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NASA Businesses Government ISS Space

NASA Expands Commercial Space Program 24

An anonymous reader writes: Just 10 days after NASA awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for future manned rocket launches, the agency announced today it is expanding its commercial space program to include contracts for delivery missions to the International Space Station. "Under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 RFP, NASA intends to award contracts with one or more companies for six or more flights per contract. As with current resupply flights, these missions would launch from U.S. spaceports, and the contracted services would include logistical and research cargo delivery and return to and from the space station through fiscal year 2020, with the option to purchase additional launches through 2024."
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NASA Expands Commercial Space Program

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    They laid off a bunch of people working on Dream Chaser after NASA awarded those contracts. Here's hoping they all find good homes.

    • by nucrash ( 549705 )

      Well, perhaps if they can get some of the payload contracts, Dream Chaser could possibly become a reality down the road.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...cargo delivery AND RETURN to and from the space station.

    That narrows down the to 1.

    • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Friday September 26, 2014 @03:25PM (#48005095) Homepage
      SpaceX could still face a major setback if states make SpaceX sell launches only through dealer networks.
      • I'm not sure I understand; could you give me a car analogy?
        • You step on the accelerator. Chemical reactions occur within thousands of small cells, instantly releasing vast amounts of pent up energy as huge volumes of electrons are forced through the path of least resistance through the motors that propel the vehicle. The huge torque of electric motors causes sudden intense acceleration that pushes you back in your seat. The car gains speed. Faster. Faster.

          Finally, it reaches MECO1 and the back half of the car falls away and gently glides back to earth to sof
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is no more an expansion than when I expand the supply of water to my house by paying my water bill every month.

    The current resupply contracts are expiring soon, so this is a second round of contracts for the same service.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday September 26, 2014 @02:50PM (#48004853) Journal
    TFA makes it sound like this is a relatively significant shift from in-house to contract work for NASA; but I've also read stuff over the years that gave the impression that a lot of 'in-house' NASA projects had, either as entire programs or as significant subcomponents, major involvement from various contractors, mostly the same ones that crop up in military/aerospace work.

    Does this move represent an actual change in NASA's in-house capabilities, or is it more of a shift between "NASA Project: virtually all details brought to you by Lockeed-Martin" and "NASA just pays SpaceX to do the whole thing and present the results"?

    I don't really want to get bogged down in a slugfest over whether it's a good thing or not(unless somebody has an interesting perspective on 'morale among directly-hired-by-NASA engineers' or some other actual information, not just a regurgitation of the usual talking points on in-house, contract, and COTS; but I would like to know what this shift represents: is NASA actually cutting back in favor of buying off-the-shelf, or is NASA just switching from 'contractors do most of the work, overall program is theoretically NASA' to 'Contract is for finished product, NASA is buying results, not parts.'
    • by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Friday September 26, 2014 @03:55PM (#48005333) Homepage

      I think the difference here is the same as the difference between buying your own delivery trucks from Mack and contracting FedEx to deliver your products from factory to retail store.

      The earlier days of space flight were like buying the various bulk components of a truck, engine from GM, chassis from one metal shop, driver's cabin from another, electronics from Lucas and then building the full truck up. Come the era of the shuttle, the delivery truck came fully assembled from Mack, but you still have to pump the diesel, change the tires, load the cargo into the back yourself.

      Now it looks like calling FedEx and telling them you've got fifty packages in London and you need them in Bogota by Sunday. They pick it up, containerize it and ship it.

      Hope that helps?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 26, 2014 @05:38PM (#48005965)

      I am a NASA contractor. I don't work for any of the "big" ones you've mentioned here, but I do work side-by-side with civil servants at Johnson Space Center.

      I am in a branch of JSC that is more of a support branch; we're not pure engineering but we do a lot of analysis of flight data and such. A co-worker who sits in my office is a lead on commercial crew. She visits the companies and meets with their people often. The companies ARE doing most of the work but there is heavy oversight from NASA on it. It's neither "theoretically NASA" nor is NASA buying results. NASA doesn't just award a contract, send the company on its way, and say "Send us reports and tell us when you are done." One advantage NASA has is some 50 years of databases and flight studies; without access to that, these contracting companies would be re-eventing the wheel all the time. The contracts are more like collaborations. This is different from what you see in the defense industry, where DoD identifies their needs and such and then basically sends Raytheon and the like off to do their thing. In the end, Raytheon comes back with missiles and the DoD is either happy or demands changes.

