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Utah vs. NASA On Heavy-Lift Rocket Design 285

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-money's-on-the-dudes-with-rockets dept.
FleaPlus writes "Utah congressmen Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Rob Bishop, and Jim Matheson issued a statement claiming that NASA's design process for a new congressionally-mandated heavy-lift rocket system may be trying to circumvent the law. According to the congressmen and their advisors from solid rocket producer ATK, the heavy-lift legislation's requirements can only be met by rockets utilizing ATK's solid rocket boosters. They are alarmed that NASA is also considering other approaches, such as all-liquid designs based on the rockets operated by the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. ATK's solid rockets were arguably responsible for many of the safety and cost problems which plagued NASA's canceled Ares rocket system."
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Utah vs. NASA On Heavy-Lift Rocket Design

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  • You dont... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrQuacker (1938262) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:36AM (#34315810)
    You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what lobbyist wrote that clause of the bill...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:37AM (#34315818)

    So... if I understand correctly, what's actually happening here is that a Utah company claims that NASA cannot meet the legal requirements by using the competition's designs, and the various Utah congressmen are joining in the chorus to support that Utah company.

    Company discredits competitors, congressmen support their state's industry. Surprising? Hardly.

  • Re:Shame (Score:1, Insightful)

    by MrQuacker (1938262) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:47AM (#34315848)
    Why the heck would you take 6 testicles? Short of making sperm they are useless. Not to mention the security risk of tripling the size and intensity of "the hit zone". Take the double heart or double thumb instead, way more useful.
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tancque (925227) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:57AM (#34315896) Journal

    A law to dictate which supplier to use? That sounds like something from soviet Russia.
    Every time I think I remotely understand the US something shows that doesn't make sense.

  • Re:I'm confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cwix (1671282) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:04AM (#34315920)

    I believe it should be against the law not to consider competitors.

    Who's damn idea was this?

  • Read this as.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eggplant62 (120514) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:20AM (#34316004)

    We got bought by this rocket manufacturer right here and we promised them that, with our legislation, they'd get all the business from NASA. Now, NASA is tossing a monkey wrench into the whole works because they want to consider other rocket manufacturers, and our feet are being held to the fire to deliver on what we promised. We can't let NASA just select any old rocket manufacturer or we'll end up in cement shoes at the bottom of the ocean.

  • Re:Utah sucks... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unkiereamus (1061340) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:17AM (#34316294)

    If the people in Utah are happy, what does it matter what the other 49 states think of them? That's what freedom is all about.

    Of course if Utah came begging for a bailout, like what Greece and Ireland did in the EU, then I suggest we tell them "too bad" and let them figure it out by themselves. Same goes for California, New York, or any other state that overspent beyond their means. But overall I think Utah has been well-behaved and limited spending, and therefore doesn't deserve the criticism you aim at them.

    In 2005 (the last year I could easily find number for) CA received 79 cents of federal spending for every federal tax dollar paid, NY was 78 cents and Utah was $1.07. To give you some framework for those numbers, CA works out to have sent ~$286,627,000,000 to the Federal Government, and received ~$242,023,000,000 dollars worth of federal funding. A disparity of 44 billion.

    Who's bailing out who exactly?

  • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:27AM (#34316340)

    As long as it's for Hatch and his corrupt idiots, I welcome the concrete booties.

  • by Just Brew It! (636086) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:35AM (#34316380)
    ...because the engineers are trying to figure out a way around one of his pet earmarks!
  • Re:I'm confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FridayBob (619244) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:51AM (#34316452) Homepage
    Like most businesses, ATK will hate paying taxes (and likely bend over backwards to avoid doing that), but obviously love receiving tax money in the form of government contracts. It also looks like they've worked hard at oiling a number of prominent state politicians to make sure they keep those contracts regardless of whether their technology is outdated or not.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @08:09AM (#34316532)

    Oh, NASA, NASA, when will you learn? You keep trying to make spacecraft, when as we all know your job is to build precision pork delivery vehicles.

  • Re:Utah sucks... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stdarg (456557) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @08:56AM (#34316862)

    Now how much of that $287 billion was paid by the top 1% of income earners. Sure, THEY are paying way more than they receive in services. But to extend that to the entire state, including the poor who vote Democrat?? It's ridiculous.

  • by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:22AM (#34317140) Homepage Journal
    Just a question? Is it not the responsibility of Congressmen to represent their constituents? I'm not stating anything about the validity of what they are saying, I'm just pointing out that one reason Congressmen (and women) are elected is to represent their state. So in this case, these Congressmen are doing their jobs. Again, I didn't state anything about lobbying or science; I was making a purely political point.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:23AM (#34317142)

    I guess the election is over and Republicans don't have to play pretend anymore.

