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NASA Space Science

Astronaut Group Endorses Commercial Spaceflight 144

Posted by timothy
from the airforce-must-hold-bake-sale dept.
FleaPlus writes "Buzz Aldrin and twelve other astronauts have published a joint endorsement of commercial human spaceflight, stating that 'while it's completely appropriate for NASA to continue developing systems and the new technologies necessary to take crews farther out into our solar system, [the astronauts] believe that the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation.' They are confident that commercial systems (which NASA already relies on for launching multibillion-dollar science payloads) can provide a level of safety equal to the Russian Soyuz and higher than the Space Shuttle, while strengthening US economic competitiveness. They also support the expected endorsement of the White House's Augustine Commission regarding NASA's use of commercial spaceflight — the Commission's final report will be released today." And here's the Augustine report itself (PDF).
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Astronaut Group Endorses Commercial Spaceflight

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  • by gblackwo (1087063) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:08PM (#29840165) Homepage
    Now compare it to the defense budget for fun.
  • by confused one (671304) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:11PM (#29840187)
    They don't want their rockets to go *BOOM* any more than NASA does. Perhaps even less so, since they may be financially liable.
  • Re:ob (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:15PM (#29840229)

    No, its rocket engineering.

    The first time its proving the science of the fundamental principals at incredible risk, and is a prime fit for government development. The second time its just trying to engineer it better and cheaper -- a better job for competitive enterprise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:27PM (#29840367)

    What you expect to happen:

    Government: "Hey, guys, you know that whole space exploration thing we have? That thing that has in the past and could in the future do one hell of a lot of good for humanity and has advanced technology quite wildly before? Well, turns out it costs money. If we split it up, it's around an extra $110/year. How about it?"
    People: "Sure! That's a pretty paltry amount to pay. Would be nice to actually have advancements in our culture so that the rest of the world doesn't mock us quite as often as they do!"

    What Reality(tm) says will happen:

    Government: "Hey, guys, you know that whole space exploration thing we have? That thing-"
    Stupid people: "ZOMG moon == hoax and government == EVIL EVIL they take money and I GET NOTHINGZ why should I ever give you ANYTHING U DUM POLTICANS hate hate hat"
    Government: "But... but it's only around 30 cents/day... what-"
    Stupid people: "SEE TAHT they want to take mah moneiz and my jobs and I *degrades into incoherence and shotgun blasts*"

    Sorry, man, but stupid people are stubborn people. The dark ages were a good time for them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:48PM (#29840607)

    I guy I knew once said, "if you canceled NASA, the whole of their budget couldn't pay for the Mahogany desk polishing fund at the Pentagon and have enough left over to feed a homeless cat, let alone solve world hunger."

  • by Larson2042 (1640785) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:32PM (#29841009)

    Heavy lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration. It will also be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, life-cycle costs, maturity, operational complexity and the "way of doing business" within the program and NASA.

    I still don't understand the seeming obsession with heavy lift. Why develop and fly a new huge expensive rocket, putting all your payload eggs in one basket, rather than use a greater number of smaller, cheaper, existing rockets? The more rockets you fly, the more you have to build, and you can begin to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce the dollars per kg cost to orbit. Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it. Yes, flying your moon/mars/where-ever spacecraft into orbit a piece at a time means that you have to assemble it once you are up there, but that just puts into use all this lovely experience gained building the ISS. So, more light to medium lift: give it a chance.

  • by Narishma (822073) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:41PM (#29841085)

    Look at the bright side. If space debris becomes such a big problem someone is bound to start a company to try making money cleaning it. A kind of space janitor if you will.

  • by kaiser423 (828989) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:52PM (#29841181)
    Well, that's because it is.....Why is that interesting? It's common knowledge, and has been for years. The Soyuz is a freakin' tank, and is about as simple of a system as you could design.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:46PM (#29841621) Journal

    And if you want to do anything beyond LEO, you're going to need something much bigger than any of those.

    Not if you take advantage of propellant depots.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:48PM (#29841631) Homepage

    I still don't understand the seeming obsession with heavy lift. Why develop and fly a new huge expensive rocket, putting all your payload eggs in one basket, rather than use a greater number of smaller, cheaper, existing rockets?

    Simple engineering - the more chunks you split your payload into, the more complex the resulting assembly becomes (because now you need interfaces between the chunks), the heavier the resulting assembly becomes (because of the connectors between chunks and docking/berthing assemblies), and the greater the chance of fucking something up during building, testing, and on orbit assembly. Then there's simply math - if your rocket has a 98% chance of flight success (about average nowadays), then each launch you add to the manifest means the greater chance one will go awry.
     
    As far as expense goes, you're way off base - rocket costs scale very weakly with size, and very strongly with complexity and the number of man hours required to prep it for launch. (Which is why the Pegasus [wikipedia.org], despite it's small size and modest payload, is somewhat above the middle of the pack in $/kg to orbit.)
     
     

    The more rockets you fly, the more you have to build, and you can begin to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce the dollars per kg cost to orbit.

