetary Society) to send their own expedition off to Mars. Dr. Spudis and others of like mind can raise the funds to establish lunar bases, or even hotels, and start to learn how to operate there and start tapping its resources. Still others may decide to go off and visit an asteroid, perhaps even take a contract from the government to divert its path, should it be a dangerous one for earthly inhabitants.

My vision for space is a vast array of people doing things there, for a variety of reasons far beyond science and "exploration." The barrier to this is the cost of access, and the barrier to bringing down the cost of access is not, despite pronouncements to the contrary by government officials, a lack of technology. It's a lack of activity. When we come up with a space policy that addresses that, I'll consider it visionary. Until then, it's just more of the same myopia that got us into the current mess, and sending a few astronauts off to the Moon, or Mars, for billions of dollars, isn't going to get us out of it any more than does three astronauts circling the earth in a multi-decabillion space station.

There's no lack of destinations. What we continue to lack is true vision.

All that is old is new again.

 
 

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18 Comments

David Summers wrote:

Henry Ford did not have a destination.

'nough said.

Paul Spudis wrote:

Just to be clear on the context of my remarks of five years ago...

These comments were made at a meeting (organized by Buzz Aldrin) to discuss the future of NASA -- of our national space program. My comments on "no future human program" referred to the agency, not to the entire field of spaceflight. My argument was that if you're going to spend (at the time) $14 B/year of the federal budget on space, you should have some specific and beneficial goals in mind. I did not argue for nor against entrepreneurial space activity. And all of these remarks were made before President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration.

Although nearly completely forgotten or never really understood by almost everyone now, the original VSE was actually quite ingenious. The fundamental assumption was twofold: a) no large step-increase in NASA funding is likely for the foreseeable future; and 2) approximately 1% of the federal budget spent on NASA was "politically sustainable," meaning that the funding history of the past thirty years was a likely guide to the funding scenario for the next thirty.

But even more significantly, the original VSE not only contemplated, but actually planned to integrate more closely the private sector into agency activities. Thus, one of the Aldridge Commission's principal recommendation was that NASA not develop anew, but contract for, services commercially available. That includes most conspicuously launch to LEO. In fact, from a policy perspective, Bush attempted to move NASA simultaneously in two directions -- develop the private space sector by contracting for data and services where available and use the federal funding of NASA to develop technology that the private sector could not or would not invest in (such as learning whether space resources could be used to increase spacefaring capability, a unique and bold feature of the original VSE). I believe the original VSE to be an outstanding and astute policy document and distinctly different from and superior to all previous presidential space policy statements.

Needless to say, things didnít work out as planned. Big surprise. Lots of political toes were being stepped on. The blame is often put on President Bush, but thereís plenty to go around, including especially on NASA itself, who either never really understood the VSE or understood it all too well and worked actively to scuttle it.

The architects of the VSE were not trying to build a big new NASA boondoggle. Far from it. They were trying to develop a new paradigm of spaceflight, one in which the inexorable laws of government bureaucracy (e.g., federal agencies never get abolished) were used to advantage, instead of being an obstacle.

Rand Simberg wrote:

I agree that it's important to understand the context Paul, and I agree (and said at the time, I believe, or rather a few weeks later) that the VSE was, while not perfect, probably the best space policy that we've had since...well...ever (thus damning it with faint praise).

It wasn't VSE that was the problem, or the Aldridge Commission recommendations (though I disagreed with the heavy-lift recommendation at the time, as we discussed in Las Vegas lo those many years ago). I really have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Mike Griffin, who basically blew off all of those recommendations for his pet vehicle architecture, and the program is now a shambles, which is why we're back to the same sterile discussion about destinations, instead of how to build an infrastructure that will make us a spacefaring civilization that has many affordable destinations available, for both governments and private citizens.

ken anthony wrote:

Vision and destination are not opposing ideas.

My vision for space is a vast array of people doing things...

Mine too.

The concepts seem more hierarchical to me. Goals either fit or not within a vision. Destination is just part of a goal. Goals being from short to long term.

Choosing the wrong goals can slow the realization or even move us away from a vision.

Given all that, while certainly not an exclusive goal, I am of the opinion that starting the settlement of Mars now, in an incremental way, would be the most expeditious way of achieving a vast array doing many things. Going to the Moon is mostly a distraction from that goal even though worthy in itself.

