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Obama Team Considers Cancellation of Ares, Orion 870

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-infinity-and-maybe-not dept.
HanzoSpam sends us this story from Space News, which begins: "US President-elect Barack Obama's NASA transition team is asking US space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year. ... The questionnaire, 'NASA Presidential Transition Team Requests for Information,' asks agency officials to provide the latest information on Ares 1, Orion and the planned Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher, and to calculate the near-term close-out costs and longer-term savings associated with canceling those programs. The questionnaire also contemplates a scenario where Ares 1 would be canceled but development of the Ares 5 would continue. While the questionnaire, a copy of which was obtained by Space News, also asks NASA to provide a cost estimate for accelerating the first operational flight of Ares 1 and Orion from the current target date of March 2015 to as soon as 2013, NASA was not asked to study the cost implications of canceling any of its other programs, including the significantly overbudget 2009 Mars Science Laboratory or the James Webb Space Telescope."
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Obama Team Considers Cancellation of Ares, Orion

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  • Results (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retech (1228598) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:40AM (#25924679)
    Nasa has actually given results for it's money. What kind of return on the investment do other agencies produce? Perhaps a comparison vs. a kneejerk reactionary policy may be a better way to handle things... yes?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tomhudson (43916)

      So why not just bring back the Saturn series, with updates to todays' technology? It's not like the shuttle was really reusable, not when so much of it had to be rebuilt by hand after every flight.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lord Byron II (671689)
        As I understand it, the Saturn V was never really considered safe. It just had a small enough number of launches that nothing bad ever happened. According to Wikipedia, it only launched a total of 13 times. I think because it is so impressive (in terms of size and lifting capability) of a rocket and because it was lucky enough to never have a failure, it has become viewed as a safe, reliable workhorse.
    • Re:Results (Score:5, Funny)

      by ErikZ (55491) * on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:44AM (#25924709)

      Oh man. Now they're sure to get canceled. Showing results for the money makes other government programs look bad.

      Stop working so hard NASA!

  • I'm not suprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NETHED (258016) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:45AM (#25924715) Homepage

    Obama's presidency is going to be very FDRish. Lots of big 'public works' projects to keep the voting masses coming back, but in terms of actual forward thinking, very little. Well, actually, if you are into the government getting bigger, you won't be disappointed.

    (Man, I'm gonna get modded into oblivion for this!)

    • by coaxial (28297) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:21PM (#25926435) Homepage

      Our infrastructure has been underfunded for decades. Our electrical grid suffers from regular blackouts during the summer, and can't support alternative energy developments. Our broadband penetration and speeds are falling further and further behind the rest of the world. Our roads are constantly damaged, and we literally have bridges collapsing. Even our water and sewer infrastructure is aging and falling into disrepair. We haven't made any serious investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System, over 50 years ago.

      And here's the thing you need to know about public works. It's an investment. Without a maintained and modern infrastructure, your economy comes to a halt. And maintaining and providing infrastructure has always been one of the primary roles of government. That's because infrastructure simply doesn't happen by itself, especially in today's age of myopic focus on quarterly profits. (Actually that's not true. Private companies have never had in interest in providing infrastructure. Case in point: rural electrification [wikipedia.org].)

      I would say actually these problems that have been growing for 20 or 30 years, as opposed to ignoring them as has been the case, is "forward thinking".

      Oh and FDR fixed the econom, won a war, and pretty much created the modern United States. We can only hope that Obama can achieve even part of the success of FDR.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:58AM (#25924801)

    Even if the incoming administration eliminated NASA they wouldn't recover enough to pay for the various giveaways (e.g., bailouts, economic, stimulus checks, etc.). NASA's budget for 2009 was only 17.6 billion (http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2008/feb/HQ_08034_FY2009_budget.html). Certainly Obama and company can find better places to trim in this day of multi-trillion dollar giveaways. Let's start by scrapping the economic stimulus packages ($175-500 billion) which have thus far done next to nothing in stimulating anything except perhaps the re-election chances of those that allowed this mess to develop in the first place (yes Congress, that's you).

  • by mnemonic_ (164550) <jamec@u[ ]h.edu ['mic' in gap]> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:00AM (#25924821) Homepage Journal

    This might actually be a good thing. I have a friend working at Cape Canaveral who tells me that most of his managers at NASA consider Project Orion a disgrace to the space program. The design is a kludge... it's less elegant than Apollo of 30 years ago, using multiple Ares rockets to handle what Saturn V did on its own. The design's fundamentally flawed, the rocket's so slender it "wants" to fly backwards... the control system has to fight its natural flight mechanics the entire way up to keep it straight. The launch vibrations were large enough to kill the astronauts, leading them to add shock absorbers, because the project's been so rushed and it's too late in the game to instead eliminate vibrations altogether. The whole capsule design is antiquated and relies on an incredibly tough heat shield for reentry, when reentry speeds themselves should be lowered (using a lifting fuselage, like the X-33 [wikipedia.org] and SS1 [wikipedia.org]), vastly reducing reentry heating and eliminating burnup almost entirely as a failure mode (Columbia).

