Author Topic: Why is NASA Beholden to Ares if Direct is the Better Alternative?  (Read 14027 times)

Offline jkumpire

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Folks,

This is a question and reply that was on: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=12379&posts=72&start=1

The responder to my questions felt it might be good to move it to a different thread, so here it is.

This post has my questions, the next post his response. Please submit your input.

Gentlemen,

I would ask you for a moment of patience, because I am going to ask a very simple question, since that is all I can ask:

After all the discussion about Direct vs. Ares vs EELV, vs any other alternative, why is it that NASA sticks with Ares?

After a ton of reading here and other places, Direct claims every advantage over Ares there is. I will assume your analysis is spot on. Why then is NASA sticking totally to Ares w/o even incorporating some of your ideas, or even publishing a fact sheet saying why Ares is more valid than Direct's vision or alternative?

Reading so much of the discussion leads me to say some people are not rational in the debate. Even at the beginning of STS, there was some internal logic as to why STS took the form it did. NASA won some arguments about STS over AAP/Saturn as the future of the American space program. The recent discussions are trying to prove there is no reasonable alternative to Direct that competes with it.

If Direct is the better alternative, what you are asking me and other lay people to believe is that NASA's leadership is so beholden to Ares they are willing to destroy NASA for this idea. Or, the politics are so warped in Washington that NASA is forced to follow a second-rate idea that costs more money to do less for some real or imagined political constituency. Or, that the NASA director is so vain, that he will get rid of the opponents to Ares and surround himself with yes men to push his personal idea of VSE, even if 2009 comes and the new president dumps it, or 2015 comes and Ares doesn't work. Why would he risk America's space future on something that has holes all through it when a better alternative is bubbling around the Internet?

I just don't understand either the engineering or the politics: Either Ares is not a dog as opposed to Direct, or NASA is blowing its foot off with a howitzer for the vision of its leader, or some political gain. It makes no sense.

I hope I have made myself clear here, help me to understand what I am reading, or missing.

Offline jkumpire

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The response:

A great question. If this becomes an off-topic discussion, I'd prefer it go in a separate thread, but let me put forth the best explanation I've heard so far for this...

The tragic loss of Columbia inspired NASA, The President and both houses of the US Congress all equally re-consider the Space Shuttle and to decide a different direction was needed for NASA after 30 years of that program.

A while before Columbia Mike Griffin and a group of colleagues had been considering alternatives outside of NASA. Scott Horowitz had an SRB-based launcher. Griffin wanted a big Mars rocket and needed a way to make such a $30bn rocket appeal to Congress. But there was some common ground between the two rockets, and building the small one could offset a lot of the costs for the second. A small team formed around this idea.

When Sean O'Keefe left, Griffin had his chance. O'Keefe left the agency in the position of doing a lot of studies - all based upon EELV architectures which Congress was strongly against because of the jobs situation. By all accounts they made it *very* clear they wouldn't accept an Administrator who would abandon the STS infrastructure.

Griffin put his plan forward as one which was ready to go. A plan that didn't need two years of study to implement, and which protected the STS workforce.

While he was the third selectee, he was the first to accept the job.

He came in, threw out all of the "spiral" developments and did what he felt he had to do in order get the program moving as quickly as possible. This approach was done for a good reason: Because Shuttle Retirement in 2010 was fast approaching and a replacement had to be ready in double-quick time. I really can't fault him for that train of thinking. There's an awful lot of sense in that approach given the circumstances.

The ESAS Report was produced in order to justify the plan. It was a wash, and everyone knew it. Griffin quickly put his team - who were the ones most familiar with the new approach and ready to leap upon it - in the top management spots in order to get things moving fast.

Thus he set forth.

However, there have been a lot of unexpected hurdles along the way because the systems proposed changed quite a lot, and changed quite quickly. They became very un-related to existing Shuttle hardware, and that meant both the costs and schedule impacts were very significant indeed.

And the technical problems they have encountered (low performance, TO, Orion ZBV etc) have ultimately meant we never did avoid the two years of studies anyway. Worse though, they continue 'studying' the problems because the solutions are still evading them. All the while, management is still trying to hustle the program through its milestones.

