Author Topic: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand  (Read 15035 times)

Offline TomH

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WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« on: 12/16/2014 01:55 AM »
This is quite a long and critical article re. the A-3 test stand. The author spreads blame, unfairly I believe, equally between NASA and politicians.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/12/15/nasas-349-million-monument-to-its-drift/

Moderators, I did not see this posted elsewhere. If this is a duplication, please delete. If in the wrong section, please move.

Offline yokem55

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #1 on: 12/16/2014 02:09 AM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do. And as long as space spending is driven by pork barrel politics, these types of projects will continue. I'm not sure the answer is to cut the pork and live with a space program funded at  a far lower level, or live with the pork and waste and have a higher over all funding level in the hope that a portion of the pork is useful. I really don't know....

Online Blackstar

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #2 on: 12/16/2014 02:10 AM »
I just read it. I spotted a couple of things missing. I wouldn't say that the article is factually inaccurate, but the omissions are important.

A minor point it misses is that the B-2 stand would probably need to be refurbished even if there had been no change in plans in the past few years. It's not like the A-3 was a boondoggle and the B-2 will be a boondoggle as well. The B-2 is for testing the core stage and is needed no matter what.

The bigger issue is that the reporter explains that the A-3 stage was created for testing the J-2X rocket engine, then says that there was a change in plans and the J-2X was not needed (implying that it was a change in destinations that led to that). But he never explains why the J-2X was canceled. And if he really wanted to pile on, he could have pointed out how much money was spent finishing out the J-2X without finishing testing on it. The particulars of the J-2X cancellation are an important detail and they're just missing here.

Offline kfsorensen

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #3 on: 12/16/2014 02:21 AM »
Zipcode engineering at its best.

Offline notsorandom

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #4 on: 12/16/2014 02:32 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.

Offline kfsorensen

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #5 on: 12/16/2014 02:55 AM »
If Congressional salaries were dependent on having a balanced federal budget, you wouldn't see foolishness like this going forward.  Companies have to make difficult decisions all the time to pare back research and to scrap tooling and facilities.  I once saw a very-well-known tech company sell millions of dollars worth of brand-new assets for pennies on the dollar because they had cancelled the program for which the assets were purchased.  It was a huge money loss for them, but they did it because they didn't want to throw good money after bad.

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #6 on: 12/16/2014 03:36 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.

Blue Origin needs to test its engines.  Does A-3 have a rival?

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #7 on: 12/16/2014 03:57 AM »
If Congressional salaries were dependent on having a balanced federal budget, you wouldn't see foolishness like this going forward.  Companies have to make difficult decisions all the time to pare back research and to scrap tooling and facilities.  I once saw a very-well-known tech company sell millions of dollars worth of brand-new assets for pennies on the dollar because they had cancelled the program for which the assets were purchased.  It was a huge money loss for them, but they did it because they didn't want to throw good money after bad.

That implies that companies don't make stupid decisions. But companies make stupid decisions all the time. Look at the Edsel, or the Concorde, or the A380, or BP and Deepwater Horizon. Or look at companies that take on too much debt and then cannot dig themselves out of the hole they've created, or change their executive leadership like some people change their socks (anybody remember Borders Books?). Or look at ValueJet, which made a really stupid decision (well, more like a whole bunch of them, but only one fatal one) and then went out of business.

There's nothing inherently intelligent about capitalism at work. It's just that in general the hidden hand of the market can sort out winners and losers.
« Last Edit: 12/16/2014 04:03 AM by Blackstar »

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #8 on: 12/16/2014 03:57 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.

Does that change the facts of the matter?

I think it will be more interesting to see if any other media outlets notice this, especially any in Mississippi.  I mean, the pipefitters foreman that helped build the now mothballed test stand is quoted as saying:

It’s heartbreaking to know that, you know, you thought you’d done something good,” Forshee said. “And all you’ve done is go around in a damn circle, like a dog chasing his tail.

That's a pretty powerful statement from an average U.S. Taxpayer...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #9 on: 12/16/2014 04:00 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.

