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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 Cochonou (576531) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @03:39PM (#29839833) Homepage
    Is the link to the Augustine report expected to be a joke ? It appears to be a link to Windows 7 from here.
  • ob (Score:2, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665)

    "the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation"

    Well it's not rocket science, is it?

  • by gapagos (1264716) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @03:48PM (#29839943)

    Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris [wikipedia.org] as NASA and the FKA?
    The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

    • by confused one (671304) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:11PM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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 the

        • by khallow (566160)

          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.

          There's no money for that kind of game. The people in space launch right now either launch mostly at the behest of the US government or they are losing money. This big shot CEO wouldn't be interested.

          • by radtea (464814)

            The people in space launch right now

            You win the prize for Biggest Failure to Think Ahead.

            Who cares about what the situation is right now, when commerical launch is a small business with solely government clients. Look forward 25 years, when commerical launch is a big business catering primarily to rich tourists.

            "Higher profits today at the cost of abject failure tomorrow" is business as usual for human beings. Governments--being made out of human beings, just like corporations--are subject to this phenome

            • by khallow (566160)
              My view is that we already know how to do this. Law and enforcement of law. Plus, even if the government agencies and CEOs acted properly, you'd still need a means for cleaning up orbits since collisions would still occur. Rather than obsessing over the actions of future CEOs (who we already know how to deal with), we should consider how to remove debris from orbit now since that is the real unsolved problem in this particular dilemma.
        • Private space launch companies would like to treat space debris as an externality, and they will if given a chance.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Narishma (822073)

      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 eln (21727) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:56PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540)

        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 petermgreen (876956) <plugwash.p10link@net> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:17PM (#29841387) Homepage

      My understanding is that debris in LEO isn't so much of an issue because it's orbit will decay relatively quickly and it will then burn up on reentry. It is also much easier to track.

      If we get a major debris problem in GEO though then afaict that would be a huge problem.

      • by smoker2 (750216)
        Heh, there are approximately 19,000 bits of junk *larger* than 10cm in orbit at present, with most of that being in LEO. I don't see all that "burning up" all that quickly.
        http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=40173 [nasa.gov]
        I don't think they can track things smaller than 10cm (about 4 inches). Even something 1 inch across is going to hurt when travelling at 17,000 mph. This is already a massive problem despite the vast scale of space.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris as NASA and the FKA?

      The US is obligated by treaty to minimize space debris, so yes - private industry has been concerned about launch debris and has been for years, lest they not get a launch permit.

      The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

      You do know that less than half of the launches in the US annually are government launches, and less than half of those are NASA launches?

  • by ausoleil (322752) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @03:51PM (#29839973) Homepage

    This will not go over well in Huntsville. In fact, it already hasn't. [orlandosentinel.com]

    "Republican Senator Richard Shelby launched a preemptive strike on President Barack Obama's blue ribbon space panel ther day before its due to release its final report, calling the committee's findings "worthless." Shelby, a staunch defender of NASA's Marshal Space Flight Center In Huntsville, Alabama, said in a Senate floor speech that the committee failed to consider safety when it ranked various rocket options for the White House to consider. "Without an honest and thorough examination of the safety and reliability aspects of the various designs and options for manned space flight, the findings of this report are worthless," said Shelby."

    Senator Shelby, obviously a noted rocket expert, contradicts former Shuttle astronauts Sally Ride and Leroy Chiao. Undoubtedly he astronaut safety at every step of the process with little regard to politics while they as former astronauts were completely unconcerned with it.

