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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 gapagos ( 1264716 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @04:48PM (#29839943)

    Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris [] as NASA and the FKA?
    The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:07PM (#29840799) Journal

    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.

    It's particularly ironic when you consider that in NASA's ESAS study which selected the internal Ares I design over commercial launch vehicles, the safety standards were tweaked so that the Ares I design was the only one which could satisfy the absurdly high standards. Of course, it now looks like Ares can't actually satisfy those standards, and the mass trim-backs may well result in a system considerably more dangerous than the commercial alternatives.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @06:33PM (#29841021) Journal

    The ARES I has serious safety issues.

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

    Actually, the nastiest safety issues with the Ares I are a direct result of the design decision by former administrator Mike Griffin to use a single gigantic solid rocket motor as the first stage. It turns out there's a really good reason (or rather, many good reasons) that nobody's used such a design for a manned rocket before. I'm sure given enough time and money ($35 billion is the latest cost estimate) the excellent engineers at NASA can create workarounds for the inherent design problems, but I'd imagine their time and effort could be much better spent.

  • Mod Parent Up!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:04PM (#29841277) Homepage Journal
    Oh if only I had mod points. Larson hit the nail on the head with this one. Chemical rockets really do have a law of diminishing returns when it comes to cost vs. payload size. If we don't start moving to smaller, mass production type launch capability America's space program is going to stagnate more so than it already has (40 year moon anniversary anyone?).

    That being said, let's hope some of the decision makers make a point to read slashdot and comments like this one...

    Also, three cheers for the commercial space programs. SpaceX, I think you should lead the industry in a group hug =)
  • by Truth is life ( 1184975 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:18PM (#29841393)

    Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare. Remember, the station largely derives from Freedom studies started as early as 1982. Conceptually, it's almost 30 years old. Even a lot of the hardware is 20+. There were huge overruns, and several major delays due to the Shuttle failing. Doing that with a Mars craft is not an option.

    Economies of scale work both ways--sure, cheap, reliable, low-lift boosters are great, but there are important technical simplifications that you can make by launching everything in just one or two gos--not having to store cryogens in orbit, minimal assembly, more robust craft design--you can build your lunar lander or whatever in one big piece, and assemble it on Earth in carefully controlled, well-understood conditions, rather than in a dangerous, poorly-defined environment, for example--which might very well outweigh the benefits of low-ish launch costs. I'm also skeptical of any NASA effort to reduce launch costs directly. After all, the Shuttle was supposed to massively reduce launch costs, and look where that ended up. Now, they do support COTS, which may very well reduce launch costs some, but they aren't bending metal themselves.

  • by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:31PM (#29841515)

    If you're going to put even one person into space for any extended duration (i.e., something more than Mercury-style joyrides around the planet), you need to take a long a lot of oxygen, food, water, and other necessities, while also providing a reasonable level of safety. Plus, you need to get cargo to the ISS somehow, and the ISS is on a rather inconveniently inclined orbit.

    Figure around 20 metric tons to LEO with a good sized crew. That's about what the shuttle does now, as does the Falcon 9 Heavy and Delta IV Heavy. Neither of the last two have flow with people on board (Falcon 9 hasn't flown yet at all, but should soon), which is why they have smaller variants.

    And if you want to do anything beyond LEO, you're going to need something much bigger than any of those. Ares V may have a place, but given the other launchers out there, I'm less certain about Ares I. You already have a pick of options for launch capabilities in that range.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:49PM (#29841643) Journal

    Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare.

    It's worth noting that a big part of the reason that the ISS was a nightmare is because building a station was only secondary to the goal of ensuring that funds went to the Russian space agency in order to prevent their rocket engineers from going to North Korea, Iran, etc. In addition, the ISS was also a big learning experience, and we've become substantially better at in-space assembly in the process.

  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @07:58PM (#29841719)

    "Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it."

    If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive". Maybe if its bulk stuff like fuel, water or oxygen it wouldn't be so much of a problem to lose one but for those the launch is the expensive thing.

    I'm pretty sure the Apollo people thought all this out and they came up with a pretty good solution that is known to work. I wager they figured it was best to launch everything at once where possible. As prone as launches are to being aborted for technical problems and weather in Florida if you had to do many launches it could take a long and unpredictable amount of time to get everything you need in to orbit. Just hope you don't need to hit a window, to go to Mars for example.

    I think it remains to be seen how much actual economy of scale you can get in launchers. So far they are more custom built by craftsmen than an assembly line where economy of scale would really pay off. Would be interesting if you could make a reliable assembly line that could turn them out like Model T's. Would also be interesting to know what launch rate and how much it would cost annually to make a real rocket assembly line with economy of scale.

  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @08:21PM (#29841821)

    I seriously don't know how you can say "overall direction looks really good". It looks to me a lot more like a bunch of dithering and continuing the status quo (a.k.a. NASA Jobs Program) until the next election and the next Presidential commission changes direction again and reboots it all again. At some point someone needs to do a Kennedy, pick a target worth doing, set a schedule, throw down a guantlet, DO IT, and stop changing course every few years to avoid ever doing ANYTHING except wasting billions of dollars.

    Flying astronauts to LaGrange points strikes me as bizarre. I could see you sending satellites to them but they are empty points in space. You spend billions of dollars to fly people to empty points in space, everyone on Earth will say WTF are you doing? Spending even more billions to fly people to Mars, not land and return is just as bad, and will get just as bad a reception. You either have a plan to go to Mars and land, and ideally stay there, or don't even bother.

    I could maybe see flying to an asteroid or comet but I'm inclined to think a very capable robotic rover like Spirit or Opportunity would be a LOT more bang for the buck until you figure out a mission you REALLY need people on one for.

    I seriously wish the U.S. was a rational country with a rational government but I don't think it has been for at least 40 years. You kind of have two options, decide you want to do manned space exploration and fund it properly or pull the plug on it and move on. Wasting money on it and never doing anything has to stop. The amount of money this report is quibbling over here is less than the U.S. blows in Iraq and Afghanistan in a month so you kind of figure the truth is everyone in Washington wants manned space exploration dead, but they don't have the balls to actually kill it. Assorted powerful Congressmen just want the jobs program in their state/district and don't care if it actually accomplishes anything.

    I was taken aback when I saw earlier this week that NASA has already spent $450 million on the upcoming Aries 1-X launch. This is basically to launch one pretty much off the shelf Shuttle SRB with a bunch of mockups stacked on top presumably made out of paper meche. And we wonder why they are having budget and schedule problems?


    Putting an ex Lockheed CEO in charge of this commission pretty much eliminated any chance of any original thinking before this commission even started. Lockheed IS the status quo and the jobs program.

  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Thursday October 22, 2009 @08:59PM (#29841955)

    Great post. Just curious. Is there some actual physical reason you can think of preventing them from making SRM's in Florida so they could make them any size? I'm assuming the actual answer is Orrin Hatch, extremely powerful Senator from Utah, will kill any program where the SRM's aren't built in Utah and is probably supporting Ares precisely because it is keeping jobs in his state, even if its a horrible engineering choice. This country is doomed in science, engineering and tech if you make bad engineering decisions just to spread pork around. I've pretty much decided the U.S. Senate is an epic FAIL because one senator can often single handedly kill any program they oppose.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday October 23, 2009 @12:37AM (#29842857)

    If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive".

    What would you rather lose? An expensive module or a mission?

  • Re:Questionable Spin (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 23, 2009 @05:47AM (#29843897)

    We have a defense budget for fun?

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission