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NASA Space Science Technology

NASA Splits $1.1B For Three Commercial Spacecraft 184

Posted by Soulskill
from the paying-others-to-do-the-heavy-lifting dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA today continued its development of commercial space systems by splitting a little over $1.1 billion with Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies (Space X) and Sierra Nevada to develop and build advanced spaceships. 'Today's awards give a huge advantage to the three companies that got them, because competitors will need to fund their own development in its entirety. On the other hand, by partnering with the competitors, NASA has managed to seed the development of five different manned space vehicles for under $1B so far, a leap forward for the evolving space passenger market. They've paid for it on a reward-for-progress basis, handing out pre-agreed amounts of money for each specified milestone. SpaceX was well ahead of the other two competitors because of the unmanned Dragon, which has already berthed with the International Space Station. The company has borne the brunt of the development costs itself, putting in about $300 million of its own money in addition to about $75 million from NASA.'"
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NASA Splits $1.1B For Three Commercial Spacecraft

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  • Bittersweet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday August 03, 2012 @10:27AM (#40867801) Journal

    On one hand, I am glad to see how much private sector interest there is in space exploration and tourism. Ultimately, it will be commericialization and profit opportunity that propels mankind to the stars.

    OTOH, the reason we are seeing so much of it now is that the US has given up its leadership position in science. I'm not saying we aren't still on the top of the heap, but while Republicans and Democrats argue about whether we should drive ourselves into debt funding the military or social programs, science funding has suffered. When 50% of GDP growth since WW2 has come directly from science, this short-sighted non-funding view will cripple us.

    Ultimately, there are projects where profits cannot be privatized. In these instances, government funding is the only way to go. But this doesn't get votes, so we are stuck.

    Cynically Yours,
    MyLongNickName

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Republicans and Democrats aren't really caring about anything they say. They put on a good show to keep you suckers buying into their scams. It's like professional wrestling in a different costume to make you think it's really real.

      • by taiwanjohn (103839) on Friday August 03, 2012 @10:42AM (#40867993)

        I like Jess Ventura's idea to have politicians wear "sponsor" patches on the suits, like NASCAR drivers.

        • I mean Jesse, not Jess.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          It's not like it's his idea, but I'll get behind anyone who has a chance to make it happen. Which of course ain't him. Or probably anyone.

          On the other hand, it seems like it would be relatively easy to come up with a website (or something) that does this semi-automatically. You could have a few generic models to represent the politicians, it's not like their faces are significant, and then you could put them in a racing suit with the colors of their biggest sponsor, and slap the logos of their other major s

    • by medcalf (68293)
      While space travel capability may be a public good, both space ships and actual travel are not, being both rivalrous and excludable. So COTS seems like an ideal answer to your objection: the capability/technology are subsidized, while the vehicles and transportation using them are at the whim of the market.
    • by boaworm (180781)

      When 50% of GDP growth since WW2 has come directly from science, this short-sighted non-funding view will cripple us.

      What are the other 50% that does not come directly from science?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nedlohs (1335013)

        Population growth.

        • by boaworm (180781)

          It wouldn't be too hard to argue that the population growth is a direct consequence of scientific progress. Medicine, food production, transportation etc.

          But I could agree that without the growth in population, a lot of the GDB growth would have been missing. Good point :-)

          • Re:Bittersweet (Score:4, Insightful)

            by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Friday August 03, 2012 @12:04PM (#40869047)

            It wouldn't be too hard to argue that the population growth is a direct consequence of scientific progress. Medicine, food production, transportation etc.

            Considering that population density in the USA is lower today than it was in, say, France in 1740, it's pretty hard to argue that population growth is a direct consequence of scientific progress.

            Likewise, China had a population density by 1900 that was about 30% higher than the current US population density.

            Certainly our standard of living has much to do with science (or, rather, technology, since while the two are related, they're not identical), but our population has much less bearing on science (or technology).

            On the other hand, the size of our country is pretty much predicated on technology - without the telegraph and railroads, it's likely we would have split into two (or three countries) in the 19th century.