Why? Mars is the closest thing to Earth in resources, not just mineral but daylight, temperature and gravity (Venus not being a near term choice.) This means it can become viable sooner as a colony. Which means it can economic source rather than just a drain.

A Mars colony has much greater potential for growth and stimulus to space activity. Mars, even without terraforming, is a world.

The short term goal should be a fuel depot in Earth orbit. Like yesterday.

Robert Horning wrote:

While I love those who push for going to Mars, I would dare say that getting there is going to be several orders of magnitude harder than going to the Moon... for a whole lot of reasons.

Most importantly, even robotic exploration of Mars is showing a dismal record of actually being able to land there... even with relatively small landers and simple approaches like air bags to help with slowing down the vehicles. For the mass of a manned spacecraft actually getting onto the ground and landing on the surface of Mars, it is going to be one of the most difficult engineering feats that has ever been accomplish in the history of spaceflight. Landing on the Moon is much, much easier.

Also, travel to the Moon is a relatively short trip... with proven hardware or at least we can say that it has been accomplished before. The gravity well getting onto the Moon and getting off of it isn't too bad, and you don't have to worry about dealing with the lunar atmosphere as there isn't enough to even put into calculations.

If anything, travel beyond the Earth-Moon planetary system ought to include travel to near-Earth asteroids... building on experience gained from travel to the Moon. Mars doesn't do that at all and requires completely new machines that are capable of landing on the Martian surface.

If anything, I suspect a manned mission to Phobos would be considerably easier to accomplish than going to Mars itself, even if it would be tantalizingly close to view Mars in a fashion like you do the Earth from the ISS only to never actually get down there.

Going to the Moon isn't a distraction, and furthermore there are very legitimate things that can be accomplished by going to the Moon that are completely independent from going to Mars. Going to the Moon will be for its own sake, and this doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. The whole Moon vs. Mars argument is as silly as the manned vs. unmanned arguments that try to suggest we should do without one because the other is useless.

We need to plan on going to multiple places in the Solar System, and the real argument in the future is going to be inner vs. outer solar system exploration, not Mars vs. the Moon.

What I do know is relying on only a government financed space program to get us to any extra-terrestrial destination is going to be a failure, as getting anywhere other than the ISS is something that is difficult to impossible for a body the the U.S. Congress to commit to.

ken anthony wrote:

I would like to suggest looking at mission design in another way. Regardless of Mars or the Moon being the destination, our manned missions can be greatly simplified by not sending any people!

If I want to visit most countries, I don't build a ship, I buy a ticket. Moving people is a service that private enterprise could provide, greatly simplifying any mission design.

If we do plan on building bases, where ever, charter services make sense.

ken anthony wrote:

Going to the Moon isn't a distraction

It very well could be if it's part of the critical path in going to Mars.

To say that Mars is several more magnitudes harder than the Moon is a safe bet. Way too safe in my opinion.

The DC-X (or Armadillo) showed that vertical landing at 1g works fine, so 0.38g should be orders of magnitude simpler. A VTVL RLV that can almost make Earth orbit should do fine on Mars or the Moon for that matter.

If you need ten times the mass for Mars than the Moon you're only talking one order of magnitude, not several which is hugely different.

While we don't want to pretend the problem is easier than it is, imagining it worse just freezes any attempt. We need this challenge (maybe not while Obama is in office, but soon.)

kert wrote:

in this and in the followup post Rand say's
people who merely argue about destinations are missing the point.

Nevertheless, like 50% volume of these comments argue about destinations.
Either someone is not making the point well enough or .. people just dont listen.

ken anthony wrote:

Kert,

Your observation is true. I would add that words matter.

people who merely argue about destinations are missing the point.

The vision matters because it keeps us focused on the important. To ignore vision while pursuing a specific destination is what results in flags and footprints.

Now consider the word 'aimless.'

This is Zubrin's argument. Without a specific target, even with a vision, you end up going in circles with little or no advancement toward the vision.

So destination then becomes a non exclusive goal within the vision. Once you decide destination may be important after all; what destination will most progress us down the path toward seeing the reality of the vision becomes important, but the vision should come first.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

To me the biggest problem that I have is what some others have already stated, without a destination there is no focus. Rand and many others such as the space frontier foundation over the last 20 years have preached about low cost access to space as the key to opening the frontier. While this is a correct statement it carries the seed of its own doom as well. It is a circular argument. Without low cost access you cannot have frequent reasonably priced access to space to "do things". However, without things to do, there is no reason for low cost frequent access to space.