Blue Origin needs to test its engines.  Does A-3 have a rival?

That whole issue is irrelevant to the article. Jeff Bezos doesn't make editorial decisions at the Post.

Blue Origin has tested its engines at Stennis. I was out there while one of their engines was still on a test stand. Stennis is an important asset that is available for this kind of work. And as the article indicated, but did not fully explore, sometimes it is necessary to put a test stand into mothballs for decades because the annual maintenance cost, even over decades, is much less than the cost of building a new test stand.

Suppose, for instance, that A-3 is mothballed for two decades at a cost of $14 million total. When it is taken out of mothballs, that money would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of building a new one.

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #10 on: 12/16/2014 04:01 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.

Does that change the facts of the matter?

I think it will be more interesting to see if any other media outlets notice this, especially any in Mississippi.  I mean, the pipefitters foreman that helped build the now mothballed test stand is quoted as saying:

It’s heartbreaking to know that, you know, you thought you’d done something good,” Forshee said. “And all you’ve done is go around in a damn circle, like a dog chasing his tail.

That's a pretty powerful statement from an average U.S. Taxpayer...

He's free to give back to the Treasury all the money that he received from other U.S. taxpayers.

Offline Steven Pietrobon

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #11 on: 12/16/2014 04:47 AM »
If the US does decide to build the 130 t version of SLS, its going to need J-2X for a new upper stage. That's when this stand will be properly used.
Akin's Laws of Spacecraft Design #1:  Engineering is done with numbers.  Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.

Offline Lars-J

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #12 on: 12/16/2014 05:12 AM »
Let's not fall into the "sunk cost fallacy". Even though a lot of funds have been spent, it is not always wiser to "stay the course".

This applies to both J-2X and this stand.

Offline butters

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #13 on: 12/16/2014 05:30 AM »
Probably cheaper to do the best you can in computer modeling and component testing and then just launch a flight test article to prove it all-up in vacuum. If you can't afford a test flight, then you have a more fundamental problem...

It's not entirely out of the question that somebody might find this property convenient at some point in the future. But I can't imagine that it would be essential for anything. Anyone developing a large upper stage at this point would have a better test plan.

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #14 on: 12/16/2014 05:36 AM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.
Does that change the facts of the matter?

I think it will be more interesting to see if any other media outlets notice this, especially any in Mississippi.  I mean, the pipefitters foreman that helped build the now mothballed test stand is quoted as saying:

It’s heartbreaking to know that, you know, you thought you’d done something good,” Forshee said. “And all you’ve done is go around in a damn circle, like a dog chasing his tail.

That's a pretty powerful statement from an average U.S. Taxpayer...
He's free to give back to the Treasury all the money that he received from other U.S. taxpayers.

That taxpayer was hired to do a job, and they did it, and part of the money they earned even went to pay for the test stand.  And you think the worker/taxpayer is to blame for the situation, and not the politicians that authorized the waste of money?  That's a pretty odd point of view...
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 savuporo

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #15 on: 12/16/2014 05:39 AM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
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Offline Rocket Science

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #16 on: 12/16/2014 10:15 AM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
Remember how NASA tried to stop SLS but Congress took them out to the wood shed and told them to start building it...
"The laws of physics are unforgiving"
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Online Coastal Ron

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #17 on: 12/16/2014 02:14 PM »
This WaPo story made the top of the page of Digg, which is a news aggregator that is pretty popular (Alexa rank of 541).  Will be interesting to see if any Mississippi media outlets do their own story, and what their perspective is on it.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #18 on: 12/16/2014 04:28 PM »
The Washington Post is owned by the same person who owns Blue Origin.
Does that change the facts of the matter?

I think it will be more interesting to see if any other media outlets notice this, especially any in Mississippi.  I mean, the pipefitters foreman that helped build the now mothballed test stand is quoted as saying:

It’s heartbreaking to know that, you know, you thought you’d done something good,” Forshee said. “And all you’ve done is go around in a damn circle, like a dog chasing his tail.

