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Space The Military Science Technology

Air Force Wants Commercial Spacecraft 70

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-want-a-hug dept.
coondoggie writes "The US Air Force is preparing to take a long look at how commercial space technology can help it better operate in the cosmos. The Air Force today said it will host a space test program meeting next week ahead of expected contract offerings, or Broad Agency Announcements looking to recruit commercial space providers."
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Air Force Wants Commercial Spacecraft

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @03:10PM (#36015544)

    NASA and the military have always relied on commercial companies to design and build their spacecraft/aircraft. All this really does is add launch and maintenance to the mix.

    Of course, on the downside, this leaves them more dependent than ever on private contractors--which will only strengthen a military/industrial complex that is already draining U.S. coffers dry. But hey, a credit card is just as good as cash as long as they keep giving you credit, right?

    • by Phoghat (1288088)

      Of course, on the downside, this leaves them more dependent than ever on private contractors

      Not really. Big private companies that were contracted worked on infinite budgets, including cost over runs etc., designing space craft and modules for them. The private for profit companies like Virgin, or Space X are working on budgets to make a profit. This I think this will give NASA more bang for the buck.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What is this? "We've finished with our 'war on terror' now. Now it's time to invade space as we are bored"?

  • by Skywolfblue (1944674) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @03:19PM (#36015684)
    Is this really where tax dollars need to be spent? I'm all for space, but I'd rather that budget go to NASA to get some exploring done, not to hire a private contractor to put an F-16 in orbit to defend against... what exactly?
    • Here's how it currently works: Air Force wants a satellite that does...whatever. So they pay money to Northrop/Boeing/whoever to build said satellite. Then the Air Force buys a Titan IV or whatever and Air Force personnel launch the rocket from an Air Force base (eg, Vandenberg).

      How it would work: Air Force wants a satellite that does...whatever. So they pay money to Northrop/Boeing/whoever to build said satellite. Then the Air Force buys "a launch" from SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corporation, or whoeve

      • Just to provide a little more emphasis to your point, here's how it currently works:

        Then the Air Force goes to ULA and buys an Atlas 5 or a Delta 4, since those are the only rockets they have still in service.

        I think someone in the DoD is a little concerned about having painted themselves into a corner

      • I suppose that's a lot more benign then my first reaction.

        But I can't help but wonder if they use it as an excuse for a lot of bad things later on down the line.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by couchslug (175151)

      If actual "exploration" were a priority we'd put the manned program on hiatus for a hundred years and refine our present crude remote-manned systems.

      Humans are mere sensor operators who can do that from a distance.

      • No, they can't. There's to much of a time lag once you get past the moon. Consider Mars. It's a twenty minute round trip at light speed. By the time you see a chasm and brake to prevent the remote-manned buggy from falling into it, the buggy would have been lying at the bottom of the chasm for ten minutes, and it will be another ten minutes before the brakes engage.
        • by couchslug (175151)

          Semi-autonomous systems could be designed to take care of their own survival.

          Manned exploration of Earth was practical because ships and men were EXPENDABLE.

          We need expendable exploration systems which can be deployed in quantity, can be improved rapidly without delays caused by fretting about meat crew safety, and because we also need to replace humans in dangerous tasks on Earth such programs will have a much quicker payoff.

      • by AJWM (19027)

        Remote sensing is not exploration, even if the remote sensors also have manipulators. It's close, but you're still left at the mercy of what you designed the system to do before it left Earth.

        Humans on Mars, for example, could likely have fairly quickly settled the ambiguous answers that Viking returned -- 35 years ago and still not resolved -- to the question "is there life there?". Humans are more than mere sensor operators -- they're designers and improvisers.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "It's close, but you're still left at the mercy of what you designed the system to do before it left Earth."

          Which is why we should develop superbly capable ADAPTIVE systems, and take advantage of rapid design cycles made practical by not having meat in the cockpit.