I had this discussion many times with people over the years and how with today's space market that low cost access really is not a game changer. For example, the launch price of a GEO comsat makes up about 19% of the total cost. If that dropped by 50% or even 75% what would it do for financing? Not really that much. It shifts the break even date a bit closer but is not a deal maker for GEO comsat. LEO? Humans in space? Sure, but the problem there is that for LEO comsats, the magical CATS launch vehicle would have to sit and wait for a couple of years or more to allow the satellite builders to start getting cranked up for busines. How many years can an RLV builder have his birds sitting on the ground waiting for the satellite market to catch up? Thus the quandary.

This is why several years ago I shifted my efforts toward creating markets in space that will help to drive the existing launch business to increase flights. There will be a tipping point to where enough ELV's are flying to where the cost/benefit is such that the market case for an RLV will make itself. Until that day happens there are only two types of people that will work on an RLV. The first is the government, and we see what happens when they try and build one. The second is a well heeled individual billionaire that wants to do it. However, as Elon has learned, there is a huge learning curve for this type of investor and now, after years of learning, Elon has come to the conclusion that he is only going to have a marginal effect on launch prices. While this is a good thing, it is hardly transformative.

Where Elon and the existing launch infrastructure can prosper is through the VSE as it ought to have played out. In another thread you talked about the Canary Islands as an analog to the Moon. I think that ISS is a far more appropriate metaphor than the Moon. The Canary islands were reachable by ships that could make the relatively short journey there, deliver their goods, and then return to Spain/Portugal without too much risk. The large Caravels could then go there and reprovision for the much longer journey to the new world. Today there would be no space tourism business without ISS. Eric Anderson would not be drawing a steady paycheck without it. Also, ISS is the enabler for Elon Musk's business as well. He has not made one deal with a comsat builder yet for GEO with the F9 and will not until it is a proven system. Well the ISS cargo run and the COTS funding is the means for paying for that proof of principle.

It is a much easier jump off to go from ISS to the Moon, than it is to start from the ground to go to the Moon. You can aggregate payloads there, you can build a cislunar transportation vehicle there and then use boosters prepositioned along the path to the Moon to get you there. This is where the Falcon 9, EELV, and even the Shuttle C plays a role.

With a reusable Cislunar transportation system, you now go from having to fly a couple of times a year to the Moon with a heavy lifter, to the ability to do it on a monthly basis. EELV's Falcon 9's, Ariane V's, Proton's and other vehicles can be used to preposition supplies at the lunar outpost and also deliver supplies on a far more frequent basis than the twice a year as outlined with the Ares system. Really and truely there are not that many massive payloads that have to be lofted from the Earth all the way to the Moon. Rovers? nope, Habitats? maybe, to start. Power systems? probably not? industrial equipment? maybe a couple but they could be sent in pieces and reassembled on the Moon as is the case for large payloads here on the Earth all the time. If bigger was always more cost effective 18 Wheeler trucks would have never displaced trains the way that they have.

With all of this activity, the tipping point toward building an RLV is far more likely to happen than by the next great American launch vehicle, the Ares V. With the Moon as a focus (the reason for going to the Moon is what Paul Spudis recently said The Moon is where we figure out how to live off of the Earth". That is much more than a scientific goal. Mars with its once every two year launch window is much too far away right now to make a rational place to start or to support the number of launches required to reach the RLV tipping point.

FWIW

kert wrote:

To me the biggest problem that I have is what some others have already stated, without a destination there is no focus
Why couldnt one focus a space agency on technology advancement, maturation and transfer, science goals and retiring risks for future expansion out to space ?

Technologies like advanced forms of deep space propulsion, better thermal protection and other reentry systems, orbital cryo fuel storage and transfer, ISRU trials, in-space power beaming , space tethers, artificial gravity, the list of tech that could work out to be useful just after basic shakeout is miles long but receiving little to no attention.
And we all know where the lions share of the ESAS manhours and budgets is going currently ..

In other words, more X-planes and X-spacecraft. Hey, you know we even have this apparently great international world class laboratory up there for some of these purposes ..

Could it be possible that after a decade of focussed technology development and industry transfers Planetary Society could indeed pay for their own ticket to mars ?

Dennis Wingo wrote:

Why couldnt one focus a space agency on technology advancement, maturation and transfer, science goals and retiring risks for future expansion out to space ?

