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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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  • by mpapet (761907) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:12AM (#28972573) Homepage

    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.

    This is a perfect example of how the notion of 'small government' is being used against the citizens that clamor for it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Small gov't would be them not taking my money in the first place!

    • Stupid NASA Tricks (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:36AM (#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. .at. .netzero.net.> on Thursday August 06, 2009 @11:07AM (#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.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar), ...

        While X-33 as a reuseable launch vehicle technology development program was a good idea, Lockheed-Martin VentureStar was the worst possible choice.

        The short answer why is that on top of demanding technology and test flight objectives, VentureStar added bleeding-edge carbon-fiber conformal fuel tanks and aerospike rocket engines. Lockheed Martin was never able to reduce the weight enough to meet any flight objectives.

        • 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 t
        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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 engin

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar), 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.

        All I can say is "the grass is always greener" and "sour grapes". The X-33, like the Shuttle, had too many untested/unproven technologies to result in a craft that was cheaper/safer/more reliable/etc... It's almost certain it would have been a wh

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by icebrain (944107)

          It's almost certain it would have been a white elephant. Though to be fair, a new generation of white elephant isn't entirely a bad thing as we won't ever develop the requisite technologies without actually flying multiple generations of craft.

          If only more people understood that. Everyone wants cheaper access to space, but nobody wants to ay the legwork to get it. New technologies don't just appear out of nowhere; someone has to work on them. Making powerpoint slides and computer models doesn't count; paper printouts, equations, and nebulous ones and zeros don't put payloads in orbit.

          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            If only more people understood that. Everyone wants cheaper access to space, but nobody wants to ay the legwork to get it. New technologies don't just appear out of nowhere; someone has to work on them.

            Indeed. It's quite unfortunate that NASA ended up cancelling most of its technology research projects to pay for the Ares I development program going grossly overbudget.

      • NASA is already paying for payload to LEO services, SpaceX has a contract. While I agree with some of your skepticism, I have a few problems with your conclusion that $50 million isn't serious money.

        Soyuz modules can get 3 crew to orbit, and cost $50 million per launch. This isn't even a development cost, its a licensing deal with the Russians.

        SpaceX Falcon 9 costs approximately $50 million per launch and they could put the the DEVELOPMENT money towards Man Rating the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon Module w

        • Soyuz modules can get 3 crew to orbit, and cost $50 million per launch.
          Not sure (and am not going to google at this time), but I think that we pay 50 million PER PERSON, not per launch. while SpaceX is going to charge under a 100 million PER HUMAN RATED LAUNCH, which is either 6 or 7 ppl (35 million for a cargo rated launch). BIG difference in costs.

          As to EU, rarely has EADS been on time or costs WRT their products. The 380 is a good example. My guess is that they are looking at .5-1 BILLION euro or mor
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rbanffy (584143)

        "If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar) "

        On the other hand, if NASA hadn't killed the Apollo program, we would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first lunar base this year...

        The shuttle also was, just like Venturestar, a promising, low-cost workhorse. In the end, it turned out to be much harder to build and operate a real vehicle. Venturestar would, probably, follow more or less the same path. Remember: every technology holds a couple surprises.

        Let's see what c

    • 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.

      And if experience is any indication, the prime contractor will mis-manage the project and any high quality work done by the smaller sub-contractors will be wasted once funding gets pulled due to aforementioned mismanagement.

    • A certain government contract job gets posted for contract bids. The first person bids $10,000. The second bids $15,000 and the third bids $210,000. When the third guy is asked why his bid is so high, he says: $100,000 for me, $100,000 for you, and $10,000 to hire the first guy to do the work.

      Guess which one gets the contract.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      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 pr

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Except, assuming this is following the same format as NASA COTS, its intended to be a break from that exact problem.

      This is not a cost-plus contract, it's a fixed-price contract. That is, if the contractor doesn't deliver, they don't get their money, and if they go over-budget its out of their own pockets. This forces the companies to behave like actual competitive corporations and not the military/industrial complex leeches they currently are, and also opens the door to other, smaller groups (e.g. SpaceX

  • How about... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:15AM (#28972629)
    How about releasing the info to -all- US citizens who paid their tax money for it? Because in the end this will end up benefiting major government contractors (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, etc) who more or less already have the tech for spaceflight, rather then helping get space tourism, or other commercial spaceflight off the ground.
    • by Em Emalb (452530)

      I don't necessarily have a problem with the large contractors getting the bulk of the money, as they typically the companies that have the resources to work on things of this nature.

