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NASA Businesses Space

NASA Outsources ISS Resupply To SpaceX, Orbital 151

Posted by kdawson
from the minding-the-gap dept.
DynaSoar writes "NASA has signed two contracts with US commercial space ventures totaling $3.5 billion for resupply of the International Space Station. SpaceX will receive $1.6 billion for 12 flights of SpaceX's planned Dragon spacecraft and their Falcon 9 boosters. $1.9 billion goes to Orbital for eight flights of its Cygnus spacecraft riding its Taurus 2 boosters. Neither of the specified craft has ever flown. However, the proposed vehicles are under construction and based on proven technology, whereas NASA has often contracted with big aerospace companies for services using vehicles not yet even designed."
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NASA Outsources ISS Resupply To SpaceX, Orbital

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  • Problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:18PM (#26218943)
    Things like this is exactly why people are questioning our space program, we just seem to do things just to say we can. What really needs to happen is that taxpayers fund government research which releases *all* findings/blueprints/formulas/source/etc to the public (minus *real* national security issues, such nuclear weapons). Private businesses (such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX) then can take the information and adapt them to create things thereby reducing taxpayer load. Our current system of hiding anything and everything under the guise of "national security" is what is making our space program fail, and outsourcing things to private companies does nothing to benefit the public.
    • Re:Problems (Score:5, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:24PM (#26218991) Homepage Journal

      The world isn't a simple as you make it out to be. Patents and copyrights lock things up, but trade secrets lock them up even more. Government intervention to make people act against their own interests is a never ending spiral. There's no way to mandate that people do good science. It's interesting that you mention national security. Current legislation basically makes good science and engineering in rocketry illegal.. cause any improvement to a rocket is an improvement to the death count of a potential weapon using that rocket. I, personally, care more about the progress of rocketry than I care about the number of potential lives lost in a potential war fought with potential rocket-based weapons in the potential future, but other people think differently.

      • Re:Problems (Score:5, Interesting)

        by davolfman (1245316) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:31PM (#26219017)
        Anything made under government contract for its design should logically be considered "work for hire" and be public domain by default. That's the assertion I'm going to make.
        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          I know this is a common US principle that is largely ignored in practice, but it's not at all common in the rest of the world. I think it's a good idea.. but, frankly, it's totally irrelevant for rocketry as the governments of the world have decided that rocketry is just too damn awesome for making weapons to be freely able to be published.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ckaminski (82854)
            Okay, general rule, one that the Soviet's learned the hard way. Making rockets is easy. Making GOOD rockets is a little ->. harder. Making rockets that can hurl a thousand pounds to a pin-point target 1000 miles away is damn near impossible without a huge, developed and modern industrial base. And if you have that, odds are your populace is happy living like fat cats, you've got money coming out your asses, and you're not stupid enough to bomb a country with more nuclear weapons than God.

            So there's
            • by mdm-adph (1030332)

              Checked the news lately? Kim Jong Il ain't doing much these days (though his photoshopped image sure is getting around). The plans are safe!

            • by Dun Malg (230075)

              Keep your rocket under 600 mph, and you can use nearly any off-the-shelf [GPS] receiver to guide your rocket-bomb within 10m of it's target.

              I'd love to see your idea of how a ballistic missile with any range could be kept under 600 mph...

        • by danwesnor (896499)
          Any new work done with government funding is, in fact, owned by the government. But if that work is not totally new, but is instead derived from inventions or designed under the companies funds, that part funded by the company cannot be compelled to be released to the government or any other party. It is up to the government to make work they own public domain. Obviously, they're not going to release ICBM designs on the internet, but they do give designs they own to other companies to replicate or improv
        • by evanbd (210358)
          The problem with that is that there are plenty of cases where a company would like to modify an existing design to meet the government contract. Fewer in aerospace than elsewhere perhaps, but they're still present. Do you require them to open up the whole thing? If so, that means you're likely to get charged more. If not, drawing the line of what gets opened and what doesn't is somewhere between very difficult and impossible (read: expensive). I don't completely disagree with you, but the position does
        • by mea37 (1201159)

          Well, just to bring this around to the topic at hand...

          What you say is all well and good, but this story isn't about the government contracting design work. The companies were already designing and building the vehicles for their own private ventures. The government is buying passage on the companies' ships; they're a customer of said private ventures.

