Author Topic: In a change of attitude, NASA appears to embrace private rockets  (Read 15492 times)

Online bad_astra

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It seems like a good opportunity now to figure out how SLS and purchased launch vehicles can both be utilized together in a good way that allows a successful program, whatever that program may be (cough, return to moon, cough). I'm not the most optimistic guy around sometimes, but I really do see some possibilities here. It just needs a vision and a commitment now. I think everyone gets frustrated because there has been what looks like a lot of treading water going on, but think of it: in two years, or less, we'll have THREE human carrying spacecraft produced in the USA, a well established cargo transportation system from multiple vendors, and two heavy lift launch vehicles. That's never happened.

Makes perfect sense that anyone would want to work with everything they have at hand. That sounds like the opposite of a tactical retreat to me. That is moving forward.
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Offline sfxtd

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Japan's H-IIB is notably absent from the operational rocket list.

Offline russianhalo117

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Japan's H-IIB is notably absent from the operational rocket list.
There is no reason to list a retiring launcher as its manufacturer MHI is about to end production of H-IIB, as its last flight is in early JFY 2019, so that MHI can start retooling its facilities for the new H-III launcher family. H-IIA will retire in JFY 2023.

Offline Mark S

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Japan's H-IIB is notably absent from the operational rocket list.
There is no reason to list a retiring launcher as its manufacturer MHI is about to end production of H-IIB, as its last flight is in early JFY 2019, so that MHI can start retooling its facilities for the new H-III launcher family. H-IIA will retire in JFY 2023.

Still it should have been included, and the H-III included in the "advanced development" or "proposed" section.

The Indian launchers (PSLV, GSLV) are also not included.

I guess there's only so much room in a single (very wide) graphic.


Offline AncientU

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The presence of three Chinese vehicles was interesting... isn't there a prohibition against such collaboration?

What is 'private' about those vehicles and others on the graphic?
« Last Edit: 03/10/2017 08:47 PM by AncientU »
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Online Blackstar

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-no clear sense of vision or where the agency was heading (and I don't include the humans to Mars talk, because it was all talk and little action)

I always wondered how much of that was due to no support for a clear vision from the White House.



I think they were not mutually exclusive. In other words:

-there was no clear vision from the White House, AND
-Bolden had no vision of his own


Dealing with Bolden first: he did not want the job. He said so himself. He was asked by the president and he was not going to turn him down. So he took the job because he was a good Marine. But the only thing he really cared about was STEM education. He talked about that a bit, but he actually did not turn it into a goal for the agency. Beyond that, I think his personal goals probably involved managing the end of the shuttle program, managing ISS and the human spaceflight program, and keeping everything on an even keel. There are rumors that he actually opposed the cancellation of the Constellation program but he was overruled. I never heard of any indication that he had any personal desire to set the agency on the path to the Moon or Mars or anything like that. And I've heard enough about the way the asteroid mission was selected (it was done quietly, with little careful deliberation) that I don't think he was much involved in that either. He provided some hints that for his first couple of years at the agency he did not know everything that was going on--implying that his deputy was doing things without his knowledge. He later got a better handle on things, and his deputy left.

As for the lack of vision from the White House? Hopefully some enterprising graduate student will try and tackle this subject, because it's really baffling. The White House sought to do a complete overhaul of NASA in early 2010 by canceling Constellation, Ares I, Ares V, Orion and Antares and the lunar goal. They also sought to create a big R&D budget inside NASA. They did all this in the most inept way they possibly could, ticking off many people in Congress, even those who should have been on their own side.

But it was not clear from the start what they actually were aiming for with all these changes. What was the goal other than to try and create technology at NASA? The asteroid project was created rather hastily without anybody looking into the details. And then for months, even years later, it seemed like the administration really just wanted to cover their eyes and ears and hum loudly and ignore reality about that.

I think Bolden found himself at the whims of an indifferent White House and an OMB that really didn't want to give NASA any more money. In the midst of all that, perhaps the best he could hope for was to keep ISS flying, move along Commercial Cargo and Crew, and just avoid any big failures. And he did that. But he never articulated a real future for the agency, and I think that's because he didn't really have a vision of what NASA's future should be.
« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 12:26 AM by Blackstar »

Online Lar

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I think the best that can be said about the Bolden era, was that it was mostly harmless. Meandering and wasted time but at least some things moved forward some. And happily, some directorates churn out lots of great science with rovers and planetary probes... all you have to do is mostly leave them alone and don't futz with their budget too much.

