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Competition to Build the Space Shuttle's Successor 345

Neil Halelamien writes "The competition for the prime contract to build the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the successor to the Space Shuttle, is ramping up. Currently, 11 different companies are creating preliminary designs for systems and vehicles which could be useful in implementing NASA's Vision for Space Exploration. By the end of the year, NASA will select two teams to independently develop and build a CEV design. The two teams will launch competing unmanned prototypes in 2008, at which point NASA will award a final winning contract. Aerospace giants Boeing and Northrop Grumman have formed one team. Another "all-star" team, announced a couple of days ago, is headed by Lockheed Martin. A third team in the running is underdog t/Space, a company with a free enterprise approach to space exploration, which includes notable figures from the commercial spaceflight arena, such as Burt Rutan and Gary Hudson. There is concern that a NASA budget boost to help pay for the exploration program could draw some opposition, as most other government programs are anticipating budget cuts."
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Competition to Build the Space Shuttle's Successor

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  • by I confirm I'm not a ( 720413 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:03AM (#11549939) Journal

    I guess the other side of the coin is the German's saying Mars by 2009. *shrug* I guess when you have nothing substantial in your space program in the past, you've got nothing to lose with ridiculous goals for the future?

    Uh, Wernher von Braun [] ring any bells?
    From Wikipedia: "In the United States, he is regarded as a hero of the space program."

  • by JediTrainer ( 314273 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:06AM (#11549955)
    Could they be any more vague? Whatever happened to the days of "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth." You know, goals that people actually knew what the heck you were talking about?

    I thought the Wikipedia article above was very clear on what the CEV is supposed to be able to do. It mentions it's likely it'll follow the module-and-capsule approach, and is supposed to be capable of getting to LEO while also taking part in the assembly of lunar expeditions while in orbit (and, presumably Mars too, since that's a listed goal as well). Reusability is apparently desirable, but not essential to win the contract.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:07AM (#11549962)
    ...would be a good choice for engine on the next gen space shuttle. Here's a brief introduction [].
  • Re:lack of funds (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dagny Taggert ( 785517 ) <hankrearden@gmaR ... minus herbivore> on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:15AM (#11550009) Homepage
    Considering that President Bush was the first President since his father to mention any sort of NASA initiative (and NASA funding was cut during the Clinton admin.), maybe you need to re-think your small-minded, uninformed comment.
  • by stevelinton ( 4044 ) <> on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:30AM (#11550123) Homepage
    SpaceShipOne was NOT an LEO vehicle. It got to 100km, which is the easy part
    but didn't make any attempt to get to orbital velocity, which is what takes most of the fuel, and imposes most of the mass restrictions. Boosting a set of wings and an undercarriage up to orbital velocity just so you can slow them down again and then land on a runway consumes an insane amount of fuel for too little purpose. Until we find a lauch fuel significantly more energy dense than LH2 and LO2 then the dry mass cost of wings and wheels will always be too high.

    The Scaled Composites people are involved in one of the bids and they are not proposing a space plane.
  • The Rutan plan (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:32AM (#11550148)
    For a good overview of the Rutan proposal, check this pdf [] at their website. It's a heckuva read...they advocate building a real frontier which ultimately generates tax revenues. They want to use flotillas of vehicles for redundancy, and keep it, to land on the moon, just burn more fuel and land the whole vehicle, instead of just a separate lander. Less development time, less to go wrong, and for the first 20 to 40 flights it's cheaper that way. They also ding NASA for micromanaging...they say engineers should question everything, and you can't do that if you have to justify every deviation from the written plan to NASA's managers.
  • by wolf31o2 ( 778801 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:55AM (#11550312)
    I couldn't agree more. There are very few things that humans can do in space that cannot be done by a robot more efficiently and safer. However, the one thing that humans can give is their perception of what they see and feel. This sort of information is something that no robot can possibly provide us.

    I completely agree that our goal should be to establish a permanent off-world presence. We honestly have no idea how much we would learn from being out exploring, but most of the advances of our race have come from exploring the unknown and taking risks.
  • by Radar Guy ( 827922 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:15AM (#11550493)
    Whoa - how is this insightful? Not to nitpick too much, but to say "Defense is excluded" isn't entirely accurate. A quick google search of 'budget cuts defense department' returns this Washington Post article [] as the *first* hit. The short of it - $55 billion in cuts over 6 years (same timeframe as the $300 billion in cuts the parent mentions), including $5 billion from missile defense.

    That might not be a huge chunk of the $300 billion, but during time of war I'd say that's definately more than "excluding" the DoD.
  • Re:Benefits (Score:5, Informative)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:19AM (#11550529)

    What I've never understood: what are the benefits of space exploration? Sure it gives information about space, but what's the use?

    • Asteroid mining [].
    • Build really big solar energy collectors, put them into space, and beam the energy to Earth with microwaves.

      Or just use a giant collector mirror and convert to electricity on Earth - such a design could also be used as orbital beam-weapon.

    • Self-sufficient space colonies - survival of the species in case of a large meteor strike or something similar is a benefit.
    • Zero-g manufacturing - I've heard that it's possibly to build some materials only in zero-g, because gravity distorts the forming crystal structure. Does someone know more about this ?
    • Inspiration. People need something to look up to. They need heroes. Currently, movie- rock- and sports stars are fulfulling this role, and of course this leads to a culture completely obsessed with entertainment - it's not the only reason for this problem, but it is a contributing factor.

      It's a bit like politicians starting wars to drown their problems under the flood of patriotism, but channeled with a positive goal, rather than negative.