A valid question. When NACA did a lot of this type of thing back in the day, there was a vibrant and growing aerospace industry building new planes, yada yada. However, it was WWII and the production of tens of thousands of airplanes and the research that went along with it that transformed the industry. There was no follow on to the high tech research of the late 50's and early 60's or we would have had rocket planes flying, based upon the X-15 decades ago.

What I have noticed in a lot of the technology development that is going on is that a new widget is designed, a copy built, flown, and then it dies as there is no MARKET FOLLOW THROUGH. I can't tell you the number of times I have seen this. I got to fly and qualify a lot of neat stuff on my student satellite in 1998 because a lot of the tech developed by SDIO was left to rot when the new administration took over. I see the same things with advanced life support technologies, Hall thrusters, advanced aerospace solar cells. It is a daily event for me to watch things grow and then die for the want of customers to use them.

Why no customers to use them? The comsat business is notoriously conservative now after being burned by Hughes/Boeing on the 13 cm ion thrusters, advanced solar cells, and other technologies that they tried to bring to market which failed and cost the industry billions of dollars.

DARPA has at least tried to remedy this with integrated system demos such as Orbital Express (screwed because it cost too much), failed (DART by NASA), and are still trying (FAST and F6). Just doing technologies without integrated systems demonstrations, followed by a transition to the commercial sector is just a recipe for AIAA and JPC papers and not much else. You have to follow up the integrated systems demos with operational missions that show the commercial guys that this stuff works. At Orbital Recovery we made a heck of a lot of progress on the back of the German/Japanese mission from 1998 and other uses of their software for telepresence. Confidence builders using operational hardware are absolutely necessary to bridge the gulf between concept, demos, to operational reality.

This it the core problem that I face with On Orbit Assembly. I know it will work, I know how to do it (or know the people who do), and know that it will be cost effective, leveraging off of ISS as a platform. However, until we do it, it is going to be incredibly hard to do it, unless we find someone with the bucks and the vision to help make it happen.

So technology development for its own sake is not necessarily the path to Nirvana and in some respects (the cost of the orbital assembly of ISS and the cost of Orbital Express). Government sponsored demo's actually harm the idea by putting a system up that cost far too much for the commercial world to replicate in a cost effective manner (see X-33, X-34, STS for RLV's).

I think that we can bridge these gaps, it just takes much more time and effort than any of us want it to. This is why a destination, a focus, that keeps building hardware, keeps flying it, putting it into production where someone else can buy it and use it.

Did you know that the Apogee motor for almost ALL comsats today is the attitude control thruster for the Lunar Module and Service Module (Marquardt R4D)? It stayed in production long enough to get picked up as a COTS item by industry and NASA. Same with GPS. No one wanted GPS when a receiver cost a thousand bucks, but because it was sustained by the military for a decade or two, the cost of the receivers finally came down to the point to where the GPS explosion happened. Sustainable investment and sustained support, that is what it takes. Elon would not be where he is without the sustained support for ISS nor would Eric Anderson of Space Adventures.

ken anthony wrote:

Elon would not be where he is without the sustained support for ISS...

Undeniable on it's face, but without ISS he would still have a viable business. The key point is that having a destination (and of course NASA funding) put Dragon on the front burner and accelerates it's development.

Remember, he started building Dragon for his Mars vision before any COTS program because of his backup humanity vision.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

Remember, he started building Dragon for his Mars vision before any COTS program because of his backup humanity vision.

I bet he made a lot more progress after that $250m dollar check.

No bucks, no Buck Rogers and even Elon would not be doing dragon without a least the hope of future ROI.


kert wrote:

Dennis, i agree 110% that without integrated systems demos all the R&D is next to useless. I dont agree on government sponsored demos being harmful, if done right.

For a lot of examples that you cite, its obvious that they tried to bite off far more than they can in one go, X-33 being the prime example ( which indeed resulted with a widely distributed opinions by NASA that SSTOs are impractical )
Im by far not an expert, but according to the history books the X-planes of the days before i was born seemed to follow a far more incremental build a little, test a little approach.
Wasnt the M2-F1 built out of plywood ? They didnt spend hundreds of millions or several years or PDRs before trying out a new concept.

And these days, for an outside observer it looks like DARPA is actually doing more to push the technology envelope than NASA.