          We could throw more modern equipment at the problem and do it in droves compared to sending meat.

  • These guys [youtube.com] have it totally handled. Give them a contract, already!
  • An oxymoron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @04:27PM (#36016620) Homepage Journal

    A government agency wants a 'commercial' product that does not really exist? So what makes that product 'commercial'?

    If there is a commercial product and a government agency decides to buy from the manufacturer - well, that's one thing. Good for the manufacturer if he lands the tender. However if the product does not exist because the market hasn't found the reason/money/customers for it yet and the government then comes and says: here is a bunch of money, go build us a 'commercial' solution - well then, there will be a solution. But it will have NOTHING to do with market. The government money comes in, creates the demand, but except that government demand there is no private demand, so the solution will be totally inefficient, unusable under normal market conditions (without government subsidies).

    What I am saying is this: government wants to prop up yet another bunch of companies and call it 'commercial', well, don't be fooled. Sure, they'll subsidize something there with fake money, like they always do, but it won't help the economy in any way, as the demand is artificial, as the money is not coming out of savings but instead creates more inflation, because it's printed and as the economy goes into worse trouble, because debts are increased and not repaid.

    Don't call it 'commercial' if government pays for all the demand, it ain't no such thing.

    • Re:An oxymoron (Score:4, Interesting)

      by david duncan scott (206421) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:27PM (#36017336)

      What if the government is paying for part of the demand? It's not hard to imagine situations in which some demand exists, but not quite enough to justify any particular company making an existential wager on it. An additional demand from a government customer might tip the balance.

      How much purely commercial demand was there for small, portable computers before the Air Force wanted them on-board ICBM s? We went from "the world needs maybe six mainframes" to our current state pretty quickly, once some of the R & D was picked up by the Feds.

      There aren't very many things for which there is absolutely no demand, but there are many things for which the price is as yet too high.

      Besides, I like my interstate highways, even if they were just an Eisenhower-era military-industrial conspiracy. They have turned out toi be useful for a good many things besides rapid mobilization of troops.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by roman_mir (125474)

        Your argument is this: people like things for free, so let's get government to do those things.

        When I say 'demand', I do mean money. Demand is cash. If government supplies the cash, then it supplies the demand, surely. It does not matter if it subsidizes this for 5 people or for 500 people who would want this but can't pay for it themselves. It's not market that created that demand, there was not enough demand from enough people to allocate enough resources for the project, this means this is mis-allocation

        • Re:An oxymoron (Score:4, Insightful)

          by david duncan scott (206421) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @06:32PM (#36018180)
          Profitable private rail? The private rail that was built on massive amounts of federal land, and supported through government strike-breaking? That private rail?

          And no, my argument is not that "people like things for free, so let's get government to do those things." My argument is that, on certain occasions, government can prime a pump. Do you honestly think that there is no demand for air travel? There wasn't nearly enough back in the twenties, so the Post Office came up with "airmail." Who really cared if a letter got there a day sooner, especially since a good many ended up strewn across fields amidst smoking wreckage--the point was to provide some of that demand until the airlines could get a market going. I know it's hard to picture Charles Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacker sucking up to the socialist trough, but without airmail contracts, speed and distance prizes, and other such interventionist folderol the US air transport industry might well have stopped with the Curtis Jenny (you know, that plane that the Feds pretty much gave to anybody who asked after World War I

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by roman_mir (125474)

            Profitable private rail? The private rail that was built on massive amounts of federal land, and supported through government strike-breaking? That private rail?

            - yes, that private profitable rail, and I absolutely agree with you, the government acted criminally by supporting anybody, including the rail tycoons. But by the time we are talking about the rail was private and profitable and it was efficient, roads were not.

            Do you honestly think that there is no demand for air travel?

            - first, the successful airplanes were created privately. Those, who had government funding (I am thinking about the Aerodrome fiasco) failed. Those who got the planes to fly successfully, did it on their own.