  • Re:lack of funds (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sophrosyne ( 630428 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:28AM (#11550600) Homepage
    The american economy is a mess. To the point that America is borrowing money from China in order to trade with them. Where Wal*Mart accounts for 8% of the national debt. The unemployment rate is 5.4%, The american dollar is losing value because of the weak economy, to the point that it's dangering the Canadian economy. America has been cutting its interest rates to spur growth, and avoid deflation. I have no vested interest in American politics, but America is in a recession- wake up.
  • by EaterOfDog ( 759681 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:42AM (#11550744)

    You are right about the location, your full of shit otherwise.

    Political Compromises in the Contract The nature of the political connections between the Space Program and prominent figures of the state of Utah has long been debated. Utah Senators Jake Garn and Frank Moss have been active supporters of the Space Program, particularly when it benefits Utah-based industries. There is nothing wrong with this; Representatives of Congress are expected to be interested in furthering the activities of their constituents. The real cloud of suspicion hung over former Morton Thiokol employees who worked for NASA at the time of the contract award, and the head of NASA itself, Dr. James Fletcher [4]. Dr. Fletcher served as the President of the University of Utah from 1964 through 1971. His connections with the state and its industries were numerous and far reaching, but he denied that these connections had any influence on his decision to award the SRB contract to Morton Thiokol. However, many people who observed the contract award process remained unconvinced. Fletcher's inability to provide solid reasons for the selection of Morton Thiokol over Aerojet did nothing to ease the controversy surrounding the decision; his reasons were vague and referred to minor points in the advisory committee's study. NASA's refusal to discuss whether former Morton Thiokol employees had been part of the advisory committee simply fueled speculation of wrong-doing. Whether Morton Thiokol used political influence to secure the SRB contract has never been determined, but lack of clear answers caused many to conclude that the contract may have been awarded improperly[1].p/)

  • Re:Benefits (Score:2, Informative)

    by notany ( 528696 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @12:01PM (#11551024) Journal
    1. infrared body temperature masurement
    2. Left Ventricular Assist Device (heart pump)
    3. The LORAD Stereo Guide Breast Biopsy System
    4. Tempur
    5. Tang
    6. Medical imaging technologies using digital imaging and processing techniques, such as MRI and CAT scans.
    7. Smoke detectors were first used in NASA's Skylab orbiting space station in 1973
    8. bar codes
    9. Lifeshear, a pyrotechnic-based cutting tool
    10. Cordless appliances were first used by Apollo astronauts to drill into the moon's surface and collect rock and soil samples
    11. Excimer laser technology.
    Nasa spinoffs has more []
  • by borgheron ( 172546 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @12:23PM (#11551296) Homepage Journal
    All companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc. really do is figure out how expensive and over costly can they make the project so that the result we be this huge iron beast which is neither practical nor fully reusable, as there has to be a "sustainable revenue stream".

    Look more towards the underdogs in this fight.

  • by Macrat ( 638047 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @12:42PM (#11551511)
    You forget that there was this little investment going on in Vietnam at the time.
  • by Sinical ( 14215 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @03:15PM (#11553463)
    That's not quite right.

    Of the $55 billion in cuts, they then redirect $25 billion to the Army (mostly for Iraq-type support stuff, I think).

    So it's $30 billion in cuts, which is still a decent amount. But I dunno how much of that will survive, since $18billion of that affects LockMart, and I have never ever seen political operators smoother than they. I'm not sure that Georgia's Congressional delegation will allow F-22 to be cut, and I'm sure some other (or the same) delegation will feel the same way about the C-130J, and the Virginia attack subs, and retiring the Kennedy carrier, etc.

    Those things employ a *lot* of people, and no wants to have to deal with that. Dunno. I think the Kennedy will go despite any objections from Florida (where its based), but that leaves the 4 remaining carriers based on the east coast all at Norfolk, so they'll try to steal one of those, but Warner (Virginia senator) is head of the Senate Armed Services Committee (I'm pretty sure), so how that could happen... Plus the Norfolk carries are all nuclear, whereas the Kennedy is not, so there'd have to be a lot of infrastructure changes to handle a nuke in Florida.

    Interesting times.
  • by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @06:41PM (#11555864)
    Hydraulic motors for flaps: Not necessarily. Hydraulics in space are problematic because of temperature regulation (in the tanks, in the cylinders, in the lines, etc). However, it is possible to use electric actuators to replace them for most, if not all, tasks. Electric actuators are increasingly being used in high force tasks.

    I knew one of the chief engineers for the hydraulic system on the shuttle (he also worked on the Atlas and Saturn programs) and this is what he said about electric actuators: "The problem with electric actuators is that in order to get the same force/mass ratio of hydraulics, the rotor has to be turning so fast (i.e. a high gear reduction ratio) that rotational inertia results in slower response than possible with hydraulics."

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @07:21PM (#11556395) Homepage
    Yep - the two problems have always been the force that they can deliver and the speed of response. However, the gap has been seriously closing since the shuttle was designed. In 1998, NASA completed validation of three new types of actuators in an F-18: a hybrid electric/hydraulic, an electrohydrostatic actuator (EHA) (uses its own internal hydraulic supply, but only needs power to run), and an electromechanical actuator (EMA) (no hydraulic supply at all). They were impressed with the EMA, and used them on the (now cancelled) X38 prototype and the (also cancelled) X33. The cancellations in both cases had nothing to do with the actuators, mind you :) They'll probably be finding their way into the CEV.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court