            And for those about to bring up the Civil War, note that the telegraph and railroad were crucial to actually winning that war for the North.

      • I can't answer that. The info I got came from a radio program (NPR?), that gave the 50% number.

    • No. This is not commercial spaceflight, because the only customer is the government. The idea that profit motives will make everything work is largely discredited in real life these days.
      • Re:Bittersweet (Score:5, Insightful)

        by benjfowler (239527) on Friday August 03, 2012 @11:04AM (#40868239)

        Is _is_ private.

        If you give them enough money for a private launch, I'm sure they'll be quite happy to fly your and your stuff.

        Money buys anything these days -- look at those ridiculous $30m junkets rich people were buying to the ISS recently (facilities bought and paid for with taxpayer funds, no less), for instance.

        • They cost $20m last time I checked, and there have only been 7 customers over 11 years of operation. The size of that market, year on year, is about 1000 times smaller than the current NASA budget. So no, the profit motive is not going to expand us into the universe.
      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        No. This is not commercial spaceflight, because the only customer is the government.

        No true. SpaceX already has several private-sector contracts, to launch various communications satellites (for Iridium [wikipedia.org] and SES [wikipedia.org], most notably).

        • None of those are manned flights, which is what NASAs 'commercial' contracts are for. Try to keep up.
          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            First of all, not sure how that is relevant since most space exploration is and has always been unmanned (largely of necessity), and second, NASA's commercial contracts are for both unmanned and manned missions. The CCP contracts mentioned in TFA are specifically for manned (being the Commercial Crew Program), but the CRS includes unmanned supply missions such as that recently carried out by the Dragon capsule, developed partially by funding from the COTS program.

            Realistically, there never was much demand

        • by Altanar (56809)
          Those launches are using SpaceX's rockets. NASA didn't fund any of that development.
      • Re:Bittersweet (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Friday August 03, 2012 @11:35AM (#40868589)

        You're correct, 'commercial' is a bit of an a awkward term here. However, there are two reasons this is a big change from past contracting methods for developing spacecraft that the government uses:

        1. There is competition. The reason (well regulated) markets are efficient is not profit motive, but competition. This is why Sen. Wolfe's proposal to select only one winner was so antithetical to the purpose of the program.

        2. The government is buying rides, not buying vehicles. The companies that produce Dragon, CST-100, and DreamChaser are free to sell rides to anyone arms control treaties allow. There is some mile-stone based development money right now, but thats only because it is in NASA's interest to stimulate and accelerate this market rather than build competitive vehicles.

        While this won't be truly commercial until a company can do well without a government customer, this is a step in the right direction, and nothing to sneeze at.

      • by khallow (566160)

        No. This is not commercial spaceflight, because the only customer is the government.

        That's not how it works. If the service is for profit, and here they all are for profit, then they are "commercial" whether or not the only customer is publicly funded.

        The idea that profit motives will make everything work is largely discredited in real life these days.

        Not in real life. It's really tiresome to have to deal with these delusions over and over again. Profit works both as a motivation to do the thing in question and as a lever to insure good behavior (do something wrong, lose your profit).

        If you don't like bad behavior, then don't incentivize it.

        • You've forgotten 2008 already then, or perhaps for ideological reasons, taken the wrong lesson from it. If the private sector couldn't manage banks, what makes you think it can manage a mission to Mars?
    • Re:Bittersweet (Score:5, Informative)

      by jimbolauski (882977) on Friday August 03, 2012 @10:59AM (#40868197) Journal

      When 50% of GDP growth since WW2 has come directly from science, this short-sighted non-funding view will cripple us.

      Ultimately, there are projects where profits cannot be privatized. In these instances, government funding is the only way to go. But this doesn't get votes, so we are stuck.

      Cynically Yours, MyLongNickName

      There is a ton of government funding going into science, composites got a huge boost from the R&D of building lighter planes. Darpa spends defense money and much of that research goes on to commercial applications, many colleges and universities receive federal grants to conduct research. The notion that the US does not spend money on research is foolish there are billions of dollars spend on just that, the only reason you think the amount of money spent on research is small is because the research facilities are scattered, the US doesn't have a ministry of Science to control all research. The US government spends about $140 billion per year, 75 Billion on defense R&D and 65 Billion is classified as non-defense. This does not include and private companies R&D which would easily put the number over 200 billion which is more then any other country.

