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NASA Space Science Technology

NASA Funded Commercial Space Projects Heating Up 48

Posted by samzenpus
from the let's-do-some-exploring dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA's role as commercial space entrepreneur is going well and the four companies it is funding to build future spacecraft that could take astronauts to and from the International Space Station and other destinations are moving forward. That was the chief observation in a status report the space agency issued this week entitled 'NASA's return on investment report.' You may recall that in April NASA split $270 million between Boeing ($92 million), Space Exploration Technologies (Space X--$75 million), Sierra Nevada ($80 million) and Blue Origin ($22 million) to continue development of commercial rockets and spacecraft capable of safely flying astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station." Gubers33 pointed out another article about NASA's upcoming plans for Jupiter, Mars, and the Moon.
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NASA Funded Commercial Space Projects Heating Up

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  • Boeing got the biggest slice of the pie, what a fucking surprise. So when are they going to show off their launcher that has costs below that of Space-X?

    • Who said anything about a rocket? The CRS awards in this round were all for crew vehicles, and Boeing is predicting that they'll have theirs ready by 2015. Given that it's being developed in concert with Bigelow, who is quite interested in keeping costs down, it's likely to be cost competitive.

      Look, I don't even like the CST-100, since it doesn't really push any boundaries (that's how they're keeping costs down). It still looks like a perfectly reasonable vehicle for NASA to support.

  • projects underway. For a while there it seemed like everything under NASA was getting shut down while still in the design stage. I understand there's still a long way to go before we can start visiting space again, but hopefully we'll get there sooner than later and with a cheaper vehicle.
    • by Teancum (67324)

      For a while there it seemed like everything under NASA was getting shut down while still in the design stage.

      For awhile? When was the last rocket successfully put into service that was developed at NASA? Yeah, the Space Shuttle.... developed under the Nixon administration. So I guess we need Tricky Dick back in the game to actually get something developed?

      The legacy of vehicles that have been canceled is insanely long, even when metal was "being bent" to try and get the thing up and going. Even a successful "test launch" like the Ares I-X and the DC-X wasn't enough to get either program going.

      How many billions

  • Orbital beer runs? Awesome!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Orbital beer runs?

      Awesome!

      Hey, they tried the Coke & Pepsi can opening in space thing, which was quite a lot more difficult to handle than most people considered. I don't think you can seriously consider space tourism until you have a Space Bar.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We're spending at least two orders more per year just on air conditioning in Afghanistan.

    • Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.
      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

        Yeah, then we'd be fighting in space.

        and keep out of our gated section of the asteroid belt, private space way!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by slackergod (37906)
          Actually, I'd be relatively ok with us fighting in space, if it meant we were trying to get into space to begin with.
          Consider a hypothetical moon colony -
          • * War requires developing countermeasures for missles and kinetic weapons - these are already needed to protect the colony from asteroids.
          • * War requires radiation-hardening the colony against EM weapons - this is already needed to protect against solar flares and the like.
          • * War requires developing more agile, efficient drives in order to out-maneuver
          • Space is REALLY REALLY big. Space also requires multinational efforts to reach and operate in. There is no way we are going to fight wars in Space. Any country that has the resources to get into space is not going to risk having them destroyed. Indeed, with Space becoming privatized, there will be even less incentive for war to happen. Corporations can make magnitudes more profit from peaceful operations rather than supporting WAR.
          • by IrquiM (471313)
            Is it just me, or are you way off on your bullet points?
          • I am totally with you. We need Space Marines and a Moon base. You could sit on the moon and shoot rocks back at any country you want.
      • by Caerdwyn (829058)

        Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

        ...in which case the wars would be on Mars, the Moon, and Gliese 581d. The stage changes, but the song remains the same.

        People are people. And that means war.

  • NASA has reneged on its deal with the ESA [bbc.co.uk] in a move that cripples international space ventures, damages Mars exploration and inflicts severe damage on non-American engineering companies. This is blatant nationalism over and above science OR industry. This is NOT acceptable and given that this isn't the least bit unusual (NASA's failure to have a shuttle replacement reneges on ISS contractual obligations, for example), it would not surprise me if other nations stop cooperating with NASA at all. Why bother, i

    • International joint ventures, particularly between governments, is a foolish and expensive thing unless the point is explicitly to improve diplomatic relations. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was precisely that, where the whole point of the mission was to increase the exchange of information between two nations that had spaceflight capabilities and learn how to help one another out if there was a reason for helping one another out.

      Congressmen, the people who make the appropriations for NASA budgets, don't have many constituents in places like the UK, France, or Germany. Simply put, they don't care about international commitments as long as they can keep getting re-elected. A choice between killing their favorite pork project vs. some international space mission to Mars? The choice should be patently obvious.

      BTW, Congress doesn't like to give up their political power all that much. Yes, they could make a long-term appropriation over multiple years, but they also like to micro-manage a whole lot, perhaps a bit too much. Why else is the SLS being called the "Senate Launch System" where not just the broad goals but the individual components and even the structural design are being designed by the wonderful aerospace engineers on Capitol Hill in the "upper chamber" of Congress? Even crazy details like the particular kinds of metal and the thickness of that metal in the engines to be used are even going to be prescribed by law. By the time funding is finalized, the contractors won't have to do anything but production work because the Senate will have designed the monster in such detail that they won't have to.

      • International joint ventures, particularly between governments, is a foolish and expensive thing unless the point is explicitly to improve diplomatic relations.

        Expensive I'll grant. Foolish depends on what you're attempting to accomplish. One of the causes attributed to the success of the ISS is that the international agreements made it too difficult for Congress to pull the funding in the next budget cycle. So if your purpose is to get a solid commitment to something, involving international partners may be worth the cost.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          I'm all for establishing international protocols for cooperative ventures, such as establishing a common docking mechanism for spacecraft or working on deep-space data sharing protocols. The problem is when you try to establish some sort of joint-venture that requires an additional layer of bureaucracy on top of existing and highly inefficient bureaucracies, so it just throws more money chasing an ever deeper fiscal black hole.

          The foolish aspect is if you are trying to do it to "cut costs" that is the last

  • This update [space-access.org] points out that dark forces within NASA are urging the return of cost-plus contracting for crew transport (scroll down to "Commercial Crew" section therein). This will get us straight back into the traditional world of missed schedules and massive overruns, if it's allowed to happen. USAan readers please hold yourselves in readiness to contact your elected lords and, um, representatives.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Of course they are..... just look at the SLS system (otherwise dubbed the "Senate Launch System" in some circles).

      The question about commercial spaceflight does beg this question: Would any of the current "commercial" companies want to go under that sort of regime, if it also required that they abandon all other customers beside the government?

      That is precisely the net effect of that approach. Sure, we can go back to a cost-plus model, but we will also return to $20k/kg or more for vehicles going into spa

  • The amount being spent here seems to be a whole lot, until you consider how much is going to be poured down the "back-up insurance plan" with the SLS program just in case the commercial spaceflight approach doesn't work. I've heard estimates of about $3-4 billion being spent just on that one program, something that still has yet to even be figured out in terms of who is even going to build it in the first place.

    Since when do you pay 5x to 10x the cost for an insurance policy to cover the value of what you

    • by Anonymous Coward

      SLS is NOT the back-up insurance. It is suppose to take over the cargo flights. In reality, it is nothing more than a jobs bill for those communists in Congress such as Dick Shelby, Wolfe, Hatch, Hutchinson, Coffman, etc. Those guys are KILLING NASA.

      The good news is that NASA is actually stalling. If all goes well, SLS will die in about 2-3 years. At that time, I expect that it will only have costs us 4-6 billion. But for the final rocket, if delivered, I would guess that it will costs us 15-20 billion to g

    • by plopez (54068)

      It may be a good idea. Don't worry though, Congress will kill it.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      The amount being spent here seems to be a whole lot, until you consider how much is going to be poured down the "back-up insurance plan" with the SLS program just in case the commercial spaceflight approach doesn't work. I've heard estimates of about $3-4 billion being spent just on that one program, something that still has yet to even be figured out in terms of who is even going to build it in the first place.

      It's kind of terrifying when one realizes that the combined budget for SLS and the MPCV capsule i

  • Which of these funded corps will first launch and retrieve satellites while in orbit? Or can the latest one still keep closest to USA orbital continuity, but better than the first? The latter would be better.

  • Portable air conditioning packs, I presume

  • This is not a subject I've tried to look at with any depth. But I have this nagging question: how is any of this materially different than NASA's soliciting contracts from the major aerospace industry? Ostensibly, this just appears to be about bringing smaller, untried companies into the same general stable as the larger 'usual suspects'. I did see a note about procurement differences (i.e not cost plus contracting), but if that all it is this 'commercial space flight' stuff seems more to be branding by

    • It's not just that the contracts are fixed price, but also that they don't cover the entire development cost. The companies in question are investing their own money in the belief that there will be a market for these thing once they're developed (of which NASA is only part), and NASA is providing some grant money in the belief that some of these companies will succeed in producing options that will be useful to them.

      Unlike the old model, the contractors (who I'd rather call grant recipients) retain a larg

    • SpaceX, for one, has several contracted launches (announced on their web site) that aren't from NASA. The PR verbiage suggests that they won some of these on price. They'll charge NASA more than an ordinary customer, of course.

      The big difference is that, under cost-plus, the contractor gets more profit by the simple and undemanding expedient of making the vehicle more expensive than it needs to be. That's how we got to this place where only megamillionaires can afford a ride to orbit. With fixed bids, t

  • It's all well and fine to talk about "NASA's role as commercial space entrepreneur" ...

    Except that it isn't one.

    Can you buy stock?

    Is NASA seeking a profit?

    If NASA fails, does it declare bankruptcy?

    Is NASA part of the government and tax-funded?

    I am not a big fan of NASA, though I am awed by some of the things that the very smart people of NASA have over the years accomplished. You may like NASA, your dad or mom or best friend (or you!) may work there, and you may unconscionable any suggestion that NASA is no

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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