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NASA Space Science

Astronaut Group Endorses Commercial Spaceflight 144

FleaPlus writes "Buzz Aldrin and twelve other astronauts have published a joint endorsement of commercial human spaceflight, stating that 'while it's completely appropriate for NASA to continue developing systems and the new technologies necessary to take crews farther out into our solar system, [the astronauts] believe that the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation.' They are confident that commercial systems (which NASA already relies on for launching multibillion-dollar science payloads) can provide a level of safety equal to the Russian Soyuz and higher than the Space Shuttle, while strengthening US economic competitiveness. They also support the expected endorsement of the White House's Augustine Commission regarding NASA's use of commercial spaceflight — the Commission's final report will be released today." And here's the Augustine report itself (PDF).
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Astronaut Group Endorses Commercial Spaceflight

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  • by Cochonou ( 576531 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:39PM (#29839833) Homepage
    Is the link to the Augustine report expected to be a joke ? It appears to be a link to Windows 7 from here.
  • by The-Pheon ( 65392 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:42PM (#29839875) Homepage

    The Real link is here:
    Final Report [nasa.gov]

  • by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:51PM (#29839973) Homepage

    This will not go over well in Huntsville. In fact, it already hasn't. [orlandosentinel.com]

    "Republican Senator Richard Shelby launched a preemptive strike on President Barack Obama's blue ribbon space panel ther day before its due to release its final report, calling the committee's findings "worthless." Shelby, a staunch defender of NASA's Marshal Space Flight Center In Huntsville, Alabama, said in a Senate floor speech that the committee failed to consider safety when it ranked various rocket options for the White House to consider. "Without an honest and thorough examination of the safety and reliability aspects of the various designs and options for manned space flight, the findings of this report are worthless," said Shelby."

    Senator Shelby, obviously a noted rocket expert, contradicts former Shuttle astronauts Sally Ride and Leroy Chiao. Undoubtedly he astronaut safety at every step of the process with little regard to politics while they as former astronauts were completely unconcerned with it.

    Speaking of unconcerned, apparently President Obama is exactly that in regards to NASA. New NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hopes to meet with Obama before end of year on agency future. [al.com]

    On top of all of that, it seems that Altair, the lunar lander from the Constellation project has been defunded. [nasaspaceflight.com]

  • Questionable Spin (Score:4, Informative)

    by swanzilla ( 1458281 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:02PM (#29840109) Homepage

    In polls, a huge percent of the American people support the space program. It costs each of us around 7 cents a day. I think most people would be willing to pay that, to have a human space flight program.

    Way off...bear with me here U.S. population appx 300,000,000 x Percentage of population who pay taxes 55
    gives us 165,000,000 taxpayers
    the NASA budget is $17,600,000,000 / yr, divided between those taxpayers yeilds roughly %106/yr, or roughly 30 cents /day.

    Did I miss something?

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:14PM (#29840215) Journal
    The ARES I has serious safety issues. Thrust Oscillation will shake the astronauts like no other rocket in history. Also, they are launched with higher G forces. Simulations show there are certain points during the liftoff process where the launch abort system (which is supposed to pull the Orion crew module clear of the rocket in case of disaster) cannot pull the module clear of the expected debris field. In other words if ARES-I suffers an abort condition at the wrong time, the Orion will wind up parachuting through the expanding fireball of burning fuel, burning and/or melting away the parachutes. It won't be just loss of mission, it will be loss of crew. Add in the fact that ARES-I is designed to lift the Orion into an orbit with a NEGATIVE PERIGEE, unless the Orion itself circularizes its orbit. Also, they've been trimming Orion left, right, and center in order to get it light enough so "the Stick" can lift it. This means cutting crew, cutting land based landing, cutting crew comforts (eg toilets) and cutting safety gear. I shudder to think what needs to be cut in order to get a beefier launch abort system in place.
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:54PM (#29840675) Journal

    For some reason the link for the Augustine Report seems to be going to a download for Windows 7 (Huh?!?), so here's the actual link [nasa.gov] (mirror [spaceref.com]).