    • For the past quarter century NASA's manned space program has been just one squandered opportunity after another. Very little science has been done that wasn't just a repeat of what was done on Skylab [wikipedia.org] or Mir [wikipedia.org] decades earlier. But the unmanned programs have been a huge success. I have heard it said that the manned program is needed to keep the public interested while the "real" science done in the unmanned program is just along for the ride. But my experience is the opposite. When I talk to kids, they are

      • The problem isn't that the manned program is not valuable, but that it's not funded or organized well enough to actually provide a return on investment. If you refused to give the planetary scientists anything bigger than a sounding rocket, the unmanned programs would look pretty worthless too. Understand that all the progress we've made since the 70's with mars probes could be done in one week with a manned mission -- and if it was done spacex style, it could be done on something close to the current budge
        • Re:Bittersweet (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday August 03, 2012 @12:48PM (#40869665) Homepage

          Understand that all the progress we've made since the 70's with mars probes could be done in one week with a manned mission.

          If you can get the meat Popsicles to Mars alive. Yes, with a huge increase in funding, we may be able to work through the technology to do that. However, what your argument misses is the concept that both manned and unmanned space flight have been woefully underfunded. If you gave Mars researchers the kind of budget needed to get a manned expedition to Mars but instead used it for unmanned flight, we could have thousands of rovers wandering about the planet, doing more than some random astronaut kicking pebbles.

          • I think you're both overestimating the costs of a manned mission and underestimating the costs of rovers. If we did a manned mission *right*, I would guess that the total cost would pay for something on the order of 50 rovers.
      • by khallow (566160)

        We need better launch platforms, we also need more reaseach into better materials (super alloys, composites, syntactic metal foams, nanotube fibers, etc), better propulsion systems, and more versatile and autonomous robotics.

        The key obstacle is economic. Simply put, any orbital launch system ever made would benefit significantly from even a slightly higher launch frequency. We are finally developing launch systems that will try to create and take advantage of this economy of scale. With a cheap launch vehicle and a burgeoning launch market, then one has both the resources and the motivation to develop better technologies without requiring NASA guidance or funding.

  • this is exciting...the dawning of a new space era where private industry is leading the space race, spurred onward by government prize money and contracts. With the proper oversight, this could be more productive than having NASA build inhouse.

  • Competition for first product without considerable concern for safety and backup leads to...... I've said enough.

    • There might still be dead pilots in space because of accidents in the Soviet space program. It didn't get them to the moon first.

    • by medcalf (68293)
      Why do you conclude that there is not considerable concern for safety and backup?
      • Why do you conclude that there is not considerable concern for safety and backup?

        Rush... to see who completes first and wins... You know, childhood behavior that repeats itself throughout life.... "I'm the coolest and best and I want to be recognized FIRST, no matter what it takes"?

        That's why I concluded as I did.

        • by Gravatron (716477)
          So basically, you have no evidence besides what you think stereotypically happens?
          • So basically, you have no evidence besides what you think stereotypically happens?

            Thanks for verifying it for me. There is a driver behind all stereotypes.

        • by khallow (566160)

          You know, childhood behavior that repeats itself throughout life.... "I'm the coolest and best and I want to be recognized FIRST, no matter what it takes"?

          So... competition is bad because you saw it on the playground? I take it you don't learn things too gud. A lot of childhood behavior repeats itself throughout your life because the childhood is where you learn about the world. One would be foolish to expect or even desire a childhood completely detached from reality.

          • You know, childhood behavior that repeats itself throughout life.... "I'm the coolest and best and I want to be recognized FIRST, no matter what it takes"?

            So... competition is bad because you saw it on the playground? I take it you don't learn things too gud. A lot of childhood behavior repeats itself throughout your life because the childhood is where you learn about the world. One would be foolish to expect or even desire a childhood completely detached from reality.

