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NASA Space Science

NASA's Commercial Plans for Kennedy Space Center 106

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the free-tang-for-everyone dept.
coondoggie writes "Whether or not NASA launches two or three more shuttle missions, NASA's venerable hub of operations, the Kennedy Space Center will need a new mission. That's why NASA today said it was looking to morph the center's unique space rocket facilities into a new more commercial role after the shuttles stop flying. While its facilities would likely rise far above others, NASA could find some competition in any commercial launch venture."
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NASA's Commercial Plans for Kennedy Space Center

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  • All the tourists going there will finally have space-o-rama roller coasters and extraterrestial-terror-haunted-space-shutte train ride?
    • by blincoln (592401)

      All the tourists going there will finally have space-o-rama roller coasters and extraterrestial-terror-haunted-space-shutte train ride?

      Houston has already gone that route. I was there last summer and the main attraction was a giant Clone Wars playset. At least they still had the actual historical artifacts available off in a corner.

  • Rust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by emkyooess (1551693) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @03:44PM (#34998388)

    Hopefully they don't intend it to continue on simply as a history tourist attraction. When I visited last summer, the "rocket garden" left me sad. Everything was terribly rusted and so on.

    • Re:Rust (Score:4, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @05:09PM (#34999518)

      Maybe it was meant to be symbolic of the agency itself.

      I mean, let's face it, man may one day set foot on Mars. But the odds that he'll be wearing a NASA patch on his suit has been dropping pretty steadily ever since the early 70's.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      JSC has a SATURN V (complete with Apollo CSM) as a fucking LAWN ORNAMENT. It don't get much sadder than that.
      • by k6mfw (1182893)
        actually the Saturn V is not a lawn ornament, it is housed inside a tourista building. It is (or was) a flight-qualified vehicle, and a sci-fi movie used it in their story. Situation was hostile space aliens have a few "forward air controllers" as part of plans to launch an invasion of earth but how could NASA launch some guys to the moon, "hey, we already got a launch vehicle at KSC!" So off they go and successfully put a stop to the invasion. OK so offtopic, somewhat entertaining movie. It also starred Wa
    • by h00manist (800926)
      I wonder if the plan is to convert NASA sections from centralized-commercial into outsourced commercial, undercover-military to overt-military, and research.
    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      the could always reposition it as a elder engineer's retirement village. The sad fact is that NASA's mission for space was hijacked by politics. The Future in space looks like it will be more like Firefly: Mandarin speakers.
    • by blincoln (592401)

      Hopefully they don't intend it to continue on simply as a history tourist attraction. When I visited last summer, the "rocket garden" left me sad. Everything was terribly rusted and so on.

      In all fairness to the staff there, that's what happens to any metal that's left outside for very long in that environment. So their options are:

      Recycle it instead of displaying it.
      Display it outside, and clean it up every once in awhile.
      Spend a bunch of money building an enclosed space for it, like they did with the Satur

  • I'm all for it, but I have my doubts that anyone is going to invest several million to launch a Mars exploration mission with no profits whatsoever in the forseeable future.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm all for it, but I have my doubts that anyone is going to invest several million to launch a Mars exploration mission with no profits whatsoever in the forseeable future.

      If you or anyone else has even the rough outline of a workable plan to get to Mars for anything close to several million I expect you'd have to beat investors off with a stick, many would do it just for the publicity, without any expectation of direct ROI. The trouble is getting a man to Mars would likely cost more on the order of several Billion and that's to do it badly.

    • I think there's less reason for doubt than is generally believed. There's been a fair bit of interest in resource extraction. Primarily for the moon, but likewise for Mars. The present players seem fairly comfortable with the engineering aspects [ieee.org]. The main concern relates more to legal title to the resources once extracted. The wealth locked up in NEOs is unfathomable and the private sector is in a far better position to leverage it than government.
      • The main concern relates more to legal title to the resources once extracted. The wealth locked up in NEOs is unfathomable and the private sector is in a far better position to leverage it than government.

        The Outer Space Treaty pretty much makes it clear that legal title to the resources of the rest of the solar system won't be available to any private individual or corporation.

        Which means that there's no incentive whatsoever to bother developing the capability to go there and extract said resources....

        • by morgauxo (974071)
          Not clearly. It's actually kind of fuzzy. http://www.space.com/10621-moon-mining-legal-issues.html [space.com] I suspect that the miner's country of origin would love it as they can tax the profit once the materials are sold on Earth. If the other nations raise a stink... we will have to wait to see.
        • by mlts (1038732) *

          Given parties with enough cash/clout, any treaty can be set aside. I'd bet that if a party well-heeled enough to get a mining system set up to get rare minerals from the moon to Earth on a fairly inexpensive basis (perhaps with a space elevator), the Outer Space Treaty would be shelved or amended to nothingness by at least one country.