          Buying use of a tool or service is not the same as buying the design.

        • Sure. We'll just tell you how to make ICBMs (which is what most rockets basically are), nuclear bombs, F-22, stealth technology in general, the Blackbird, cruise missiles, warheads, explosives, carriers, and the supercomputers that the NSA use.

          Or perhaps we won't.

      • any improvement to a rocket is an improvement to the death count of a potential weapon using that rocket.

        Maybe not. A friend of mine spend a few weeks, long ago, studying the characteristics of various US ICBMs to see if they were usable as orbital launch vehicles. It didn't take him long to learn that they weren't, partially because none of them had adequate delta-V. I'd be the last person to claim that we've reached a dead end in the development of guided or ballistic missiles, but I don't think tha

        • by ckaminski (82854)
          Some Peacekeeper missiles were retasked to satellite launch, so your friend is mistaken.

          http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=12225

          http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/LGM-118A_Peacekeeper
          [quote]
          The rockets are being converted to a satellite launcher role by Orbital SciencesOrbital Sciences Corporation, as the OSP-2 Minotaur IV SLVMinotaur (rocket), while their warheads will be deployed on the existing Minuteman III missiles.
          [/quote]
          • My friend did his study in the mid-70s. I don't think the Peacekeeper was designed until later, so no, he wasn't mistaken. None of the ICBMs that were in use at the time were adaptable as an orbital lift vehicle.
            • My friend did his study in the mid-70s. I don't think the Peacekeeper was designed until later, so no, he wasn't mistaken. None of the ICBMs that were in use at the time were adaptable as an orbital lift vehicle.

              None of the ICBMs that were in use at the time that had not already been adapted as orbital launch vehicles were suitable for the task.

              In the mid-1970s, the US had Minuteman I and II missiles, as well as Titan IIs which were in the process of being decommissioned. Titan IIs were quite capable of orbital launches, having been used for the Gemini program in the mid-60s. Fourteen of the decommissioned Titan IIs were hauled back out of mothballs and refurbished for space launches in the mid-80s.

              Of the major US

              • None of the ICBMs that were in use at the time that had not already been adapted as orbital launch vehicles were suitable for the task.

                Thank you. I'd never asked him for details, and had to guess a little. Also, at the time I knew him, the incident was already over a decade old.

        • A friend of mine spend a few weeks, long ago, studying the characteristics of various US ICBMs to see if they were usable as orbital launch vehicles. It didn't take him long to learn that they weren't, partially because none of them had adequate delta-V.

          For what it's worth, Mercury was launched atop Atlas (an ICBM), and Gemini was launched atop Titan II (another ICBM).

          Sputnik was also launched atop an ICBM. And as far as I know, pretty much every Soviet launch vehicle except Proton was developed from that

      • Science (Score:5, Interesting)

        by copponex (13876) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @11:55PM (#26219509) Homepage

        Please provide us with the most recent scientific breakthrough not carried out by a government funded lab or subsidized university.

        Don't worry. We'll wait.

        You see, no corporation does anything beyond what's sensible to make a profit. And often that thing is actually detrimental to society without proper regulation, dependent on your definition of progress, and no company could survive the lawsuits if they focused on pure R&D instead of R&D designed to deliver a product for sale. Imagine a company formed for fusion reactor research, promising little to no chance of return for billions of dollars of investment. It wouldn't get off the ground, and would be the laughingstock of wall street. In this case, they are refining rocket technology, not inventing it.

        Good science only happens when you throw huge amounts of money into pure research. Engineering happens trying to solve problems, but not advances in science. The government doesn't force people to research anything, but it does give out wads of cash for things it wants, like the technology found in Predator drones. This is because problems are now extraordinarily complicated and require huge investments to be solved. That's not to say there aren't rare exceptions... and definitely not to say that agencies like NASA aren't in need of serious restructuring. But for the most part, it's government funded research that provides modern technology.

        Also, you're totally wrong about homeland security. It's funded billions of dollars for advanced aerospace research, but to large corporations instead of backyard enthusiasts.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by QuantumG (50515) *

          We were talking about engineering, but ok.

          IBM does more basic science than any other company in the world.. outside Japan. They're also better financed and have institutional knowledge that exceeds most universities by light years. As for government labs, they're good for nuclear research and that's about it.

