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NASA Businesses Space

NASA May Outsource 219

The Wall Street Journal is running a piece about the growing momentum behind the idea of NASA outsourcing to private companies everything from transporting astronauts to ferrying cargo into orbit. Quoting: "Proposals gaining momentum in Washington call for contractors to build and run competing systems under commercial contracts, according to federal officials, aerospace-industry officials and others familiar with the discussions. While the Obama administration is still mulling options and hasn't made any final decisions, such a move would represent a major policy shift away from decades of government-run rocket and astronaut-transportation programs such as the current space-shuttle fleet. ... In the face of severe federal budget constraints and a burgeoning commercial-space industry eager to play a larger role in exploring the solar system and perhaps beyond, ...a consensus for the new approach seems to be building inside the White House as well as [NASA]. ... Under this scenario, a new breed of contractors would take over many of NASA's current responsibilities, freeing the agency to pursue longer-term, more ambitious goals such as new rocket-propulsion technology and manned missions to Mars. ...[T]hese contractors would take the lead in servicing the International Space Station from the shuttle's planned retirement around 2011 through at least the end of that decade."
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NASA May Outsource

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  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:09PM (#29165417) Homepage Journal

    SpaceX is moving forward, without asking the government for money. http://www.spacex.com/ [spacex.com]

  • by societyofrobots ( 1396043 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:11PM (#29165429)

    Would it still save money if the companies rose prices to make a profit?

    With NASA, its science oriented. With business, its profit oriented.

    I think the current status quo is best, only outsource if something better already exists.

  • Good, BUT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:15PM (#29165461) Journal
    1. Keep it competitive. That means that we need at least 2 companies the provide a service. Ideally, it will be at least 3.
    2. National Security MUST come first. That means that at least 1 of each categories MUST be American. That does not mean that ALL of the win must go to Americans. There is a lot to like about the idea of having our partners provide part of the system.
    3. Keep it fair. If the nation has trade barriers and/or has their fixed against ours and/or has the gov subsidizing the bid, then it should not be allowed in. That would mean that China and India are absolutely out of any part of this. OTH, Brazil might be (not sure of their status).
    4. Anything developed for NASA and making use of NASA/US proprietary tech needs to STILL be limited to friendly countries.

    Go NASA go. Once the infrastructure is in place for LEO/GEO/Lunar, then it should be possible to focus on NASA's true purpose; pushing the tech and science of space.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:24PM (#29165527)

    It is different because instead of paying around $100 an hour for a GS-14, the govt will be paying $150-$250 an hour for the same individuals, via a giant contractor ( Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed ).

    Uh, no. They'd be paying for someone to launch their cargo into orbit, rather than employing people directly to do so... there's a huge difference between buying launch services like any other customer and hiring thousands of contractors to launch your own rocket on a cost-plus contract.

    Anyone can buy a Delta launch and the rates are well known; if Boeing start trying to charge NASA ten times as much as they charge any other customer, even the US government might realise they're being screwed.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:31PM (#29165571) Journal
    You should know better. Much of America's space hardware is built in various locations. For example, MGS was from l-mart in Denver. Likewise, there are plenty of companies that are fully capable of building the rover. With that said, NASA's new missions will be to continue building rovers for mars and other planets UNTIL it becomes methodical. Then it would be handed off to private to do. Though think about this. If USA can fire up multiple companies here that are space and lunar bound, we will get an infrastructure that can move to other worlds. That is what we need. NASA will take us there. They will be at the leading edge on all of it. BUT, to allow companies to take over what should be mundane only makes sense.
  • by brennz ( 715237 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:36PM (#29165605)

    The last sentence of your post demonstrated a misconception.

    When the govt turns to contractors and issues an RFP, the govt rarely does a complete halt and tries to go in-house when contractors pitch inflated costs. Instead, the govt might try to scale back the services during the negotiation phase of the acquisition, and pay more, for less service.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:46PM (#29165679)

    If the government can't figure out when they're being screwed, then that's a problem with government, not with business; if the government is willing to pay ten times as much as any other customer, why would any sane business not charge that?

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:59PM (#29165793) Homepage

    Which apparently is not being done very well:
    http://www.space.com/news/090812-nasa-asteroid-funding.html [space.com]

    Exploration is cool and all, but keeping the planet alive should really come first.

    Just from a species survival standpoint, it will be a LONG time before we have a self-sustaining base off-earth.

    If we aren't tracking asteroids on a full sphere, then we are leaving ourselves open to extinction.

    Just sayin. Oh, and before you mod me off-topic, I'll add that asteroid tracking should not be outsourced because its too easy to fake and say "yeah, we checked our quadrant. pay me."

  • Re:Ugggh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @04:08PM (#29165883) Journal

    If there's one thing worse than the government doing something, it's the government giving someone a de-facto monopoly to do it in the form of a government contract.

    You're missing the point. The whole reason they're doing this is so they have multiple competing vendors for services, instead of just a single monopolistic contractor.

  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @04:25PM (#29166025) Homepage

    My favorite example of privatization gone horribly, horribly wrong is the UK Post Office.

    After a year or two of operating under private ownership, the new owners decided there was no way that the Post Office could possibly operate profitably in rural markets, sold off all of its assets in these areas, closed up shop, and pocketed the money from the sales.

  • by WheelDweller ( 108946 ) <WheelDweller&gmail,com> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @05:32PM (#29166483)

    You are not wrong, sir. Part of the problem with space is that while American has the tech (though others are quickly catching up) they also have the bureaucracy. And not the good kind that gets things organized- the bad kind that requires an 18 year delay to permit the sales of Coke in India. (THAT kind.)

    I'm just so happy that the settlers didn't decided it was too big to get across the USA back in the 1800s- that a government agency was needed. If it were, we'd be up to about Ohio, just about now.

    It's time to do with NASA, what needs to be done with ALL federal power: snip it to a standards-authority. Take all that mindless, money-burning power of a congressman and divert it to only a job for setting standards, not impeding progress.

    Obama just happens to be the president presiding; the congress is where the real issues are, and like *every* directly-controlled agency of the Congress, NASA suffers from bloat and waste to insane quantities.

    Can anyone name a single, federally-run activity that *isn't* a dismal failure?

  • Re:Blah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Sunday August 23, 2009 @08:05PM (#29167589) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, but of those brands, which one are you driving? (hint: you most likely aren't) :-)

  • by TwoUtes ( 1075403 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @08:40PM (#29167763)
    Glad you prefaced the last comment that it was opinion. I work daily with many folks that draw a NASA paycheck, who regularly use the tools you mention. My neighbor is a NASA machinist, not a contractor.

Loose bits sink chips.