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Space The Military Science

The Story of Baikonur, Russia's Space City 237

Posted by Zonk
from the you're-the-rocket-man dept.
eldavojohn writes "There's an article up on Physorg about Russian space launch city Baikonur, rented by Russia from Kazakhstan. Although it is essentially the same as it was in the 60's and 70's, it is amazingly efficient and still operational. 'Even the technology hasn't changed much. The Soyuz spacecraft designed in the mid-1960s is still in service, somewhat modified. It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable. Life and work in Baikonur and its cosmodrome are also pretty much what they were in the Soviet era. The town of 70,000 - unbearably hot in summer, freezing cold in winter and dusty year round - is isolated by hundreds of miles of scrubland.'" We last discussed Baikonur back in 2005.
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The Story of Baikonur, Russia's Space City

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  • Costs (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:05PM (#21067545) Homepage Journal
    This Nasa space shuttle faq [nasa.gov] lists endeavour's cost at 1.7 billion. Maybe they just rounded off, but a third of a billion seems significant to me.

    It also lists the launch costs for a shuttle at about $450 million. I don't know if that's just the launch itself or if that includes the turn around costs. Of course - the article doesn't list similar numbers for the Soyuz - but it seems that while reusable - the shuttle still is exponentially more expensive. Although - I don't know of anything else that can get as much weight to orbit as the shuttle.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tilandal (1004811)
      The shuttle is much larger and can carry far more of a payload. The shuttle can carry up to 24,400 kg to low earth orbit, that is substantially more then the Soyuz can carry. Many of the segments of the ISS were only able to be lifted into orbit with the Shuttle.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
        The shuttle can carry up to 24,400 kg to low earth orbit, that is substantially more then the Soyuz can carry.

        ...is an understatement. Current Soyuz payload is 880kg.
      • the real difference is that the shuttle can bring things back to earth.

        We don't hear about that ability being used, but it certainly is. It has military significance, too.

        It would be a hell of a lot cheaper if the manned vessel and the cargo vessel were different ships, though.
      • Re:Costs (Score:5, Insightful)

        by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:45PM (#21068723)

        Yes, that is why something like 80% of ISS supplies did not arrive there by the Progress launch, no?

        And the major Russian modules had to be lifted by the Shuttle, certainly?

        Or perheaps the Russians use separate payload carriers which can range up to the Energia class of rockets which make the Space Shuttle look like a wimp at 4 times its payload to LEO and equal to the Shuttle's payload to .. Mars.

        So one should really compare 2 Soyuz capsules (6 people) + payload launch = 1 Space Shuttle launch. Still its something like $25 mil x 2 for the Soyuzes + $60 mil for the Energia (at the expensive, all frills added end - the technology is not radically different from the Soyuz boosters) = $110 mil per launch. Which is 1/4th of a relaunch of a Shuttle, never you mind the up-front $1.7 billion cost. And the Shuttle, unlike the Energia payload, is rather unlikely to make it to Mars or Venus.

        Not to mention that the thing is a death trap which killed 14 astronauts in the last two decades and is unlikely to stop there.

    • Re:Costs (Score:5, Informative)

      by slashqwerty (1099091) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:54PM (#21067821)
      I don't know of anything else that can get as much weight to orbit as the shuttle.

      At 21,000 kg to LEO, the Ariane 5 ECA [wikipedia.org] comes pretty close. And it does a lot better than the shuttle [wikipedia.org] to Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The Delta IV [wikipedia.org] does slightly better than the shuttle at 25,800kg to LEO versus the shuttle's 24,400kg.

      The Saturn V [wikipedia.org] could put them all to shame. Although the planned Ares V [wikipedia.org] can carry even more than the Saturn V.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Cecil (37810)
        Don't forget the Russian Proton K. As it's able to lift 22,000 kg to LEO, I believe it's third among today's launch vehicles behind the shuttle and the Delta 4 Heavy (which is brand new). There are a few others worth mentioning as well. The Titan IV is not too shabby at 21,700 kg, and the Atlas V can lift 20,000 kg.

        You're right that Saturn V is still king though, and will remain so for the immediate future. 118,000 kg, that's incredible, really.
      • by Tom Womack (8005)
        It depends what you mean by weight to orbit.

        The Shuttle stack - the solid rocket boosters and the main engines - gets just under thirty tons of payload *and 68 tons of shuttle* into orbit, which is pretty close to the weight of the whole Apollo stack. In comparison, a big comsat might be seven tons, Envisat is eight tons, Hubble is eleven tons.

        This is why the Shuttle-C project, which would have used the rockets from the Shuttle to launch something much more like a standard payload, was so appealing; you co
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Daengbo (523424)
      It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable.