        • by khallow (566160)
          Medicine. Computers. And space technology to name something relevant to the topic. Sure, the government spends money in these areas. But they aren't making the breakthroughs.
        • by Teancum (67324)

          Please provide us with the most recent scientific breakthrough not carried out by a government funded lab or subsidized university.

          How about Microsoft Research [microsoft.com]?

          While I'm a major critic of Microsoft as a company, some of their basic research activities are simply amazing and certainly aren't done through government subsidies.

          Microsoft certainly isn't alone here, and private R&D does happen by forward thinking individuals and companies. IBM is another company who has done some incredible pure research in

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by hey! (33014)

            Bell Labs was an arm of a government granted monopoly that essentially taxed its users. You couldn't get phone service except through Bell at the price Bell charged. That price was regulated, and the incentive for a monopoly utility under that regime is to increase costs as far as humanly possible, because they were granted profit as a margin above its costs. Thus we have them doing justifiable but ... inefficient things like basic research.

            After the monopoly was broken up, telephone calls became very,

        • You are wrong. This fallacy of raw vs. net profits of enterprises has been refuted since the beginning of the 20th century by liberal theorists. If a company, say SpaceX, takes in a healthy profit, it is only because its successfully supplying a demand. Be sure that SpaceX will invest, not necessarily tons of money, but more importantly, more wisely and rationally than governments ever could, exactly because of their self-interest to make a buck.

          It is the 'potentially democratic' governments that usually

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228)

        What I don't get is how we are spending huge amounts of money to protect ourselves from ICBMs when thanks to MAD the odds of even the most crazed fundie launching one is less than winning the lotto while being struck by lightning. If some crazy jihadist wants to rack up maximum body count he would be nuts to launch a missile, which paints a giant "please kill us all" bullseye on his country when he can just sneak through our giant leaking sieve border and drive a Ryder or stolen FedEx truck right to the cen

    • And what makes you think this (releasing) isn't done? (Not to mention your comment is a complete non sequitur.)

    • Re:Problems (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrBuzzo (913503) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:56PM (#26219179) Homepage
      The vast majority of information which is related to space systems is publicly avaliable. Only some relatively minor stuff relating to surveillance and military satellites and other stuff which is truly national-security related is kept from the public. (It's not that unreasonable - you really don't want the exact capabilities of your military communications capabilities out there or the security is compromised and likewise spy satellites).

      The Space Shuttle is almost entirely open. NASA even has many of the documents on the web. The ones that aren't can be found from the National Archives or similar repositories.

      All the major systems on the rockets like the Saturn family are avaliable. (And no, they didn't lose the blueprints). If you want to know about an F-1 Engine or a JX-2 or the heat shield on an Apollo capsule or the control systems on the shuttle, it's all out there.

      Most of the stuff has not actually changed that much. Yes, the avionics and communications and control systems are better, but the RCS on the shuttle is 30 years old and derived directly from Apollo

      Of course, some of the components are patent protected. This is becasue they were not produced by NASA but by various companies on contract. Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Rocketdyne.

      of course, patents don't last forever and many of the items are past patent expiration. Also, a patent is for a given design or mechanism but does not necessarily stop you from coming out with a knockoff in the same general idea.

      If you want to know why the situation with space flight is so slow and the private ventures are only now getting to the point of being able to fly on their own, the answer is simple: Space flight is really really freakin difficult.
    • by danwesnor (896499)
      It's not national security, it's corporate information developed under IRD that prevents the info from going public. The government cannot compel any organization to release privately owned information to it's competitors (except in cases of national security). However, if SpaceX would like to pay Orbital to teach them how to build a missile that works the first time, I'm sure Orbital would love to help out. And outsourcing to private companies does help by reducing the cost of space launch to other US c
    • Things like this is exactly why people are questioning our space program

      And those questions are only very, very recently becoming valid.
      If you remove Lockheed/Boeing/GD/Northrup (the commercial arm of NASA), there has not been a viable commercial launch capability until maybe 2 yrs ago. Those major players would never have done it without NASA, and NASA never had the actual factories to build it. Hence the synergistic relationship.
      All the new players (Virgin, SpaceX, etc) are building off all the tech, i
    • by x2A (858210)

      Riiiight... because no scientist would ever take a taxi to their lab, or call out for a pizza?