But Blackstar nailed it, in that the Pluto flyby was a chance to really wax historic and leave giant "poetic and uplifting" words ringing that go down in the history books, Maybe not Winston Churchill level, but historic. Bolden, although a good man at heart, does not have giant words in him.

As for the thread, meh. I agree with those that think this might be a good summation piece but there's no new news here...
« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 12:40 AM by Lar »
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Online Blackstar

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The only time I met Gen. Bolden was shortly after the "Muslim outreach" comments.  Up close he comes across as very personable and likeable.  I always wondered how he was prepped for his trip to the middle east.  I suspect the State Department gave him some talking points that they thought would go over well where he was.  Comments by people in his position don't say isolated to the intended audience.  Better thought needs to go into what gets said practically anywhere because of who will eventually hear them.

Yes, he was probably given some talking points. But he had a bad habit of forgetting what he was supposed to say and I think that's what happened when he gave that interview. It's a real shame too, because that's not that hard a message to convey. He could have said "The United States has many allies in the Muslim world. I'm here to reach out to them and make connections and talk about possible ways that we can cooperate in exploring the solar system and studying the universe." Easy. NASA has a great brand, particularly overseas. All he had to do was put a little spin on that brand and he'd win. Instead, he flubbed it and for years later whenever an article about NASA appeared on some conservative website you inevitably saw dipshits making comments about NASA being a "Muslim outreach agency."

If you watched him in public talks later on he often pulled out his notecards and read from them. Every talk he gave then somehow became tied to the human spaceflight program. Heck, I ran a meeting around 2012 or so that included a lot of top aeronautics (i.e. airplanes) experts. Bolden gave a talk and started discussing the great human spaceflight program. Nobody cared--they wanted to discuss airplanes--but that was his default position. Eventually, around 2015 or so, somebody came up with the "#JourneytoMars" and not only did NASA start putting that in every single press release, but Bolden started mentioning it in all of his talks, even when he was talking about flying New Horizons past Pluto. It was on the notecards, so he read it. But he needed the notecards because without them he would say things that got him into trouble.

Offline Coastal Ron

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-no clear sense of vision or where the agency was heading (and I don't include the humans to Mars talk, because it was all talk and little action)

I always wondered how much of that was due to no support for a clear vision from the White House.

Ever since Kennedy we've expected our Presidents to be able to articulate long-lasting and inspirational space-related "visions".  Except all that Kennedy did was take advantage of two converging international issues, the Space Race and the Cold War.

Today not even the space community can agree on what the next goal should be in space, so how are less informed politicians supposed to understand what the next goal should be?

Also, as of today there are no problems in space that sending government employees to space solves, so our efforts in space today are gated by how much political "love" NASA can capture.  Of course it helps that NASA has large facilities in certain states, and that alone keeps politicians pushing for NASA funding.  But the lack of funding for ANY payloads or programs that MUST use the SLS and Orion is evidence that we've hit kind of a pause point for NASA in space.  That beyond supporting the ISS, nothing else is near-term enough to be easy to fund and back with political capital.

So just as I don't blame Obama for not going beyond general support for reaching Mars, I would not blame Trump if he is not able to do any better.

As to Gerstenmaier's comments, my view has always been that what has been keeping us from expanding humanity out into space has been the cost of accessing space.  The SLS does not solve that, but SpaceX and Blue Origin are trying to solve that - without direct government assistance.

So maybe Gerstenmaier is reading the writing on the wall, or maybe these are his personal beliefs, but anything out of NASA that encourages lowering the cost to access space overall is a good thing.  It may not go anywhere, and the next NASA Administrator may reverse course and support only the SLS, but for now this should be garnering positive reviews.  I hope that helps our politicians understand what they can do to help - in the right way.
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 yg1968

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It is called a 'tactical retreat'

Nothing of the sort. 

Yeah, I think this is all being over-interpreted.

Part of the problem is that the reporter is comparing what Gerst is saying now to something that Bolden said a little while ago. The problem with that is that Bolden often said things that were not exactly the policy, or even what he meant to say. So people took him literally when they really should have run his statements through an interpreter. Thus, I think there is less of an actual change now than the reporter thinks.