      The reason NASA contracts so much out is that 1) it's nearly impossible to fire federal employees once they are hired (civil servants get off probation and are fully employed after 2 years; and 2) civil servants have more of a defined role and project. Because they must be kept forever, they function more as overseers and focus on long-term skills. If NASA were to hire a bunch of people to build what Lockheed is making, they would need to find a home for all those people after the project is complete. Given that a lot of what goes into these projects is highly specialized and NASA's budget is continually shrinking (to the point where I am not able to order $50 in desk parts until the next fiscal year), NASA almost HAS to contract out a lot of things.

      Security staff at JSC is all contracted. At another NASA center, they contracted out the secretary position. (They didn't eliminate the position, just changed for whom she works. This means that she doesn't have access to all the systems she needs to do her job--for instance, she can't login to book travel for anyone....but I digress.) Blame federal law and the Supreme Court that basically says federal employees can't be fired without stopping short of a Congressional hearing, as the Due Process clause includes the government depriving someone of his current job.

      The civil servant system was instituted back in the 1800s due to obscene levels of corruption. Lawmakers worried about the next group of guys coming in and cleaning house, replacing good people with their friends and other bribe payers. Jimmy Carter once promised to revamp this system but his efforts were in vain--the problem is that anyone who got something because of the current system objects to any changes, and that group of people includes a lot of people close to the politicians.

  • The real question is whether NASA is doing more with less money?

    My opinion is that a lot more could be done with a lot less. In fact, NASA may not be necessary at all. Ask the Indians.

    • India was able to do a Mars satellite so cheaply by cutting lots of corners that NASA would have required.

      For example, India failed to generate documents necessary to form a committee that would make plans to do a study on how to begin planning the mission. Definitely cutting corners.
        Allow me. Section ninety-fnee, Ministry of Work and Kipping, states that all mountains above knee-level within a radius of Nelson's Column, must be exploded by bang.

        What! Form a committee to form a committee to inaugurate a council to petition a body to agree to a quorum to find public money to create a thingamajig and the Maple Syrup Foreverrrrr!

        Tatty chord.

        Thank you thank you, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb, rhubarb.

      • by nucrash ( 549705 ) on Friday September 26, 2014 @03:55PM (#48005337)

        MOM vs MAVEN is pretty easy to answer.

        For starters, I don't think you will be able to successfully employ a rocket scientist for $9,888 or what ever ridiculous wage they worked for. Second MOM weighs in at 15 Kg, while MAVEN weighs in at 65 Kg. These probes function much differently.

        MAVEN is there to look at dry river beds and research Mars's Atmosphere as well as serve as a relay for the rovers on the Mars.

        MOM is just a proof of concept explorer for India. They threw in a few scientific instruments for kicks.

        I am thrilled that India did what they did with MOM, but this in no way justifies that they are accomplishing the task of what NASA is doing for less. I hope China gets in on the action as well. I hope the US gets motivated to try and do more with less as well.

        • Second MOM weighs in at 15 Kg, while MAVEN weighs in at 65 Kg.

          Those weights are of the scientific payloads. MAVEN had a launch mass of 2500kg while MOM weighted 1300kg.

      • Sounds unsafe to me. Maybe a Class Action Lawsuit could be filed. "If you or a loved one..........."

    • I personally have reservations regarding the Indians

    • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

      On the topic of "turf building" it seems that this a big step for NASA to have less dependence on Russian launchers. NASA can't be happy about the rhetoric and threats between the US and Russia over Crimea and is worried about being caught in the middle.

  • We have Kennedy, Houston, and are building one in New Mexico. It is not at this point clear if the commercial guys are going to want to launch from the government facilities; should we take this as a suggestion that NASA is anticipating the construction of another commercial spaceport in the US somewhere?
  • Eventually, and soon with luck, going to space will not be grand projects requiring investing in new tech, it will just be services that NASA will hire. Things like the bidding war between Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada for a space ship will be a thing of the past, and NASA will just look for the cheapest bidder to get their stuff up much like paying for shipping on a package. Sierra Nevada should keep working on their Dream Chaser because the days where somebody else will step in to pay them to develop
  • If everything goes as usual, in a few years the space companies will agree in price fixing and managers will flow back and forth between them and NASA to make sure nobody complain.

The opulence of the front office door varies inversely with the fundamental solvency of the firm.