So why cant NASA do an on orbit assembly demo, affordably and quickly these days ? I would say that whatever the reasons are, these need fixing, rather than trying to wrangle the tech development around arbitrary goals and destinations.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

So why cant NASA do an on orbit assembly demo, affordably and quickly these days ? I would say that whatever the reasons are, these need fixing, rather than trying to wrangle the tech development around arbitrary goals and destinations.

They could, rather easily, however.....

SMD has been cool to humans in space ever since Hubble went up, that is except when they need them to fix the darn thing. This was the whole reason for putting JWST out at L2, to get it away from those pesky humans. However, now they are putting a grappling fixture on it so that humans can go out there and fix it!

It is my, as well as the whispered opinion of some very high up NASA people, that JWST is the largest ground integrated telescope that we will ever launch. I say that even though even as I write this today, there is a presentation being made about launching large telescopes with the Ares V at a NASA center. The verification that is required to assure proper alignment of the mirror segments on JWST is one of the primary drivers of the 4x cost increase of the scope itself.

We did a design several years ago for DARPA showing that we could provide 30x the mirror area for the same cost of JWST using on orbit assembly. However, the center that leads most telescope efforts would rather have a multidecadal jobs program for telescope development rather than have a telescope development program. The current administrator is infatuated with large rockets with large ground integrated payload and has no interest in anything else. Depending on who becomes administrator, this will change, much for the positive.


David Dunlop wrote:

Dennis Wingo has it right. If we give up the programmatic goal of going to the Moon then there is no strong incentive for private investment.

The issue of debate for the Obama debate is how do we best conduct a new space policy that addresses many goals and priorities?
Among issues that need to be addresses and balanced are:
Should NASA remain in the transportation business?
Should NASA extend its ambitions for a lunar program to include formal agreements with international partners on a human outpost?.
Should NASA extend its ambitions for a Mars program to include formal agreements with international partners and human exploration?
Should NASA create the conditions for the growth of commercial space providers of transportation by it COTS program and with extension of
contracts supporting these providers?
Should Earth Observation Services be given a higher priority and shifted to NOAA?
Should Space Energy considerations be given a new focus in the DOE and include initiatives for space solar power, as well as the traditional focus on fission power systems development, RTGs, and fusion reactor research.
If Lunar and Mars initiatives are approved with comprehensive program status then the SMD should refocus on the balance of the Solar system.

One option is that if we have a transportation contract in place for the Falcon 9 to the ISS, that is very much like the airmail contracts that made early commercial aviation a viable enterprise. The Falcon 9 could also be one piece of the architecture for a new lunar program.

The International Conference on the Exploration and Utilization of the Moon was just held at the end of October in Titusville, Florida gave an informative glimpse of what is happening and what is being planned.
There seems to be no doubt about a new Moon race by others. The Chinese (CNSA) have already "thrown their cap over the wall of space". They are committing already to a orbital manned lab., lunar lander/rovers in 2012, a sample return by 2016, and their own HLLV in 2014. They have announced the intention to place humans on the Moon.
The Roscosmos Director Permakov has said they plan to land on the Moon by 2026 and develop an outpost. Their manned Klipper vehicle initiative will take awhile but create their capability to leave low Earth orbit. The Indians, having recently signed a ten year agreement with the Russians on developing lunar missions, are moving in this direction with orbit of Chandrayan I. They have announced a Chandrayan II lander for 2012 open to international cooperation, and are developing heavy lift vehicles Mk III and Mk IV. They have already test flown prototypes of a manned capsule that will be a 2 person Gemini class type vehicle.

I believe that we need to keep the Moon as a destination for US space policy. I believe that the Obama administration needs to continue the
productive discussions NASA has been conducting with other national space agencies. These discussions have already resulted in a 14 nation Global Exploration Agreement, and a 12 nation agreements about establishing an International Lunar Network of geophysical instruments on the lunar surface.
NASA and ESA have completed a comparison of their architecture. ESA is now planning to develop a 1.2 ton lunar cargo lander based on the commercial Ariane V launcher. ESA is also studying options on developing its own independent human access to space. This might be done by
extending the capabilities of its ATV which successfully delivered cargo to the ISS earlier this year to support the ESA lab. They also are keeping open the option to work with the Russians on this objective (perhaps joining the Klipper initiative). The Russian development of a launch facility in the ESA spaceport at Kourou supports this option.

