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NASA Space

NASA To Invest In Commercial Crew Concepts 77

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-is-yer-captain-speaking dept.
xp65 writes "Today NASA released information regarding its intention to invest $50 million in commercial crew concepts. This new program, known as the Commercial Crew Development or 'CCDev,' represents a new milestone in the development of an orbital commercial human spaceflight sector. By maturing 'the design and development of commercial crew spaceflight concepts and associated enabling technologies and capabilities,' the program will allow several companies to move a few steps forward towards the ultimate goal of full demonstration of commercial human spaceflight to orbit."
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NASA To Invest In Commercial Crew Concepts

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  • Stupid NASA Tricks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @11:36AM (#28973025) Homepage Journal
    If this was funny, it would be a joke. The NASA press release [nasa.gov] on this says:

    "NASAâ(TM)s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program is applying Recovery Act funds to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities. These efforts are intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design, and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created. By developing commercial crew service providers, NASA may be able to reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability. All ARRA funded activities must comply with its provisions and will conclude no later than September 30, 2010."

    This is yet another Stupid NASA Trick. Are they serious? At this level of funding, which wouldn't even pay for the airlock on the Orion capsule, a private contractor is going to "bridge the gap" that NASA created? If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar) [fas.org], we would already have replaced the Shuttle with a system which reduced flight costs substantially, improved safety and reliability, has shorter turn-around times, and can fly more often. Which, by the way, is what is needed to help stimulate a growing space economy. It all depends on reduced cost of, and increased reliability of access to orbit. Constellation isn't going to provide that. COTS, (and this new bit, given a new name to keep 'em guessing) are funded at levels so low as to guarantee NASA will never face competition from the private companies which win these bids. This is not a joke, it's a charade.

    If the objective were to create a private market for access to space, NASA could do this easily. All they need to do is announce that they will buy payload to LEO delivery services from the private market, at market rates. Right now market rates for a single launch of a modest payload are higher than the total size of this program.

    NASA probably spent more than this on artwork and publicity for Contellation / Orion / Aeries.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Thursday August 06, 2009 @12:07PM (#28973629) Homepage Journal

    This was originally going to be $300 million (according to the original "Recovery Act" appropriation), but Senator Shelby (R-Alabama) decided to move the funds to the Ares I/V development. What happened here is that Shelby finally "compromised" and admitted that it wasn't intended strictly for the Constellation program.

    BTW, Elon Musk and SpaceX were planning on doing this development anyway... with or without NASA funds. What even this little bit does is to help encourage the development of the launch escape system (and the manned version of the Dragon Capsule) slightly ahead of when SpaceX would have built it on their own. In addition, this will allow an alternative to using the Soyuz spacecraft for travel to and from the ISS once the Space Shuttle retires.

    Keep in mind that SpaceX wants to sell spaceflight services to private companies (like Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures) and to other interested private individuals... as well as to some countries like Dubai who are trying to get into space. Until now, there was no American company willing to sell you a "seat" into orbital flight at any price... and even the Russians have shut down their commercial manned spaceflight slots. As to how many flights SpaceX will make once all this get built... I couldn't guess. I would imagine, however, that NASA would not have even half of the flights that might fly.

    The first flight of the Falcon 9 is due to go up in a couple of months... as the hardware is already built and all that is happening now is the final tests to determine flight worthiness. Once that is proven... the Dragon capsule will be fairly straight forward as one more iteration on the development cycle on what will be hopefully a proven launch vehicle. The first unmanned flights of the Dragon capsule might happen as soon as next year... and may be flying before the shuttle is even officially retired. They are that close to being ready.

    As far as NASA spending more on the art work for the Constellation/Ares rocket system than this... you may be correct. What is amazing is how much has happened in spite of this kind of paltry effort to support commercial spaceflight.

  • Re:How about... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Thursday August 06, 2009 @12:43PM (#28974363) Homepage Journal

    The short answer is that building a spacecraft to orbit and come back is 100% equivalent to building an ICBM. How many average joes in the US do you think would be willing to sell that information to anyone who asks? I know it's not ideal, but I really would prefer if countries like North Korea and Iran don't have that kind of technology.

    I'd give it at best 80% or less. ICBMs have a very different flight profile than an orbital vehicle, and certainly a different overall design goal in terms of how you want to use the vehicles as well.

    Consider, an ICBM's goal is to deliver a nuclear warhead (a rather sturdy little package on the whole with almost no appendages and relatively simple functionality... it just has to go BOOM eventually) to a specific geographical location as fast as it can. The acceleration forces on an ICBM can go as high as 30x normal gravity here on the Earth (aka 30 g's) and can put up with other forces that would destroy most typical spaceflight hardware... and particularly human passengers. The Apollo spacecraft that went to the Moon would pull a maximum of about 9 g's in the early stages of flight, and on average about 6 g's. The Space Shuttle has a maximum of about 4 g's for both passengers and cargo.

