Author Topic: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?  (Read 16102 times)

Offline Danderman

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Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« on: 08/10/2017 07:49 PM »
https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/08/the-new-leader-of-trumps-space-council-seems-skeptical-of-spacex/

This article claims that Scott Pace thinks Commercial Crew is risky, but putting crews on SLS on its second flight is OK.

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #1 on: 08/10/2017 08:09 PM »
https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/08/the-new-leader-of-trumps-space-council-seems-skeptical-of-spacex/

This article claims that Scott Pace thinks Commercial Crew is risky, but putting crews on SLS on its second flight is OK.

We've seen SLS/Orion derangement syndrome before, and it would not be surprising for candidate/President Trump to espouse one thing and do the exact opposite - i.e. say he supports the private space sector but then not actually do that.

Still, too early to tell how any of this will play out in the National Space Council (NCS), and as I've been pointing out regarding the SLS and Orion, the die was set many years ago when Congress did not fund any payloads or missions for them to support - and the current Congress has shown no interests in funding any either. Someone saying they "support" the SLS and Orion will be meaningless without any real funding from Congress.

As to Commercial Crew, no doubt there will still be many unknowns regarding their safety. They are relatively simple LEO transportation systems, not battleships, so there is always the possibility for foreign object damage (FOD). But every transportation system has relied on luck to a certain degree in their early iterations, and those riding on Commercial Crew vehicles will understand that danger can always show up unexpectedly.

I believe the byword is "calculated risks", not "no risks".
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Endeavour_01

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #2 on: 08/11/2017 02:10 AM »
This article was a bit unfair in its characterizations of Scott Pace IMO. Eric Berger likes to go after anyone or anything that dares question the dogma of "it must be all commercial." If you look at what Mr. Pace actually said a reasonably minded person would conclude that he has (or had in some cases) healthy skepticism of promises coming from the commercial space sector. Lets look at this in detail.

Quote from: Scott Pace
Elon Musk sat in my office in 2002 and told me he'd have 10 launches a year by 2006, I'm still looking at my watch.

Berger then implies that Pace meant that SpaceX is unreliable. I don't have the context of the quote but it looks like Pace was merely pointing out that just announcing something doesn't mean it will come to pass in the expected timeframe. Saying Musk is overly optimistic is not the same thing as saying SpaceX is unreliable.

Then Berger goes after him for repeating the anecdote in 2017 before SpaceX completed 10 launches. If you read the above paragraph Pace notes that he used the anecdote to point out the need to be somewhat skeptical about ambitious goals. Being cautious and realistic doesn't mean that he hates commercial space.

In the 2012 radio interview Pace expresses concerns over accelerating commercial crew development too quickly (by "bending or "accelerating" the rules). Note that this was before the COTS 2 flight. Regular cargo flights were still in the future at this point and the official administration line was that commercial crew would be online 3 years later.

Personally I think Pace was overly cautious in his analysis but I can understand why he might have felt that way back then.

In short, I don't see any evidence that Pace is going to be some sort of anti-commercial space zealot. If anything he has argued for an all of the above approach that combines the capabilities of both OldSpace and NewSpace (which I believe is the right way to go).

Edited to add: In terms of Pace believing that commercial crew is dangerous I don't think you can make that implication from the quote. F9 has flown more than the number of times he mentioned in 2012.
« Last Edit: 08/11/2017 02:19 AM by Endeavour_01 »
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
I was blessed to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-99. The launch was beyond amazing. My 8-year old mind was blown. I remember the noise and seeing the exhaust pour out of the shuttle as it lifted off. I remember staring and watching it soar while it was visible in the clear blue sky. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never forget it.

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #3 on: 08/11/2017 02:51 AM »
All spaceflight is dangerous. It's ridiculous to think otherwise.
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #4 on: 08/11/2017 03:32 AM »
If you look at what Mr. Pace actually said a reasonably minded person would conclude that...

I'm sure you weren't implying that Eric Berger is not a "reasonably minded person"...   ;)

Quote
...he has (or had in some cases) healthy skepticism of promises coming from the commercial space sector. Lets look at this in detail.

Here's the irony though, is that how many people believe the U.S. Government is any better than the commercial sector at delivering on promises for cutting edge systems?

Being "skeptical" about challenging dates is not new, unique, or limited to the private sector. And the potential for failure is also not limited to the private sector, since we all have our favorite cancelled government programs that we wished would not have been cancelled due to failure of one sort or another (X-33 for me).

So maybe it was an inadvertent sin of omission for Pace that he didn't provide some context around "promises" in the space sector as a whole - government and private.

Quote
Then Berger goes after him for repeating the anecdote in 2017 before SpaceX completed 10 launches. If you read the above paragraph Pace notes that he used the anecdote to point out the need to be somewhat skeptical about ambitious goals. Being cautious and realistic doesn't mean that he hates commercial space.

He didn't "go after him", Berger simply repeated what Pace had stated and asked him about it.