    That's the handwaving-and-smokescreen theory. The reality is that economies of scale in manufacturing don't begin to provide significant advantage until you're talking dozens of launches a year. Costs still really don't drop much until you tackle the problem of the standing army required to integrate, checkout, and launch the vehicle - multiple smaller launches can actually cost more in total than one big launch.
     
     

    Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it.

    That would be a point in favor of multiple smaller chunks - if space hardware could be bought off the shelf like the load of roof trusses I saw dumped all over the median in an accident the other day. But it can't, and won't be for the foreseeable future. This means that losing a portion of the payload is no different than losing the whole payload, either one is game over.

  • by Larson2042 (1640785) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:54PM (#29841683)

    Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare. Remember, the station largely derives from Freedom studies started as early as 1982. Conceptually, it's almost 30 years old. Even a lot of the hardware is 20+. There were huge overruns, and several major delays due to the Shuttle failing. Doing that with a Mars craft is not an option.

    This is exactly my point. You say that the station derives from an old study, and that much of the hardware used is old. Well, any Mars craft could be a blank sheet design taking the lessons learned from ISS and putting them to good use. And as for delays due to the shuttle, you again make my point. If NASA designs another heavy lift vehicle, it will be the only way to get a Mars craft (or pieces thereof) into orbit. What happens if that launch system goes down to a failure? You have the exact same situation you had with the shuttle. However, if you design your Mars craft from the beginning to use existing medium lift, you'll have multiple options to get stuff into orbit (Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9, Ariane, etc).

    Finally, while being able to put everything together as one big piece and launch it may simplify some aspects of the design, if we're going to really do worthwhile things in space (colonies, stations, mining) there will have to be piecemeal launches. Habitats and the like will simply need to be too big to be able to launch on a single rocket. Why not start getting really good at putting stuff together in orbit (or on the lunar surface) now? That way, when the expertise is really necessary, we'll have it. We won't have to stop and spend money to develop it.

  • by eln (21727) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:56PM (#29841703) Homepage

    A kind of space janitor if you will.

    This can only be a good thing. We're going to need all the space janitors we can get in case the Sariens attack.

  • So what? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 22, 2009 @08:11PM (#29841773)

    Pilots endorse commercial flights, surgeons endorse non-scientific surgeries, taxi drivers endorse commercial transportation by car.
    What's the big deal?

  • by Truth is life (1184975) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @08:45PM (#29841895)
    And the Russians always felt they didn't have enough money! If some of the horror stories I've heard are true, they really, really didn't, either. Besides, about half the period I covered was "Freedom" not ISS, and there politics was the thing (constant, constant, constant cost-cutting). I agree with you that building the station was a learning process, and to me it said, "Don't build things that you need on short notice (eg., interplanetary spaceships) in space out of a bunch of fiddly bits without a MUCH more mature infrastructure. Cost-cutters, launch delays, and accidents will eat your lunch."
  • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @08:51PM (#29841917) Journal
    The only way to "buy down" those failures, he said, is though flight experience, which is why "real boosters" have lower reliabilities than estimated when they were "paper boosters" still in the design phase.

    This is one of the biggest arguments in favour of the DIRECT architecture. They are using existing shuttle hardware: existing motors, existing tanks, existing SRBs, etc. which bring with them 30+ years of flight data, and experienced ground crews, manufacturing crews, safety crews, and management crews.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Friday October 23, 2009 @04:07AM (#29843541)

    Look at the bright side. If space debris becomes such a big problem someone is bound to start a company to try making money cleaning it. A kind of space janitor if you will.

    And since space is basically a public area - that is, not owned by anyone - guess who's going to be paying that company? Monopoly rates with no requirements for results, of course.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 23, 2009 @06:24AM (#29844039)

    Companies don't want their air and water polluted any more than anyone else. And yet they still pollute whenever they can get away with it. If someone can make a quick buck by externalising environmental costs (that's marketese for ignoring their responsibilities), they will. They will even pay for laws to better enable this externalisation.

    Remember that many big CEOs aren't looking further than a few quarters into the future. If they can make a huge killing (pun intended) and then get the hell out with their bonuses and stock options and golden parachutes and whatever the hell else before the shit hits the fan, they will. The financial crisis is evidence of that. How many of the people responsible for that mess paid the price for their greed and incompetence? And how many of them are still getting huge salaries and bonuses, and government bailouts, and stock options, and the pick of high-paid directorships, and cushy jobs in QANGOes? They can get away with it, so they will do it, and those few of them in possession of a functioning conscience will dream up some twisted, Rayndian justification that allows them to sleep soundly at night.
    How much do you think they care, or even acknowledge, that they fucked over millions of others, causing homelessness and poverty and misery and suicide?

    Do you really think some big-shot new CEO couldn't waltz into the top job at Launch-U-Like and cut out all the Kessler-syndrome-costs (ignoring the objections of their engineers) and enjoy massive profits for 18 months, and then fuck off to screw up some other company in an unrelated industry, while LEO turns into a giant pinball-multiball arena? They won't care about the spacecraft falling out of the sky because they will be able to afford gold-plated, diamond-encrusted concrete umbrellas to hide beneath.

    I'm all angry now. Sometimes I wish I was ignorant enough to not know or care about things I cannot change.

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