      It's when huge companies get funds to do mundane things that I question our government.

      • But you and me funded them. Yes, they did too, but there comes a time where you should have access to the things your tax dollars have supported. Would you be in favor of public libraries being restricted to students and retirees? Even though they are the two groups who have the most time to read?
        • by Hubbell (850646)
          There's a difference between your tax dollars directly funding something, and your tax dollars being used to BUY something. The company that ends up getting the money isn't being funded by NASA, they're being paid by NASA so that NASA can purchase their goods from them.
    • 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.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Teancum (67324)

        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

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You say that spacecraft launchers aren't 100% equivalent to ICBMs like that should comfort us, but every single difference you mention (tiny failure rates, fragile cargo, higher energy trajectory) is an example of how spacecraft launchers are far, far superior to ICBMs. An ICBM couldn't take you into space, but you could sure as hell use the space shuttle to deliver a nuke.

          So yes, I would still like to keep this technology out of the hands of Iran and North Korea.

        • by Wizlish (1612123)
          Not to detract from most of the points you make: I think he means FOBS more than the typical MIRVed fast-burn ICBM approach, and yes, a reasonably competent SSTO would be capable of this. Look at the mass of a typical RV to get an idea of the effective 'throw weight' that the SSTO would require for a given strike; I wouldn't be surprised if reasonably-competent college tech classes couldn't build a nav system for post-release guidance, or the analogue to a warhead bus. We can't really rely on restriction
    • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      >How about releasing the info to -all- US citizens who paid their tax money for it?

      The first reason is how do you stop the information from reaching other countries, and their militaries? There is a lot of knowledge that is needed for space flight that is ITAR controlled, which means that it is illegal to pass that information on to a non-US citizen. Putting some (not all) of this information into the public domain would be the equivalent of giving it to anyone in the world who wanted it.

      The second rea

      • There is a lot of knowledge that is needed for space flight that is ITAR controlled,

        That may be, but it's nonsense though. Any competent mechanical engineer should be able to design a rocket. The basic principles have been known for thousands of years. Kerosene and liquid oxygen in - hot high velocity exhaust out. Servos and gyros to steer the thrust vector. All you have to do is make it strong enough to withstand the forces while keeping it as light as you can. Throw a material sciences guy and a c
        • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

          Building the rocket is not the problem. The clever technology is in the communications system and the navigation. Making sure that something in space goes exactly where you want it to, and stays there, is not simple. There are governments that would pay a lot for the technology that NASA uses in some of its missions. As someone posted earlier, building a rocket that can launch, reach orbit, and then go where you want it to is essentially the same as building an ICBM.

          I agree that a good deal of the ITAR

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:15AM (#28972633) Homepage
    To figure out how to get people to pay them money? How much money are they thinking they'll get back? It's more than $50 million, right?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WormholeFiend (674934)

      At least they'll get to name everything... the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks

      • More important will be the Starbucks Space Station, the Starbucks stall in the international space station, and the first Starbucks on the moon.

        It's just my job, five days a week... coffee man, brewin' up his joe up there alone...
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      In this case, it's more of an expected savings in the future. Considering that the "conventional" approach NASA uses has resulted in a rocket program expected to cost well over $45 billion, while the commercial contractors are expected to be able to produce similar capabilities for a couple of billion, I'd say that anything that promotes the commercial companies is a great investment. This should have been done a long time ago, but as it is, NASA needs to put more effort into switching from cost-plus contra

  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:30AM (#28972915)

    Everyone is already complaining about it being unfair, but remind me, how much is congress getting ready to spend on Cash for Clunkers again? $50M is chump change. Hell, I can make the argument that NASA's entire budget is chump change these days compared to many other departments and all the other spending that is going on.

    I wonder if people opinion would be different if they called it $50 Million in economic research stimulus.