    Here's the main report findings from the PDF:

    Summary of Principal Findings

    The Committee summarizes its principal findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

    The right mission and the right size: NASA's budget should match its mission and goals. Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

    International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the "critical path" to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations and more overall resources could become available to the human spaceflight program.

    Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The remaining Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner without undue schedule pressure. This manifest will likely extend operation into the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

    The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

    Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of the life of the ISS. A decision not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

    Heavy lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration. It will also be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, life-cycle costs, maturity, operational complexity and the "way of doing business" within the program and NASA.

    Commercial launch of crew to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and life-cycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives to perform this service should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

    Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration. Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry, the academic community and other U.S. government users.

    Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration of the inner solar system; but it is not the best first destination. Visiting the "Moon First" and following the "Flexible Path" are both viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutual

  • by waimate ( 147056 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:56PM (#29840699) Homepage

    ...commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle.

    So the astronauts are saying that Soyuz is safer than the shuttle. Interesting.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @05:57PM (#29840703) Journal

    Paging Buzz Aldrin, article submitter needs an ass-kicking :)

    Hey, don't look at me! The report wasn't even released when I submitted, so the bizarre Windows 7 link was added by one of the editors. :)

    Here's my original submission [slashdot.org].

  • by ckaminski ( 82854 ) <slashdot-nospam@ ... m minus physicis> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:22PM (#29840919) Homepage
    RE: No Saturn abort modes

    What plan do you live on? Apollo absolutely had an on-launch abort capability.


    Ever see that giant pointy think sticking off the top of the Apollo capsule? Yeah, rocket assisted abort. :-)


    Atlas and Delta don't have the Pogoing problem Ares I does. Neither would Direct 2.0.
  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:46PM (#29841127) Homepage

    It's not that the astronauts are saying it...the facts (your quote) simply support that notion.

    The two fatal accidents it had at the beginning were because of a) rushing it into service (first accident) b) disgarding common sense safety (crew not in pressure suits for reentry). Yes, it had a few rough, ballistic reentries, but it survived them. Heck, even reentering the atmosphere with the upper hatch acting as heatshield worked (upside down, basically, due to failure in detaching service module and changed aerodynamics of the spacecraft; try flying a Space Shuttle in "wrong" orientation to the airflow...oh wait, both Challenger and Columbia did it, and look how it ended (in both cases the immediate cause of orbiter disintegration were aerodynamic forces))

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:03PM (#29841263)

    Ares I is a solid rocket: no pogoing (no positive feedback between thrust oscillations and inlet pressure of the turbopumps). It does suffer from brutal thrust oscillations, but this isn't usually called "pogo".

    See this pretty good discussion: http://yarchive.net/space/rocket/pogo.html

  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:17PM (#29841387) Homepage

    My understanding is that debris in LEO isn't so much of an issue because it's orbit will decay relatively quickly and it will then burn up on reentry. It is also much easier to track.

    If we get a major debris problem in GEO though then afaict that would be a huge problem.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:21PM (#29841419)

    None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

    There are three big safety issues that appear precisely because of the choice of an solid rocket motor (SRM) derived from the Shuttle solid rocket boosters (SRB). First, thrust oscillation is a problem with solid rocket motors because of their design. The SRM has a chamber prior to ejection through the nozzle. Certain vorticies resonate with this chamber and this vibration is then transmitted to the rest of the vehicle.

    Now you may ask, if all solid rocket motors have thrust oscillation and the SRM is Shuttle-derived, why isn't the Shuttle affected? The answer is that it would be except for the clever way in which the SRBs are attached to the rest of the Shuttle stack. Effectively, both SRBs are attached to each end of a giant bar. The external tank only connects to this bar at two points which as I understand it are null points of the thrust oscillation vibration (which is very predictable). So as a result, little of the vibration is actually transmitted to the rest of the Shuttle. This only works because we have a pair of boosters that are attached only in a couple of spots to the rest of the vehicle. It doesn't work for the Ares I because the second stage has to be mounted on top of the SRM. End result is a great deal of vibration (how much we'll see in a few days). There are various solutions for dampening the vibration, but these cost mass or thrust. Neither is a problem with liquid propellant rockets like the EELVs.