      When I was a little boy, I sat in on one of my father's presentations on the (then future) space shuttle to interested people in the aviation community (he was with the FAA). The talk was glowing and emphasized how much we'd save by re-using this material. As a sci-fi enthusiast like my father, I remember being so excited about what I was hearing.

      Sadly, that cost savings never came.
      • Re:Costs (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@hotmail.cOPENBSDom minus bsd> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:44PM (#21068423) Journal
        Sadly, that cost savings never came. I have read numerous reports about how much more that shuttle system costs than a traditional system.

        Going on the numbers given here, the Shuttle costs $18,400/kg lifted to LEO, while the Soyuz costs $28,400 for the same lift.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Daengbo (523424)
          I wasn't comparing it to the Soyuz: I was comparing it to where we'd be now if we hadn't used it.

          The NASA Chief Administrator Michael Griffin has recently suggested the decision to develop the Space Shuttle and International Space Station was a mistake by saying, "It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path. We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can."[1] [wikipedia.org]

          and

          While the Shuttle has been a reasonably successful launch vehicle, it has not met the goal of greatly red

      • Well, (Score:3, Interesting)

        by WindBourne (631190)
        We do not have a next-gen shuttle coming. We have a LOAD of new crafts coming online over the next 4 years.
        1. In particular, Russia is still looking to develop their Kliper (I think that they have finally gotten wise and are just going it alone).
        2. China has their copy of the current Russian system.
        3. America is developing the Oriion capsule which will use the Ares I/Ares V rockets (possibly the Ares IV). The capsule will sit 7, and the launch costs for ppl will be 100M.
        4. Spacex is doing Falcon 9 with Dragon at 3
      • Sooner or later, either the DOD or NASA will get smart and push to have a tug up there. It will be a system that can stay in space for a long time, but can then maneuver to hook up with a number of crafts. I suspect that it will have a canada arm on the front of it. When that happens, I think that we will see space dev jump in there with a system that uses their hybrid rocket engine. In fact, I would not be surprised to see bigelow order up one or more of these.
    • by Riktov (632)

      the shuttle still is exponentially more expensive.

      So Soyuz costs $25 million per launch, and the Shuttle currently costs $450 million per launch. 450,000,000 =~ 25,000,000 ^ 1.17. So the next Shuttle launch will cost 25,000,000 ^ 2.17 = $1,130,000,000,000,000? Or should that be 25,000,000 ^ 2.34 = $20,470,000,000,000,000?

      Is that how it works?

      • because a soyuz costs a great deal more than 25 million. it WAS ~20 million per person. For example, see here. [physorg.com] THe funny thing is that every runs around thinking that the soyuz costs that little, but it never has.
      • He could have meant "an order of magnitude more expensive", but lacked the vocabulary. :)
    • THe soyuz is about 50 million a launch for 3 guys (russia charges about 25M for tourists; 1/2 of the costs). Russia also sends up progresses for doing supplies. THe progress costs about the same (50 M) for 3200 kg of payload. A shuttle costs ~450 Million / launch (depends on number of launches per year, which leaves the high fixed costs spread across those), but can deliver 7 astronauts AND 24,400 KG. That is, it delivers more than 2x the ppl AND about 8x the cargo. So, do 8 * 50 for the cargo and 2 x soyuz
    • I blame the exchange rates of the USD. I mean, between the time when the shuttles were created and today it lost like 50 percent of its value compared to European currencies.
    • by caluml (551744)

      Maybe they just rounded off, but a third of a billion...
      Yeah, that's around £75,000 these days. You could buy a broom cupboard in Sheffield for that, and still have some money left over for a pint or two.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FallOfDay (1053148)
      "Although - I don't know of anything else that can get as much weight to orbit as the shuttle."

      Saturn V lifted 118,000kg to LEO, Ares V will be 130,000kg to LEO. The shuttle is a mere 24,400kg to LEO (discounting the mass of the shuttle orbiter, itself).
      All would've been outperformed by a maximum-configuration Energia-Vulkan @ 175,000kg to LEO. Frankly, nobody's ever come up with anything like a big enough rocket to really put human spaceflight into gear (i.e. Putting supplies & 20-50 people up, at
  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:06PM (#21067551) Homepage
    It's just the sticker price. Then they hit you with the optional features like power steering and oxygen.
  • Soviet Russia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stormx2 (1003260) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:06PM (#21067553)
    I know this may be a little controversial, but can we just skip all the "In Soviet Russia..." jokes? Regulars don't find them funny. They're only modded up by people who've just got mod points for the first time and want to fit in. Come on, be original!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by FlyByPC (841016)

      Regulars don't find them funny.
      Well, someone voted it Best Meme!