    Speaking of unconcerned, apparently President Obama is exactly that in regards to NASA. New NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hopes to meet with Obama before end of year on agency future. [al.com]

    On top of all of that, it seems that Altair, the lunar lander from the Constellation project has been defunded. [nasaspaceflight.com]

    • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:14PM (#29840215) Journal
      The ARES I has serious safety issues. Thrust Oscillation will shake the astronauts like no other rocket in history. Also, they are launched with higher G forces. Simulations show there are certain points during the liftoff process where the launch abort system (which is supposed to pull the Orion crew module clear of the rocket in case of disaster) cannot pull the module clear of the expected debris field. In other words if ARES-I suffers an abort condition at the wrong time, the Orion will wind up parachuting through the expanding fireball of burning fuel, burning and/or melting away the parachutes. It won't be just loss of mission, it will be loss of crew. Add in the fact that ARES-I is designed to lift the Orion into an orbit with a NEGATIVE PERIGEE, unless the Orion itself circularizes its orbit. Also, they've been trimming Orion left, right, and center in order to get it light enough so "the Stick" can lift it. This means cutting crew, cutting land based landing, cutting crew comforts (eg toilets) and cutting safety gear. I shudder to think what needs to be cut in order to get a beefier launch abort system in place.
      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:07PM (#29840799) Journal

        Add in the fact that ARES-I is designed to lift the Orion into an orbit with a NEGATIVE PERIGEE, unless the Orion itself circularizes its orbit. Also, they've been trimming Orion left, right, and center in order to get it light enough so "the Stick" can lift it. This means cutting crew, cutting land based landing, cutting crew comforts (eg toilets) and cutting safety gear.

        It's particularly ironic when you consider that in NASA's ESAS study which selected the internal Ares I design over commercial launch vehicles, the safety standards were tweaked so that the Ares I design was the only one which could satisfy the absurdly high standards. Of course, it now looks like Ares can't actually satisfy those standards, and the mass trim-backs may well result in a system considerably more dangerous than the commercial alternatives.

        • by khallow (566160)
          This is the problem with "man-rating" a launch system. Is its purpose to build a safe vehicle or to make sure that only the paper rocket NASA wants can possibly pass?
      • by hardburn (141468)

        The ARES I has serious safety issues.

        None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

        Simulations show there are certain points during the liftoff process where the launch abort system (which is supposed to pull the Orion crew module clear of the rocket in case of disaster) cannot pull the module clear of the expected debris field.

        The Launch Abort System didn't even exist on the Shuttle or Saturn rockets. It may not be 100% effective, but it doesn't need to be to at least provide a measure of additional safety.

        There are much better arguments against the Ares I. Like why it needs to be done at all when it has similar capabilities to the Delta IV, Falcon 9, or one of the number of shuttle-derived concepts out there.

        • by ckaminski (82854) <ckaminski@poboxUUU.com minus threevowels> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:22PM (#29840919) Homepage
          RE: No Saturn abort modes

          What plan do you live on? Apollo absolutely had an on-launch abort capability.

          http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CAwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FApollo_abort_modes&ei=uNrgSpTHJtqutgea8bntDA&usg=AFQjCNHlUg79yJTq58OGwqbPC-AERMlXJA&sig2=xoBr6SYGsr9ZfaSgty98xQ

          Ever see that giant pointy think sticking off the top of the Apollo capsule? Yeah, rocket assisted abort. :-)

          http://a.abcnews.com/images/GMA/ld_sr_01_080421_ssv.jpg

          Atlas and Delta don't have the Pogoing problem Ares I does. Neither would Direct 2.0.
        • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:33PM (#29841021) Journal

          The ARES I has serious safety issues.

          None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

          Actually, the nastiest safety issues with the Ares I are a direct result of the design decision by former administrator Mike Griffin to use a single gigantic solid rocket motor as the first stage. It turns out there's a really good reason (or rather, many good reasons) that nobody's used such a design for a manned rocket before. I'm sure given enough time and money ($35 billion is the latest cost estimate) the excellent engineers at NASA can create workarounds for the inherent design problems, but I'd imagine their time and effort could be much better spent.

          • Hmmm. I think that the 35 billion is for BOTH Ares I and V, NOT ares I.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by FleaPlus (6935)

              Hmmm. I think that the 35 billion is for BOTH Ares I and V, NOT ares I.