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:31AM (#34317236) Homepage Journal
    Hey, wait, you're considering designs that don't mandate using boosters built by a specific contractor based in our state? That can't be legal.
    Too bad we can't vote to recall senators from other states.

    The pork must flow.
  • Re:You dont... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:36AM (#34317298)

    Indeed. I had to read that summary again, as on first reading I thought I was reading it wrong. NASA breaking the law for investigating alternatives to a single supplier? It just doesn't read right.

    Allow me to translate from Politician to Reality:

    NASA: I want to build a spaceship.
    Politician: I want to get re-elected.
    ATK Lobbyists: Mr. Politician, here is a big bag of money.
    Politician: NASA, here is a law that funds your spaceship. I don't know much about that sciency stuff, but my staffers helped write it. The law says that you can build any sort spaceship you want, so long as the engines are built by a manufacturer with three letters in their name, where the first two letters of the manufacturer's name are the same as first two letters of the the common scientific abbreviation for adenosine triphosphate, and the third letter of the manufacturer's name is the chemical symbol for potassium. Now go build that spaceship! For SCIENCE!
    NASA: But what about engines not built by ATK, whose lobbyists influenced your staffers to write that law?
    Politician: Then your spaceship would be illegal, and we'd have you all arrested for breaking the law. Or you can STFU, sign the contracts to enrich my political backers, and GBTW.

    ... ten years later...

    NASA: (Builds something that pogo-sticks the astronauts into jelly.)
    Politician: Oh no, what have you done, NASA!
    ATK Lobbyist: There oughta be a law.
    Politician: An SRB that won't kill everyone on board is gonna cost a fortune, y'know.
    ATK Lobbyists: (beams delightedly) Yes, we know. Awesome, isn't it?

  • by jonwil (467024) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:38AM (#34317328)

    Back when Wernher Von Braun created the Saturn 5, he was given the freedom to design the BEST rocket for the job. And that rocket put 12 men on the surface of the moon.

    When they built the space shuttle, they made compromises in its design in order to ensure companies located in key congressional districts got contracts and as a result, the Shuttle Challenger blew up and killed 7 people. (I have no clue if the aforementioned design compromises were responsible for Columbia)

    The politicians need to leave NASA alone and let NASA buy and fly the BEST rocket for the job. Regardless of whether that rocket is made by ATK, Boeing, SpaceX, the Russians or some guys on a sheep station in the Australian Outback. And they need to get out of the way of the private space industry and let it thrive, only getting involved in so far as ensuring that 3rd parties and their property are not harmed/damaged and that the work done by these space companies is not turned into nuclear missiles aimed at downtown DC.

  • by Raenex (947668) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:49AM (#34317452)

    Just a question? Is it not the responsibility of Congressmen to represent their constituents?

    Within reason. They are also supposed to do what's right for the country. Pork that ends up harming the rest of the nation is unethical politics.

  • Re:You dont... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:54AM (#34317522) Journal
    In this case the law is effectively mandating that NASA use a particular supplier: ATK. As I understand it, the authorization bill for the new rocket system specifies that it must be a shuttle derived system; the idea being that it is cheaper to use what you've already developed than to start from scratch. The problem with this approach, now that the shuttle program is at an end, is that a number of the facilities that manufacture the shuttle systems have been shut down and dismantled. It may not be cheaper anymore.
  • Re:Deja boom (Score:3, Insightful)

    by advocate_one (662832) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:55AM (#34317542)

    there was nothing wrong with the O-ring joints PROVIDED that the booster was used within it's environmental limitations... It was a serious case of press-on-itis from senior management who overrode the misgivings of their own engineers. They were under severe pressure to launch and there had already been several delays.

    A one piece design is not necessarily safer either as it would have been extremely difficult to get a single pour without any voids in such a large volume of propellant. It was far easier to produce smaller sections without defects and then assemble the entire booster from good sections.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:46AM (#34318188) Homepage
    To be fair, the engineers knew that the idiot PR flacks at NASA were trying to launch the Shuttle under conditions explicitly noted as being out of spec.

    Said idiots forced the launch anyway. There are probably more conditions that disallow the Shuttle to launch than allow it - temperature is just one of many variables. That's why there is a countdown sequence. But you can't fault ATK / Thiokol for NASA's dramatic blunders. And yes, the did redesign the O-Rings (and pretty much everything else on the Shuttle over time). You'd be insane not to. The Challenger was 100% NASA's fault.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:52AM (#34318260) Journal

    As usual, the Libertarians have done their job as the useful idiots, sparking a big populist revolution that will maintain and increase the GOP power base. The only thing I hope is that the latest bunch of loons actually gets the moron Palin the Republican nomination. Serve 'em right, it would.