      In Soviet Russia, the memes mod YOU!
      • Go Meme Yourself (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fm6 (162816)
        Calling a tired old joke a "meme" is pretentious crap. The word comes from Richard Dawkins's theory that some ideas are to culture what genes are to biology. I think that's an overrated theory, but even if I took it seriously (especially if I took seriously) I'd be irritated at people who think that telling the same joke over and over to the same audience is somehow spreading an idea. It's more like a social earworm [wikipedia.org]. Mindworm?
    • by 2.7182 (819680)
      Oh I understand all of a sudden. YOU ARE the guy whose been posting that troll that starts something like

      "I went into my local library bathroom and out comes this big blond guy from a stall..."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Neon Aardvark (967388)

      I'm a regular, and I think "In Soviet Russia" jokes are funny precisely because they are so pointless and unfunny, just like the CowboyNeal poll options.

    • by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:36PM (#21068051) Homepage
      In Soviet Russia, memes don't find Slashdot regulars funny.
    • Regulars don't find them funny. They're only modded up by people who've just got mod points for the first time and want to fit in.

      Yes, Mr Stormx2 1003260

    • Re:Soviet Russia (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fm6 (162816) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:56PM (#21068163) Homepage Journal
      In Soviet Russia, worn out jokes own you!

      Actually, I suspect that many regulars do like the endless repetition of "in Soviet Russia" and "our x overlords". You and I get tired of hearing the same jokes over and over, but we might well be in the minority.

      One problem is that the mod system give you a way to mod up good jokes, but no way to mod down bad ones. ("Overrated" is not supposed to be used for that, though it sometimes is.) So anybody who has a reaction to a story that's even vaguely humorous jumps in with it, because theres a good chance they'll be modded up.

      Solution: balance the upmode "funny" with a new downmod: "lame".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Neurotoxic666 (679255)
      In Soviet Russia, jokes mod YOU down.
  • Bargain space flight (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davmoo (63521) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:10PM (#21067599)
    Just off the top of my head...

    If the shuttle costs $2 billion, and a Soyuz is only $25 million, we could send up 80 Soyuz launches for that same $2 billion.

    And if we expand it to cover that there have been 5 shuttles built, that becomes 400 Soyuz flights.

    To put that in to perspective, there has only been 119 shuttle launches thus far, and 2 of those $2 billion dollar shuttles came back in little pieces parts. Plus, it doesn't even figure in launch expenses, just the price of the shuttles themselves. Hard to believe that way back when the shuttles were designed, they were expected to each be launched 100 times.

    At those rates, it doesn't matter that a Soyuz isn't reusable.
    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:16PM (#21067639) Homepage Journal
      I mentioned the same above and have been doing some more digging. This popular mechanics interview with Greg Olsen [popularmechanics.com] was interesting. Here is the part that got it to pop up in my search:

      PM: Soyuz costs $50 million a mission--the space shuttle costs more than $2.5 billion to get back up, and under the best conditions it costs $500 million ...
      GO: That's tough. Remember, we could not have built the ISS without the shuttle. The shuttle has a huge cargo-carrying capacity. The Soyuz cannot do that, as reliable as it is. The shuttle has had its drawbacks, but it is the workhorse, and it was necessary in order to do the ISS.


      They give more about cost - and he gives one view about the shuttle's capacity that adds a different perspective.
      • by ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:36PM (#21067735) Homepage Journal
        Of course, that argument requires the assumption that we couldn't possibly make something with similar carrying capacity to the shuttle for cheaper than $500 million to $2.5 billion per launch.

        The Saturn V had the ability to lift 118,000 kg to low earth orbit, to the Space Shuttle's 24,400 kg - and that at a similar cost per launch.

        The Delta IV can lift up to about the Space Shuttle's capacity at $250 million a launch. The Russian Proton-M can lift a little less than the Shuttle at $100 million a launch. There are plenty of alternatives to the Shuttle for launching large payloads.
        • by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas@dsmi[ ]corp.com ['nc-' in gap]> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:03PM (#21067865) Homepage
          It would seem a lot of the logic behind the shuttle was to get the gear and the people there on one transport. While I personally think the shuttles design was most about getting the funding not building the most efficient/safe unit.

          In any event it seems like the saturn v's could have gotten the IIS up in aprox 4 lifts, this would seem more efficient as there would be less hardware joining sections together.
          • by CharlieG (34950) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:45PM (#21068105) Homepage
            Remember the MAIN design goal of the shuttle wasn't JUST to bring "stuff" to orbit, but to be able to bring sats DOWN from orbit - in fact, part of the design criteria was launch from Vandenburg, grab a sat, and LAND in ONE orbit (Military wanted to be able to snach Sats)

            They did bring 2 or 3 Sats down from orbit in the early days
            • That's the only big technical thing I see that the shuttle can do that the other alternatives can't.

              Grab "big" stuff and bring it down without it burning up.