              I've been double-checking, and it doesn't seem to be. In fact, it looks like the estimates are higher now. From a recent GAO report (although this does include the Orion cost as well):

              http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=15541 [hobbyspace.com]
              http://gao.gov/products/GAO-09-844 [gao.gov]

              Nevertheless, NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

        • by khallow (566160) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:21PM (#29841419)

          None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

          There are three big safety issues that appear precisely because of the choice of an solid rocket motor (SRM) derived from the Shuttle solid rocket boosters (SRB). First, thrust oscillation is a problem with solid rocket motors because of their design. The SRM has a chamber prior to ejection through the nozzle. Certain vorticies resonate with this chamber and this vibration is then transmitted to the rest of the vehicle.

          Now you may ask, if all solid rocket motors have thrust oscillation and the SRM is Shuttle-derived, why isn't the Shuttle affected? The answer is that it would be except for the clever way in which the SRBs are attached to the rest of the Shuttle stack. Effectively, both SRBs are attached to each end of a giant bar. The external tank only connects to this bar at two points which as I understand it are null points of the thrust oscillation vibration (which is very predictable). So as a result, little of the vibration is actually transmitted to the rest of the Shuttle. This only works because we have a pair of boosters that are attached only in a couple of spots to the rest of the vehicle. It doesn't work for the Ares I because the second stage has to be mounted on top of the SRM. End result is a great deal of vibration (how much we'll see in a few days). There are various solutions for dampening the vibration, but these cost mass or thrust. Neither is a problem with liquid propellant rockets like the EELVs.

          Moving on, the second problem is the aspect of the Ares I. It has a wide second stage and a narrow first stage. This is precisely a consequence of the choice of the SRM as the first stage. The problem is that since SRMs have to go through a railroad tunnel when they're being shipped from Utah, they cannot be wider than they currently are. So the Ares I has an increased chance of bumping the launch tower at launch due to wind gusts. The limited width of the first stage also limits the performance of the vehicle leading to the third problem.

          The third problem is that the launch of the Ares I has been made safer at the expense of the rest of the mission. This doesn't have much consequence for LEO missions since there is some performance margin to use up. But lunar missions are very tight on mass. So the performance loss from thrust oscillation mitigation or other problems comes by taking weight away from the payload, here the Orion vehicle. Further, the first stage is already as large as it can be, so there's no additional performance to be gained from the first stage. That means in turn that compromise of the safety of the Orion vehicle, namely removal of some redundancy of the vehicle, has to occur in order for the Ares I to lift it. Since for lunar missions, most of the risk is in the mission not in the launch, this means that we're increasing the overall risk of the mission merely to continue to use the Ares I.

          The Launch Abort System didn't even exist on the Shuttle or Saturn rockets. It may not be 100% effective, but it doesn't need to be to at least provide a measure of additional safety.

          This reminds me that there is a fourth safety advantage of other rockets than solids. In case of full rupture and conflagration of the first stage, a liquid rocket burns slower than a solid. That means lower heat on the escape vehicle and a greater chance of survival for the crew.

          There are much better arguments against the Ares I. Like why it needs to be done at all when it has similar capabilities to the Delta IV, Falcon 9, or one of the number of shuttle-derived concepts out there.

          This is my primary objection to the Ares I as well. There are two near future commercial rockets, the "EELVs", Delta IV Heavy, which flies now, and Atlas V Heavy (which would be based on a modification of the Atlas V which flies now). So we're ignoring rockets which fly now in exchange for paper rockets which as we've seen don't work as advertised. NASA should never be in direct competition with private launch services. It gives them too much incentive to undermine the competition.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by demachina (71715)

            Great post. Just curious. Is there some actual physical reason you can think of preventing them from making SRM's in Florida so they could make them any size? I'm assuming the actual answer is Orrin Hatch, extremely powerful Senator from Utah, will kill any program where the SRM's aren't built in Utah and is probably supporting Ares precisely because it is keeping jobs in his state, even if its a horrible engineering choice. This country is doomed in science, engineering and tech if you make bad enginee

          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            There are two near future commercial rockets, the "EELVs", Delta IV Heavy, which flies now, and Atlas V Heavy (which would be based on a modification of the Atlas V which flies now).