            Really... was my comment THAT narrow? Think outside the box, please. I can't type everything in detail as it relates to the topic at hand; that would take years. :)

            It was a statement to emphasize the repetition of unsafe competitive behavior, in this case, the manufacturing industry of an item that can kill people and damage property.

    • LOL. All of the companies that won money have nothing but safety being put first. Heck, SpaceX even outdoes the specs that NASA requires and that NASA has not met with any of their old systems. Atlas is being upgraded with many sensors. CST-100? Same way. Then you have DreamChaser which is undergoing similar things.

      These are going to be as safe, or more likely even safer, than anything developed to date.
      • LOL. All of the companies that won money have nothing but safety being put first. Heck, SpaceX even outdoes the specs that NASA requires and that NASA has not met with any of their old systems. Atlas is being upgraded with many sensors. CST-100? Same way. Then you have DreamChaser which is undergoing similar things.

        These are going to be as safe, or more likely even safer, than anything developed to date.

        Sweet! Where did you find this information? Does it specify that it is actual inside information from the companies mentioned and detail exactly what they are doing, or is it just publicly released information? :)

  • Only $375 Million? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Piata (927858) on Friday August 03, 2012 @10:56AM (#40868161)

    If Space X has only spent $375 million to get where it is today, imagine what NASA could do if it wasn't plagued by pork and had actual funding. Movies have bugets of $300 million: http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/budgets.php [the-numbers.com]

    As a human race, we have some pretty mixed priorities.

    • I saw this [imgur.com] on reddit today. Sorta takes your thought to its logical conclusion.

    • $300 Million dollar movies also return you $1 Billion in a year or two.

    • by Sperbels (1008585)

      Movies have bugets of $300 million

      If any industry is paying $500 for a toilet seat, it's Hollywood.

    • That number is just for the dragon capsule. Falcon 1 was fully privately funded and I haven't been able to find info on how much it cost to develop. The Falcon 9 has received $396 millon in funding from NASA as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, and from what I have heard that is close to it's full development costs.

      Still, dirt cheap compared to previous rockets.

    • This is not insightful, its simplistic and idiotic. NASA was doing everything for the first time. SpaceX is just rehashing a well established technology - hence their very low development costs. This may cause problems down the road; in order to have these very low development costs, SpaceX takes from the common pool of knowledge (all the help/free R&D they got from NASA) but do not give back, because of course everything they do develop is a commercial secret. This may be a sign that technological deve
      • Actually, SpaceX does a lot of their own R&D. In addition, exactly what R&D has been done by the old space companies that they paid for.
    • NASA has less pork than you can image. They 3 main issues.
      The first is that they do true cutting edge work. Nothing cheap about that. True R&D involves a LOT of money.
      The second is that they are forced to farm out much of the work. That used to be a good thing until congress pushed them into cost+. Once it became cost+, then the gravy train rolled for the contractors.
      CONgress controlls the money and the projects. The REAL problem is not NASA, but CONgress. Look at the damage that the republicans hav
    • Sorry for the pun, but Space X only had to spend $375 million or so because much of the science has been worked out by all those billions NASA poured into rocketry.

      Space X went into the game with a wealth of knowledge available to it that NASA and similar agencies had to develop. I am not trying to diminish what Space X has done but far too many people fail to assign the proper value of what NASA has done.

      Putting rockets up into the air is almost an exercise in "duh" but doing it safely and routinely took a

  • The three lucky "winners" were widely expected to make the cut, so this isn't such big news. I wish they could have continued supporting some of the other contenders a while longer, but if they have to pick three, these are the obvious ones. Even so, I'd rather they had let Boeing pull its own weight on developing the CST-100/Orion. They've got deep pockets, after all, and don't really need the help from Uncle Sam. I'd have preferred they give a boost to Blue Origin or Orbital Sciences instead, but hey, thi

    • Actually, there is some surprise. The republicans were putting a full court press on NASA to NOT award to SpaceX or SNC. They wanted only old space, mainly ATK. And OSC never really had a chance. They really have nothing. OTOH SNC is much further ahead then OSC when it comes to developing something. Therefore, it makes zero sense to award OSC. Yet, again, a number of republican were busy pushing OSC.
  • "Picking winners" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by benjfowler (239527)

    Right-wing stupidity is strong today. Must be something in the water supply.