    I won't try to just blame Bush, but this hasn't been a methodical, thought-out advance of manned exploration. Mike Griffin's in the wrong here too as the project cheerleader. The project's a mess, with so much modern materials science and computational flight dynamics being thrown at a design that was only good for the 1960s, but completely outclassed today by research since then. If Obama cancels BOTH Ares and Orion, maybe we can have a real successor to the SSTO (PLEASE be the X-33 with composite fuel tanks).

    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:12AM (#25924891)

      Don't get so full of yourself, the Russians and Chinese seem to be doing fine with capsule designs. A lifting body isn't the best choice just because you like it more. A composite lifting body design is expensive when you can't guarantee resuability. And we all know how the reusability of the Shuttle turned out.

      The whole point of using many smaller rockets is some little thing known as the economy of scale.

      It's also rather difficult to completely eliminate vibrations from a solid rocket without an advancement in the manufacturing process used to create the fuel.

      • by NormalVisual (565491) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:16PM (#25926379)
        It's also rather difficult to completely eliminate vibrations from a solid rocket without an advancement in the manufacturing process used to create the fuel.

        Then don't use a solid rocket. Liquid-fueled designs are more complex, but they're throttleable and thus can compensate for thrust irregularities. As an extension of that, you can actually shut them off if needed. They also spew a lot less crap into the air.

        The main reason we're using a solid first stage on the Ares I is because Thiokol has good lobbyists, in my opinion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Burdell (228580)

      X-33 was an unmanned test platform that would never reach orbit. A lot was learned before the project was cancelled, even though it never flew. One big thing that was learned was that we don't have the materials capability to make a composite fuel tank that works; both the O2 and H2 composite fuel tanks failed.

      X-33 and SS1 were both sub-orbital vehicles and did not have to deal with orbital re-entry speeds, so comparing to them is not valid. You can't magically lower re-entry speeds; orbital velocity is

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In other words, Obama understands the need for a symbol, and this is his signal to NASA. The space program has long been a symbol of American achievement and in a time like this, we need symbols of hope. We need to prove that in spite of everything we can still reach for the stars. It's politically sound. But he also wants NASA to get its act together -- he wants the best, and this is also a message to NASA that average and substandard won't be tolerated.

  • by DigitalisAkujin (846133) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:07AM (#25924859) Homepage

    They asked for a cost analysis for various scenarios. Stop assuming the worst case.

  • by savuporo (658486) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:10AM (#25924879)
    This is the best thing that can happen to a space program. NASA should not duplicate already existing capabilities, in this case earth to LEO launch. LEO launch is a commercially available service, there is no need for government-operated launch business. NASA lunar architecture should be built around existing launch capabilities, its perfectly feasible to mount big lunar, martian and other exploration efforts with our currently existing 20MT class launchers, and it will work out cheaper, more robust and future proof Government sponsored R&D should happen on frontiers, not recreating exising services.
  • Almost not fair.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brad1138 (590148) * <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:13AM (#25924899)
    Obama is inheriting an UNBELIEVABLE debt/deficit. There will need to be cuts EVERYWHERE. It almost isn't fair to put this article up on /. Of course all of us geeks don't want to see the space program cut.
  • by Prototerm (762512) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:20AM (#25924945)

    If you've been laid off, you've spent your retirement funds, you're car is about to be repossessed, and your house is about to be foreclosed, the *last* thing you want to do is go on that trip to the Bahamas you've been planning to take.

    We can not afford to spend all this money exploring space, not right now. We should privatize the whole space program, and let somebody make money off it selling tickets to rich SOB's with more money than sense. Only when it has to make a profit for somebody will it find the efficiency and economy it needs to make real progress. At the moment, it's nothing more than a money pit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tompaulco (629533)
      Space exploration can not be likened to a trip to the Bahamas. Space exploration is an investment in research. Research results in innovation. However, research doesn't pay off in a quarter or a year, it pays off over decades. Because of our greed, we have forced our publicly traded companies to focus on quarterly improvements, rather than long term innovations. Yes, improvements make money, and they make it more quickly, however they do not make nearly as much money as innovations. We jeer at the automaker
  • by Orion Blastar (457579) <[orionblastar] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:54AM (#25925175) Homepage Journal

    This is a post from Frank in my Pirate's mailing list group:

    I think the human race needs to start thinking of space exploration as necessity.

    Obama wants to create 2.5 million jobs for 2k+9. But the prob is that we need

    1) work that needs to be done
    2) negotiate a price that the workers are willing to work for, and the employer is willing to
    pay.

    Without those two things, it's like trying to use an electric motor to charge its own battery.

    The truth is, the earth isn't big enough for everyone. We want to increase wealth for
    everyone. To do so we have two options:

    1) take it from someone else
    2) go where there is unclaimed wealth

    The great thing about space is that there is a lot of it. You see, if I have a candy bar, and
    the teacher sees me with it says, "are you going to share with everyone?" I have no choice
    but to put it away because by the time I divide it up, my piece will be too small.