            One thing which I thought was a little strange was on page 69 of the report, where it says, "While launch of the Orion on the Delta IV HLV was found to be technically feasible, it requires some modification of the current launcher, and was comparable in cost and schedule to simply continuing with the development of the Ares I."

            I

    • ol dick would NEVER put jobs ahead of NASA lives. Nah. Never. hehehehehehehe
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      I really like these recent comments from Jeff Greason, definitely my favorite member of the Augustine Committee, regarding launch safety:

      http://www.spacepolitics.com/2009/10/22/a-question-of-safety/ [spacepolitics.com]

      The topic of safety same up Wednesday as well in a talk by Augustine committee member Jeff Greason at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in New Mexico. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked why the committee didn't endorse Constellation as the "most viable" option "even though from a safety and mission assurance standpoint it's clearly the best option." Greason said that safety and mission assurance was considered by the Augustine committee, but that goes beyond simply the choice of launch vehicles.

      "Launch is a relatively small contributor to the safety and mission assurance" of human missions to the Moon and beyond. "It is not negligible, it is not something you want to forget about, but it does not dominate the loss of crew probabilities." Therefore, he said, it was a mistake to focus on further increasing the reliability of a relatively small aspect of overall mission risk, particularly if those choices lead you to take out safety systems in other components that because of mass restrictions. "These are false economies in terms of safety and mission assurance."

      Greason was also skeptical about the probabilistic risk assessments used to estimate the safety of various proposed systems. Most launch failures are not from random types of events, he said, but instead failures of design, testing, procedure, and the like. "If it was built wrong, it doesn't work a lot of the time, no matter what you thought the probabilistic failure was." 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.

      "And the truth is, Ares 1 is, right now, a paper booster," Greason continued. "And the further truth is, its projected launch rate is extremely low, so it will never get out of 'infant mortality,'" that initial phase of non-probabilistic failures. "Even if Ares 1 were built exactly as planned, we would never find out whether its mature probabilistic risk assessment was or was not achievable as planned, because we would never get through the phase of life where we're supposed to work out all the teething problems."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942)
        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 c
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Amusing since the report does explicitly discuss safety. Particularly it focuses on two topics: it considers astronaut safety as sine qua non, and says that its impossible to predict 'infant mortality' safety of any launch vehicle.

      The first means that they simply refuse any plan that can't be done with a strong expectation of safety.

      The second means that its impossible to analyze the initial safety of a paper rocket, and personally I'd love to see the Senator try. You can analyze safety from a PRA perspec

  • Questionable Spin (Score:4, Informative)

    by swanzilla (1458281) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:02PM (#29840109) Homepage
    FTA

    In polls, a huge percent of the American people support the space program. It costs each of us around 7 cents a day. I think most people would be willing to pay that, to have a human space flight program.

    Way off...bear with me here U.S. population appx 300,000,000 x Percentage of population who pay taxes 55
    gives us 165,000,000 taxpayers
    the NASA budget is $17,600,000,000 / yr, divided between those taxpayers yeilds roughly %106/yr, or roughly 30 cents /day.

    Did I miss something?

    • by gblackwo (1087063) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:08PM (#29840165) Homepage
      Now compare it to the defense budget for fun.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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 Nyeerrmm (940927)

      If you consider the full 300M population* and only the cost of human space flight (about half of the total NASA budget) then the numbers line up pretty well.

      Of course, considering that the polls the report refers to refer to both manned and unmanned exploration, this seems slightly dishonest, but not ridiculously out of line.

      * If you're going to be restricting it to those paying taxes, you should probably also consider the income distribution of those paying taxes, and that the median tax load is going to b

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:27PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

      • by Nethead (1563)

        They took our jobs!

      • Would be nice to actually have advancements in our culture so that the rest of the world doesnt mock us quite as often as they do!

