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Companies Skeptical of Commercial Space Market 192

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that Boeing and Lockheed Martin will happily sell rockets to carry astronauts into space, but are leery about taking a leading role in President Obama's vision for a revamped NASA that relies on commercial companies to provide taxi transportation to the ISS. 'I don't think there is a business case for us,' says Lockheed Martin's John Karas about space taxis. Both Boeing and Lockheed were stung during the last burst of optimism for the commercial space business about a decade ago. They invested several billion dollars — Lockheed to develop its Atlas V, Boeing for the Delta IV — in the hopes that the huge market for commercial satellites would supplement their traditional business of launching American military spy satellites. The market did not materialize, and what business there was went to European and Russian rockets that were cheaper. The hoped-for commercial market for space taxis hinges on one small company, Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing inflatable space habitats that it hopes to market as research facilities to companies and foreign nations looking to establish a space program."
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Companies Skeptical of Commercial Space Market

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  • Re:riiiight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Knara ( 9377 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:09PM (#31822632)

    Is sort of what I got from it, too.

    I suspect that "there isn't a business case" really means "we liked it better when we had a guaranteed customer who would pay us whatever we and our one main competitor decided was the going rate for a launch vehicle. Please don't make us actually innovate and compete."

  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:20PM (#31822778) Journal

    If you were thoughtful, instead of a talking-point parrotting teabagger, you'd be happy that the government is getting out of the space business and telling the business businesses to figure it out.

    Because we're tired of coming up with all this cool space shit just so they can adapt it to their launch systems and still lose money launching our satellites under cost-plus contracts.

    Or maybe the point is that business no longer knows how to stay in business, and new businesses need to come along and take it from them, now that the government is no longer propping them up by paying for all of the technology investment and absorbing the risk of failure.

    BTW, how many of anyone have you organized in your life? By your logic, that makes you incompetent to judge the skills of anyone who has. You'll still be free to toss your vote in the trash next time around.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @05:23PM (#31822826)

    They also said that if you want to build a heavy lift Atlas or Delta to manned spaceflight spec it would cost between $1B and $2B. And they want NASA to pay all the cost, up front.

    So they actually *know* that it will cost more like $10B, and will be able to squeeze the rest out of NASA as "cost overruns" on the initial contract bid.

    Who's calling Tony Soprano a gangster?

    "How much dat cost?"

    "How much ya got?"

    This is one of the "fine arts" or "black magic" of bidding on government tenders . . . finding out how much they really have to spend. Not just what they claim in public testimony.

    Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin understand and know how to make money in this business.

    They are not sure yet how they will make money in the commercial market. But if they figure it out, they will be back in it . . . real soon!

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:00PM (#31823286)

    If you were thoughtful, instead of a talking-point parrotting teabagger, you'd be happy that the government is getting out of the space business and telling the business businesses to figure it out.

    Just curious, why does the Tea Party movement catch so much flak? It's interesting to see during my lifetime that people are showing their dissatisfaction with an ever-growing federal government. It's gratifying to see they are doing this in a "bottom-up" fashion instead of a "top-down" organization, as so many of those are just front groups for various monied interests. It's particularly nice that the majority of its members are more concerned about reform and have little or no concern about party affiliation, since I've always viewed the two-party duopoly as the biggest single part of the problem. Well, that and the massive rate of incumbency.

    I can understand disagreeing with their politics. I can understand being opposed to their methods and goals. What I can't understand is the look-down-your-nose disdain that you and many others have shown. If they were an entrenched "establishment" type of political party like the Democrats and Republicans, would that impress you? Would you then feel a desire to back up your demeaning tone with substantive disagreement? Much of this, when I see it, looks like "I have decided I don't like them, and I'll get around to coming up with reasons for it later" rather than having a good reason before deciding not to like them. It looks that way and I'm wondering if it really is that way. I don't know the answer to that, but I would like to.

    The way I see it, the federal government is far out of control. We have ACTA and other bad laws that we the people have absolutely no control over, in which we have no voice at all. Every new federal agency becomes a permanent fixture, never to be disbanded. Every entitlement and social program will never be repealed no matter how bankrupt. No law is too intrusive, nor any justification too flimsy. This is not remotely what our government was intended to be, not even close. If a new movement wants to oppose this, why wouldn't I welcome the sight? Should I quibble over my personal feelings towards them in the face of this?