  • by perlhacker14 (1056902) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:21PM (#26218965)

    The article states that the contracts are valid through 2016. But, will this last when Obama comes in to office, with the expected cuts? I do realize that this is important for the future functions, but is it the biggest priority for the new president?

    • by x2A (858210)

      These actually sound exactly like the kinds of things he'd go for. Slashing launch/supply costs, improving the domestic commercial space sector, not just shipping it all out to russia? I'm sure he'd see that as a win/win/win.

      • These actually sound exactly like the kinds of things he'd go for. Slashing launch/supply costs, improving the domestic commercial space sector, not just shipping it all out to russia? I'm sure he'd see that as a win/win/win.

        Slashing launch/supply costs? Did you look at these contracts? Between then, they're moving less in the way of supplies than a single shuttle flight could, for "only" $3.5 billion.

  • New Possibilities (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:51PM (#26219151)

    In theory this is not much different than contracting rocket engines to Thiokol or communication systems to Motorola. In practice however this might prove to be a boon to NASA. Not only does it allow for the centralization of specific projects under one roof, it allows commercial companies to organize entire projects instead of merely building ships - I'm of the opinion private industry can organize and meet specific goals better than the government. With that NASA can allow private competition for public funds to improve space transportation systems; and therefore serve as the arbiter of their performance. On top of that NASA can further focus on its most important job: conducting experiments in space and preparing for manned missions to the Moon and beyond (if it ever does become feasible).

  • Hell of a deal (Score:4, Informative)

    by tripmine (1160123) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @10:57PM (#26219185)

    $1.6 billion for 12 flights of SpaceX's planned Dragon spacecraft and their Falcon 9 boosters. $1.9 billion

    Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

    • Re:Hell of a deal (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @11:42PM (#26219415) Journal

      NASA said it was looking for each selected team to deliver a minimum of 20 metric tons to the space station over the seven-year life of the contract

      At $1.6B for 20 metric tones per contract thats about $36,287 per pound. So it's actually a good deal if you take the worst cost estimate of the Shuttle running $40,000 a pound. And that the company only does the bare minimum. for the twelve launches for the Falcon 9 at $1.6B that comes out to $133M.

      • Re:Hell of a deal (Score:5, Informative)

        by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @01:56AM (#26220175)

        Not bad considering it costs $450 million per shuttle launch.

        http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html [nasa.gov]

        Q. How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?

        A. The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission.

      • It works out to an even better deal if you realize that SpaceX is not just pocketing the money, but is channeling a considerable fraction of it back into their own internal R&D programs. Their intention is to get the Falcon9 and Dragon man-rated. The published development schedule appears to be fairly agressive. In some respects, I believe they are further along than the Ares 1 and Orion CEV programs are. Imagine a COTS program comprised of crew transport to and from the ISS or LEO.
        • Re:Hell of a deal (Score:4, Interesting)

          by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @03:41AM (#26220691) Journal

          Their intention is to get the Falcon9 and Dragon man-rated. The published development schedule appears to be fairly agressive. In some respects, I believe they are further along than the Ares 1 and Orion CEV programs are. Imagine a COTS program comprised of crew transport to and from the ISS or LEO.

          Obama's space transition team seems to be imagining this as well:

          http://www.space.com/news/081202-obama-space-spending.html [space.com]

          The transition team also wants information from NASA about accelerating plans for using the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to fund demonstrations of vehicles capable of carrying crews to the international space station, a proposal Obama supported during his campaign.

      • by hey! (33014)

        Well, speaking as a liberal, mere efficiency is not the only measure of a government program. While efficiency is good it's not the only good; given two social programs, a more efficient one is not necessarily better if it doesn't accomplish as much.

        Here we have a case in point. These companies might not be much, or any more financially efficient; given the nature of the Shuttle's design and program history, it should be possible for NASA itself to do much, much more financially efficient launches. So

      • by khallow (566160)

        At $1.6B for 20 metric tones per contract thats about $36,287 per pound. So it's actually a good deal if you take the worst cost estimate of the Shuttle running $40,000 a pound. And that the company only does the bare minimum. for the twelve launches for the Falcon 9 at $1.6B that comes out to $133M.