            Any government money was not needed to

            • You figure silver is the index of all things? Why, pray tell, except for some sort of magical thinking? It was worth more in 1980 then it is now--are we on the right track?

              Personally I go for days at a time without touching any silver at all. On the other hand, the medications that are currently keeping me alive didn't exist, at any weight of silver, gold, or unobtanium, in the fifties and sixties.I had a smallpox shot back in those halcyon days of economic splendor, a shot that my children didn't need.

              If I

              • Re:An oxymoron (Score:4, Insightful)

                by roman_mir (125474) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @03:51AM (#36021618) Homepage Journal

                You figure silver is the index of all things?

                - silver, gold, cotton, wheat, pork bellies, concentrated orange juice, copper, land for agriculture, oil, gas, uranium, etc. - those things are real.

                Dollars are not real.

                Yes, I consider silver to be real money, I consider gold to be real money, etc. I also do not consider dollars to be real money (or ANY fiat currency for that matter, though relative to each other some do better and some do worse, but they are all fiat and all are printed at the whim of a politician, none of them are money.)

                Silver, gold, etc. - they are stores of value, they can be easily used as units of account and means of trade. They are valuable because of their various properties. Gold is money because it is rare enough, it can't be printed, it does not change over time, it can be reclaimed from any industrial use, it can be easily tested to be real or not, it is accepted as money and has been accepted as money (means of trade) for thousands of years nearly universally.

                Gold does not need to be made 'legal tender', it is money on its own, without any government stating it to be so. Of-course people can use all sorts of things for barter, it doesn't have to be gold. But as long as government cannot print the stuff that you use as money, it's already better than fiat paper.

                It was worth more in 1980 then it is now--are we on the right track?

                - relative to what?

                Do you realize that today oil is the CHEAPEST it has EVER been?

                If you have a silver dime minted prior to 1965 that is, then oil is the cheapest. In US dollars the silver coin is not the most expensive as you are pointing out, but in oil it is the most expensive and oil is the cheapest. You can buy a gallon of gas for a silver dime minted prior to 1965. With US dollars you have to spend how much? 4 dollars, soon to be 5?

                On the other hand, the medications that are currently keeping me alive didn't exist, at any weight of silver, gold, or unobtanium, in the fifties and sixties.I had a smallpox shot back in those halcyon days of economic splendor, a shot that my children didn't need.

                - good for you. The reason for the increased innovation is capitalism and industrialization and not fiat money though. It is reliance on under-utilization, savings and real money that made it possible in the 19th century to build the economy, that allowed such concentration of wealth that pushed innovation forward. It was not fiat money that caused your medication to appear, it's the real capitalism - based on savings and re-investment. And real capitalism that is based on savings exists despite the fiat money, not because of it.

                Capitalism is based on savings and investment and fiat punishes anybody who is trying to save (in fiat currency). The only way to save is to have real assets that appreciate in currency that is being debased by the government. The only real investment comes out of the savings (capital) and the only way to save is not to be in fiat, which is printed every day by politicians, who want to buy your vote for giving you 'free stuff'.

                Do you really believe that people command 1/26 of the spending power their parents did, just because the price of silver has changed by that much?

                - yes.

                Yes.

                How else do you think it was possible for a man to support a family - a house wife and a bunch of kids, to own a house and maybe a boat and maybe another property and a couple of cars and be debt free before 1971? It was because the purchasing power was that much bigger. Was it precisely 26 times greater than? Nothing is exactly precisely 100%, but today people own mortgages, not houses, they don't have a bunch of kids and the wife is working too (and maybe there is a second job, who knows) and they still can't afford all that stuff they want and they don't see their kids enough to be able to raise them properly.

                Do you

            • by evilviper (135110)

              Government can only print and tax, it cannot generate actual real demand, as in, it cannot make people want to spend their own work for something if the people don't get a real benefit from it.

