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3 Congressmen Trying To Tie Up SpaceX 393 393

An anonymous reader writes: Phil Plait reports that a trio of U.S. Congressmen are asking NASA to investigate what they call "an epidemic of anomalies" at SpaceX. They sent a memo (PDF) demanding that SpaceX be held accountable to taxpayers for mission delays stemming from the development of new rockets. Plait notes, "[A]s a contractor, the rules are different for them than they would be if NASA themselves built the rockets, just as the rules are for Boeing or any other contractor. In fact, as reported by Space News, NASA didn't actually pay for the development of the Falcon 9; Elon Musk did." He adds, "Another reason this is silly is that every rocket ever made has undergone problems; they are fiendishly complex machines and no design has ever gotten from the drafting board to the launch pad without issues. Sure, SpaceX has experienced launch delays and other problems, but the critical thing to remember is that those problems are noted, assessed, and fixed sometimes within hours or minutes." Plait accuses the congressmen of trying to bury private spaceflight under red tape in order to protect established industries in their own states.
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3 Congressmen Trying To Tie Up SpaceX

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  • What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:28PM (#47656859)

    rules are different for them than they would be if NASA themselves built the rockets

    NASA does not build a damned thing. ULA (Lockheed Martin, Boeing) builds the EELV rockets. SLS is being build by ATK while Orion is built by Lockheed Martin.

    This is just ULA being afraid they will lose their iron rice bowl.

  • Alabama (Score:5, Informative)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:40PM (#47656951) Journal

    Alabama, home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is NASAs rocketry and spacecraft research center. Nah, no way this is a political move to protect their investment.

  • by tibit (1762298) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:45PM (#47657003)

    "an epidemic of anomalies" ha ha, good one. Falcon 9 had 11/11 primary mission successes on the first 11 flights. That sort of a track record is very, very rare. Space Shuttle did it. What other launcher had the same record? Never mind the overall cost of achieving it. If one adjusts for successes per dollar of development costs, Falcon 9 will have everyone beat for a long, long time, if they keep at it.

  • by Bodhammer (559311) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:46PM (#47657007)
    It stands for RINO - these clowns are being bought off by ULA (http://www.ulalaunch.com/) just like the bought and paid for dems (http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000057934) . SpaceX is threat for those that suckle at the big government teat...
  • Outsource to Russia (Score:4, Informative)

    by Major Byte (669826) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:47PM (#47657023) Journal
    Perhaps these representatives imagine American taxpayers prefer US space exploration remain outsourced to Russia? The reps in question are: Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)
  • Follow the money (Score:5, Informative)

    by director_mr (1144369) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:49PM (#47657047)
    I think you will find that those Republicans have industries that compete with Space X in their districts. This means Space X is doing so well they feel the industries in their own districts will lose money. Perhaps you could appeal to Republicans who don't have competing space industries in their district. But complaining about this as if its just republicans doing this is disingenuous. Politicians do this to give industries in their state and edge all the time.

    Phil Plait:
    "That’s why this whole thing looks to me to be a transparent attempt from members of our Congress to hinder a privately owned company that threatens their own interests. I’ll note that Boeing (the major SLS contractor) has a big plant in Alabama, Brooks’ (and Shelby’s) home state, and United Launch Alliance has its HQ in Colorado, home to Gardner and Coffman (it’s even in Coffman’s district). This sounds more like they’re trying to protect their own turf more than honestly wanting transparency from SpaceX."

    You can read that here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad... [slate.com]
  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:51PM (#47657059) Journal

    I assure ypu, Democrats do not want to open the can of worms of "who grants the most rent-seeking" laws and red tape to protect interests.

    That's why they seek power in both parties. To get in the way to benefit someone, or extort someone.

  • Follow the funding (Score:5, Informative)

    by pr0t0 (216378) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @03:10PM (#47657235)

    Thanks to the awesome new browser plug-in called Greenhouse (how has this not been on slashdot?), here's a little context.

    Congressman Mo Brooks gets his biggest financial contributions from the aerospace industry. Among his top-10 contributors are Lockheed Martin (1), Northrup Grumman (2), Boeing (6), and Raytheon(10).