        That is a poor rationale for spending huge amounts of money. PS I don't know what fantasy world you live in, but avoiding mockery by foreigners is not exactly a priority of the American people. Substitute "French" or any other nationality and find how stupid that sounds.

      • by khallow (566160)
        The whole federal government is spending something like $70 a day per taxpayer this year. Doesn't sound like much does it? $70 is a small amount too.
    • You misunderstood the "a huge percent", what they really mean is 1%.

      And the 7 cents a day is actually in Canadian Dollars.

    • or you could look at it as being about 0.4% of the budget. or about what we spent in Iraq last month.

    • by kmac06 (608921)
      I'm guessing it's from the fact that the space program is not the majority of NASA's budget.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:54PM (#29840675) Journal

    For some reason the link for the Augustine Report seems to be going to a download for Windows 7 (Huh?!?), so here's the actual link [nasa.gov] (mirror [spaceref.com]).

    Here's the main report findings from the PDF:

    Summary of Principal Findings

    The Committee summarizes its principal findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

    The right mission and the right size: NASA's budget should match its mission and goals. Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

    International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the "critical path" to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations and more overall resources could become available to the human spaceflight program.

    Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The remaining Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner without undue schedule pressure. This manifest will likely extend operation into the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

    The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

    Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of the life of the ISS. A decision not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

    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.

    Commercial launch of crew to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and life-cycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives to perform this service should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

    Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration. Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry, the academic community and other U.S. government users.

    Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration of the inner solar system; but it is not the best first destination. Visiting the "Moon First" and following the "Flexible Path" are both viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutual

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      I really, really like the "Flexible Path Towards Mars" proposed by the Augustine Committee, which is detailed on page 40 of the report. For those unfamiliar with it, it stresses near-term exploration of a variety of targets in shallow gravity wells, ranging from Lagrangian points to the moons of Mars. I also rather like the table on page 41 of the report which describes the 8 different categories of destinations for Flexible Path (Lunar orbit, Earth-Moon L1, Earth-Sun L2, Earth-Sun L1, Near-Earth Objects, M

    • by Larson2042 (1640785) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:32PM (#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.

      • Oh if only I had mod points. Larson hit the nail on the head with this one. Chemical rockets really do have a law of diminishing returns when it comes to cost vs. payload size. If we don't start moving to smaller, mass production type launch capability America's space program is going to stagnate more so than it already has (40 year moon anniversary anyone?).

        That being said, let's hope some of the decision makers make a point to read slashdot and comments like this one...

        Also, three cheers for the com
      • I agree. The claim that heavy-lift is truly necessary is somewhat hard for me to buy, although my suspicion is that suggesting otherwise would just be too big of a mindset change for NASA to handle. If they do have a heavy-lift system, I do hope they pick the EELV-derived heavy-lift, even if it'll be nigh-impossible politically -- congressmen have already started defensive maneuvers to try to protect the status quo. The main benefit of an EELV-derived system is that it minimizes the amount of specialized in

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        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.

        Economies of scale work both ways--sure, cheap, reliable, low-lift boosters are great, but there are important technical simplifications

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FleaPlus (6935)

          Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare.

          It's worth noting that a big part of the reason that the ISS was a nightmare is because building a station was only secondary to the goal of ensuring that funds went to the Russian space agency in order to prevent their rocket engineers from going to North Korea, Iran, etc. In addition, the ISS was also a big learning experience, and we've become substantially better at in-space assembly in the process.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            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
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Larson2042 (1640785)

          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 situatio

          • by demachina (71715)

            "...if we're going to really do worthwhile things in space..."

            I'm kind of doubting we are going to do anything of scale in space until we build either a space elevator or an actual reusable space plane with days for turnaround instead of six months and a complete overhaul between every mission. You might reduce launch costs of rockets some, but I doubt you are ever going to get them to be cheap enough to do anything big in space that any economy on Earth can afford.

