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As NASA Seeks Next Mission, Russia Holds the Trump Card 250

Geoffrey.landis (926948) writes "After the space shuttle retired in 2011, Russia has hiked the price of a trip to the International Space Station, to $71 million per seat. Less well recognized is the disparity in station crews. Before the shuttle stopped flying, an equal number of American and Russian crew members lived on board. But afterwards the bear began squeezing. For every two NASA astronauts that have flown to the station, three Russians have gone. Eric Burger asks, how did it come to this?"
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As NASA Seeks Next Mission, Russia Holds the Trump Card

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  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @03:27PM (#47040515)

    Nonsense! Dragon is beginnning its Man-Rating this year.

    It should be qualified by the end of next year, unless NASA gets a big helping of "Not Invented Here" and decides to kill the man-rated Dragon in favour of its own design (which won't be ready this decade, if ever).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 19, 2014 @03:37PM (#47040583)

    Only in your imagination maybe. NASA and NOAA have been doing global warming/climate change research long before Obama was even a senator. But don't let facts get in your way.

  • by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:17PM (#47040841)

    Reusable and Man-Rating are different concepts here.

    However reusable will cut the costs down dramatically. The Falcon 9 booster itself is less than 60m a launch. ISS resupply missions on Dragon are around 100m (I believe, I couldn't find the number.) Obviously a man-rated Dragon is going to cost quite a bit more. This means they could literally throw away the dragon capsule every time it flies and be cheaper than Soyuz.

    Also, keep in mind that Dragon seats 7, Soyuz seats 3.

    Also I would say that any cost savings from SpaceX have more to do wtih how efficient they are compared to how horrifically inefficient NASA contractors are. []

  • Re:NASA jobs program (Score:4, Informative)

    by deadweight ( 681827 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:20PM (#47040863)
    Normally I would not even look at AC comments, but WTF? I know plenty of NASA people and no one is getting rich over there.
  • Re:Trump (Score:5, Informative)

    by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:21PM (#47040871)

    Maybe we can persuade The Donald to invest in space exploration.
    Then no Russians would be needed.

    In dollars, Musk [] is worth 5x Trump []. Musk has made more money this year than Donald Trump's entire portfolio is worth.

    In value to society, it is incalculable.

  • by njnnja ( 2833511 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:46PM (#47041099)

    that tax brought in a SURPLUS every year.

    Only by a very limited definition of surplus, used by what is called pay-as-you-go accounting. Under accrual accounting ("generally accepted accounting principles"), which the government does not have to follow, SS and Medicare did not run surpluses. The difference is this: under pay as you go, as long as the cash that you pay to beneficiaries during the year is less than the cash taken in by the taxes taken in during the year, you are balanced. However, under accrual accounting, the things that must be balanced are not the cash flows, but rather, the promised benefits and the promised taxes.

    As an example, If you get a $1000 paycheck at the end of the week, and you spend $900, then you have $100 at the end of the week, and under any definition you had a surplus. But if you get a $1000 paycheck, and you spend $1050, you did not run a surplus (and probably depleted some of your bank account). Lastly, if you get a $1000 paycheck, then you spend $1050, and you borrow $150 from a friend, you have $100 cash left over at the end of the week. But because you have promised $150 to your friend, which is more than the $100 cash you have left over, you have not run a surplus. That is the situation SS and Medicare have found themselves in - sound from a pay as you go basis, but not promising to tax enough/promising too many benefits to be sound on an accrual basis

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @05:17PM (#47041373)

    If or when they start doing regular launches with the reusable Dragon and F9R, how low do you think they can get the price per seat down to? Russians are charging $71m per seat, can SpaceX get it down to $1m per seat?

    Hmm, Dragon seats seven in manned-mode. $133M per launch (which is what NASA is paying SpaceX now for flights to ISS. Double that for no other reason than that we can...

    Hmm, $40M per person sound reasonable.

    Of course, if Dragon and Falcon 9R are each good for, say, five flights, we can reduce the cost per flight by half easily (F9R first stage is 70% of the cost of the Falcon all by itself). Which could leave you at $20M per seat.

    By and by, Falcon 9R's second stage will also be reusable. If they can get five launches out of that, we're talking an 80% reduction in cost of a Falcon/Dragon combo, which might let you put a man up for $4M per seat....

    And that's assuming five launches per bird. Ten reduces cost by half again.