    But if I can go to where there's a truckload of candy, I can truly share with everyone. So it
    is with outer space.

    So when we think of space exploration as a necessity, we will have:

    jobs in space
    homes in space
    nightclubs in space
    shopping malls in space
    restaurants in space

    In other words, a sustainable economy!

  • by Smallphish (320591) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:55AM (#25925187)

    This is an incredibly pro-space piece of news out of the Obama team, but what gets the focus is the potential termination of the boondoggle Ares program.

    This article is far more interesting due to the last paragraph:

    "Obama's NASA transition team also appears to be interested in a number of specific projects that have more or less languished in recent years. Among those projects are: the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a mothballed Earth-observing satellite formerly known as Triana; agency efforts to catalog asteroids and comets that could threaten Earth; and the harnessing of space-based solar power for use on Earth."

    The article also alludes to a potential expansion of the COTS commercial space program, potential uses for EELV launchers, etc.

    If the Obama team is serious about these projects (especially space solar power) it would mean a revolution in space funding and a committment to space development that would make Ares pale in comparison. SSP would mean a real orbital infrastructure that would enable a huge number of possibilities, such as real lunar bases and mars missions, not plant a flag crap which is where Ares is headed.

  • by Dan667 (564390) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:16PM (#25925313)
    Seems like the US Gov could save $800 billion alone in the financial sector for something that is having no payoff.
  • It may not be cuts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by confused one (671304) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:21PM (#25925345)

    The parent poster and editor did a poor job describing the article. The obvious thing was the questions about cutting Ares 1. As mentioned, they also asked about Ares 5. What's missing, Obama's office also asked about:

    • Possibility of continuing Ares 5 without Ares 1
    • Extending the Shuttle to 2015
    • Possibility of adapting CEV to other launch vehicles, including Ariane
    • Cost of funding the entire suite of Earth observatory satellites
    • Cost of picking up the pieces and funding some of the cancelled programs

    What it sounds like to me is they're doing due diligence with the intention of possibly increasing NASA's budget; but, they want to spend the money as wisely as possible.

    For once, I with people would read the damn article before jumping to conclusions, even here, on /.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:27PM (#25925383) Homepage

    "Space travel is utter bilge" - Richard van der Riet Wolley, Astronomer Royal, 1955.

    He was right. Back in 1955, he crunched the numbers, and realized that you couldn't build a rocket that lifted itself into orbit while carrying much of a payload.

    Only by excessive weight reduction and throwing away big chunks of the launch vehicle does space travel work at all. Space travel on chemical fuels will never work much better than it does now. It's an inherent limitation of chemical fuels. After fifty years of trying, it's still only possible to just barely get stuff into orbit, using huge rockets to lift dinky payloads. The vehicles are so weight-reduced that they're too fragile to reuse without a major overhaul after each flight. We'll never get to something with the robustness of a commercial airliner, or even a jet fighter.

    We should resign ourselves to launching small satellites and planetary probes. Manned spaceflight is just an expensive ego trip for nations. The ISS turned out to be pointless; people go there, but nothing much gets done there. It's not useful for astronomy, earth observation, scientific research, manufacturing, or even for military purposes.

    If we ever get a better power source, like fusion or a nuclear rocket that doesn't make a big mess, this could change. But on chemical fuels, space travel is a dud. It's time to admit that and give it up.

    • by khallow (566160) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @02:45PM (#25926607)

      Only by excessive weight reduction and throwing away big chunks of the launch vehicle does space travel work at all.

      And? We can limit ourselves (as we do now) to weight reduction that isn't "excessive". And those parts of the vehicle (especially the propellant) aren't very valuable.

      We should resign ourselves to launching small satellites and planetary probes.

      This is the kind of silly nonsense you hear from people who listen to nonexperts. Astronomers are notorious in the space industry for making all sorts of poorly thought out claims. The problem is that because they are astronomers, they are seen as having some sort of experise in anything space-related. What's missing is an understanding of economics and manufacture. The launch industry needs a higher launch rate. That's it. All current vehicles have high fixed costs: launch pads, launch crews, and other overhead whether they fly or not. More vehicles means that those costs are divided over more vehicles. Second, with a high launch rate comes greater reliability and safety. That's because the launch crews are more experienced and there's greater knowledge of the vehicle's faults and quirks. Double the launch rate of any existing launch vehicle and you will reduce significantly the cost per launch.

  • Seems reasonable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hitchhikerjim (152744) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:36PM (#25925453)

    Seems to me that this is the right thing to do 60-days before he actually gets into office -- gather information.

    He didn't say he was going to cut anything, he asked for a cost-benefit analysis on various scenarios. If NASA can't deliver that, they don't deserve to keep operating. But I suspect they will give that, and it'll be fuel for the Obama administration to make (hopefully good) decisions.

    I hope he's doing the same with every government agency -- identifying their top line-items and looking at whether or not those items are really best done by continuing on the current paths.

  • by BigZaphod (12942) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @12:52PM (#25925593) Homepage

    Boy.. I hope they don't cut funding for the stargate program... who would stop all the alien attacks?

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