    Ever watch old kung-fu movies? I find it fascinating the way mortal enemies still have a genuine respect for one another. Each sees that his opponent is skillful and formidable and honors this. There is none of this catty, petty personal hatred, disdain and "degrade or insult at every opportunity" mentality. Some armed conflicts in real life have been this way; I believe WWI was the last. There used to be the notion that if you lose your honor by engaging in those low-road practices, then the conflict has cost you quite a bit more than even the casualties sustained. What's happened to us?

    I should add I am not a member of the Tea Party movement. I have not been to their events or participated in their campaigns. It's just that one thing is consistent whether it's politics or philosophy or even IT: anytime someone acts like a raw nerve has been struck and wants to denigrate what he disagrees with for no apparent reason, that raw nerve deserved to be struck. Watching this only lends credibility to the side that does not do it.

  • Re:riiiight (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:13PM (#31823488)
    The only figures I saw there regarding expenses were $400 million and $1 billion. If you know the space R&D business you would know those costs are tiny. Just developing a new rocket engine, under incumbent methods, can easily cost more than that. The contract for the J-2X engine for Ares-I X alone was $1.2 billion.
  • by jfruhlinger ( 470035 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:16PM (#31823534) Homepage

    I read that article this morning and was baffled to hear SpaceX mentioned nowhere in it, considering they have a Progress/ATV-type unmanned cargo vessel on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral and plans to build a man-rated capsule in the next 2-3 years. Have they imploded recently or something?

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:20PM (#31823576)
    Very little. Basically its a software change, to modify the rocket trajectory, and launch pad modifications so astronauts can actually enter the capsule on top of the rocket. Of course this may change if NASA insists on putting a lot of red tape around it.
  • by anarche ( 1525323 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:37PM (#31823820)

    What's the big point of the Space Future, again? If we had warp drive or canals on Mars it would be different, but in our universe....?

    Um. To ensure the continued survival of the human race by ensuring we have a fallback for when Mother Earth become unsuitable for life/eaten by the sun/hit be a meteorite/Mormon

    Of course, if you aren't interested in the future of the human race, I'd love to understand the basis of your morality, while I murder your children.

  • Re:riiiight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sillybilly ( 668960 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:41PM (#31823890)
    There really isn't a free market business case for it. People go to space simply to make living under unlivable conditions a status quo. If you can live in the vacuum of free space only on sunshine, fully recycling all the excrements into reusable things, you can almost make it no matter what. Living in space is a safety thing for life from Earth against a global catastrophy, such as an asteroid hit, anoter world war, nuclear holocaust, etc. You never know. There is really no free market for safety and security, unless the unthinkable happens, and then comes the should have, would have, but didn't. Maybe next time. If there is always a next time. Next time I'm not gonna keep all my eggs in the same basket. But going to space is not gonna solve a whole lot of issues, especially security issues, such as developing AI that is smarter than us, and hunts us. Space is no hiding place from stronger intelligence, should it be carnivore. But it does help some things.

    For instance, as a side benefit, in space recycling is mandatory. On Earth we may never put the resources to fully recycle, because there is no free market business case for it. It's always cheaper to litter your environment full of trash and forget about it than have to take care of it right now. Being in space would force us to immediately come up with full recycling techs, and improve them to the point where recycling almost make business sense down on Earth. Who's gonna put the resources into it down here?

    The only way space can make business sense is how Formula 1 makes business sense - as a show. But space is boring. It has to be boring to be professional. Formula 1 is boring to a lot of people. But it does get quite a bit of audience, to the point where it's profitable. Unfortunately the cost of a space show dwarfs the cost of Formula 1 in comparison. It's just simply too expensive to make business sense. Like the military, if it had to be free market supported, how much would you personally donate each month from your salary to support our troops? Or what would you pay for? The labor day air show?
  • Re:riiiight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sunspot42 ( 455706 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:46PM (#31823962)

    Soyuz - which is the current Soviet manned space booster - hasn't had a fatal accident now in decades. It's old but very reliable. My guess is the big US aerospace firms can't really compete with it, at least not without sinking many billions into development costs and potentially having their own string of catastrophic failures to learn from (the way the Soviets did). They're probably also worried about demand for manned boosters going forward, and possible competition from the Russians, Europeans and - eventually - Chinese. Even if the US aerospace firms were successful in developing a manned booster, it might be difficult for them to ever recoup their development costs due to competition alone. They may feel there are better ways to spend their money, probably on defense-related programs where the margins are much higher and the competition less intense.