Quote
In the 2012 radio interview Pace expresses concerns over accelerating commercial crew development too quickly (by "bending or "accelerating" the rules). Note that this was before the COTS 2 flight. Regular cargo flights were still in the future at this point and the official administration line was that commercial crew would be online 3 years later.

Yet CRS turned out all right, and so far Commercial Crew seems to be progressing well. Are there concerns? Sure. Is that normal for this type of program? Yes.

I think the other way to look at this though is to consider that maybe Pace is too cautious for human spaceflight programs.

Consider that for the COTS program that RpK and SpaceX were awarded the initial contracts, but RpK missed a milestone and was replaced by Orbital Sciences. I'd say that was smart risk management by NASA management of the time.

And for Commercial Crew, it was Gerst himself that signed off on the source selection statement, and when that document was released it showed everyone how seriously NASA was evaluating risk.

So who was wrong, Pace or Gerstenmaier? Pace has never worked with human spaceflight programs directly, so maybe Pace doesn't have enough experience to properly evaluate the topic?
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #5 on: 08/11/2017 03:37 AM »
Yet CRS turned out all right, and so far Commercial Crew seems to be progressing well.

COTS/CRS and CCDev aren't really comparable. As Zubrin once said, it's the difference between la carte and a banquet.
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Offline yg1968

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #6 on: 08/11/2017 04:23 AM »
I didn't like the article either. Taking quotes from five years ago isn't a fair article. Scott Pace isn't Mike Griffin.

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #7 on: 08/11/2017 04:27 AM »
Scott Pace isn't Mike Griffin.

Well... if Pace took off his glasses you'd be hard pressed to tell 'em apart.
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #8 on: 08/11/2017 05:08 AM »
Yet CRS turned out all right, and so far Commercial Crew seems to be progressing well.

COTS/CRS and CCDev aren't really comparable. As Zubrin once said, it's the difference between la carte and a banquet.

My point was about risk - COTS was a risk for NASA, yet they managed it even though it didn't go entirely as they thought it would.

And I'm not sure Pace has ever been in a position where he had to weigh significant operational risk, which could inform part of his attitude towards commercial space...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Proponent

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #9 on: 08/11/2017 07:54 AM »
If you look at what Mr. Pace actually said a reasonably minded person would conclude that he has (or had in some cases) healthy skepticism of promises coming from the commercial space sector.

That's fine, but where is Pace's skepticism about NASA?  Recall that circa 2010, NASA insisted that it needed the baby step of Aries I-X to retire risk along the way to developing a Shuttle-derived launch vehicle.  This year, in its analysis of crewing EM-1, it claims to need no test flights at all (the problem was just the cost).  Has Pace ever had anything to say about that?  Given his skepticism of commercial crew, why would he not be concerned about the risks of putting a crew even on EM-2, given that 1) it will be only the second flight SLS or Orion's service module, 2) neither of Orion's major contractors, namely Lockheed Martin and ESA, has ever built a crewed spacecraft, and 3) it will be flying all the way out to the moon?

I think the gist of Berger's article is that Pace fails to apply his skepticism equally to NASA and commercial.

Offline Jim

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #10 on: 08/11/2017 11:04 AM »
Yet CRS turned out all right, and so far Commercial Crew seems to be progressing well.

COTS/CRS and CCDev aren't really comparable. As Zubrin once said, it's the difference between la carte and a banquet.

Then what is Orion?

Offline mike robel

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #11 on: 08/11/2017 01:01 PM »
Appetizer?  Trying to suck you into the rest of the meal whether it is banquet or a la carte?

Offline Endeavour_01

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #12 on: 08/11/2017 08:47 PM »

I'm sure you weren't implying that Eric Berger is not a "reasonably minded person"...   ;)

In this particular instance I don't think Mr. Berger was being reasonably minded, hence my statement on the article being a bit unfair towards Mr. Pace.


That's fine, but where is Pace's skepticism about NASA?
 

To be fair NASA has been launching humans into space since the 1960s. I don't think anyone should be "skeptical" about NASA's ability to launch humans. Let's also be clear here that Pace's skepticism about commercial crew was/is pretty mild. In the 2012 interview he made a point about not letting launch fever override safety. Additionally he pointed out how many successful launches are needed for commercial and government customers to feel good about putting their payloads on a commercial rocket. I don't see any indication that he was saying, "commercial crew is too dangerous" or "it will never work."

Edited to add: Personally I don't think anyone should be "skeptical" of SpaceX's (or Boeing's) ability to launch people into space either. Skeptical of timelines and other various promises? Sure, but not their ability. It is true though that this type of structure (commercial companies owning the LVs and the spacecraft) is new and doesn't have as much of a track record as previous NASA programs.

Quote
Given his skepticism of commercial crew, why would he not be concerned about the risks of putting a crew even on EM-2

He might say that a rocket and spacecraft designed mainly for human spaceflight differs from a rocket whose primary role is commercial and cutting costs. I don't know. Maybe Mr. Berger should have asked him. 