That's a pretty powerful statement from an average U.S. Taxpayer...
He's free to give back to the Treasury all the money that he received from other U.S. taxpayers.

That taxpayer was hired to do a job, and they did it, and part of the money they earned even went to pay for the test stand.  And you think the worker/taxpayer is to blame for the situation, and not the politicians that authorized the waste of money?  That's a pretty odd point of view...

"Forshee is a tea party supporter..."

And:

"“Well,” he said. “Nice.” (He took the job at the new test stand anyway, to be sure the work stayed with his union local: “If we don’t do this work, then they’re going to give it to Local 60 out of New Orleans.”)"


So he's a tea party supporter, but also a government contractor, also a union member, also unhappy at "government waste" but also perfectly willing to take the money...

Sounds like not all of his views are consistent. Again, if it really bothers him, he didn't have to take the money, and he certainly didn't have to take yet another job there.
« Last Edit: 12/16/2014 04:30 PM by Blackstar »

Online Coastal Ron

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #19 on: 12/16/2014 06:17 PM »
So he's a tea party supporter, but also a government contractor, also a union member, also unhappy at "government waste" but also perfectly willing to take the money...

And we blame the worker instead of the politicians who authorized it?

Look, I'm not a Tea Party supporter by any means, but if Congress authorized taxpayer money to be spent it's going to be spent, so blaming the people that worked on the contract - regardless if they knew it was pork or not - is nonproductive.
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 quanthasaquality

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #20 on: 12/16/2014 06:57 PM »
I guess NASA could offer to test the J-2X engine. The J-2X could be used on future stages, or even on the DUUS. NASA might want to mention this for political reasons.

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #21 on: 12/16/2014 07:05 PM »
So he's a tea party supporter, but also a government contractor, also a union member, also unhappy at "government waste" but also perfectly willing to take the money...

And we blame the worker instead of the politicians who authorized it?

Look, I'm not a Tea Party supporter by any means, but if Congress authorized taxpayer money to be spent it's going to be spent, so blaming the people that worked on the contract - regardless if they knew it was pork or not - is nonproductive.

Where exactly did I "blame" him? I just wouldn't hold him up as the example of virtue ("powerful statement from an average U.S. taxpayer") that you did in your earlier post. The guy himself took taxpayer money.

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #22 on: 12/16/2014 07:07 PM »
Just noted another problem with the article: the claim that the space station was supposed to cost $8 billion. Not really a fair comparison, because the ISS as built is not what was proposed in the early 1980s. Didn't include the Russians, for one thing. And the final cost the reporter cites includes transportation costs. It's a comparison of two different things.

Offline psloss

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #23 on: 12/16/2014 07:43 PM »
A little additional perspective in Brian Berger's story on SpaceNews:
http://spacenews.com/nasas-a-3-test-stand-branded-a-349-million-monument-to-its-drift/

Quote
Never mind that Bloomberg wrote almost the same story nearly a year ago; the Post’s piece puts NASA in a rather harsh spotlight just as a new Congress is about to be seated

Nice job showing how prominently this was placed in the print edition -- above the fold.  (Probably same as other pieces in the series.)

Offline daveklingler

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #24 on: 12/16/2014 08:00 PM »
Last time I checked, atmospheric pressure wasn't 40psi.  Or am I missing something?

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #25 on: 12/16/2014 08:29 PM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
Remember how NASA tried to stop SLS but Congress took them out to the wood shed and told them to start building it...
Yes. But I also remember that the Administration / NASA cancelled the Constellation program (justifiably so) but then failed to provide a coherent plan forward. Nature abhors a vacuum. So Congress filled it and well...here we are. This is all a well tread road of incompetence, traveled by many so I'm not going to rehash.

Suffice to say, it is important these types of articles are brought to the fore. After all, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Yes..."Houston, we've had a problem here" and frankly, we still do.
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Offline Rocket Science

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #26 on: 12/16/2014 08:49 PM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
Remember how NASA tried to stop SLS but Congress took them out to the wood shed and told them to start building it...
Yes. But I also remember that the Administration / NASA cancelled the Constellation program (justifiably so) but then failed to provide a coherent plan forward. Nature abhors a vacuum. So Congress filled it and well...here we are. This is all a well tread road of incompetence, traveled by many so I'm not going to rehash.