              However, if I made spy sats I'd make sure I could blow them up. It doesn't take very much explosive to make it too dangerous to grab with the shuttle. I bet shuttles are more expensive than spy sats, and it's more expensive to have the spy sat not blow up and be captured ;).

              So I suppose it'll only be useful if you were grabbing your own sats, or trying
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by CharlieG (34950)
                Yep - about it. The thing is, it was one of the BIG selling points, even in the commercial realm. Everyone was going to design their Sats to either be repaired on orbit, or recovered and returned to earth for repair/rebuild. There was even a NASA standard for how the grapple points would work.

                That all went away with Challenger. I can remember watching the couple of sat recovers on TV (Yeah - I'm an older geek - heck, I was writing some code at WORK when I heard Challenger was destroyed). I can
          • In any event it seems like the saturn v's could have gotten the IIS up in aprox 4 lifts

            And it put Skylab up in one.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dbIII (701233)
            Von Braun's body is a moulderin' in the ground so we aint got Saturn V's no more.

            To be quite serious there are a lot of people and infrastructure missing to recreate a Saturn V so it would be better to do something else that it's designers understand in every detail from early in it's development. The Russians have a large rocket in development - there's an ISS so why not international effort on a launch vehicle?

          • "It would seem a lot of the logic behind the shuttle was to get the gear and the people there on one transport."

            Besides, it's the only current space vehicle that you can realistically do a spacewalk outside of, and then demand that someone open the pod-bay doors for you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by seadd (530971)

        That's tough. Remember, we could not have built the ISS without the shuttle. The shuttle has a huge cargo-carrying capacity. The Soyuz cannot do that, as reliable as it is. The shuttle has had its drawbacks, but it is the workhorse, and it was necessary in order to do the ISS.

        According to data from Wikipedia: SS payload to LEO: 24400kg Orbiter mass: 68,586.6kg So, to get 24 tons of cargo into orbit, we send nearly 70 tons extra. As a comparison, Russian Proton rocket launches 22 tons into orbit, and uses 40 years old proven design, and was used for launching the parts of the Mir station. So, why exactly do we need Space Shuttle? Do I hear someone mentioning Saturn 5?

      • by timeOday (582209)

        Remember, we could not have built the ISS without the shuttle.
        Oh, so we should add another $100 billion to the shuttle's tab? The ISS is not much of a justification for anything.
      • Is it really true that the ISS could not have been built without the space shuttle? The shuttle has a maximum payload of around 100 tons but as far as I know this amount of payload has rarely if ever been flown during the entire shuttle program (the chandra x-ray observatory payload weighed 50 tons or so, but that was not part of the ISS construction). The Russian Proton heavy lift rocket is reputed to be have a lifting capacity of 22 tons for Low Earth Orbit and even if more launches were needed to accomod
    • by maxume (22995) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:27PM (#21067679)
      I dare, nay, double dare you to fit Hubble into a Soyuz capsule:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Space_Shuttle_vs_Soyuz_TM_-_to_scale_drawing.png [wikipedia.org]

      The Shuttle is probably a stupid way to put people in orbit, but that isn't all it is used for.
      • by Firethorn (177587) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:16PM (#21067953) Homepage Journal
        I dare, nay, double dare you to fit Hubble into a Soyuz capsule:

        Why would you want to?

        Launch cargo(like satellites) on cargo rockets. Life people in capsules designed for people.

        As others have pointed out, there are a number of rockets capable of lifting a similar payload as the shuttle - for half the launch cost of the shuttle.

        I've seen figures of $500 million for a shuttle launch, $50M for a soyuz(including the capsule), $250 for the Delta IV.

        That means we can duplicate the shuttle for about three launches - 2 soyuz(a shuttle can hold more people) $100M total, and a Delta IV for $250M. This totals $350M, leaving me 150M off the launch costs alone to use for other purposes. Like building a space station that's actually useful.

        For rather less than the cost of a shuttle, you should be able to design a 'soyuz/apollo heavy' capable of lifting the same number of people as the shuttle.
        • Launch cargo(like satellites) on cargo rockets. Life people in capsules designed for people.

          Why? If you can't trust a rocket with billion dollar one-of-a-kind payloads, why should you trust it with people? Conversely, if you can't trust a rocket with people - why would you trust it with billion dollar one-of-a-kind payloads?

          [The following is in reference to duplicating a Hubble delivery or servicing mission.]