The program reviews are supposed to be going from milestone to milestone, shadowing the DAC. They haven't been. DAC-1 should take you up to the SRR milestone. DAC-2 should take you from there through to PDR. The DAC's are currently quite a ways behind the milestones, which is completely the wrong way around. The engineering is behind the management - which isn't a good arrangement.

Anyway, why stick at it even given such a difficult position to fight from?

At this point, Ares-I is the *only* way for Griffin to ever get his "big rocket" - which has always been his personal goal - ask anyone who worked with him at APL or OSC or anywhere else. He's really *driven* by rockets like Saturn-V.

If Ares-I fails, his big rocket also fails, and that would mean he also fails - at least to himself, anyway. Of course nobody wants to fail, that's totally normal and true of Mike, you or I. Thus, to achieve his goal, he is "sticking the course" no matter what - and essentially praying for a miracle to come from somewhere.

Even if Ares-I doesn't ever fly a crew, it still pays for J-2X and 5-segment SRB - both of which he needs for the big rocket. He has no reason to abandon Ares-I - even if it never flies.

At this point, to do anything else would - to Griffin - bring shame down upon him personally and would bring ridicule down upon NASA as an agency from all the folk who told him two years ago that it was a poor solution. But worse still, he believes it would shake Congress' confidence, and The President's confidence in NASA.

I don't believe he is thinking about how much worse it will be if he continues to try to drive this square peg into a round hole - only to find the whole thing is screwed up permanently and will never work properly again. You can't strip the threads off of a bolt and expect it ever to hold something firmly again.

IMHO he has forgotten the fact that the people in Washington couldn't give a rats a$$ about what rocket NASA uses, just as long as they protect the jobs and don't waste time and money on just another bl**dy boondoggle like ISS has proven to be - which is precisely what Ares is shaping up to be.

And if there's any doubt at all, the politicians *are* watching NASA messing around with Ares right now and are not impressed at all.

It's not too late though. Griffin's career is tied to whether he makes the *PROGRAM* work. It is not tied to which *LAUNCHER* he makes - it never was.

I just hope his academic smarts aren't the only smarts he's got. He needs some street smarts right now. He's found his car is breaking down in the bad part of town late at night, and his academic savvy are just not going to help him at all here.

Ross.

=2c.

Edited by kraisee 1/4/2008 4:03 AM


Offline jkumpire

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Ross,

A couple of responses to your very excellent post:

1. I know the ISS is considered to be a pain in the neck or any other places in the human body. Freedom was the better alternative from the beginning, but now that the ISS is up and running more and more, I personally think it is a great thing to have in space. If for no other reason than we are learning more and more about living and working in space, and I still believe there will be payoffs down the line.  

2. The NASA we all know and love had its false starts and foul ups in the 1960's. But, when the money was on the table the suits set their egos aside and went with what turned out to be the best plan for getting to the Moon in the 1960's. Are you really telling me that in your view the Director today does not have the courage or the sense to change direction to a better alternative? It is hard for me to swallow that, though I am in no position to have an opinion in the matter.

3. Has Direct ever been sold to the Congress? Or is the Congress, which is more responsible than other body in destroying NASA in the 1960's/70's, and handing us this mess NASA/"we" are now in, a large part of the problem? I see that you saying the Congress is watching how NASA is fouling this up. If that is the case, why has not any member of Congress, including the Florida delegation (who has the most to lose here) ask: "Director Griffin, why have you not considered the Direct proposal as a viable alternative to Ares? If you have considered Direct, what are the reasons for choosing to stay with Ares?      

More thoughts later.....

Offline Lampyridae

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Wow, a really good 2 cents. Thanks Ross, and thanks jkumpire for asking the question.

If ever Mike Griffin thought DIRECT was the way to go, I think he's now passed the point of no return as far as he considers it. It takes a lot of courage to say, "whoops, I fouled up. Now let's sort this mess out." He would actually earn more respect that way, and probably a better future job or even stay in charge of NASA, but as far as I can see there ain't nothing coming of it because he simply is not going to do that. Sadly, Mike will have to go before DIRECT has a chance. Unless Congress says "thou shalt not use the Stick."

Now, I don't have a personal grudge against Mike Griffin and I don't think anybody should on this forum, he is actually stuck in a bad place and he surely knows it by now. I don't believe that Ares I not flying will not result in Ares V; I think Ares I can and will fly in a rather Spartan sense of the word. I do think however that Ares I will be dropped in favour of an NLS / DIRECT launcher as soon as it comes along. Ares I might make 3 or 4 flights before it is canned, if it does fly. 2 launch 1 vehicle makes so much more sense that I think DIRECT will still resurface in the form of a slightly scaled-back Ares V, something like Ares-III with either a 8.3m or 10m tank, depending on how quickly they chuck the tooling after building the last STS ET.
SKYLON... The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's preferred surface-to-orbit conveyance.

Offline MB123

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I would expect him to have the courage. That is his job.

Offline HIP2BSQRE

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People may expect Mike to change his mind--but think where he is at?  He has put his job on the line that Ares is the way to go.  No-one likes admitting mistakes--especailly mistakes that cost billions of dollars and will last for the 20-30 years.  If he accepts Direct---people might say why did you not change sooner, or why did you not really analyize it in the ESAS report?  So what can he do?  Maybe he'll be right---he is willing to take that chance.  In 2015, we may know if he was right or wrong.  If he is wrong, history will not be so kind to him---but by then too late and serverl billion dollars will have been spent.    If someone asked you to "fall" on your sword for the good of the company, and good many of us would not--we would bring the whole company down--in the this case NASA's manned spaceflight.

I am not totly convinced that Direct is NASA's magical answer.  A good LEADER, not manager is willing to listen and evalute alternative approaches--an will LEAD.  That what makes the differance between a manager and LEADER.   Mike might have been a good manager for NASA, but it this aspect he has not LEAD!

Offline Jeff Lerner

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History will  only judge Mike Griffin's time as Nasa's Administrator in a favourable light if he significantly reduces the gap between the end of the Shuttle Program and Cx. If that's Ares, fine...if it's DIRECT, thats fine as well. Mike Griffin's primary job is to convince Congress to fund NASA's programs. If he can't get the funding to accomplish his programs, he should revisit his plans and look for alternatives....otherwise he will have failed NASA.

Offline Avron

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Wildthing - 1/4/2008  10:28 PM

History will  only judge Mike Griffin's time as Nasa's Administrator in a favourable light if he significantly reduces the gap between the end of the Shuttle Program and Cx. If that's Ares, fine...if it's DIRECT, thats fine as well. Mike Griffin's primary job is to convince Congress to fund NASA's programs. If he can't get the funding to accomplish his programs, he should revisit his plans and look for alternatives....otherwise he will have failed NASA.


Gaps getting wider, time is a ticking and yes, money is flowing.. History may not be very kind to Dr Griffin, but all that cashflow without the need to deliver a usable item is the Key to all this Eh attachment to a system that thus far has failed to provide much in the way of confidence based on views expressed here and elsewhere.  At the end of the day Dr Griffin may well find himself in a "favorable light" for a few, but I would doubt many would be trilled by his Management or his ability to lead.

Offline Nathan

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Folks,
Congress will not choose one or the other proposal as they are not qualified to do so. They have an agency set up to do the analysis and report to them - that's NASA. The only thing that Congress could realistically do is say to NASA that it's budget is going to be flat for the next five years and that any VSE architecture should take that into account. Budget realism is the key here.
Given finite cash, if we want to go to Mars then we should go to Mars.

Offline renclod

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jkumpire - 2/4/2008  2:32 AM
... a very simple question ... why is it that NASA sticks with Ares?

NASA has a plan that fits a mission.

The mission is complex. Every time we bring up "an alternative" we must consider the entire complexity of the mission.

1/ Provide crew transport to ISS. Do it with a minimalistic system, but don't forget to assure  the 6 months life boat. Do not expand into ISS cargo transport - there is another venture for that called COTS. Do not expand into prolonged/augmented ISS operations. We have international obligations but enough is enough.

2/ Provide capability for lunar outpost support. Do not ignore the profound implications of this mission. Surface systems (as cargo) must be expedited and landed without crew, in preparation of long duration crew missions and in critical support of such outpost while manned. Cargo (outpost support) must be expedited in a simple and reliable manner - EOR/LOR/libration points rendezvous and assembly must be avoided. The requirement is for xx tons landed on the Moon in one package.