            As for lessons learned on ISS... the only

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hardburn (141468)

        If you're going to put even one person into space for any extended duration (i.e., something more than Mercury-style joyrides around the planet), you need to take a long a lot of oxygen, food, water, and other necessities, while also providing a reasonable level of safety. Plus, you need to get cargo to the ISS somehow, and the ISS is on a rather inconveniently inclined orbit.

        Figure around 20 metric tons to LEO with a good sized crew. That's about what the shuttle does now, as does the Falcon 9 Heavy and De

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FleaPlus (6935)

          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@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:48PM (#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 khallow (566160)
          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. Economies of scale from launch frequency start taking effect at one launch. Even if you can't
          • Hoe exactly do you save money by buying two multi billion dollar pieces of hardware to (maybe) save a few hundred million in launch costs?

        • by khallow (566160)
          I horribly mangled my last reply so I'm posting it again.

          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.

          Economies of scale from launch frequency start taking effect at one launch. Even if you can't figure out how to reduce the "standing army" in size or cost, you can still spread that cost over more launches.

          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.

          Nonsense. What's magically different about space hardware that you can't build multiple copies of the same thing and use multiple launches and redundancy in your hardware (and crew) not only to drive down the launch cost of your missions, but also t

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by demachina (71715)

        "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."

        If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive". Maybe if its bulk stuff like fuel, water or oxygen it wouldn't be so much of

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by khallow (566160)

          If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive".

          What would you rather lose? An expensive module or a mission?

          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive".

            What would you rather lose? An expensive module or a mission?

            It's also worth noting that for any beyond-LEO mission, the bulk of your mass is going to be propellant, which is pretty much the definition of easily-replaceable. This is particularly the case if you take advantage of in-orbit propellant storage depots, one of the things which the Augustine Report recommends.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go,

          For launchers, that'd be kind of the point. Say you got 10 launchers, 8 for the original parts and 2 in reserve - you'd have pretty good reliability for a 25% increase in cost or less on that. For the modules, let us first for the launch success rate assume that you're building two of any module for QA purposes anyway, not very unlikely. Let us assume a 95% success rate, not too unlikely given the shuttle trackrecord. the odds of all 10 launches going well on first try is 59.87%. The odds of one failure + s

        • by radtea (464814)

          I'm pretty sure the Apollo people thought all this out and they came up with a pretty good solution that is known to work. I wager they figured it was best to launch everything at once where possible.

          This was done for reasons that no longer apply. The goal was "get to the Moon", not "build a sustainable space program for the human exploration of the solar system". That was the dream (of the engineers) but not the goal (of the politicians.)

          The two models considered by Apollo were "Earth rendezvous" and "Lu

      • The idea is for NASA to have a heavy launch and then do it at least once every 2 months, but better would be once a month. As to light to medium, that is what EELV, SpaceX, SS3, etc are doing. What is needed is for NASA to stimulate the space business so that commercial flights take off, which would ultimately lead to needing heavy launch needs. Obama/Dems/NASA HAVE the ability to do this stimulus with relatively LITTLE money. We will see if they will the right thing.
  • by waimate (147056) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:56PM (#29840699) Homepage

    ...commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle.

    So the astronauts are saying that Soyuz is safer than the shuttle. Interesting.

    • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:46PM (#29841127) Homepage

      It's not that the astronauts are saying it...the facts (your quote) simply support that notion.

      The two fatal accidents it had at the beginning were because of a) rushing it into service (first accident) b) disgarding common sense safety (crew not in pressure suits for reentry). Yes, it had a few rough, ballistic reentries, but it survived them. Heck, even reentering the atmosphere with the upper hatch acting as heatshield worked (upside down, basically, due to failure in detaching service module and changed aerodynamics of the spacecraft; try flying a Space Shuttle in "wrong" orientation to the airflow...oh wait, both Challenger and Columbia did it, and look how it ended (in both cases the immediate cause of orbiter disintegration were aerodynamic forces))

      • It's not that the astronauts are saying it...the facts (your quote) simply support that notion.