Suffice to say, it is important these types of articles are brought to the fore. After all, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Yes..."Houston, we've had a problem here" and frankly, we still do.
Yeah and holding the vacuum cleaner are the hands of Boeing, LockMart and ATK... ;D
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Online Coastal Ron

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #27 on: 12/16/2014 10:18 PM »
Yes. But I also remember that the Administration / NASA cancelled the Constellation program (justifiably so) but then failed to provide a coherent plan forward. Nature abhors a vacuum. So Congress filled it and well...here we are. This is all a well tread road of incompetence, traveled by many so I'm not going to rehash.

The Administration/NASA did provide a coherent plan forward (i.e. technology development), it just wasn't grandiose enough to use the exact same workers that were going to be laid off because of the cancellation of the Constellation program.  So it wasn't what we were doing in space that mattered, because it's been obvious that since 2010 Congress doesn't care, but Congress does care about every single job that is currently funded with NASA money - reductions are not supported.  Which is why this test stand was finished, even though it was known it was not needed.

Quote
Suffice to say, it is important these types of articles are brought to the fore. After all, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Yes..."Houston, we've had a problem here" and frankly, we still do.

Well said.
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 Jeff Bingham

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #28 on: 12/18/2014 09:16 AM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
Remember how NASA tried to stop SLS but Congress took them out to the wood shed and told them to start building it...

You are sorely mistaken! NASA as an organization--and especially the folks tasked with developing it--absolutely did not want to stop SLS; if by "taking them to the wood shed" you mean the subpoena (by the Democrat chairman of the Commerce Committee, by the way) of documents involved in generating the required Section 309 report, I can tell you the materials provided in response to that subpoena make it very clear who wanted to stop SLS (and Orion, for that matter). And I will just say (because I'm not in a position to provide any specific details on that data submission or its content, though I was among those who reviewed it at the time) that the people most directly responsible for that effort to undermine SLS are no longer at the Agency. And they were NOT career civil service employees of the Agency.
Offering only my own views and experience as a long-time "Space Cadet."

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #29 on: 12/19/2014 08:08 PM »
This is quite a long and critical article re. the A-3 test stand. The author spreads blame, unfairly I believe, equally between NASA and politicians.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/12/15/nasas-349-million-monument-to-its-drift/
I think that the stand will see use some day.  The SLS upper stage will need an engine cluster, and it will need to be tested.   

For those who feel a need to blame someone, blame those in power who canceled Constellation. 

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Offline Lobo

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #30 on: 12/19/2014 10:11 PM »
If the US does decide to build the 130 t version of SLS, its going to need J-2X for a new upper stage. That's when this stand will be properly used.

But is a vacuum test stand actually needed?  How are/were other upper stage engines tested?  How was M1D-Vac tested?  Or RL-10C?  Or BE-3?
How were the RL-10-A4 and RL-10B tested?  How was Castor 30B/30XL tested?

It's J2X being tested at atmospheric Pressure at Stennis already?

Did there used to be vacuum test stands, and there just aren't any more?  Or just not one large enough to accomodate J2X?

It sounded like from the article that this would be the first time an upper stage engine was tested on a vacuum stand, so just wondering how upper stage engine current and previous were tested.

Offline Lobo

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #31 on: 12/19/2014 10:19 PM »
Yeah, NASA does what Congress tells them to do.
This is such a cop-out. It should have been the responsibility of NASA's top management to actively campaign against and eliminate waste like that.

There are huge opportunity costs involved here. Why was ASRG cancelled, again ?
Remember how NASA tried to stop SLS but Congress took them out to the wood shed and told them to start building it...
Yes. But I also remember that the Administration / NASA cancelled the Constellation program (justifiably so) but then failed to provide a coherent plan forward. Nature abhors a vacuum. So Congress filled it and well...here we are.
@this.