    And all this is just forces going up... not really taking into account the issues of orbital insertion and smoothing out the orbit to something useful.... or making a maneuver heading to geo-synchronous orbit.

    As for re-entry... most ICBM warheads use Uranium as the heat shield. It makes a nice protective heavy metal that is going to melt anyway once it blows up, and it helps to reduce payload mass on top of that as the metal can be used as a part of the bomb itself. Again, this is a completely different design regime compared to trying to make a "soft" landing where you actually want to recover the contents of the vehicle (not even a design consideration for an ICBM)... much less trying to recover human passengers/crew members.

    So the point here is that while there are some similarities and certainly some knowledge that can be utilized by both ICBM builders and by spacecraft launchers, it really is two different areas of expertise and there are design compromises that impact each type of vehicle.

    Even the launching aspects of both kinds of vehicles have a different profile. An ICBM has to be ready to launch for years... even decades at a time. A spacecraft launcher, on the other hand, is designed to be launched as soon as it is ready. This will have a significant impact on the choice of equipment chosen for each type of vehicle.

    Of course, who knows... North Korea and Iran may want to launch their ICBMs as soon as they are developed and ready to use, but I digress that that point.

    Far too many of both the American and Russian space vehicle launches came from a background of being converted ICBMs... which is one of the reasons why spaceflight continues to be expensive even today. They were built to be deployed rapidly and to hit a target with precision, it is an afterthought that they might be used in space. The booster engines have to be "de-tuned" to throttle back for the safety of the cargo, and components fail because they aren't really intended for spaceflight. If the USA launches 100 ICBMs and only 80 actually reach their targets.... that is considered a military success. If you are in a spacecraft that will blow up or be destroyed 20% of the time.... that would normally be considered a disaster.

    Also, nearly all information (including blueprints, engineering notes, and more) of how NASA builts its rockets are in the public domain and accessible either through its various websites, contacting NASA curators directly, or by visiting the National Archives in Washington D.C. This isn't "Top Secret" information, and a well trained aerospace engineer can read enough information to make corrections to their designs by reading this public information.

    The point is, building ICBMs and spacecraft launchers is not identical and in many ways spacecraft launchers could be built in a way that would prevent their use for ICBMs.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @01:09PM (#28974855) Journal

    Any of you familiar with the way the contract system works in the U.S. should agree. The prime contractor (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc) will take most of the money and farm out the task to a couple of sub-contractors who will farm their tasks out.

    Um, the whole point of NASA looking at commercial cargo and commercial crew transport is to do away with this contract system, or at least find an alternative. Under the traditional cost-plus contracting (where the contractor gets whatever they report cost of development/operations is, plus a percentage), what you describe happens a lot, because if farming their tasks out increases overall cost that just increases their profit.

    However, with the commercial alternatives NASA is trying (COTS, this new CCDev program), they used a prenegotiated fixed-price contract, with payments based on prearranged milestones. If the contractor's costs go up due to them poorly estimating or trying to milk out more money, the contractor either ends up losing money or just stops receiving money altogether. On top of that, the contracts will be awarded to multiple competing companies, so that if one of them is trying anything funny or is incompetent, NASA can just drop them and buy from another company.

    So yes, the hope is that this program will help fix the problem you describe.

  • carbon fiber tanks (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @01:09PM (#28974867) Homepage Journal
    Engineers from the project claimed that NASA directed the carbon fiber tank exploration in X-33, over the objections of the engineers. (This should sound familiar. This type of bureaucratic snafu created problems on the Shuttle program.) The program goals could have been achieved with a (low-risk) aluminum-lithium tank, apparently. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin funded additional R&D on the carbon fiber tanks after the cancellation of the X-33. Although the technology wasn't quite ready at the time the X-33 was cancelled, it was relatively close at hand, certainly as compared to long range projects like scramjets. X-33: What Really Happened [nasaspaceflight.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 07, 2009 @02:53AM (#28983149)

    Whoa there.

    The carbon fiber tanks sucked badly due to strength and cracking problems. Nobody had seriously done a conventional cylindrical LH2 tank yet and all of the sudden they wanted a multilobe tank. It's no surprise there were cost/weight overruns because nobody had applicable previous experience.

    But don't blame the engine. The linear aerospike was a comparatively simple variant of the annular aerospike long ago developed by Rocketdyne, which had run all sorts of fun fuels including flourine. The engine would have been decent, and in the case of the VentureStar, would have fit well with the intended aft shape of a lifting body. A conventional annular aerospike would have had broader uses though.

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