        Actually, the facts don;t support that notion.

        The two fatal accidents it had at the beginning were because of a) rushing it into service (first accident) b) disgarding common sense safety (crew not in pressure suits for reentry). Yes, it had a few rough, ballistic reentries, but it survived them.

        A few rough ballistic entries? There's been at least five in the last six years, and more before that.

        • by khallow (566160)

          A few rough ballistic entries? There's been at least five in the last six years, and more before that. (Not to mention that ballistic entries are caused by significant system failures.)

          Agreed. I used to think the Soyuz was a safer vehicle until I read through the list of close calls. The Shuttle has had some iffy things happen as well, but nothing like the Soyuz.

          • by sznupi (719324)

            What? You have a weird way of saying that, while soviet/russian space programme is plagued by problems (now mostly financial ones, and in the past - ridiculously understood deadlines), Soyuz almost always manages to bring people back even with major malfunctions; it has survivable failure modes, to much greater degree than the Shuttle.

            • by khallow (566160)
              Yes, that's exactly what I'm swaying. It's not weird when you think about it. In the absence of significant numbers of fatal accidents, you have to consider the non-fatal close calls. A vehicle that has fallback modes of operation usually is safer *unless* it's using those fallback modes all the time as the Soyuz is.
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Historical data are a fact. Soyuz, but also had no fatalities for a long, long time.

          You seem to forget that ballistic reentry is a survivable emergency mode, a very usefull safety feature; being able to deorbit without control; a feature that all capsules share (and early ones were purely ballistic...)

          Yes, they were lucky...that the couplings with service module seem to be designed in a way that causes them to break off (soon enough to prevent burning through hatch; the specific contruction of the Soyuz cap

          • Historical data are a fact. Soyuz, but also had no fatalities for a long, long time.

            Yes, historical data is a fact. And the historical data shows that not only has Soyuz had a higher proportion of fatal flights, it also has had an ongoing pattern of significant failures and near fatal accidents. When NASA continues to fly with known bad SRB joints or known significant damage to the heatshield, they are regarded as villains. When the Russians continue to fly despite repeated problems and accidents, they a

            • by sznupi (719324)

              Sure, they both have comparable number of flights (and Soyuz, unlike Shuttle, is on its way to have much more; btw, how should we count Progress?) with the same number of fatal ones...but an important historical fact is when, at which stage of the program, in what external circumstances the accidents happened. I don't attach any value to the operating procedures of respective agencies. It's just, again, historical fact that underestimating the risks seems to work, in the long term, much better for Soyuz tha

      • by smoker2 (750216)

        try flying a Space Shuttle in "wrong" orientation to the airflow...oh wait, both Challenger and Columbia did it, and look how it ended (in both cases the immediate cause of orbiter disintegration were aerodynamic forces))

        Way to twist the facts. The external tank weighs nearly 1,600,000 pounds at lift off, and that's just the weight of fuel. It's hardly *aerodynamic forces* that blew the fuck out of the shuttle. and Columbias problem wasn't aerodynamic forces either, as it was in a proper attitude until the

        • by sznupi (719324)

          Make sure you are sure of your facts before writing sucvh suggestion...

          In the case of Challenger...there really wasn't much of an explosion. What looked like it happened below the stack, when fuel tank, badly damaged by oscilating SRB, dumped its oxidizer and fuel. The forces on the stack rapidly changed, beyond the compensation of the engines (which were still firing with the leftovers in fuel lines). All this happening in the time of ascent when aerodynamic forces are the greates didn't help. Those forxes

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kaiser423 (828989)
      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.
      • It's 'common knowledge' that the Soyuz is safer in the same way that it's 'common knowledge' that eating pop rocks and drinking coke will cause your stomach to rupture.
         
        IOW, just because it's 'common knowledge' doesn't mean it is true.

    • by citizenr (871508)

      ...commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle.

      So the astronauts are saying that Soyuz is safer than the shuttle. Interesting.

      Just like AK47/74 is more reliable than m4/16

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