    Yes, prices above (except for the base $133M that NASA is paying SpaceX now) are highly speculative. Point is that SpaceX can probably boost men for considerably less than Russia charges without even finishing up the "Reusable" part of Falcon-9, much less after they get Falcon 9R fully reusable.

  • Re:To $71million (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @05:22PM (#47041415) Journal

    From NASA's inspector general []

    After NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, the Russian Soyuz became the only vehicle capable of transporting crew to the ISS. Between 2006 and 2008, NASA purchased one seat per year. Beginning in 2009, NASA started purchasing six seats per year. The price per seat has increased over the years from $22 million in 2006, to $25 million in 2010, to $28 million in the first half of 2011. During the second half of 2011, the price per seat jumped to $43 million.4 The price has continued to increase. For example, the price of purchased seats for launches in 2014 and 2015 are $55.6 million and $60 million, respectively. In April 2013, NASA signed another deal with Russia valued at $424 million for six additional seats to carry NASA astronauts to the Station during 2016 through June 2017, and the price per seat has increased to $71 million.

  • by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @10:59PM (#47043403)
    Yes, however because government can alter both revenue and expenditures every year, the point is moot. The difference in accounting needs to be applied to all things if you're going to apply it to one, and we can see the ridiculousness of the accrual method for a government by looking at the USPS. USPS is making a profit each year, until you factor in the pre-paid payments they've been forced to make for pensions for 75 years in advance. They are paying right now for the retirement of workers who will not be born for another 20-40 years.

    And lets be sure to make people perfectly aware of the situation. Your statement "Under accrual accounting ("generally accepted accounting principles"), which the government does not have to follow, SS and Medicare did not run surpluses" tries to insinuate that somehow government has exempted themselves from using proper accounting methods. They have not. Both accounting methods are equally valid, and both are generally accepted. Because you would prefer them to use something other than what they use does not diminish the validity of what they are using.

    Because we're talking about the US government, the big reasons a PAYG basis is not looked on favorably for businesses are moot. Cash flow changes are mostly immaterial, and the lack of security is moot; the worlds financial reserves are in dollars.... that alone is a form of security no other entity can hope to achieve. As for tax considerations, well, that's entirely moot to this specific discussion. So you're left with a valid accepted accounting practice.

    So until the US government switches to an accrual basis, which will be never, what you've said is moot. In addition to that, it's not entirely a PAYG basis, as it does accumulate funds and is not limited in payouts purely on the revenues of a given year. The Social Security fund is in the black for 20+ years.

    But lets go back to that F-35 program. Under your accrual method, that would be 1.4 trillion dollars taken out of the functioning budget of the US, and more every year as they reevaluate the cost of the program... and that program has ballooned in cost incredibly fast.
  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @03:50AM (#47044373)

    "It's like a reusable bottle costs more to make than a disposable one." However, SpaceX's reusable launcher is their expendable launcher. It's the same hardware. Essentially, they are just looking at how many times they can reuse their "disposable bottle".

    The Shuttle has poisoned the idea of reusability, but the Shuttle was never really suited to be reusable. Every system pushed the state-of-the-art to its limit - engines, heat-shield, tank, boosters - rather than taking what was then known (Saturn II, Saturn V, etc) and saying, "Can we save money by recovering/reusing a first-stage/capsule?" and then spending a decade gradually working outwards from that.

    "You have to take the whole thing apart and rebuild everything". The system has been designed for the engines to be quickly removed and swapped out. (For example, they've removed engines, fixed valves, restored everything and re-prepped for launch within a day. IIRC, they've swapped out an engine on a vehicle at the Cape in 5 hours.)

    Once they regularly recover stages, the recovered engines will all go into an engine-pool, where they will be tested individually; nine working engines will be fitted to a first stage and test fired together. Then the full rocket is assembled, raised onto the launch-pad and test fired again the day before launch. But the thing is...

    "and you have to make everything stronger to take repeated use." But the thing is... they do the same thing with new engines anyway! Every engine is test fired at least three times between manufacture and launch. It's how they are designed. So it's not an extra "reusability" procedure, an extra cost, it's what they already do; and, according to Musk, it's not only a small part of SpaceX's launch cost, it's one of the reasons their costs are so low. So if you have already designed them for multiple-uses, it's pretty unlikely they'll work exactly four times and then suddenly stop. (Apparently they've test fired the engines dozens of times. So the only issue is whether there's additional wear/damage during actual flight that shortens the life. And recovering a few first stages would be a great way to have a look, yes?)

"It ain't over until it's over." -- Casey Stengel