NASA already uses "private" rockets--if you accept that "private" means something developed by a company, possibly with a lot of NASA money. So it's hard to see a fundamental shift here or even much of a change in policy. If somebody builds their big rocket and proves that it works, NASA may take a look at it. There are a whole bunch of conditional "ifs" involved.

Yes, I agree. Bolden said that a while ago and the previous administration was also very pro-commercial. I don't think that is a fair to summarize Bolden's views in that manner.

But I think that you are being to harsh on Bolden. His speeches got better and better. In any event, people that make great speeches aren't always good leaders.

« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 03:36 AM by yg1968 »

Offline Proponent

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I think Bolden found himself at the whims of an indifferent White House and an OMB that really didn't want to give NASA any more money....

Isn't that par for the course?

Quote
As for the lack of vision from the White House? Hopefully some enterprising graduate student will try and tackle this subject, because it's really baffling. The White House sought to do a complete overhaul of NASA in early 2010 by canceling Constellation, Ares I, Ares V, Orion and Antares and the lunar goal. They also sought to create a big R&D budget inside NASA. They did all this in the most inept way they possibly could, ticking off many people in Congress, even those who should have been on their own side.

I agree that the Obama administration's moves on space early on were very clumsy, even for a new administration.  But when I put myself in Obama's shoes, the FY 2011 proposal doesn't seem crazy to me.  The inherited Constellation program was already in trouble and its projected budgetary needs were unrealistic.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.  Either you burn some political capital for a big plus-up in NASA's budget to fix the problem--which no president since JFK* has been willing to do--or you change course.



* And it wasn't even his idea: he was just reacting to decisions made in Moscow.
« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 09:16 AM by Proponent »

Offline AncientU

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...

So maybe Gerstenmaier is reading the writing on the wall, or maybe these are his personal beliefs, but anything out of NASA that encourages lowering the cost to access space overall is a good thing.  It may not go anywhere, and the next NASA Administrator may reverse course and support only the SLS, but for now this should be garnering positive reviews.  I hope that helps our politicians understand what they can do to help - in the right way.

The writing on the wall is the budget
Flat is better than can be expected... 5% cut proposed this coming year.

Grest's telling phrase is 'one SLS per year'... 2-3 are needed for any 'compelling' exploration program -- and that will take a significant budget increase.  Oh, and then payloads, lots of them.  More budget increases.

Ain't gonna happen.

Even the manned flight by 2020 is going to take buckets more money... That too will not happen.

Of course, Congress could over-ride the President's plan to increase Defense spending and cut discretionary programs to 'pay for' spending increases.  Or simply call for increases in Federal spending... in other words, go nuclear against the President's campaign promises.  Recipe for blood in the aisles...

Multiple SLS flights per year is indefensible ground.  Better a tactical retreat to something that can possibly be defended -- a public plus private exploration effort -- than a total rout.
« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 10:31 AM by AncientU »
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Offline Proponent

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Better a tactical retreat to something that can possibly be defended -- a public plus private exploration effort -- than a total rout.

This.

Thus far, SLS's supporters in Congress have avoided the specifics of employing SLS, likely because the know the costs are just too scary.  That strategy has worked well for several election cycles, but it has a limited life.  So now they'll have to mix in some non-NASA launch vehicles to make the projected cost of actually doing something with SLS less scary.

The trouble with the new strategy is that it tends to highlight the question of why use SLS at all if the other rockets are so much cheaper.  But that day of reckoning can likely be put off for a few more election cycles.

All above the above is merely IMHO, of course.

Online Blackstar

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-no clear sense of vision or where the agency was heading (and I don't include the humans to Mars talk, because it was all talk and little action)

I always wondered how much of that was due to no support for a clear vision from the White House.

Ever since Kennedy we've expected our Presidents to be able to articulate long-lasting and inspirational space-related "visions".  Except all that Kennedy did was take advantage of two converging international issues, the Space Race and the Cold War.

Today not even the space community can agree on what the next goal should be in space, so how are less informed politicians supposed to understand what the next goal should be?