    • Cash for Clunkers was originally funded at $US 1 Billion. Congress is negotiating this week to add an additional $US 2 Billion to the program. The original intent of the program was to stimulate the auto industry, encourage consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars, while removing older less efficient cars from the roads permanently. Key provisions of the program were compromised during its initial passing, which result in only slight gains with respect to carbon emissions, particularly when the carbon
      • Cash for Clunkers was originally funded at $US 1 Billion. Congress is negotiating this week to add an additional $US 2 Billion to the program. The original intent of the program was to stimulate the auto industry, encourage consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars, while removing older less efficient cars from the roads permanently. Key provisions of the program were compromised during its initial passing, which result in only slight gains with respect to carbon emissions, particularly when the carbon cost of producing the new vehicle is accounted for.

        Despite the program being neutered, people are actually buying cars significantly more efficient than the ones they turn in:
        http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914602,00.html [time.com]

  • What would they look like if NASA was a private company with publicly traded stock?  I wonder if they would be closer to Google or BestBuy...  There would be some serious speculation going prior to each shuttle launch and it would be at least fun to watch climb and (free)fall.

    M./
  • How does one manufacture a design?

    This summary is so laden with buzzwords and catch phrases that it's very likely that the above comments are right in that it's just an economic bailout to government contractors.
  • ...to decide to get in on this. If so, we'll wind up further behind than ever.
  • This MAY be useful. Several different concepts for SMALL companies MIGHT be able to re-start RD programs and take them further. In particular, I am thinking that DreamChaser could benefit from this. Likewise, t-space would be a possibility. A possibility is that it would speed up SS3. The thought is that we already have several launchers and are about to gain more. If we have several different crew transports available to us and various launchers, then we will not be locked out of space. 50 million, let alo
  • They should just give it all to Virgin Galactic. In a couple of months these guys will probably be sending NASA advertisements for an international spaces station commuter shuttle (filmed on location in space). http://www.virgingalactic.com/ [virgingalactic.com] http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/07/31/1359243/White-Knight-Two-Unveiled?art_pos=1 [slashdot.org]
    • So, you think that the SS2 will get to the ISS? the fact that SS2 will only orbit at 60 miles, while the ISS is between 200-300 miles will not matter? When SS3 comes out from Scaled Composites (and not virgin), then let us know. Keep in mind that virgin will be nothing more than an spaceliner. Scaled will be selling their SS3 and WK2 to other companies as well, once the traffic is developed. As to SS2, perhaps one to two other companies will be developed, but not likely.
      • by icebrain (944107)

        SS2 will only orbit at 60 miles

        SS2 isn't going to orbit at all--it's not even close. It'll get up to 60 miles, but it will come right back down again--think throwing a baseball into the air. All it will do is a suborbital lob.

        For that matter, I don't even think you'll get a stable orbit at 60 miles. Aerodynamic drag will still be fairly significant; at most, you'll get an orbit or two before it decays.

        If you can reach a stable orbit, going a little bit higher (to hit ISS, for example) is pretty trivial compared to the trouble of reach

        • by iHal (1213402)
          I suppose all this is true right now. But this company is obviously investing a lot of money and research, very early on, in developing an infrastructure to get people into space. I wonder what will be going on after another 15 to 20 years of this ;)
  • The accepted submission on this story was pretty good, although here's the one I wrote up, which has a few more relevant links. In particular, the first link, to an article by Alan Boyle on MSNBC, is probably the best summary of this I've seen so far:

    NASA Begins Commercial Crew Initiative

    NASA is using an initial $50M [msn.com] to 'stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.' NASA originally planned to use $150M, which was blocked by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) [spacepolitics.com] until it was largely redirected to the ~$35B Ares rocket program based at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. The Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO) [nasa.gov] will reward multiple competitive contracts, with the goals of promoting job growth, lowering the cost of spaceflight [venturebeat.com], and helping reduce the post-Shuttle gap in US human spaceflight capability.

  • Thirty years after Armstrong set foot on the moon, we're still hanging around in a tin can that can barely save itself from crashing back to Earth. Surely, NASA must be put in the same league as the Duke Nukem team for pure, wang-pulling jackoffery.

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