        That's for a minimum of 20 metric tons and they don't pay the $1.6 billion up front. If the contractors fail to deliver, they don't continue to get paid by the contract. If these contractors can launch 50-60 metric tons more per year including manned flights (includes Shuttle payload, crew rotation, and a propellant boost each time the Shuttle docks with the ISS), then you can disband the Shuttle early. That's more than two billion dollars a year drain on NASA that can be directed into something else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

      Just to elaborate on that... a Space Shuttle [wikipedia.org] has a payload to orbit of 24,400kg. The shuttle costs $500-$1,500 million per flight (depending on how you tabulate it). SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy [wikipedia.org] has a payload to orbit of 27,500kg. The commercial price per flight is $90 million; under the current contract SpaceX is charging a fixed price of $133 million per flight, which presumably is higher due to the cost of the Dragon capsule [wikipedia.org] and development fees.

      That makes SpaceX's price for delivery to the space station 4x-1

      • I imagine that when NASA launches a Falcon 9, they will manage to spend hundreds of millions on themselves somehow as well (you know, planning it, managing it, quality control, etc). Fixed and sunk costs that are now considered to be in the Space Shuttle launch, but will now be transfered to SpaceX and Oribital Sciences.

        In fact if I know my NASA, I bet in the end they will somehow make these launches even more expensive than the Shuttle is/was, especially with the economic downturn conveniently justifying p

      • Re:Hell of a deal (Score:5, Informative)

        by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @12:27PM (#26223789)

        under the current contract SpaceX is charging a fixed price of $133 million per flight,

        Under the current contract, SpaceX is selling about 10% of their payload for 12 flights for $133 million. Remember, they're only promising to deliver 20 tons over 12 flights, NOT the 240 tons they'll be pushing into space in those 12 flights.

    • Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

      Only if you make the most simplistic of comparisons. The Shuttle's cargo capacity is 24k kg, while the Falcon 9's total capacity is 27k kg. Which means the amount delivered by Falcon will less than you think because you haven't accounted for the cargo delivery vehicle. For reference (dry weights), Progress weighs 7k kg, HTV weighs about 10k kg, ATV comes in at a whopping 20k kg. (Which means even the simplest existing delivery vehicle eats just over a

  • by rmcclelland (1383541) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @11:25PM (#26219321)
    Supporting SpaceX/Orbital in this endeavour could be a game changer for the whole space industry. SpaceX is charging half of going rate for launches. Once they get flying regularly, NASA and commercial projects will be able to spend more on satellites and less on launching which means more spacecraft, science, and bandwidth.
    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @11:44PM (#26219441)
      Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol initially only charged 1/2 the final rate too. What will the actual bill from SpaceX be, once they can suck at the govt's teat?
      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @01:03AM (#26219885) Journal

        Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol initially only charged 1/2 the final rate too. What will the actual bill from SpaceX be, once they can suck at the govt's teat?

        One big difference is that Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol have cost-plus contracts, where if you increase the final bill you make more money. SpaceX and Orbital have fixed-price contracts, where if SpaceX or Orbital's cost estimates are too low, the companies eat the extra cost; on the other hand, if the companies figure out ways to do things more efficiently, they get more of a profit. Doing space launches under this sort of arrangement is almost unprecedented for NASA, and hopefully something we'll see much more of in the future.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
          One big difference is that Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol have cost-plus contracts, where if you increase the final bill you make more money

          They could mandate those contracts, because they could. They were already big players. SpaceX and Orbital aren't. Yet.
          Their costs will go up to meet the inevitable requirement creep, and so will the final bill.

          We need more players in the game. But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safet
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by FleaPlus (6935)

            Their costs will go up to meet the inevitable requirement creep, and so will the final bill.

            I think you may be missing something here... as I mentioned in my comment, this is a fixed-price contract, not a cost-plus contract. The requirements (deliver a certain quantity of tonnage to orbit) are already set, and the final price is already set. SpaceX and Orbital get money as they reach contracted development milestones and make actual cargo deliveries. If their costs go up, they either eat the cost and make less of a profit, or they don't make any more money at all.

            But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors.

            This is an interesting belief. Do

            • But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors.