No. "Vision" does not require bold pronouncements and big inspiration and all that. It just requires setting goals and plotting a strategy to achieve them. The Obama administration didn't really try for that. They held some very private deliberations in late 2009-early 2010 (where they treated NASA people as if they were foreign spies), and then rolled out a new budget that changed a lot of things but also had no underlying policy explanation for what they were doing and why they were doing it. That's policy incompetence--it's not how you are supposed to do this stuff. And indeed, it is not how Bush did it in 2005. Then they actually produced the policy document first, then rolled out the budget. And they successfully implemented the first stages of that.

As for "less informed politicians" that's also just not true. The politicians might not be as informed, but they have staff and quite often their staff is pretty well-informed. Now the staff might be distracted by shinier objects, or they might be deliberately ignored by the decision makers, but they're not dumb. One of the dirty little secrets about how the asteroid mission decision was made was that senior NASA officials (and the White House) deliberately excluded the asteroid experts when they were making the decision. NASA had in-house asteroid experts at JPL, NASA HQ, and the Minor Planets Center, and none of them were consulted before that decision was made and inserted into the president's speech. That was a case where they deliberately chose to keep out the people who actually understood the subject.

There were just a number of steps that the Obama administration took on space that were pretty clumsy. They don't get a pass by saying "Well, everybody does it."

The asteroid mission is a good case in point. I'm not convinced that it was ever a serious proposal. I think that it was actually a public relations facade to create the illusion that they had a plan. But if you look at the plan that they laid out, it was inherently flawed. Everybody who knows anything about asteroids told them that Step 1 was "Find more asteroids." But they chose to ignore that, and in fact even five years after they had established that plan there were still people at OSTP asking the question "What was Step 1 again?"

« Last Edit: 03/11/2017 01:01 PM by Blackstar »

Online Blackstar

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I agree that the Obama administration's moves on space early on were very clumsy, even for a new administration.  But when I put myself in Obama's shoes, the FY 2011 proposal doesn't seem crazy to me.

You're only paying attention to the cancellation part, not the "what we're going to do next" part, which was pretty awful because there was no policy justification for it.

Just off the top of my head the blunders in early 2010 were:

-cancelling major programs without providing a sound justification for it
-failing to produce a White House white paper/policy document that explained what they were trying to do
-explaining what the post-Constellation goal was
-briefing Congress before they released the budget and briefed the press (they made a lot of enemies they did not have to)
-failing to understand that any rapid increase in any budget (such as the big R&D increase in the FY2011 budget) always gets a skeptical eye in Congress
-scrambling after all the controversy to come up with a new goal, which led to Obama going to KSC and saying "It's asteroids."

Lots of blundering there. Talk to people on Capitol Hill at the time and they will tell you that the administration did one of the worst roll outs of a new policy that they had ever seen. That kind of fumbling led many on the Hill to decide that the White House did not know what it was doing in space policy. And if the White House didn't know what they were doing, Congress figured, they (Congress) would take over the reins. That led to greater micromanagement and infighting. There's this common misconception that the only thing that mattered to the Congress was pork. But they also had this impression that the White House did not know what it was doing regarding space policy, so Congress was going to start dictating the decisions.

Offline woods170

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You're only paying attention to the cancellation part, not the "what we're going to do next" part, which was pretty awful because there was no policy justification for it.

Just off the top of my head the blunders in early 2010 were:

-cancelling major programs without providing a sound justification for it
<snip>
Your other arguments are all pretty much spot-on. But the one highlighted above just plain isn't IMO. Exactly what part of the Augustine report did you not understand?
There was plenty of sound justification for canceling CxP. All of CxP.
« Last Edit: 03/12/2017 05:27 PM by woods170 »

Offline Coastal Ron

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No. "Vision" does not require bold pronouncements and big inspiration and all that. It just requires setting goals and plotting a strategy to achieve them. The Obama administration didn't really try for that.

Only viewing what was said and done in public, you are right.  And I believe that was on purpose.

Obama's FY2011 budget proposal that cancelled the Constellation program was focused on rebuilding NASA's "technology cupboard", not jumping from one destination (the Moon) to another (an asteroid).  To me he was justifying why the changes needed to be made, but realized that NASA was not yet ready to go anywhere so he would focus on preparation during his time in office, and leave mission details to future Presidents.