    I know this is very anti-postmodern, but just because you don't see or don't know about something, doesn't mean it's not real.

  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:47PM (#31823964) Homepage
    I am here to 1) throw insults around (this is slashdot, after all), and 2) stop wasting tax dollars and incurring debt to subsidize corrupt defense contractors. Since you have taken the time to look at my previous posts (thank you, BTW, you have all my respect for it), you also know that I am a staunch advocate of unmanned space exploration. This particular debate is implicitly about manned space exploration, which to my mind is worthless and unjustifiable.

    Here on slashdot I am in a small minority that typically gets modded down into oblivion very quickly. I am surprised my post lasted long enough to receive your attention.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @06:49PM (#31824006)

    This use to be true of the Tea Party movement back when it had its roots during the Ron Paul campaign: limit the government's involvement in private life, lower the size of the government, non-interventionist foreign policy (including withdrawing from overseas bases, and lowering taxes. After Obama was elected, the movement was take over by extreme neo-conservatives who only want limited government when it comes to government policies they disagree with. At their large events, some of their guest speakers include inflammatory people such as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, just to name a few. The movement has been sponsoring candidates to compete with moderate Republicans who have expressed views such as: supporting Israel militarily so the Second Coming will occur sooner, having the federal government adopt evangelical Christianity as a state religion, draconian invasions of privacy to find and kick out illegal immigrants.

  • It's the size (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:18PM (#31824394) Homepage Journal

    The larger governments get, the more inefficient and corrupt they get. It just happens. I just looked, Finland population = 5.4 million. US=300 million. Finland has a 200 member parliament, the US has 435 Reps and 100 senators (2 per state). the average citizen in the US is FAR from power, just do the math. See a problem yet with working coherently? The US government is huge already, millions of employees, and they are already so far in debt that even if we went to a 100% tax rate it would take years to break even and start over. We need to borrow trillions a year from some place foreign just to maintain what we have already. And borrowing means it has to be paid back, with interest. do the math again.

        It's a big freaking mess. It's a debt bubble/bomb that is around two years from total implosion.

    The tea party movement at its very basic core is just wanting to reduce the size of government down to a more manageable and affordable level, and get a handle on budgets and taxes, including simplifying the tax code, etc. They were against the bailouts, both the casino banks and the dinosaur car companies. They are against so called health care reform because they recognize it for what it is, a bailout for dinosaur insurance companies, it's a conjob that will just cost more.

    People here are not all that adverse to helping, or caring for our poorest,, etc, just our past track record is rather dismal, and stuff always seems to cost many times more than what they initially claim it will cost, with only half the results, or less.

    So even though you are talking about two countries/nations, there's no real comparison in what can be done, not at this time anyway, until we can come up with some way to afford what we are committed to already, yet alone any more welfare things. We are bleeding jobs the last two decades, bad, and need near two million jobs a year created just to maintain. And it isn't happening. There's just *pitiful* job creation going on.

    In short, we can't afford it, "it" being everything they spend on now, wars, entitlements, whatever, the money just isn't there and they are existing on credit and wishful thinking and passing the buck to the future where it will magically get taken care of.

    So don't blame the tea party folks for pointing out the realities of the situation. The entrenched D and R parties have had..forever to fix things, and they haven't. I've been active in politics since the early 60s and it's the same crap, election cycle after election cycle. It is NEVER going to get fixed as long as the D and R parties keep our government hijacked and run as a crony jobs and bribery program. Which is all it is at this point.

