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NASA Space Politics

NASA, Congress Reach Accord On Commercial Crew Program 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-of-you-loses dept.
MarkWhittington writes "NASA and Congress have reached a deal on how to proceed with the commercial crew program that provides government subsidies to pay for the development of private spacecraft. NASA will select two competitors from the current four — SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. A third competitor will be picked for partial funding as a fallback in case both of the main competing companies run into difficulties developing a spacecraft on time and on budget."
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NASA, Congress Reach Accord On Commercial Crew Program

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  • Camel in the tent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:01AM (#40229165)
    SLS is the camel in the tent here. I think there is a subtle, partial neutering of this program and its competitors going on here. For example,

    U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican who heads the House appropriation subcommittee with NASA oversight, said today that the program would fully fund two companies â" and could partially fund a third.

    Thatâ(TM)s down from as many as four companies, according to Wolf.

    âoeThis downselect will reduce taxpayer exposure by concentrating funds on those participants who are most likely to be chosen to eventually provide service to ISS,â he said in a statement.

    IMHO, that's doublespeak for "I was able to take out two of four potential competitors to my favorite space pork, the Space Launch System [wikipedia.org]."

    The deal also would lay the groundwork for NASA to impose stiffer regulations on the companies competing to develop the rockets and capsules â" a priority for Wolf â" while giving NASA more leeway to nix contracts if it thinks aspiring companies are overselling their capability and financial health.

    In other words, a series of irrelevant obstacles can be thrown in the way to hinder these companies even more. The "stiffer regulations" simply isn't needed. NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS. But it's a great tool for adding cost to these activities. We'll see how that gets abused in the future.

    Similarly, more leeway to nix contracts means greater uncertainty (and resulting weaker financial health) for the contractors. NASA already is a problem child for bad contracts due to its considerable ability to renegotiate contracts, Darth Vader style [adultswim.com]. Being allowed even more excuses to renege on contracts will cause even more problems for these contractors.

    This isn't going to kill the COTS program, but we should remember that some people are trying to. I think in part this is to remove competition for the SLS and in part just a ploy to eventually suborn COTS funding for the SLS.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:08AM (#40229219) Homepage Journal

    The other "selectee" will be Alliant Techsystems with the Liberty rocket. Yes, I realize they didn't even make the cut from eight or so to four, but they are going to drive everybody else out simply through a massive lobbying effort that will change the outcomes of several districts.

  • Re:3 out of 4 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:21AM (#40229273) Homepage Journal

    The sad thing is that Sierra Nevada is in some ways doing more to help drop the cost of going into orbit than almost anybody else around. The Dream Chaser [wikipedia.org] spacecraft is really an amazing vehicle that is just beginning to reach a point of getting a payoff, which the early flight trials going on.

    If they get cut, I hope that the investors in Sierra Nevada (and apparently Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic fame is one of them) continue to press forward without NASA funding.

    They really don't deserve to be cut, at least so far as the investment being made by NASA into this company will likely produce some impressive long-term results. It is mainly sad that a jerk of a congressman who doesn't like these programs (COTS and CCDev) instead wants to dump 10x the amount of money on a fiscal black hole that will never fly (namely the SLS... aka the "Senate Launch System").

    This move to reduce the options for CCDev is not going to save much money, and in fact it will set back commercial spaceflight by several years if not a full decade.

  • Re:Camel in the tent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:35AM (#40229349)

    "NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS."

    As much as I agree with much of what you say, it is perfectly understandable that NASA is extremely cautious about the ISS. It's their ONLY manned program right now, and it's not even really "theirs"!

    Of course, as we well know, bureaucratic stagnation and bungling are behind that very situation, and NASA has been ordered by 2 different Presidents to clean up that act... which they still haven't done.

    What the private space program does NOT need is more regulation or interference from NASA. We KNOW this. Look what SpaceX and Virgin and others have accomplished without it.

  • Re:Lockheed? Orion? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:38AM (#40229359) Homepage Journal

    Orion is not meant for ISS operations. Orion is meant for Beyond Earth Orbit: asteroid and lunar exploration, that sort of thing.

    That isn't what NASA was saying back when the Ares I was still under active development. The Ares I was being designed specifically so the Orion capsule could get to the ISS (complete with an ISS mating adapter) that really makes it a direct competitor to the SpaceX Dragon, at least for manned spacecraft.

    Orion really does a lousy job for areas beyond LEO though. While it has just under 2x the usable internal volume that the Apollo spacecraft used, that won't exactly be something to brag about. Perhaps reasonable for a trip to the Moon, but I don't see how it will possibly be used on a trip to an asteroid much less Mars. The "habitable volume" of the Orion is very much comparable to the internal volume of the Dragon. I just don't see how astronauts are going to be expected to hang out in that kind of volume for weeks and months.

    What makes the Orion useful for beyond LEO is mainly that it has its own solar energy generator array, and that the heat shield is being designed to perform re-entry of a free-return trajectory from the Moon and a similar return flight coming from Mars. Then again the Dragon capsule is being designed with those same parameters as well.

    Orion might be a piece of the puzzle in terms of getting to Mars or somewhere else in the Solar System, but by itself it won't get the job done.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:50AM (#40229399) Homepage Journal

    Blue Origin and their SSTO nonsense should have never received a dime of public money to begin with.

    So you think the DC-X program [wikipedia.org] was a terrible waste of tax dollars? Why are you upset that a private company without tax dollars is furthering the research into that flight concept and propulsion system?

    Furthermore, do you even have a clue what part of the CCDev program that Blue Origin is even doing, what their spacecraft actually is supposed to look like, or how it is going to get into orbit much less return to the Earth? If you did, you wouldn't have made such a stupid statement presuming something that wasn't even true.

    *Hint* -- Blue Origin proposed to use the Lockheed-Martin Atlas V for the launch of its spacecraft under CCDev. They aren't even planning on flying their own hardware for the first stage or two.

Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well. -- Ambrose Bierce

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