              That government spending (on infrastructure in particular) increases the GDP by about double the amount they spent, isn't something you can choose to "subscribe" to. It's pretty much just a simple, extensivley confirmed, undeniable fact.

              • by roman_mir (125474)

                that's actually nonsense. How much wealth is destroyed via all that government intervention? When the highways were built, all that rail track that was removed, how much GDP did that cost? All that oil that then needed to be bought and refined and just burned to run the inefficient vehicles, how much real GDP did that cost?

                GDP is meaningless if all you do is burn rubber.

                • by evilviper (135110)

                  How much wealth is destroyed via all that government intervention?

                  It's not rhetorical. The answer is: About half as much as was created via all that government intervention. Which is precisely the point. The's no mystery. It's a real and verifiable figure. If you want to dispute it, you need facts.

                  GDP is meaningless if all you do is burn rubber.

                  You've done nothing to refute the value of GDP. Asserting your dogma is right, and bthe facts and figures are wrong, is not compelling. Try some evidence to b

                  • by roman_mir (125474)

                    About half as much as was created via all that government intervention.

                    - this is called inflation, son. When government does something and GDP grows, that's because they have printed so much money, that prices doubled.

                    You can call it growth, I call it destruction of the economy.

                    GDP growing in nominal terms means just the number is going up. The actual value of money falling, that's the real fact. Since 1913 the Fed printed so much money, that the value of dollar fell by 99% since then.

                    Even just since 2003, the dollar lost 3/4 of value, so when the Fed prints money and prices

                    • by evilviper (135110)

                      When government does something and GDP grows, that's because they have printed so much money, that prices doubled.

                      Inflation is well known and well understood, and every idiot knows how to adjust for it, and does so, yet these 2X benefits remain. Furthermore, inflation stays around 3%, so it would take several decades for inflation to undermine any increases in GDP, and that's simply far longer time scales than we're talking about.

                      So, you're utterly wrong, and pretty stupid to try to pose such a lame excuse

        • by thrich81 (1357561)
          There may be examples where the government taxed some successful, free market, standing-on-its-own business to support an unrelated item but the airlines and air travel ain't one of them. Two totally disparate examples -- 1) the history of the Boeing 707, which was successful only because of government purchases of its sister ship, the KC-135 and 2) more recently, after the 9/11 attacks the Feds wrote the airlines a check for $20 billion with no questions asked or else all of them would have folded up with
          • by roman_mir (125474)

            but the airlines and air travel ain't one of them

            - what are you trying to say? The airlines were taxed severely by FDR while he was also busy taking down rail road tracks to lay his highway system.

            He basically destroyed the profitability of both systems of transportation (as well as the public transportation within city limits) to create this unsustainable system of roads, which also gave the government leverage against local governments.

            When you say that government 'saved' the air travel, you are forgetting who was the real cause of the rise of terroris

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

        You forgot the classic example used by the commercial space community: airmail.

        In the early 20th century, we had seen that aviation was technically possible, but not that it was much good for anything but military and stunts. It was hard to justify the capital costs to develop a reliable airline service. So the US government (in the form of the USPS) steps in and says that they'll guarantee a market for airmail. Those contracts made the uncertainties of the rest of the market seem worth the risk, and we

        • by roman_mir (125474)

          Are you saying it is a good thing that government stepped in with government money then? I do not consider it to be a good thing, you see? It was not a good thing - there must be legitimate demand for an industry to appear, because industry must become profitable and thus viable without taxation. It must be profitable all on its own.

          You do realize that the air travel was very expensive for a very long time even in USA and it became affordable only with massive amounts of competition that came about due to m

  • and they are here help to help us...

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @04:48PM (#36016906)

    I'll be curious to know if the officer in charge of issuing this report has any contacts with private industry or ends up in a 7-figure job at Boeing or Lockheed.

  • There's no way they'll ever be able to compete commercially with Asgard technology.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.

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