        Something new is needed, and it is at least an attempt, I'll give them that. Other folks can try what they want to as well, but sure as heck just doing the same thing we have been doing over and over again will lead to the US being the fastest decaying super power empire ever at this rate. Once the rest of the world panics and starts really dumping the dollar (which I think has great odds of happening), and we lose global "reserve currency" status, that's it, the party is over, there won't be anything like you see now, let alone any full cradle to grave welfare society. The money just isn't there, it's already spent, years/decades ago. Broke, busted, bankrupt, flat..see?

      You have to make wealth before you spend it, whatever you spend it on. They are trying to do that just by running the dollar printing press...and that won't work forever, just like that stupid house flipping bubble ponzi scheme didn't work forever either.

  • Re:riiiight (Score:3, Interesting)

    by REJ Messser ( 909724 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:56PM (#31824926)
    Before I left Boeing, a young enthusiast engineer and I had a meeting with the two senior Boeing engineers regarding what would become of the McDonnell Douglas DC-X prototype and data. In general they had disdain for what had been accomplished. They considered it a circus sideshow in technology terms. (There was also disdain for a technical "know nothing" Vice President having let two sci-fi writers talk him into finding funding and flying such a thing. Never mind that one of those writers was an accomplished engineer.) Once we got beyond the ego based opinions and down to brass tacks, they did present one trump argument, "The board of directors would never go for it." Looking at the prospects of developing a new Airliner for the mature air-transit market or developing booster for the unknown space-transit market, they would fund the sure bet. There was also the fact that the US couldn't compete on "cheapness" even twenty years ago. The only way they could make any case for being involved was to gain a protected monopoly to build, manage and supply launch services to all government and commercial seekers. Understand that when you are talking disposable boosters the cost of build, integration on the pad, launch and shepherding through the mission determine payload charges The equation changes with fully reusable vehicle, but no one has built or operated one to this day. And no, the Shuttle is not a reusable vehicle, it is a rebuildable vehicle. It can be compared to a "top fuel dragster" in that it uses a few highly developed materials and systems to produce spectacular performance for a very limited time. Not unlike a dragster it must be inspected and rebuilt after each mission. Conventional wisdom says that this is the nature of transit through space, but is it? Bear with me a moment for a comparison. In the early nineteen seventies top fuel dragster were producing in excess of 1000 HP and topping 200 MPH in the quarter mile. Spectacular?... yes. At the same time in a different realm the Porsche 917-10 was producing 1000 HP and could do it for hours on end. And prior to it's dominance the Ford GT 40 dominated the 24 Hours of Le Man with only 400 HP. I believe it was Arthur C. Clark who said, "If a very senior scientist tells you some thing can be done, he is most likely right. But is a very senior scientist tells you something can't be done he is very likely wrong." So, skepticism on the part of traditional aerospace companies is not unexpected. Very few carriage manufactures transitioned to the automotive market ether. Skepticism can be good if it moderates others to hide that twinkle in their eye and say, "Yes we can"
  • Re:It's the size (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:59PM (#31825544)

    The European Union has a population larger than the United States and yet it manages just fine.

    Which more or less is in agreement with what the Tea Partiers are saying... you don't need such a large Federal government. The EU model does seem to work, with obvious problems (Greece, ahem), but it works on balance. But the EU model is to have VERY strong state governments with an extremely loose central government. So loose that some would argue that it isn't even a real government.

    So don't be too hard on the Tea Partiers... ask yourself how you'd like your healthcare to be run from Brussels. The party seems to attract a lot of nuts, but they do have a point.

  • Re:It's the size (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZonkerWilliam ( 953437 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:31PM (#31826936) Journal
    Problem with your statement is that EU is made up of several different countries. Even though they they share a common currency (not well liked, Britain still wants to use the GBP and drop the euro) they don't have one centralized government. Obviously different to the US.

    Even though there is no public option the issue with this "universal" health-care plan, the government will force insurance companies to take up 30 some-odd-million people they can't really afford to take up, most likely putting a lot of these insurance companies out of business, thus leaving government an opportunity to move in and provide the public option after all.

    And no I speak as a Libertarian not a tea party supporter, and as a Canadian.

    As friends and I half jokingly say, "Now where will we go for excellent health-care?"

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990