              This is an interesting belief. Do you have any support for it? Do you disagree with NASA's readiness evaluation that SpaceX and Orbital are capable of doing this? Also, why does performance inherently matter, rather than cost/kg? And how much of a factor is safety on a cargo ship?

              Lets take those in order:

              There are a lot of reasons to believe SpaceX will have a

          • by khallow (566160)

            We need more players in the game. But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors. Space ops is expensive.

            Perhaps you should learn what's actually going on first. We have two bits of information. First, development of the current SpaceX vehicles on what is a paltry amount for space development, a mere few hundred million. Orbital too has a history of cheap development costs with the Pegasus and related launch vehicles. Second, these companies accept a more difficult type of contract than the typical cost plus contracts. I consider this a significant demonstration of intent. Cost plus means you pay the company i

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by OrbitalDude (1438305)
          Agree! Those costs don't include NASA's incredible infrastructure costs. Orbital and SpaceX have to create and pay for their own infrastructure (launch site and data communications). All they get is some real estate on a launch campus. In general, seems most folks in this thread have never worked on rockets or spacecraft. It really IS rocket science and it really IS hard... and it really IS very expensive. The hardest part about CRS is the business model... matching the loft capabilities of a brand ne
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @12:25AM (#26219655) Homepage Journal

    Why should anyone complain about this? For all of his other faults, the Bush administration has given us some great new units of federal spending that we can use the same way we measure storage capacity with "libraries of congress". Why think in terms of millions or billions or even trillions, when we can say that this new NASA contract is only .005 TARPs, 0.00583 Iraq wars, 0.014 Katrinas, 0.00875 Medicare Prescription Drugs, and 0.0175 Farm bailouts.

    It's chump change!

  • I've always been a big Robert Heinlein fan, and the character of D.D. Harriman was particularly fun to imagine.

    With this, it looks like Bob's vision of commercial space flight is finally starting to stretch to the plateau that he saw. I'm more than excited: maybe this means that that elusive space elevator is possible too? Oh, not by the same people, but hey! Maybe that's the next step.

    In any case, kudos to the two companies. Thanks for seeing Mr. Heinlein's vision come true.

  • It doesn't sound any different than Lockheed or NGC getting $3 billion. The concept drawings from any of these companies are equally far from the real thing. Maybe the CEO of SpaceX is worth a little more than the Lockheed CEO. It's not the populist access to space we envisioned 5 years ago. We only think it is because Elon Musk says so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      It doesn't sound any different than Lockheed or NGC getting $3 billion.

      As I've noted in another comment, the difference is that Lockheed/NGC have cost-plus contracts, while this is a fixed-price contract. Lockheed et al get more money if they go overbudget. SpaceX has to pay the cost if they go overbudget.

      The concept drawings from any of these companies are equally far from the real thing. Maybe the CEO of SpaceX is worth a little more than the Lockheed CEO.

      Concept drawings? SpaceX's Falcon 9 has already been transported to Cape Canaveral [spacex.com], and will be fully assembled and vertical within the next week.

  • More details (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:10AM (#26220251) Journal

    For anyone looking for more info, here's some handy links:

    * RLV News's link round-up on the announcement [hobbyspace.com]

    * Notes from the question-and-answer teleconference after the announcement [hobbyspace.com]

    Some pasted notes from the teleconference which were missing from the article linked in the summary:

    • This is a true, standard procurement contract. COTS deals with R&D.
    • No relationship to decision on COTS-D manned option. [this is the commercial contract many are hoping for which would involve fixed-price payments to transport astronauts to the ISS]
    • Dec. 2010 first SpaceX flight, Oct 2011 - first Orbital flight
    • Extensive set of reviews will insure that vehicles are ready to deliver cargo
    • Bid decision involved technical evaluation of vehicles, evaluation of readiness for 2010-2011, evaluation of the companies, etc. Our evaluation is that these systems will be ready in time.
    • Commercial services will carry 40%-70% per year of US cargo to the ISS (larger percentage as time goes on)
    • Schedule payment is based on milestones. Final payment upon delivery of cargo for a given mission.
    • Shuttle extension would not affect this contract. Use any excess shuttle capability for other items, e.g. experiments.
    • Truly committed this time to commercial cargo delivery.
    • Both use common berthing mechanism as with Japanese HTV
    • Orbital to launch from Wallops, SpaceX from the Cape

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