    Moving on, the second problem is the aspect of the Ares I. It has a wide second stage and a narrow first stage. This is precisely a consequence of the choice of the SRM as the first stage. The problem is that since SRMs have to go through a railroad tunnel when they're being shipped from Utah, they cannot be wider than they currently are. So the Ares I has an increased chance of bumping the launch tower at launch due to wind gusts. The limited width of the first stage also limits the performance of the vehicle leading to the third problem.

    The third problem is that the launch of the Ares I has been made safer at the expense of the rest of the mission. This doesn't have much consequence for LEO missions since there is some performance margin to use up. But lunar missions are very tight on mass. So the performance loss from thrust oscillation mitigation or other problems comes by taking weight away from the payload, here the Orion vehicle. Further, the first stage is already as large as it can be, so there's no additional performance to be gained from the first stage. That means in turn that compromise of the safety of the Orion vehicle, namely removal of some redundancy of the vehicle, has to occur in order for the Ares I to lift it. Since for lunar missions, most of the risk is in the mission not in the launch, this means that we're increasing the overall risk of the mission merely to continue to use the Ares I.

    The Launch Abort System didn't even exist on the Shuttle or Saturn rockets. It may not be 100% effective, but it doesn't need to be to at least provide a measure of additional safety.

    This reminds me that there is a fourth safety advantage of other rockets than solids. In case of full rupture and conflagration of the first stage, a liquid rocket burns slower than a solid. That means lower heat on the escape vehicle and a greater chance of survival for the crew.

    There are much better arguments against the Ares I. Like why it needs to be done at all when it has similar capabilities to the Delta IV, Falcon 9, or one of the number of shuttle-derived concepts out there.

    This is my primary objection to the Ares I as well. There are two near future commercial rockets, the "EELVs", Delta IV Heavy, which flies now, and Atlas V Heavy (which would be based on a modification of the Atlas V which flies now). So we're ignoring rockets which fly now in exchange for paper rockets which as we've seen don't work as advertised. NASA should never be in direct competition with private launch services. It gives them too much incentive to undermine the competition.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:32PM (#29841521) Homepage

    Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris as NASA and the FKA?

    The US is obligated by treaty to minimize space debris, so yes - private industry has been concerned about launch debris and has been for years, lest they not get a launch permit.

    The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

    You do know that less than half of the launches in the US annually are government launches, and less than half of those are NASA launches?

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @11:14PM (#29842551) Journal

    Hmmm. I think that the 35 billion is for BOTH Ares I and V, NOT ares I.

    I've been double-checking, and it doesn't seem to be. In fact, it looks like the estimates are higher now. From a recent GAO report (although this does include the Orion cost as well):

    http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=15541 [hobbyspace.com]
    http://gao.gov/products/GAO-09-844 [gao.gov]

    Nevertheless, NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @02:17AM (#29843189) Journal

    Oversimplifying a bit... Suppose combustion-chamber pressure surges a bit for some reason. That increases back pressure against the fuel coming in, which slows fuel flow. That reduces chamber pressure, which lets the flow pick up again, etc. There are also less direct interactions, e.g. greater chamber pressure means greater thrust and higher acceleration, which boosts hydrostatic head of fuel coming down from the tanks and tends to increase flow. Lots of feedback loops that might oscillate.

    Now, if the natural frequency of one of those potential oscillations happens to match a resonant frequency of the vehicle or the fuel-feed system... you get oscillation, potentially violent (several Gs), at relatively low frequencies, typically a few Hz. That's Pogo.

    The way to cure Pogo is to add some damping to the cycle, typically by adding a surge absorber to the plumbing -- just a chamber with liquid in the bottom and gas in the top, connected to the plumbing, so surges in pressure push liquid in and out against the gas pressure rather than being communicated to the engine. Modern rockets typically have such Pogo suppressors built in from the start; for example, the SSME has a Pogo suppressor in its LOX feed (LH2 is too light and too compressible to be much of a problem -- it supplies its own damping), and has never had a Pogo problem.

    Interesting stuff there.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer