Author Topic: (Lack of) reaction of government agencies to private launch vehicle developments  (Read 7938 times)

Offline Semmel

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This might be a controversial topic, therefore placing it into space policy.

Within the last year, ULA, Blue Origin and SpaceX revealed quite magnificent plans for launch vehicles and connected to them, plans to establish a human presence around the Moon and Mars. ULA with its plan for cis-lunar space. BO with New Glenn and a concept for Moon landers and of course SpaceX with BFR/ITS.

All of these have in common to promote human spaceflight. And all of these have in common to lack the development of surface infrastructure on the Moon and Mars as well as space stations in orbit. The three companies above concentrate (publicly at least) on solving the logistics problem. Which is a great deal. But I am amazed at the silence from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, CNSA and JAXA towards these plans. In fact, by now it looks like these agencies seem to actively deny the development and put their head into the sand.

I this only a (maybe false) perception in my part?

I would hope  to see something else entirely. Something like:
ESA and Roscosmos to BO: "Hey, you seem to be interested in launching stuff to the moon. As it happens, we are interested in doing science around and on the moon. Want to work together?"
NASA to SpaceX: "It seems you are determined to send human to Mars. As it happens, we want to do that too. We got this SLS rocket in the works and you seem to build this ITS thing. How about we work something out together so we can benefit from each other?"

Of course, in all cases the local governments have to be in favor of combined affords and the agencies need to be tasked in order to do active cooperation. But at least ESA could voice publicly towards the EU that a cooperation with BO would make sense. Also NASA could voice publicly a cooperation with SpaceX towards Congress. Why this radio silence?

Online Bynaus

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I think the problem is that in spaceflight, the paper to actual rocket ratio is very high. You cannot therefore expect government agencies to react strongly to every new paper rocket - regardless of your confidence of that particular paper rocket turning into an actual one.

On the other hand, NASA has had a very supportive role in SpaceX's development - and they actually awarded them with a ~2 bn contract when the F9 was still a paper rocket. Same with esa and Reaction Engines (which develops the SABRE engine for Skylon). So I think the government agencies do actually play a supportive role in trying to bring about the development of commercial space. This is even more pronounced once hardware becomes actually available: since the F9 is flying regularly, you see it considered (and contracted) as launcher for NASA-developed space probes.

With ITS, a paper rocket of unprecedented scale, I fully understand that it is not taken serious today (as in, featuring in plans for future space exploration). The closer Elon comes to actually flying that thing to orbit, the more I think it will be taken serious. By the end of the 2020ies, I am certain every new NASA Mars exploration plan will include it (along with New Armstrong and perhaps other alternatives that might come up) - if it really flies!

Online AncientU

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Parts of NASA seem to be interested in joining SpaceX's efforts.  The Public-Private Partnership catch phrase is the best so far at publicly acknowledging that maybe there is something to all this private development.

On the other hand, space has been the sole domain of governments... space is hard, the right stuff, official astronaut corps, and all that.  Once an area is colonized by the bureaucracy, it it tenaciously (and sometimes irrationally) held against all who would disrupt the status quo.

For now we have a mix, though it sometimes seems to be shifting toward partnership.
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
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Offline woods170

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On the other hand, NASA has had a very supportive role in SpaceX's development - and they actually awarded them with a ~2 bn contract when the F9 was still a paper rocket.
This needs some minor correcting. NASA awarded SpaceX a ~ $400 million contract when Falcon 9 was still a paper rocket (in 2006). That was the COTS contract.
The $1.6 billion CRS contract was awarded in 2008 when Falcon 9 was very much becoming a real rocket. Merlin 1C engines were being test-fired, and tankage, plumbing, avionics, GSE, etc. were all being built and tested.

Online FutureSpaceTourist

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Space agencies also (usually) have to follow the lead of their political funders.

NASA has been and is very supportive of current SpaceX capabilities and nearer-term ones (eg working together on Red Dragon, looking to re-use boosters on CRS flights). But NASA will not do anything - at this point - that could be construed as criticising SLS/Orion or questioning their need. So Elon's offer for NASA to have the first circumlunar flight falls on deaf ears.

Once the political view changes, then space agencies will too but not before.
« Last Edit: 05/08/2017 11:15 AM by FutureSpaceTourist »

Offline woods170

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ESA is interested in commercial initiatives, as long it is not launchers. Just look at their interest in flying missions on DreamChaser.
The lack of interest in new launchers like FH, Vulcan, New Glenn, etc. is understandable given that ESA has it's own launcher development program that spawned Ariane 5, Ariane 6 and Vega.
The lack of interest in US commercial lander initiatives is also understandable given that ESA has it's own (small) lander development effort going.