          • Given parties with enough cash/clout, any treaty can be set aside. I'd bet that if a party well-heeled enough to get a mining system set up to get rare minerals from the moon to Earth on a fairly inexpensive basis (perhaps with a space elevator), the Outer Space Treaty would be shelved or amended to nothingness by at least one country.

            Given that you'd have to spend a buttload of money first, convincing people to invest in an operation that can't ever make a return on investment without overturning a Treaty,

            • Don't like us strip mining the moon? Well come on up and do something about it beeotches!


              And realistically, at this point in the game, I foresee absolutely nothing that would be exported back to Mutha Eurth except information and energy. Anything you build out there is most likely going to be local support infrastructure or outward looking.
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      No one is proposing that NASA disappear. Well, a few people are, but they're mostly ignored as the fringe.

      Commercialization means that for a potential Mars mission, or Asteroid mission, or anything else, most of the lifting from the surface to LEO would be done by commercial providers where possible. Some people still think a customized NASA-specific heavy lift vehicle would be necessary, so I'll go with that. However, imagine if you could just launch all the heavy stuff on that, and then put the people u

      • Some people still think a customized NASA-specific heavy lift vehicle would be necessary

        Not necessary, but potentially a lot cheaper if done properly. Sadly, NASA is being prevented from doing it properly.
  • Adding a coffee shop with free wifi would be a good start.

    • Uh, Starbucks has had a couple shops on the moon for a least a few years now. Although the four second ping sucks.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      They took out the coffee shop? When did that happen? (I haven't been there since 1985)

  • I guess it makes sense it should continue to be used ... isn't it's location fairly optimal in terms of placement within the US for take-off? I see to recall reading that anyway.

    Sad that NASA is being squeezed out of the game to a certain extent, glad to see they can still play a role.

    • Re:Makes sense ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bradgoodman (964302) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @03:58PM (#34998592) Homepage
      Yes. It is prime for launching because among all spots in the continental United States, it is: 1. Close to the equator - good to achieve equatorial orbits 2. On the eastern seaboard. Orbits typically go from West to East. So from there, they can launch to the east, and be going over the ocean, so if anything goes wrong, well, it's over the ocean Probably also because of mild weather, year-round, too.
      • by jfengel (409917)

        Probably also because of mild weather, year-round, too.

        Well, except for the hurricanes.

        But the weather, at least, is generally pretty warm, so you don't usually have to watch out for frozen o-rings. Usually.

      • Re:Makes sense ... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Megane (129182) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @04:16PM (#34998828) Homepage
        It is also located along Buckminster Fuller's "Dymaxion Equator", a great circle which passes over minimal land area, primarily North America and Africa. This means minimal land area over which an "oops" can fall onto inhabited areas when a launch fails to reach orbit.
        • Very interesting point! I'd never heard of that - and it took a bit of time and visualization for me to confirm that! Very scarcely documented - even in a Google search! Although, I do not believe many of the actual launches actually follow that path.
        • by mangu (126918)

          It is also located along Buckminster Fuller's "Dymaxion Equator", a great circle which passes over minimal land area, primarily North America and Africa. This means minimal land area over which an "oops" can fall onto inhabited areas when a launch fails to reach orbit.

          Doesn't mean as much as it seems on first sight. If the flight fails badly, the equipment will fall within a few hundred miles of the launch site. Otherwise, it will reach orbit and then the earth is rotating away from the orbit plane. You don't need a full great circle to abort a mission.

          The key point here is that orbital velocity is the main factor. In order to be reasonably efficient, a rocket must reach orbital velocity as soon as possible. If a rocket isn't in orbit within about 500~1000 miles from the

        • by sznupi (719324)
          We set up exclusion zones as is / from certain point in launch sequence, "oops" would be no worse than any random orbital debris (and most launches proceed over largely uninhabited areas anyway)
    • Re:Makes sense ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd (1658) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [kapimi]> on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @04:14PM (#34998796) Homepage Journal

      NASA is no more geared to commercial spaceflight than Red Bull's Formula 1 team is geared to making SUVs. NASA is, however, geared towards research and design, non-terrestrial physical sciences, deep space communications, etc.

      Specialists are capable of going further in a specific field than any generalist. It would be suicide for them to try and compete with fly-by-night rocket groups that can launch satellites from disused oil rigs. It is seriously doubtful they could seriously battle for the LEO passenger market, or even with the Russians on the millionaires-in-space front. Frankly, I don't think they should.