Dragon 2 will only have one test flight before crew is put on it, just like Orion. I haven't heard Mr. Pace criticize either policy so I don't think he is being unfair to the commercial side. 
« Last Edit: 08/11/2017 08:58 PM by Endeavour_01 »
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
I was blessed to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-99. The launch was beyond amazing. My 8-year old mind was blown. I remember the noise and seeing the exhaust pour out of the shuttle as it lifted off. I remember staring and watching it soar while it was visible in the clear blue sky. It was one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never forget it.

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #13 on: 08/11/2017 11:02 PM »
Then what is Orion?

Soylent Green.
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Offline Jim

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #14 on: 08/11/2017 11:05 PM »

Offline QuantumG

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #15 on: 08/11/2017 11:07 PM »
Then what is Orion?

Soylent Green.

People?

Yup. More specifically, feeding people to people.
Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Online zubenelgenubi

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #16 on: 08/11/2017 11:10 PM »
Then what is Orion?

Soylent Green.

People?

Saturday night at the Golden Corral? (American all-you-can-eat buffet, with Jeff Foxworthy as spokesperson)
 :) :D 8)
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Offline Kansan52

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #17 on: 08/11/2017 11:23 PM »
Gut reaction, Yes. But all rocketry is dangerous.

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #18 on: 08/11/2017 11:27 PM »
To be fair NASA has been launching humans into space since the 1960s. I don't think anyone should be "skeptical" about NASA's ability to launch humans.

Except for the fact that "NASA" doesn't do everything, it depends on the private sector to design, build, test, and in some case manage spaceflight operations for NASA. The last I looked 85% of NASA budget was used to pay contractors to do things for NASA.

Also, "NASA" is not a person, it is an organization of people that come and go. Maybe there is some tribal knowledge, but otherwise new people have to rely on documentation that has been done with other spaceflight hardware.

For instance, there is no department at NASA that is fully staffed with people that have previously built and tested capsule spacecraft, since that would put them well into their 70's, so the Orion spacecraft, which is designed and built by Lockheed Martin, is being overseen by people at NASA that don't have direct experience building and operating capsule spacecraft. The same for the SLS, since the Saturn V was the last fully integrated rocket that was built for NASA, and again NASA didn't design and build it, contractors did.

So yes, without a complete staff of people with firsthand operational experience building and launching rockets and spacecraft, it is fair to be skeptical about NASA's ability to launch humans into space. I would not put their chances below the private sector, but not much above them either - everyone is breaking new ground.

Quote
Edited to add: Personally I don't think anyone should be "skeptical" of SpaceX's (or Boeing's) ability to launch people into space either. Skeptical of timelines and other various promises? Sure, but not their ability.

What Pace said was:

"...I don't see it as derogatory but rather a statement of skeptical caution about ambitious goals."

Building the largest capsule ever built, and building the largest rocket America has had in over 50 years is quite ambitious, and NASA's ability to meet schedules for large programs is not very good either. So again, Mr. Pace seemed like he was being selective in his criticism, and purposely ignoring any comparisons to NASA's track records.

Quote
Dragon 2 will only have one test flight before crew is put on it, just like Orion. I haven't heard Mr. Pace criticize either policy so I don't think he is being unfair to the commercial side.

Out of the three human-rated spacecraft, Orion, Spaceliner & Dragon Crew, Dragon has the most direct operational lineage since it is directly evolved from the Dragon Cargo spacecraft and it will be flying on an evolved version of the Falcon 9. Even Starliner will be flying on a proven launcher.

It will be NASA's Orion & SLS that will has the least operational history when they fly.

So again it's not that Pace was pointing out valid concerns, but that he was ignoring the valid concerns for NASA's own human-capable hardware, which will have the LEAST amount of operational history when it flies humans.

Was he trying to be educational and fair about his criticism? Didn't look like it to me, and apparently not to Eric Berger either.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline IRobot

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Re: Is Commercial Crew Dangerous?
« Reply #19 on: 08/11/2017 11:33 PM »
Spaceflight fatality rate is around 1.4% (death per person-flight), or 3.3% (deaths vs total nr of astronauts).
Navy Seals is less than 1% (deaths vs total members).
Alaska fisherman death rate is 0.1% per year, which is slightly less than cancer death rate.

Stats are not completely comparable, but they show spaceflight is still quite dangerous. At the same time, the sample is quite small (less than 1000 spaceflights), so stats are not that good. Also if you remove the 2 shuttle flights, which had a non-capsule system with no LAS system, the death rate drops considerably.

So considering the small sample size, the overall country/mankind return per flight and the willingness of astronauts to risk their lifes, I think safety is a bit overrated.

What is worst? An astronaut that dies doing great things for his country/mankind or a fisherman that dies because fishing is the only way to provide for his family? The fisherman doesn't have much choice, does he?

So IMO safety should not block spaceflight progress. And NASA safety obsession with commercial crew is taking us nowhere.
Ironically, making the second SLS flight with a crew is quite risky for usual NASA business, but the flight itself takes us nowhere.
« Last Edit: 08/11/2017 11:48 PM by IRobot »

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