Something similar applies to Roscosmos. No interest in US commercial launcher initiatives because of Roscosmos involvement in evolution of the indigenous launchers like Proton and Angara.
« Last Edit: 05/08/2017 11:19 AM by woods170 »

Online AncientU

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Can certainly understand why non-US national programs are not interested in supporting (though they are quite painfully aware and watching) something that is undercutting their subsidized launch programs.  The US, on the other hand, is beginning to benefit significantly from a couple private, commercial programs -- they are now being handed on a platter a launch capability that they can finally afford to use for exploration... and that can soon exceed planned capability needs.  (Before ITS -- which exceeds anything imagined.)  With a little effort such as promoting on-orbit refueling, all Lunar and Mars plans become possible.
« Last Edit: 05/08/2017 01:11 PM by AncientU »
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
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Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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A few items

Re NASA
1)  It is important to remember that they have done some things (COTS and CRS and CCrew being the big ones).   That said, the reality is that there are and have been a lot of areas where more could be done, but hasn't, in large part because of political issues.
2)  One thing to remember is that right now, we don't know who is going to be NASA admin (we have a lot of speculation, but it hasn't been announced), nor do we have a National Space Council (assuming that is reactivated, as has been reported).  Without that, there isn't any political will within the agency to really change course.
3)  There are broader cultural issues that might not initially be expected to impact this, but they do appear, and cause problems

Re other people
4)  For better or worse, the government space reason and organization is the most well understood, and has produced the biggest effects.  For space to move to a fully or more fully private structure, there has to be a change in fundamental reasons, which has not happened (to put it another way - the geo-political benefits of space are more clearly understood than the idea of benefits from space settlement).
It's not democrats vs republicans, it's reality vs innumerate space cadet fantasy.

Offline Semmel

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I didnt imply that NASA didnt do anything connected to private partners. As everybody is totally aware, they did a lot of good things. I wanted to restrict this exclusively for the new launch vehicles.

On the politics level, there is always a way if there is a will. The JWST for example launches on a Ariane 5 rocket, where the launch is ESAs contribution to the telescope. If ESA is seeking payloads to the Moon and they find a partnership with NASA on that, there is a good chance New Glenn could be used.

Same goes for Mars with ITS. I dont suggest that NASA gives up SLS. But they might be able to accelerate their Mars plans with a cooperation with SpaceX. And given the time it takes to develop and build payloads to Mars, its about time (in my opinion) to start with that. Otherwise, there might be a BFR/ITS ready in 10 years time and no payload in sight for another two cycles or so.

And the launch vehicles I named are not just paper rockets. I could understand if they were but they are not. For New Glenn, the development process for the BE4 engine is almost complete with lots of tests under its belt. Same for the Raptor engine. For New Glenn a factory is being build. ITS saw a test of a enormous tank. In both cases, no real flight hardware but much closer than most paper rockets ever get.

Offline incoming

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I'm struggling a bit with your premise. 

Are you wondering why NASA hasn't said anything publicly about wanting to work with the emerging vehicle providers and their offerings?  They have.  For example, there's another discussion thread on here somewhere about Gerst showing a chart at one of the symposiums showing all of the rockets flying and in active development and saying that NASA wants to work with all of the launch providers and that they want to tailor their exploration plans to take advantage of all of the emerging capabilities. 

Or are you asking why NASA isn't partnering with these companies?  They are.  NASA active partnerships and works regularly with Blue Origin, SpaceX, ULA, etc. on both near term missions and longer term planning. 

They've also put out formal solicitations to industry like BAA's (Broad Area Announcements) and RFI's (Requests For Information) to formally ask industry how they see whatever capabilities they have (or will have) to offer fitting into NASA's future mission needs, and how they would propose NASA partner with them.


   

Offline Coastal Ron

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This might be a controversial topic, therefore placing it into space policy.

Within the last year, ULA, Blue Origin and SpaceX revealed quite magnificent plans for launch vehicles and connected to them, plans to establish a human presence around the Moon and Mars. ULA with its plan for cis-lunar space. BO with New Glenn and a concept for Moon landers and of course SpaceX with BFR/ITS.

All of these have in common to promote human spaceflight. And all of these have in common to lack the development of surface infrastructure on the Moon and Mars as well as space stations in orbit. The three companies above concentrate (publicly at least) on solving the logistics problem. Which is a great deal. But I am amazed at the silence from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, CNSA and JAXA towards these plans. In fact, by now it looks like these agencies seem to actively deny the development and put their head into the sand.

As for NASA, NASA does not decide to do anything on it's own, it is just a department of the government that is used to solve problems involving the peaceful use of space.  In fact the three big HSF programs we think about when we think of NASA, Apollo, the Shuttle, and the ISS, can trace their origins to the Cold War.