Unfortunately Congress wanted the SLS and the Orion, and didn't want to fund in-space technologies that would have made the SLS and Orion irrelevant, so Obama likely figured that he had done as much as he could do with securing the future of the ISS and left it at that.  I called it a victory at the time, and I still do.

Quote
The asteroid mission is a good case in point. I'm not convinced that it was ever a serious proposal. I think that it was actually a public relations facade to create the illusion that they had a plan.

The "vision" that Obama laid out in 2010 was humans to an asteroid in the mid-2020's, and humans to orbit Mars by the mid-2030's.  Then Congress decided to fund the SLS and Orion, which meant neither of those was going to happen from a budget standpoint.

Fast forward to April of 2013, Senator Nelson announced that NASA was planning to capture an asteroid and send an Orion to meet it once it was brought back to the region of our Moon, and that the funding would be in an upcoming Administration budget.

I don't think this was Obama's idea, I think it was something that Nelson and maybe Bolden created to try and make the most of the SLS and Orion situation.  And I don't recall Obama publicly spending any of his "political capital" to push Congress to support the ARM - whereas he was very vocal about supporting Commercial Crew.  Nevertheless it came from his Administration, so it was his to own, but to me it's clear it was not anything he was enthusiastic about - because he didn't believe the SLS and Orion had a future.

NASA is a tool the U.S. Government uses to solve peaceful problems in space, but if you can't identify specific problems (i.e. what is Earth doing, how do we keep humans alive in space, etc.) then you can't propose a solution and support it.  Anyone that proposes sending government employees away from Earth still needs to identify how that solves a problem here on Earth - and other than jobs or prestige, we don't have an obvious one right now.

These are the circumstances of our times.  If tomorrow we find there are aliens in our solar system, or an asteroid is going to hit us in 50 years, the circumstances will be far more clear.  But today there are no defining issues that will focus our politicians on a single plan for years to come.  Or that will focus our space community on a single goal for years to come.

Which is why it may be time for the private sector to take the lead, since our government doesn't have a need to at this point.

My $0.02
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Online Robotbeat

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The robotic part of that asteroid redirect mission made far more pragmatic sense than Constellation's return to the Moon.

Fair point that Obama didn't sell it very well, but Congress as a whole was out for his head, so hard to blame him much.
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Offline yg1968

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The robotic part of that asteroid redirect mission made far more pragmatic sense than Constellation's return to the Moon.

Fair point that Obama didn't sell it very well, but Congress as a whole was out for his head, so hard to blame him much.

Congress wasn't going to buy what was in the NASA FY 2011 budget regardless of how it was announced. Congress wanted to maintain the government programs for human spaceflight. The 2010 NASA Authorization deal was a compromise between what the President wanted and what Congress wanted. Obama deserves some of the credit and some of the blame for this compromise. I hope that the Trump Administration renames SLS, Ares V. Because both Orion and SLS are remnants of Constellation. I think of them as Constellation lite.
« Last Edit: 03/12/2017 12:15 AM by yg1968 »

Offline Endeavour_01

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An exploration program using both SLS and commercial rockets is something I have hoped would happen for a while. I am really glad to hear Gerst endorsing it (his comments about a cis-lunar outpost were also very promising).

It makes the most sense from both a logistical and a political perspective. Logistically since SLS can only launch 1-2 times a year more capability is needed to launch cargo. FH can place a Destiny sized module in DRO as well as a Cygnus or a Dragon.

Politically both OldSpace and NewSpace have their supporters in the political arena. Trying to do it all the NewSpace way or the OldSpace way will lead to damaging political fights. A compromise proposal like this preserves the most support for space exploration.

What may end up happening is SLS will handle really large cargo (say BA-330 or a lunar lander) and crew (with co-manifested payloads) while FH and other commercial rockets handle cargo resupply and the smaller modules, with BLEO commercial crew on the horizon.

With a couple of differences this a repeat of what is going on with LEO right now. NASA builds the outpost, initially crews it with a NASA owned spacecraft, contracts for commercial cargo, and finally contracts for commercial crew. What's not to like?

In the space lecture I give to my students each semester I always include a slide with Nathan's (okan170) excellent render of FH on 39A and SLS on 39B with the caption of "Tag Team?" Looks like I can take the question mark out soon.  :D
I cheer for both NASA and commercial space. For SLS, Orion, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus and all the rest!
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