  • Re:You dont... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:13AM (#34318602)

    FYI, this is a bi-partisan effort. Matheson is Democrat. Utah is heavily invested in the ATK program based on contractual agreements. To deviate at this point leaves Utah holding the bag rather than NASA.

  • Re:I'm confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 (188840) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:21AM (#34318742) Homepage

    Actually, what confuses me is the apparent contradiction in the summary: how is it that the requirements mandate a solid-rocket design

    That's not what the summary says.

    The summary says:

    According to the congressmen and their advisors from solid rocket producer ATK, the heavy-lift legislation's requirements can only be met by rockets utilizing ATK's solid rocket boosters.

    All that means is that they claim ATK's rockets are the only ones that can meet the design requirements. The summary does *not* mention what those requirements actually are. If you read the second post in the summary, you discover the following text is part of the bill in question:

    shall, to the extent practicable, extend or modify existing vehicle development and associated contracts... including contracts for ground testing of solid rocket motors, if necessary, to ensure their availability for development of the Space Launch System.

    Of course, the choice phrase "to the extent practicable" gives NASA some leeway, here. Furthermore, that same post says:

    Hatch acknowledges in Thursday's statement that the act "does not require the new heavy-lift rocket to use solid rocket motors." However, it adds, "delegation members say the Utah experts they consulted say the legislation's requirements for the heavy-lift rocket can only be realistically met by using solid rocket motors."

    So not even Hatch believes the act requires a particular motor technology. They simply believe that a solid rocket design is the only one that can meet the design requirements for the heavy lift vehicle.

    In short, no, the government isn't mandating a particular technology or vendor, despite the paranoid ramblings of the Slashbots around here. It's just some jackass senator and his puppet corporation trying to stir things up, lest ATK lose a decidedly lucrative government contract.

  • Re:Utah sucks... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Talderas (1212466) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:33AM (#34318976)

    I never understood why people keep bothering tossing around those numbers. Those dollars aren't paid by the state, but rather are paid by the businesses and individuals within the state. Since those tax rates aren't well linked to standard of living rates (which is significantly higher in New York and California), and people in California and New York tend to earn higher salaries to make up for the higher standard of living, it is only logical that those states would end up sending more money to the Federal government since they are more likely to hit the higher tax brackets.

    It's not Utah's fault that people can live on 35k a year when it would require 70k or more a year to have the same lifestyle in New York or California.

  • Re:Utah sucks... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:39AM (#34319076)

    You mean the top 1% who are wealthy because of everyone else's labor? How dare they be asked to give back to society

  • by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:58AM (#34319462)

    I think Wehrner Vom Braun refused to design man rated vehicles with a solid rocket stage (he mustn't have been responsible for the Redstone I guess).

    "Even a slave labour using Nazi SS-Major like Von Braun refused to strap someone on a solid rocket booster! But perhaps you think Hitler was too soft, Herr Hatch?"

    It's politics. Sling mud. Especially when it's well deserved.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @12:13PM (#34319722)

    This. This is what the whole "general welfare" clause of the Constitution was about. Unfortunately, it's be reinterpreted to mean something completely different.

  • Ah yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Un pobre guey (593801) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @01:37PM (#34320998) Homepage
    the heavy-lift legislation's requirements can only be met by rockets utilizing ATK's solid rocket boosters

    The military-industrial-congressional complex in all its glory. The point is to transfer money to specific highly influential businesses. The rest is pure bullshit.
  • by Javagator (679604) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:12PM (#34321474)
    If everyone knows that all politicians are corrupt ... then why do we never do anything about it?"

    These politicians are from Utah and they are stealing for the people of Utah. You don't vote out the crooks when they are your crooks.

  • Re:You dont... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eunuchswear (210685) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @03:55PM (#34322958) Journal

    No, look at the context,

    Saddam was Irans biggest enemy, the one they'd fought a war against.

    The Taliban were the next most dangerous,

    The US destroyed Saddam, installing a pro-Iranian regime in Iraq.

    They removed the Taliban from power, leaving Afghanistan with an Iranian funded government,

    Which enemy of Iran will the US destroy next? Saudi or the USA?

    My money is on the USA. The process is already advanced.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @05:45PM (#34324544) Journal

    Let's use this motto from now on, please NASA?

    The problem is that "best" has many components, often conflicting:

    * Best design for launching heavy payloads once or twice a yaer
    * Best design for launching light payloads many times a year and attaching them together in space
    * Best design to push technological boundaries
    * Best design to minimize development cost
    * Best design to minimize operation costs
    * Best design to ensure astronaut safety
    * Best design to promote the US space industry as a whole
    * Best design to ensure future support from "space state" congressmen, who are the only people in congress willing to push for NASA funding

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