NASA in fact works for the President, so unless the President of the United States wants to do something in space, NASA doesn't do anything.  And even if the President wants to do something in space, Congress has to create the funding laws to support such efforts - and Congress may not be interested in what the current President wants to do.

So for NASA at least there needs to be a "National Imperative" that convinces the President and Congress to change what they have NASA doing and do something different.

But like it or not, spending U.S. Taxpayer money to send government employees to our Moon or Mars is not a priority right now, which also explains why there is a lack of payloads for the SLS lift once it becomes operational.

My opinion is that spreading humanity out into space will turn out to be a privately funded activity, with maybe a token amount of funding from the U.S. Government.  And I don't think the EU, Russia or Japan will have a lot of interest in populating our Moon or Mars, and China has set it's plans for the next decade using it's own hardware.

So if you look at this situation from a political standpoint, it makes perfect sense why governments around the world are not clamoring to use these new American launch systems, even if they do significantly lower the cost to access space.

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?

Offline Semmel

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I'm struggling a bit with your premise. 

As I wrote in my first post, I am totally aware that this might be a false perception on my part. But lets address your other points.

Are you wondering why NASA hasn't said anything publicly about wanting to work with the emerging vehicle providers and their offerings?  They have.  For example, there's another discussion thread on here somewhere about Gerst showing a chart at one of the symposiums showing all of the rockets flying and in active development and saying that NASA wants to work with all of the launch providers and that they want to tailor their exploration plans to take advantage of all of the emerging capabilities. 

No, that is not what I was wondering. As you pointed out correctly, NASA has worked extensively with BO and SpaceX. My initial point was specifically and solely w.r.t. BFR/ITS and New Glenn. I must admit that did forget Gersts presentation. Now that you name it, I do remember it. Maybe thats a start.

Or are you asking why NASA isn't partnering with these companies?  They are.  NASA active partnerships and works regularly with Blue Origin, SpaceX, ULA, etc. on both near term missions and longer term planning. 

Again, as you are well aware, I know that NASA is partnering with SpaceX, Blue Origin and ULA. I specifically restricted my initial post to the new launch vehicles that are in development.

They've also put out formal solicitations to industry like BAA's (Broad Area Announcements) and RFI's (Requests For Information) to formally ask industry how they see whatever capabilities they have (or will have) to offer fitting into NASA's future mission needs, and how they would propose NASA partner with them.

Now that is interesting, I have not seen them. Can you provide a link?



I also want to stress, I did not single out NASA at all. In the contrary, ESA, Roscosmos and all the others should take a really hard look at the development. If they dont want to launch hardware on foreign rockets because of the lacking local industry support they should at least match the capabilities and/or blatantly copy the reusable rocket designs. Given that there is no private rocket industry in Europe, Russia, China, India and Japan that would develop launch vehicles on their own dime, it would make sense for them to see the light and start developing reusable launch vehicles with government support. Look at Ariane 6! It costs billions and is not even attempting to be a step in the right direction. With that kind of launch technology, human space exploration beyond LEO will be done by the USA alone. That is not a good development from the point of view outside the US. Either partnering with the companies or develop their own capabilities. Just sit and watch would be .. sad. But maybe thats what it is.
« Last Edit: 05/09/2017 08:24 AM by Semmel »

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I'm struggling a bit with your premise. 

As I wrote in my first post, I am totally aware that this might be a false perception on my part. But lets address your other points.

Are you wondering why NASA hasn't said anything publicly about wanting to work with the emerging vehicle providers and their offerings?  They have.  For example, there's another discussion thread on here somewhere about Gerst showing a chart at one of the symposiums showing all of the rockets flying and in active development and saying that NASA wants to work with all of the launch providers and that they want to tailor their exploration plans to take advantage of all of the emerging capabilities. 

No, that is not what I was wondering. As you pointed out correctly, NASA has worked extensively with BO and SpaceX. My initial point was specifically and solely w.r.t. BFR/ITS and New Glenn. I must admit that did forget Gersts presentation. Now that you name it, I do remember it. Maybe thats a start.

Or are you asking why NASA isn't partnering with these companies?  They are.  NASA active partnerships and works regularly with Blue Origin, SpaceX, ULA, etc. on both near term missions and longer term planning. 

Again, as you are well aware, I know that NASA is partnering with SpaceX, Blue Origin and ULA. I specifically restricted my initial post to the new launch vehicles that are in development.

They've also put out formal solicitations to industry like BAA's (Broad Area Announcements) and RFI's (Requests For Information) to formally ask industry how they see whatever capabilities they have (or will have) to offer fitting into NASA's future mission needs, and how they would propose NASA partner with them.

Now that is interesting, I have not seen them. Can you provide a link?