SLS would in all likelyhood have been avoided if the cacellation of CxP -and- STS been handled differently/better.  A vacuum was created and as rcoppola said, nature abhors a vacuum.

Once SLS was mandated, then Congress got a little contentious with the NASA administration after some foot dragging, as I recall.
« Last Edit: 12/19/2014 10:23 PM by Lobo »

Offline Lobo

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #32 on: 12/19/2014 10:21 PM »
Suffice to say, it is important these types of articles are brought to the fore. After all, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Yes..."Houston, we've had a problem here" and frankly, we still do.

Well said.

X2

Offline M_Puckett

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #33 on: 12/19/2014 10:26 PM »
Elon's gonna' luv that thing for Raptor Vac.

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #34 on: 12/20/2014 12:13 AM »
But is a vacuum test stand actually needed?  How are/were other upper stage engines tested?  How was M1D-Vac tested?  Or RL-10C?  Or BE-3?
How were the RL-10-A4 and RL-10B tested?  How was Castor 30B/30XL tested?
ATK tested Castor 30 and 30XL in the big vacuum stand at Arnold Engineering Test Center in Tennessee.  RL10 has been tested there in various versions over the years as well, including RL-10B-2 with its nozzle fully extended.  J-2 was tested there, back in the day I believe.  I think that SpaceX uses some type of simplified vacuum simulation test stand at McGregor. 

So yes, this type of testing is needed.  Subtle things can happen in vacuum that don't happen at sea level pressure.
Quote
It's J2X being tested at atmospheric Pressure at Stennis already?
It was tested at atmospheric pressure without its nozzle extension, but that testing is now finished and the program shelved.
Quote
Did there used to be vacuum test stands, and there just aren't any more?  Or just not one large enough to accomodate J2X?
J-2X was going to have a giant nozzle extension that J-2 did not have, making testing at Arnold impossible or costly, etc.  At least that was the argument.  In the end, the result is that Stennis got a shiny new test stand that someone is going to want to use someday.  The cost overruns to build it are unfortunate.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 12/20/2014 12:14 AM by edkyle99 »

Offline dunderwood

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #35 on: 12/20/2014 07:34 PM »
I think that SpaceX uses some type of simplified vacuum simulation test stand at McGregor. 

So yes, this type of testing is needed.  Subtle things can happen in vacuum that don't happen at sea level pressure.

 - Ed Kyle

Videos show them firing into a vacuum for Draco thruster testing, but I don't recall ever seeing anything that looks like it would support vacuum testing of Mvac or MvacD at McGregor.

Offline a_langwich

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #36 on: 12/21/2014 04:20 AM »
Probably cheaper to do the best you can in computer modeling and component testing and then just launch a flight test article to prove it all-up in vacuum. If you can't afford a test flight, then you have a more fundamental problem...

It's not entirely out of the question that somebody might find this property convenient at some point in the future. But I can't imagine that it would be essential for anything. Anyone developing a large upper stage at this point would have a better test plan.

Couldn't you say the same thing about a regular test stand?  And yet they get used all the time.  I think you are overestimating the utility of computer modeling and underestimating the cost of a test flight.

Just as I think SpaceX found NASA's expensive engine test facilities convenient for testing Raptor, they will likely find them convenient for testing a BFR upper stage.  Anything bigger than an RL-10, including anything made for SLS, might benefit.  "If you can't afford a test flight..."  because I'm sure you have $100-300+ million laying around you'd be happy to throw in.  Name one company who has the spare change to toss up a test rocket in this size range without government support.  SpaceX had government contributions and test payloads even for Falcon 1 flights, and this is for much bigger rockets.


Offline newpylong

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Re: WaPo Article Critical of A-3 Test Stand
« Reply #37 on: 01/12/2015 03:06 PM »
I think the stand will see use in the future - if it was worth finishing it, history will decide.


To those who said NASA as a whole wanted to cancel SLS at birth, you either were not around or did not have access to factual information.

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