    There are lots of people whingeing and whining and complaining about governments "picking winners".

    You just can't win with these stupid, vindictive pricks. If you have it contracted out, it's socialism and pork-barrelling. If you then turn around and try to appease the right-wing neoliberal extremists by designing a good, functioning market for US government rides to orbit, then you're "picking winners".

    The stupidity and hyprocrisy

    • Godspeed, Godwin!

    • by medcalf (68293)
      And in your next post, you are to decry "haters" and such?
    • by khallow (566160)

      There are lots of people whingeing and whining and complaining about governments "picking winners"

      Well, that is what actually happened. So don't be surprised to hear complaining about what actually happened. Let us keep in mind to that Congress, including a number of Republican members, mandated that NASA narrow the field to two or three with the usual bullshit justification of being unable to fund more than that.

      You just can't win with these stupid, vindictive pricks.

      It does require a certain, very minimal competence which you apparently lack.

      If you have it contracted out, it's socialism and pork-barrelling. If you then turn around and try to appease the right-wing neoliberal extremists by designing a good, functioning market for US government rides to orbit, then you're "picking winners".

      Maybe we ought to move to your planet. On Earth, that latter part didn't happen. NASA awarded three contracts instea

      • The republicans were pushing NASA to fund Liberty with 1, CST-100 with 1, and ULA to get .5. IOW, the republicans only wanted their older expensive companies that are working on the senate launch system to have the money.
  • Boeing 460 milllion....SpaceX 440 million...

    Boeing has performed how many launches? Historically, when have they ever made ANYTHING for a low cost? As far as I know, Boeing has been charging top dollar (and, admittedly, provided top tier quality) for aircraft for over 70 years.

    SpaceX, on the other hand, has shown cost efficiencies that have never been seen before in space travel. They've already done 2 dragon launches that would have been completely survivable if a stow-away passenger had been riding abo

    • by dlgeek (1065796)
      Boeing's one half of this little venture called "United Space Alliance" which was responsible for every shuttle launch. They're also half of the "United Launch Alliance" which runs all the Delta II, Delta IV and Atlas launches.

      How many launches has Boeing performed? Most of them.
      • by Altanar (56809)
        Boeing has privately done 0 launches. They developed hardware for NASA. NASA used the hardware.
    • How many launches has Boeing performed? All of the shuttle, and deltas come quickly to mind. I would say that it is quite a few launches.

      Now, you are correct about Boeing being expensive, but, I think that you will find SpaceX is going to be ecstatic with this amount of money. That is more true considering that SpaceX has a fully functioning, human rated, and soon, tested rocket with the F9. Likewise, they have a fully functional and soon tested capsule. Then, they have a fully functional and tested eng
    • p>Boeing has performed how many launches? Historically, when have they ever made ANYTHING for a low cost?

      This little gizmo [wikipedia.org] comes to mind. Further, Boeing is part of the United Launch Alliance [wikipedia.org] which launches most of the commercial satellites in the US. Low cost isn't one of Boeing's strengths but the difference between 460 and 440 million is really not that significant.

      Make no mistake, tossing Boeing into this mix is pure politics. But of all the companies involved, they have the most depth and breadth of space operations. By far.

  • This is huge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190)
    We now have the top runners earning this. These companies make the most sense. These were certainly the ones that I was hoping for, but I think that most wanted/expected this. With this approach, it gives us 3 human launchers.

    Now, the real issue is that the neo-cons oppose this. They have put all sorts of pressure on NASA to NOT do this. They wanted cst-100 from Boeing to get 1, Liberty (atk/europe/boeing) to get 1, and then ULA/L-Mart to get .5. Basically, they wanted to cut out ANY of the new space. N
  • Stop giving special treatment to your friends NASA and set a list of milestones with bounties attached and reward the company that reaches that milestone first period. There is no reason to limit the competitors to three companies.

Put no trust in cryptic comments.

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