I also want to stress, I did not single out NASA at all. In the contrary, ESA, Roscosmos and all the others should take a really hard look at the development. If they dont want to launch hardware on foreign rockets because of the lacking local industry support they should at least match the capabilities and/or blatantly copy the reusable rocket designs. Given that there is no private rocket industry in Europe, Russia, China, India and Japan that would develop launch vehicles on their own dime, it would make sense for them to see the light and start developing reusable launch vehicles with government support. Look at Ariane 6! It costs billions and is not even attempting to be a step in the right direction. With that kind of launch technology, human space exploration beyond LEO will be done by the USA alone. That is not a good development from the point of view outside the US. Either partnering with the companies or develop their own capabilities. Just sit and watch would be .. sad. But maybe thats what it is.

All of the solicitations can be found on the fedbizops website.  However if you aren't used to using it, it can take a while to find what you are looking for.  Here's a link to one RFI from a few months ago that got a lot of attention but for which New Glenn and ITS would be directly applicable: https://www.fbo.gov/index?tab=documents&tabmode=form&subtab=core&tabid=78fdcf51f53726f1ee5ab5218ee4ea31

Note that although the title focuses on SLS and Orion, it was much more broad, asking for information on alternative approaches such as "Competing exploration services in the mid-2020s timeframe and beyond if the market demonstrates such services are available, reliable, and consistent with NASA architectural needs."   

Here's a link to a spacenews article on a more recent one that deals with interest capabilities in commercial lunar missions, and the article mentions how the RFI aligns pretty closely with Blue Origin's recently announced lunar ambitions enabled by New Glenn: http://spacenews.com/nasa-requests-information-on-commercial-lunar-missions/ 

Note that these types of announcements may seem a bit obscure but any industry player who wants to do business with NASA, from very small "mom and pop" businesses up to the industry giants monitor these types of announcements closely - it's a major part of their business development function. 

This is just one of the "publicly" viewable ways that NASA works towards more formally partnering with, or acquiring services, from industry. It's really just the tip of the iceberg through. There is a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes between NASA and the companies that you don't see, which informs the more formal steps in the acquisition and/or partnership process that you do see.  Public Presentation's like Gerst's also give you a small window into what they are thinking and doing.

So, I guess I'd ask - specifically for ITS and New Glenn - what else would you be looking for?  In terms of how the federal acquisition process works, these are the types of things that you'd expect to be seeing from NASA if they are interested in these capabilities but still trying to work out how they'd acquire (or partner with) them and for what purpose. They are very careful in terms of how they word anything like that though because they don't want to run afoul of federal acquisition regulations, raise any perceived favoritism objections, or get an acquisition decision overturned by a bid protest later.   

Offline Proponent

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With regard to the OP, assuming the primary purpose of Orion/SLS is jobs explains everything.  I have repeatedly asked in this forum for data contradicting that hypothesis, but none has ever been presented.

Offline SWGlassPit

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What sort of data would serve to falsify that hypothesis?

Offline Proponent

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Well, for example, Congress instructing NASA to compare exploration architectures based on commercial launch services with SLS-based architectures.

Offline FinalFrontier

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Very simple reason why. NASA is tied at the hip to politics within Congress and the executive branch. They cannot do anything program wise without be legally instructed to do so.

Considering that the political situation is one of not simply dysfunction but perhaps even one of total systemic failure due to increasingly radicalized movements in both parties do not expect anything to change anytime soon. If anything expect any changes to be negative ones such as agency budget cuts in future years due to the turmoil not positive ones.

My hope is that even in the worst case scenario of massive cuts to NASA'S commercial program the plans these companies have are still able to continue moving forward albeit slower.

Then again I thought SLS would be canceled by now so maybe I am too cynical.
« Last Edit: 05/17/2017 05:26 PM by FinalFrontier »
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Offline Robotbeat

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Still, Falcon Heavy and Dragon Crew have not arrived yet.

I suspect that shooting crewed Dragon around the Moon will be a huge wake up call. That's an actual exploration milestone that NASA's HSF program wanted to achieve. That'll be impossible to ignore. As will ITS and New Glenn and New Armstrong.

Easy to ignore paper rockets. Not actual rockets.
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Offline QuantumG

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I suspect that shooting crewed Dragon around the Moon will be a huge wake up call. (...) That'll be impossible to ignore.

Wanna bet? :)
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Offline woods170

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I suspect that shooting crewed Dragon around the Moon will be a huge wake up call. (...) That'll be impossible to ignore.

Wanna bet? :)

Exactly. If and when SpaceX completes the circumlunar mission before Orion flies manned, US Congress will simply claim that they made it possible by funding CCP. And that would be correct in fact. IMO US Congress will declare it their victory and return to their usual business of providing pork for government pet-programs like SLS and Orion.
IMO, there will be no such thing as a wake-up call.

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