          That means we can duplicate the shuttle for about three launches - 2 soyuz(a shuttle can

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by khallow (566160)
        Why would you want to launch the Hubble from the Shuttle? Use a Titan IV.
        • Why would you use the only vehicle ever built that makes Shuttle look like a bargain?
          • by khallow (566160)
            The economics of the Titan IV were peculiar due both to its extremely low launch frequency, the impromptu nature of its creation, and apparently the rocket was assembled in a peculiar and costly way. With NASA's vehicle assembly building to ease stacking of a Titan IV and a bunch of NASA flights, I doubt the Titan IV would look so bad.
      • The Hubble Space Telescope could have just as easily been launched using either Delta IV OR Proton M rockets instead of the Shuttle. It might be argued that the subsequent servicing mission to correct the optics (an uforseen event) would have required the shuttle, but that does not negate the central point that the Hubble *could* have been launched without the Shuttle.
      • The Shuttle is usually a stupid way to get anything into orbit. If it wasn't a sacred cow, I think NASA would get much cheaper ways to get heavier payloads into orbit. It didn't do certain things that it was good at very often, which was take very large payloads and bring them back. It was used to repair the Hubble, but NASA can build & launch specialized telescopes that greatly advance cosmology and astrophysics for about the cost of a shuttle servicing mission. Most of those don't get such in term
    • by tftp (111690)
      Hard to believe that way back when the shuttles were designed, they were expected to each be launched 100 times.

      At that point (1970?) some complacency was setting in, around the generally successful Moon flights. The military also added fuel to the fire by asking for some configurations that are almost impossible. This resulted in a very complex machine, and one flight can bankrupt a medium-sized nation. Nobody knew how much has to be rebuilt after each flight until they got a vehicle back and looked at i

    • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:48PM (#21067795)
      The comparison seems a little bit unfair on the Shuttle.

      First of all, does the Soyuz figure of 25 mil include the cost of the launch vehicle or just the spacecraft? A search for per launch cost of Soyuz gives me figures from 40-60 mil.

      Secondly, Shuttle has a maximum payload of 50,000lb, Soyuz is more in the region of 15,000lb. That gives about $200 mil for 4 Soyuz launches versus $450 mil per one Shuttle launch for equivalent amount of cargo. Of course there is the initial cost of the shuttle as well to take into account but unlike Soyuz that is spread over multiple launches.

      Still, he only thing that really matters is the cost per pound of payload and Soyuz still beats Shuttle by a long way.
    • If the shuttle costs $2 billion, and a Soyuz is only $25 million, we could send up 80 Soyuz launches for that same $2 billion.

      Sure. If all we were sending were cargo in 50lb chunks or people, that would make sense.
       
       

      To put that in to perspective

      The perspective is simple - your 'analysis' concerns itself only with costs. It utterly ignore capabilities. Which makes it irrelevant.
    • by MadMorf (118601)
      At those rates, it doesn't matter that a Soyuz isn't reusable.

      Well, if you don't take payload into account, as mentioned previously...

      400 Soyuz flights * 880kg payload = 352,000 kg lifted to orbit.

      119 Shuttle Flights * 24400kg payload = 2,903,600 kg lifted to orbit.

      So...Significantly different.

      Ariane 5 and Delta IV are still better deals, but Soyuz, not so much.

  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@b ... h u d s o n .com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:13PM (#21067621) Journal

    "The Soyuz spacecraft designed in the mid-1960s is still in service, somewhat modified. It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable"

    Each shuttle mission costs a half-billion to launch. So many systems have to be rebuilt and retested that it would be cheaper to make them throw-away.

    For example, by the time the shuttle engines are on the launch pad, they've been rebuilt pretty much from scratch and retested, which takes up almost 90% of their rated lifetime. Like a race car engine that has to be rebuilt every 750 miles, but is test for 675 miles before the race ...

    Saying the shuttle is re-usable without looking at the real costs is ignoring reality.

    • by iluvcapra (782887)

      What I want to know is, how do I get ahold of a used Soyuz capsule? It would make just about the most awesome lawn decoration/flower planter possible ;).

      Or even a little piece of it; something big enough and flat enough to turn into a coffee table. I'm not picky.

    • by glitchvern (468940) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:19PM (#21068285) Homepage

      For example, by the time the shuttle engines are on the launch pad, they've been rebuilt pretty much from scratch and retested, which takes up almost 90% of their rated lifetime.
      Is this still true? I know at the beginning of the shuttle program this was true, but that was about 5 major space shuttle main engine versions ago. Phase II engines first flew September 29, 1988 (STS-26 first post Challenger flight); Block 1 engines first flew July 13, 1995 (STS-70); Block IIa engines first flew January 22, 1998 (STS-89); Block II engines, which yes came after Block IIa engines, first flew July 12 2001 (STS-104) Boeing SSME paper [engineeringatboeing.com]. From 1992 to 2000 Space Shuttle annual operating costs decreased 40% Nasa Fact Sheet [nasa.gov] in part due to decreased SSME maintenance costs. How much does it costs to rebuild a Block II SSME? I can't find any numbers for that anywhere. It should be noted that a Block II SSME is the most reliable rocket engine ever built in large part because it's reuseability allows extensive static fire testing of each engine. The space shuttle may be crap, but a lot of the parts are awesome and SSME is one of them. It'll be a shame we will no longer use them when we discontinue the space shuttle, but attaching expensive reusable engines to an expendable booster really doesn't make a lot of sense.
      • For example, by the time the shuttle engines are on the launch pad, they've been rebuilt pretty much from scratch and retested, which takes up almost 90% of their rated lifetime.
        Is this still true?