      NASA should not go commercial. They should invest more on ion drive research (how else will we get TIE fighters?), more on reliable landers (reusable spacecraft and/or colonies won't be possible until we improve the reliability aspect), more on deep space missions (commercial vendors won't bother mining asteroids until we find asteroids that we can profitably reach and mine - nickle isn't nearly valuable enough), more on alternative launch technologies (turbine-assisted ramjets, ski-jump ramps, cannon-assisted ramjets - all areas NASA is working on or have done), more on computational fluid dynamics (it's bad enough designing aircraft for atmospheres you can actually test in).

      These are areas where the commercial value is next to zero until AFTER the results are in. The private sector won't invest in this stuff. Or if it does, not nearly enough. But the private sector can do bugger all until those results are indeed in.

      NASA should be devolved from the Government, much in the same way the BBC is devolved from the British Government (via charter and as a source of funding but not under the control of nor under the sole funding of), but it should not be privatised or seek to use commerce to make the gap between what it needs and what scraps the politicians will give it after funding military escapades.

      • by mangu (126918)

        I agree with everything you wrote, and I must add that Florida is absolutely not the best place for a commercial launch site.

        The most interesting orbit for commercial launches is the geosynchronous orbit over the equator. The highest cost, by far, in a launch for GEO is inclination control. The added fuel a satellite needs to compensate for inclination in a launch from Florida costs about as much as a complete launch from an equatorial position. Launching from Florida doubles the cost, it's as simple as tha

      • NASA should not go commercial. They should invest...

        Yeah, I stopped here.

        NASA has no money, because Congress doesn't fund them for crap. What they would do if they had money is immaterial. They can't invest in blue sky (or starry sky) research when they are barely keeping up with existing research programs--and indeed many valuable programs have been cut in the past few years because of it.

        The move to put NASA in a role supporting commercial spaceflight is entirely a cost- and/or face-saving measure by politicians. Nobody at NASA needs to hear it. Talk t

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @03:58PM (#34998598)

    If you RTFA, it sounds like how cash-strapped British Lords open up parts of their country estates to provide a little cash-flow to finance maintenance and repairs. Or like some kind of NASA garage sale. At any rate, it doesn't sound like NASA is planning on launching anything there real soon.

    So if you want to get yourself into space, learn Russian. Ha! It's like the Tortoise and the Hare Space Race . . . congratulations, Russia, in the long run, you have won.

  • Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @04:08PM (#34998724)

    It's a shame that NASA has to play into commercialism to stay afloat. Back in the 60's when we were racing to the moon NASA got all the money they needed, but once that was won the well dried up. Like Tom Hanks said in Apollo 13 answering a question about why funding should continue after having already beaten the Russians: Imagine if Christopher Columbus came back from the New World, and no one returned in his footsteps.

    NASA needs a new mission alright, but it needs to include more trips into space and not selling toy shuttles and rides on roller coasters.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      The problem with the analogy for the Moon and Spanish exploration in the New World is simple.

      There was money to be had, hand over fist in the New World, going back and forth to the Moon was a money sink. Even if Apollo 19-20 had been funded and Saturn V production had continued, the Oil Crisis of 1973 would have killed the funding.

      NASA needs to get out of manned spaceflight and back to what it was founded for, developing technologies for civilian aviation and aerospace applications.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      The difference between Columbus vs the Apollo crews is that Columbus brought back gold/ Silver/ spices with him.

      The spices not so much but there should be decent quantities of raw minerals out there that we need on a regular basis. The problem becomes how much does it cost to setup mining out there and return. (rememebr the moon has lower gravity so you can send more back easier)

      • We need to convince people that you can get high off snorting moon dust......

        The moon will then be colonized by drug cartels....

    • Ehh not that good of an analogy. Now, if North America was nothing more than a useless ball of dusty iron, and Columbus went there just solely as a dick-waving act toward a person/country he openly hated a whole lot rather than a search for wealth, then maybe your analogy would stand.
    • Imagine if Christopher Columbus came back from the New World, and no one returned in his footsteps.

      There isn't gold and half-naked hot Indian women on the moon.

      • by celle (906675)

        "There isn't gold and half-naked hot Indian women on the moon."

        Darn!!

        Maybe not on the moon, but how about on Slashdot.org? ("Hea-hea-hea." -- Igor - Dracula - Dead and Loving It or was it Love at First Bite? Ah well.)

        hea - way it sounded.