One might argue that the fact that Bush's VSE has stimulated this international response is the true measure of its success. There is no doubt
that a lunar outpost could be more effectively developed by an international collaboration. But that was never excluded from the VSE all along.
We should continue work to develop a partnership to develop a lunar outpost with at the very least the other space faring nations. In a time of economic reversal this is a facing saving way for all the national leaders to maintain national pride but face the inevitable budget constraints, be perceved as stateman, and avoid the budget demands of a military space race. This also is in step with the fact that the G-20 rather than the G-8 will be the key political and financial forum. This not only brings in the Chinese and the Indians into the club but emerging economies such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Korea, and South Africa, and Taiwan. This sets the stage for a viable and growing commercial space market.

Now how could the Obama Administration keep the Moon goal in a way that strengthens it international debut, but also realistically faces its options with regard to the NASA budget? The practical problem is how to keep the Moon but cut the budget. The current economic death spiral makes the steady as you go budget assumption of the VSE (which seemed very conservative in philosophy and perhaps sadly) in retrospect very optimistic. We may have to cut back much more than this assumption assumed as a "lunar fail safe" political strategy.

1. We may decide as a policy matter to get NASA out of the transportation business or not.
Options: A. NASA Stays in and builds the Ares I, CEV, Ares V, Altair
B. NASA Stays in but builds a Direct 2 architecture keeping shuttle components in production
(This maintains a NASA workforce and a federal capability)
C. NASA commits to a Falcon 9 development and contract as a major purchased element
D. NASA builds a CEV which can be launched on Direct 2 launcher, Falcon 9, or other EELV man rated vehicles
E. NASA builds an Altair lander which can launched by a Direct 2 launcher, Falcon 9, or EELV.
F. NASA commits to a lunar strategy which can flexibly utilize a lunar stack launched from various elements to boost a range of
payloads and which is capable of on orbit refueling
G. NASA works with international partners to develop an on orbit refueling capability serving all partners.
2. NASA develops a lunar supply chain architecture in cooperation with its lunar enterprise partners and with the development plans of its
partners. This is in essence a commitment to keep alive what exists of the space infrastructure in each of these countries as part of
a common lunar outpost development plan. This also is a way of creating a common timetable which can be adjusted to accommodate
the requirements of current budget limitations among the G-20 Group and its space faring members. This also creates a more transparent
market opportunity for commercial space companies and increases the number of countries involved in the enterprise.

3. NASA shifts its Earth Observation Resources to NOAA which increases its role in developing a "system of systems" with other
nations and has an exclusive agency focuses which buys commercial services to support its requirements. (A Safe cut to NASAs budget)

4. The DOE is given the goal to develop space energy programs maintaining work of fission reactors, production of advanced RTGs, plus
a new charge to develop space based energy resources including the development of Space Solar Power research and engineering, as well
fusion reactor research which would would ultimately be able to use Helium 3 fusion fuel. It buys commercial services to support its
requirements. This address the conundrum that NASA is not an energy agency and DOE is not a space agency)

5. NASA and International partners also agree to continue and expand the collaborative robotic program for the exploration of Mars.
These partners will also work to extend Mars appropriate technology work that logically flows from the development of a lunar base
testbed for the purpose of a human landing on Mars by 2040.

6. NASA maintains a SMD that focuses on continuing exploration of the solar systems exclusive of the Moon and Mars initiatives. This
also is a highly collaborative initiative with international partners.

7. The National Space Council, Chaired by the Vice President, becomes the primary Executive mechanism to plan, and operate US space
agencies (DOD related agencies included) and to proposed a balanced program that address the several priorities of the US space program
and it addresses the collaboration with US International partners.

This is at least my thumb nail sketch of how a conflict between the Crazy for Mars advocates and the Moonatics might shift into a more comprehensive discussion of the evolution of US Space policy in the current global economic downturn. No doubt much they we do will slow down and stretch out. But re-organizing the boxes can help to set the stage for the next stages of growth when times improve.


Dennis Wingo wrote:

While the goal of maintaining the Moon as a goal is a good one, the advocacy of the DIRECT idea is nothing more than Ares lite. It has all the same programmatic flaws of the Ares system. We do not need any heavy lift beyond existing launch vehicles in order to do the Moon.

I have advocated the Shuttle C as it is the only thing that NASA is truely capable of doing now without it costing entirely too much money. Coupling this to a fully reusable cis-lunar transportation system and ISRU, using ISS as a base of operations to facilitate commercial on ramps a la the Falcon 9 and other systems will get us to where we want to be.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on November 14, 2008 12:09 PM.

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