        No, it isn't, and hasn't been for years. IIRC current generation SSME's are removed for inspection and testing (without dissasembly) every second flight and are removed for overhaul (IOW, dissasembly) every fourth flight.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:51PM (#21067811) Homepage Journal
    It seems rather fashionable to knock the Space Shuttle - it's expensive, it was overhyped, putting the thing on the side of the tank is a design mistake, and the tiles are a maintenance nightmare. It's easy to knock the Shuttle and demand a retreat to older style systems, and I've done it. But the more and more I think about it, the more I think, junking the shuttle and the approach of the orbital space plane is a huge mistake.

    We are all aware of the negatives of the shuttle, but let's look at some of the positives of this system. First and foremost, the interior of the space shuttle is -huge- compared to the interior of a Soyuz, or for that matter, any other manned space craft. The Soyuz can bring up 2 or 3 astronauts, while shuttle missions with 6 or 7 are not uncommon. The Soyuz, the Apollo and the nascent Orion are essentially ballistic nosecones with people stuffed in it. The space shuttle has a habital volume, for its crew compartment alone, of over 70 cubic meters. The soyuz, on the other hand, has a habital volume of just 7 cubic meters. Astronauts in these capsules basically sit in their chairs, but in the shuttle they can get up, move around, and do things. The space shuttle is practically a space station in its own right.

    The space shuttle has a cargo bay, and, thanks to the Canadians, has a really cool mechanical arm. The cargo bay can be pressurized for even more space, or it can contain additional research facilities. Have we forgotten that the European Space Agency has flown a science station in the space shuttle cargo bay already? Have we forgotten about the repairs made to Hubble? The Space Shuttle can and has repaired other satellites, and right now, is the ONLY SYSTEM that can bring them back a largish cargo from space to earth.

    Everyone seems to like knocking NASA, cheering on the likes of Burt Rutan and the X-Prize in hopes for some private sector miracle, but I've not seen any private sector initiative, from scratch, put so much as a suitcase into orbit, certainly not a man, and nothing like the space shuttle. Those fancy suborbital flights are a joke - 3000mph requires a fraction of the total kinetic energy to attain the orbital velocity of over 17000mph. Let me know when anyone, really, anyone builds something as cool as the shuttle...and the thing is, when we're back to tiny capsules for manned space flight, when the naysayers win and the shuttles are tossed off to museums, everyone is going to compare the capsule to the shuttle and say geez, by far, the shuttle was the cooler thing, and the capsule is a step backwards, not forward, and that our next space ship should have been a newer version of the shuttle, not a rehashed capsule.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by corsec67 (627446)
      One of the biggest problems with the Shuttle is that the crew area is on the side of the external fuel tank, and the booster rockets. Yes, capsules on top may be "old hat," but it is a lot safer when you are going up and all of the almost-explosive stuff is under you. That, and there is nothing to fall onto the crew part. Who cares if the insulation on the tank gets damaged if it is below the crew part.

      For example, how many missions prior to the Shuttle had problems with insulation falling onto other parts
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rbanffy (584143)
        In fact, the Buran design was superior - it had no lift engines of its own and could ride on top of the real rocket. This simplifies the loads on the main rocket, allow for more cargo and makes the vehicle immune to insulation damage.

        Of course the Soviets noticed this was a bad idea (it would be smarter to send the cargo on top of the Energia rocket and not carry Buran's dead weight) and aborted the project after the first flight.

        They could have aborted it before, but then there was that national pride thin
        • Of course the Soviets noticed this was a bad idea (it would be smarter to send the cargo on top of the Energia rocket and not carry Buran's dead weight) and aborted the project after the first flight.

          That's a bit revisionist. The design was not in question. The Soviets ran out of money. If they hadn't they would have continued with the program.
          • by rbanffy (584143) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:37PM (#21068679) Homepage Journal
            It's not revisionist to think they probably ran out of money _because_ the Buran solved no real problem that had not already been solved with other technologies. Had the Buran a real task to do, it would probably get some funding.

            Since the intention behind it (and other projects as well) was to give technical parity between the two superpowers and the Buran gave nothing new (the USSR could launch people and cargo to space better without it), it got scrapped. They could not afford to let the US develop something significantly better, so they had to do something on the same lines, just to be safe. The main difference is they took less time to figure out it was a really bad idea. And keep in mind theirs was a better one.