    Both congressmen Coffman and Gardner have Koch Industries in their top-10 at 7 and 5 respectively. At first, this didn't mean much to me, but I found the coincidence intriguing so I dug deeper. Koch Industries purchased Molex, Inc. in December for $7.2 billion. Among other things, Molex makes wiring and connectors for defense and aerospace. Is that enough to push a couple of congress critters to voice concerns about Space X? I don't know, but following the money is usually a good first step in determining motive.

  • 11 out of 11 (Score:5, Informative)

    by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @03:50PM (#47657541)

    Let's see...
    Ariane 1 - second and fifth launches failed
    Ariane 2 - only 6 launches, first failed
    Ariane 3 - fifth launch failed
    Ariane 4 - eighth launch failed
    Ariane 5 - first launch failed, two partial failures in first 11
    Atlas A - only 8 launches, 5 failed
    Atlas B - only 10 launches, 3 failed
    Atlas C - only 6 launches, 2 failed
    Delta - first launch failed
    Delta II - first eleven successful
    Falcon 1 - only five launches, first three failed
    Falcon 9 - first eleven launches successful, although a secondary payload on the fourth launch was aborted as a precaution
    Long March 1 - only 2 launches, both successful
    Long March 2 - first launch failed
    Long March 3 - no complete failures in first 11, but 1 and 8 were partial failures
    N-1 - only four launches, all failed horribly
    Proton - third launch failed
    Proton-K - second, third, fourth and sixth launches failed
    Proton-M - eleventh launch failed
    Saturn I - only ten launches, all successful
    Saturn IB - only nine launches, all successful (unless you count Apollo 1 - it didn't launch but still killed three astronauts)
    Saturn V - second launch (Apollo 6) failed, Apollo 13 doesn't count because it was a payload, not launcher, failure
    Soyuz - third launch failed, with fatalities
    Soyuz-U - seventh launch failed
    Soyuz-FG - first eleven launches successful
    Space Shuttle - first eleven successful (19th was first partial failure (ATO), 25th was first full failure)
    Titan I - fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and tenth launches failed
    Titan II - ninth and eleventh launches failed
    Titan III - first and sixth launches failed
    Titan IV - seventh launch failed
    Zenit-2 - first and second launches failed

    Yep, getting zero failures in your first eleven launches is pretty damn rare.

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

    by SillyHamster (538384) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @05:40PM (#47658437)

    Yes. The argument is that if you call a large organization a government, it doesn't create wealth, whereas if you call it a corporation, it magically does... by acquiring money from some parties and redistributing it to further parties.

    Yeah, the magic of labels.

    That and the fact that the government collects that money by force, while the corporation has to give you enough value to make you voluntarily trade money for their product. Slightly different incentive structure there.

    In the end, the same amount of money is in the economy, and the same amount is in the hands of other businesses, all that's changed is which specific businesses have it, what work is actually done, and who benefits from the work done.

    It's all the same if you throw out all the differences.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @06:43PM (#47658861) Homepage Journal

    It would be amazing if Lockheed-Martin simply developed an advanced attack fighter and offered it up for sale to any government who wanted it. The problem with the F-35 program is that it has precisely a single customer, the U.S. government. This is really a monopsony [wikipedia.org] situation where potentially many people could sell stuff to the government, but there is only one buyer.

    If, on the other hand, every state's Air National Guard had the option of spending their portion of their military budget as they saw fit (to give an example), at least there would be multiple customers potentially for this airplane and be assured that they could sell at least a few of them. Or if the government of America wasn't so paranoid about potential future enemies of America getting advanced aircraft (like how Howard Hughes designed the Japanese Zeros that bombed Pearl Harbor), they might have other customers there as well.

    Luckily for SpaceX, they have other customers for their launch services. So much so that over half of their manifest is for non-government contracts, not to mention about half of their launches to date have also been for non-government customers too. That is what makes the situation with SpaceX so different, and why ULA is having a hard time trying to compete with SpaceX to the point they are encouraging congressmen to write silly letters like the one mentioned in the original post. The European Space Agency, explicitly Arianespace (the manufacturer of the ESA's launch fleet), is definitely in a panic trying to figure out how to compete against SpaceX and win back the customers now lost to SpaceX. If they don't change, the ESA will be stuck launching only payloads for European governments alone... but that is precisely the situation that ULA sits in right now in terms of only flying payloads for the U.S. government.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kpainter (901021) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @06:51PM (#47658903)
    You ought to read this and the origins of ULA.
    thespacereview.com [thespacereview.com]
    and this
    seattle times [seattletimes.com]

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