    • Re:Sad (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @04:54PM (#34999310)

      You're misinterpreting what commercial space transport means. It doesn't mean that NASA tries to sell what it has to any millionaire looking for a joy ride.

      What it means is that rather than designing and using one-off vehicles for its own uses, NASA will instead try to purchase launches from commercial companies where possible. It already does this in fact -- all unmanned NASA missions, as well as all DOD missions, are launched on commercially acquired Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, mostly purchased from ULA (i.e. Lockheed/Boeing). Now it is just moving a step further and providing a framework to do the same thing for manned spacecraft. In addition to reducing the abuses inherent to cost-plus contracts, it also opens up some reduced savings by letting other customers subsidize the development costs. For other customers, don't let the 'space tourism' thing get you down. While there may be some of that, the most likely 'other customers' would be other countries looking to do their own research without being as dependent on the whims of NASA.

      NASA will continue to be on the forefront of exploration for the near future, funding missions and designing the hardware to do what hasn't been done before. What the commercialization proposals do is try and make the first step (getting to LEO) a little cheaper. Going with your Columbus analogy, he didn't have to design and build the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria himself, he bought them with the funds provided by the crown, and we can hope this provides NASA with the same opportunity.

    • by waimate (147056)

      Of course, Christopher Columbus never set foot on (what was to be) US soil, but I get your point -- Cuba would never have been settled without him.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It has more to do with NASA's shifting its focus from space exploration and science to race quotas and muslim outreach.

      http://www.google.com/search?q=nasa+muslim+outreach&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&safe=active

      Stop acting like NASA has been choked of funding.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget

      The Air Force is getting it done now because they can do it without as much left-wing drag.

    • Re:Sad (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @06:16PM (#35000368) Homepage

      Imagine if Christopher Columbus came back from the New World, and no one returned in his footsteps.

      It's more like when Captain Thomas Bladen Capel came back from Rockall [wikipedia.org] in 1810, and no one returned until 1896. Somebody made another visit in 1955, and put up a plaque. There was another visit in 1985. Someone is planning a visit in 2011 as a promotion for a charity.

    • Plenty of S-Prize type competitions happening now. They may have some creative and efficient approaches to the space industry. Then they may not beat NASA. I fear the 2% astronaut fatality rate will sour private space travel when the first disaster happens.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        I fear the 2% astronaut fatality rate will sour private space travel when the first disaster happens.

        Only a government could get away with building a space vehicle that kills the crew one time in fifty; any private space vehicle will have to be much safer than that.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 25, 2011 @04:13PM (#34998792) Homepage

    Time to stencil "Abandon In Place" on Pad 39A, as has been done with older unused pads at Kennedy. Maybe put in a Son et lumière (show)" [wikipedia.org], like the Pyramids. Future generations will come to look at the ruins.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The lack of leadership in this nation is amazing, and its only gotten worse with every election.

    • Funny. Yes, Obama did some stupid things like killing eLORAN research and destroying Loran-C infra that could be used for eLoran. GPS needs backup. Among other things.
      But I have to agree with Obama's Space/NASA strategy.
      Space should be explored for profit and scientific advancement that makes financial sense.
      The USA isn't great because it can waste billions of dollars in its space program. You need to be careful how you spend your dollars, or the USA will cease to be great real soon.
      If you analyze the recen

  • just launch the shuttle.

    Shuttle or not, other space operations will go one at Kennedy space center, its a nice spot at a low latitude for the US so its got a good amount of speed already built in.

    The main pads will just no longer be set aside for the shuttle. Eventually they'll recycle them for something else. Same with the buildings. We'll need them for something else crazy in a couple years.

  • This is all incredibly depressing. Outside of launching satellites, space is not profitable short term. Businesses are only interested in the (relative) short term.

    If we stop publicly funding space research, there will be a lot less space research. Period.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      No one is stopping funding space exploration. Commercialization in this sense means purchasing launch vehicles for people from commercial providers, just as we do for unmanned vehicles.

      This should in theory free up *MORE* money to allow real exploration, technology development, and all the things NASA is good at. The commercialization policies proposed by the administration included an overall increase in the NASA budget.

      Publicly funded space research is going nowhere, don't worry.

  • Yes let's squander yet another national treasure at the altar of the market...
  • It's absolutely astounding to me (as someone who works at KSC) the level of understanding with the comments here regarding commercial spaceflight. Nyeerrmm got it right - some of you, oh boy, stick to topics you know... Not only is there a push for commercial spaceflight, but there are plans to build a heavy lift vehicle (which lately there is talk of utilizing the commercial sector to do.) In addition to this, research on in-space fueling depots and "shipyards" are in the works. Like with anything in

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