            The problem is not "build a reusable spacecraft" but rather "get this thing to orbit, for less money than we already pay". If you focus on the wrong problem, it's inevitable you arrive at the wrong solution.

            As it happened, Buran was a great solution to get something down in one piece. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen often enough to justify the money spent on it.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by RedWizzard (192002)

              It's not revisionist to think they probably ran out of money _because_ the Buran solved no real problem that had not already been solved with other technologies. Had the Buran a real task to do, it would probably get some funding.

              You do know that the soviet union was collapsing at the time, right? The lack of funding for Buran had nothing to do with the program and everything to do with the economic and political state of the union. Buran could have been the greatest space program ever conceived and it still would have been cancelled.

        • In fact, the Buran design was superior - it had no lift engines of its own and could ride on top of the real rocket. This simplifies the loads on the main rocket, allow for more cargo and makes the vehicle immune to insulation damage.

          Actually, most pictures of Buran clearly show the rocket riding alongside the Energia booster, just like the Shuttle rides alongside the fuel tank.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buran_program [wikipedia.org]

          So, Buran would have had the same problems as the Shuttle, re: chunks of stuff from super
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          In fact, the Buran design was superior - it had no lift engines of its own and could ride on top of the real rocket.

          Have you ever actually looked at a picture of a Buran on the launch pad? Try this one. [wikipedia.org]

          Of course the Soviets noticed this was a bad idea (it would be smarter to send the cargo on top of the Energia rocket and not carry Buran's dead weight)

          Oh? Check out this picture of Energia configured to carry cargo. [buran.ru]

          and aborted the project after the first flight.

          Actually,

    • by rbanffy (584143) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:24PM (#21067993) Homepage Journal
      It's true the shuttle does things that are really necessary and quite cool - getting people to space and back, getting big things to space and getting other big things back, but the fact that those abilities are seldom needed at once is a killer.

      There must be a way to ferry big stuff into orbit frequently - even if it is just a truckload of provisions for the ISS or a whole vehicle capable of taking a crew to the Moon and back. There must be a way to send people to the ISS and back. There must be a way to allow those people already in space to repair expensive stuff like the Hubble. Finally, there should probably be a way to return things the size of the Hubble back to Earth in one piece.

      Sending large things to orbit is very frequent, ferrying people is less frequent and bringing back stuff is even less frequent if needed at all.

      Having something that does all three at the same time seems like a bad idea.
    • by Firethorn (177587) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:25PM (#21067999) Homepage Journal
      Great, it's a reusable space station. The point that I'd make is that it shouldn't be. For the cost of what we do with it, we could have an even larger permanent space station, just use smaller capsules(and large cargo rockets) to get there.

      Design a space station that only has to survive being lifted once, and doesn't have to come down intact. Heck, make it modular - remove pieces as they wear out and let them drop back if you want to.

      For satellite repair design a space tug that can go out with some astronauts and the robotic arm to conduct repairs on satellites. It should be almost an order of magnitude lighter than the shuttle, so it shouldn't take much fuel. For longer repairs, consider hauling the satellite back to the station. Heck, have a bigalow structure you can haul larger cargo into and pressurize if you want.
      • Great, it's a reusable space station. The point that I'd make is that it shouldn't be. For the cost of what we do with it, we could have an even larger permanent space station, just use smaller capsules(and large cargo rockets) to get there.

        That seems true - until you actually cost out the flights. The small (people carrying) rockets are expensive because they flight often. The large (cargo/station module carrying) rockets are very, very, very expensive because they fly so rarely. The Shuttle, by combi

    • by khallow (566160) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:37PM (#21068053)

      The reason the Shuttle is a bad idea and remains so, is that it isn't economical to use. Many of those capabilities are unnecessary and add little value to the Shuttle. That's why it's only being used for launching ISS components and a Hubble repair mission. If the ISS were complete, the Shuttle would already be dead, and we'd be saving ourselves $2 billion or more a year.

      Everyone seems to like knocking NASA, cheering on the likes of Burt Rutan and the X-Prize in hopes for some private sector miracle, but I've not seen any private sector initiative, from scratch, put so much as a suitcase into orbit, certainly not a man, and nothing like the space shuttle. Those fancy suborbital flights are a joke - 3000mph requires a fraction of the total kinetic energy to attain the orbital velocity of over 17000mph. Let me know when anyone, really, anyone builds something as cool as the shuttle...and the thing is, when we're back to tiny capsules for manned space flight, when the naysayers win and the shuttles are tossed off to museums, everyone is going to compare the capsule to the shuttle and say geez, by far, the shuttle was the cooler thing, and the capsule is a step backwards, not forward, and that our next space ship should have been a newer version of the shuttle, not a rehashed capsule.

      Orbital Sciences and the Pegasus did just that in the late 80's. NASA started feeding them contracts so they wouldn't compete with the big players. Second, those fancy suborbital flights are closer to orbit than you think. They have higher delta-v's due to gravitational and air resistance losses (I'd say it turns a factor of five into a factor of 2-4). Also you can stage lifters. My take is that a three stage rocket will get you there. And we all know there are two stage to orbit launchers out there. No reason a private company can't repeat with its own funds what a private company did with government funds.

      Ultimately, economics is far more important than "coolness". The Shuttle never was economical. Too bad it took us around thirty years to figure that out.

    • by confused one (671304) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:59PM (#21068179)
      I don't knock the shuttle generally. It's a fantastic machine. Everything you say about it is true. BTW, that includes the negatives about the tiles and mounting the thing on the side of a tank that you can't escape from. The problem is that it's such a marvelously complicated machine, that it's MTBF is unacceptably low. It's OVERcomplicated, being a system full of compromises designed in by multiple committees with differing goals. Don't misunderstand me, I love the things. BTW, FWIW I work for a NASA contractor adjacent to the Langley facility. It bothers me that about 1 in 100 have not returned in one piece. As an engineer, it also bothers me that the system is running wayyyy beyond it's design life.

      The Soyuz system is remarkable in that it's been reliable. They're not perfect. Yes, they had fatal accidents, however, the last one occured in 1971. They learned from those failures and implemented design changes in the later modules. Yes, it's also true that Soyuz has only flown around 100 manned flights; but, even when it fails, as the NAV system did today, the people return alive. That's a reputation that's hard to argue with.

      I think what we've learned from operating the shuttle and looking at the Russian program, is that simple makes for a better MTBF and does it at a lower cost. It may not be gee-wiz. It may appear to be a step backward. If this means the people come home alive, it's the right move. Use the big boosters, in parallel, to put the equipment in space and then have the people meet it there.

      It's like we tried to run, when we didn't know how to walk yet. We stumbled a few times, scrapped our knees. Now we're being a little more cautious as we learn to walk with confidence. We'll run again, when the times right, that is, when the technology catches up and the infrastructure is in place.
      • I really don't believe someone can claim to be an engineer - and then write the following with a straight face. Either you are nothing but a fanboi, or you are ignorant of Soyuz's actual record, or you aren't actually a real engineer.

        The Soyuz system is remarkable in that it's been reliable. They're not perfect. Yes, they had fatal accidents, however, the last one occured in 1971. They learned from those failures and implemented design changes in the later modules. Yes, it's also true that

    • So basically what you are saying is that the Russians have the Soyuz, which is inexpensive but small-- kind of like sending a Mini Cooper into space. But we could never stand for that in America, so we have the Shuttle, which is more like a launching tractor-trailer into orbit. Right?
    • It seems rather fashionable to knock the Space Shuttle - it's expensive, it was overhyped, putting the thing on the side of the tank is a design mistake, and the tiles are a maintenance nightmare. It's easy to knock the Shuttle and demand a retreat to older style systems

      Yes, and the older systems have much to recommend themselves over the shuttle as the European Space Agency, the Russians, and the now the Chinese have demonstrated.

      But the more and more I think about it, the more I think, junking the
  • One thing not mentioned in the article (but is mentioned in the 2005 article) is the problems between the Kazakh and Russian governments.They are still debating over problems (especially money) due to failed rocket launches, most recently in September. The Kazakh government keeps suspending and then unsuspending Russian operations at the base.

    See this article from EurasiaNet: http://eurasianet.org/resource/kazakhstan/hypermail/news/0011.shtml [eurasianet.org]
  • by guacamole (24270) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:33PM (#21068657)
    (NASA's) Answer. The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission.

    In other words, the whole shuttle program had been a big waste of money that set the American space exploration back by several decades. The whole thing should have been canned after the Challenger disaster. At that point it was already so damn obvious that the program failed MOST of its original goals. This situation is so bad that Russians can indeed successfully compete with us even though they're using decades old technology and at a fraction of our costs.
  • All physorg does is reprint articles from news feeds and press releases, and they ALWAYS remove all links and online references from the original story. It's a "link tarpit".

    In this particular case the story doesn't seem to have had much to wipe, but a little googling would have gotten you versions that didn't promote physorg.

    http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/tech/2007/oct/21/102106464.html [lasvegassun.com]
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/5232431.html [chron.com]
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071021/ap_on_sc/russia_s_ [yahoo.com]
  • The problem with the shuttle is simple, it was never supposed to be like this. The basic idea started when funding for the space program was still high, and the current shuttle design was supposed to be a trial for a new SET of tools for NASA. The space shuttle as it currently exists was never meant to be. Instead the original vision saw a need for a small craft to ferry personal to and from space, combined with a heavy cargo lifter. The current space shuttle was a support vehicle for that, mostly designed

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