3/ Design a lunar manned transport system combining item 1/ crew transport and item 2/ cargo transport.



Offline jkumpire

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Men,

It has been a great conversation so far...

Nathan, in defense and space issues there has been times in the past where Congress has affected policy, for good and ill, even if it is out of its league in making decisions. That is the power of the purse, and the power of the voting public, and you wouldn't want it any other way.  We cannot live in Plato's Republic.

Asking questions of Federal agencies like NASA when money is involved is like hitting a cow with a cattle prod, something happens in response (usually). Unlike other programs that have massive amounts of big spending lobbyists and politicians who are tied to its success, NASA is not real big on the pecking order. It has to win fights for money, so it has to respond to legit questions about it's plans and projects.  

Renclod, I totally agree the mission is complex, and ultimately the suits at NASA HQ in DC have to make the tough calls. But, Ross has said that the big suit in NASA has a commitment to Ares which is driving everything else, for good or ill. Direct is touted as a proposal to do the same thing, cheaper, quicker, and better, and we have 300+ pages of threads making its case. After reading it, Direct has a pretty good case, and NASA has said nothing about why it chooses Ares over Direct.

As we know from history, for example, Apollo's mission profile caused huge battles at NASA, and there was a lot of paper and ink, as well as bureaucratic "blood" spilled over the decision. But when everything was laid out on the table, the right plan won.

We now live in much more "certain" and dynamic times, there are untold ways to gather data and get a clearer picture of the choices and alternatives in front of NASA. But at the risk of sounding redundant, NASA it seems has a king maker making a project "the" project, in spite of legitimate alternatives which do the same things better.

I would just like NASA to say why Ares is the only alternative at this point. this is a huge issue for our future, it's not question of either sending Gemini around the Moon, or waiting for Apollo.

I have a lot of respect for Direct's team, they have done a great job presenting a great plan. Ares may well be a better plan, but I would like to see NASA say why Ares is better. If nothing else, I do pay a lot of tax money (doggone it, I wish I had the income to have to pay more taxes ;) ) to see this thing work. I want the best bang for the buck, not the best bang for the hierarchy at NASA HQ.        


Offline rocketguy101

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In reading the AZcentral article*, it appears NASA keeps pointing to Direct 1.0 as the reason for rejecting the idea (2005 was the first version, wasn't it?).  I agree with jk:  tell us why Ares is better than Direct, and make sure you are comparing to the latest proposal.

* http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/04/02/20080402nasa-constellation0402-ON.html
David

Offline A_M_Swallow

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The DIRECT people could provide a pointer to the rebuttal to NASA's reply.  Most journalists may not understand rocket science but politicians lying is something they can handle.

Offline Bill White

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Nathan - 2/4/2008  3:53 PM

Folks,
Congress will not choose one or the other proposal as they are not qualified to do so. They have an agency set up to do the analysis and report to them - that's NASA. The only thing that Congress could realistically do is say to NASA that it's budget is going to be flat for the next five years and that any VSE architecture should take that into account. Budget realism is the key here.

In January 2009 we will have a new President who will have the option of naming a new NASA administrator.  If Congress decides they felt strongly about this there are many ways to explain their concerns to the President and the President would have to be politically brain dead not to listen to these concerns coming out of Congress.

None of Obama, Clinton or McCain are politically brain dead even if their agenda is otherwise too full to pay much attention to NASA.

The battle for DIRECT will be won or lost in the halls of Congress (IMHO) and therefore it may prove necessary to "blitz" Congress and hammer on two problems that DIRECT solves:

(a) The gap that requires American astronauts to fly Soyuz for at least four maybe five years; and

(b) The unavoidable job losses that will accompany a stand down for four or five years.

Congress may not make the final call but they can raise a clamor that will be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and looked into.

April 2009 and that first test flight of Ares 1-X looms large. Very large, IMHO.

= = =

Sticking with the Stick seems like a losing proposition for POTUS #44 whoever he or she may be.

Orbiter retires on his or her watch and then NOTHING happens (that the President can exploit for political gain) until well into a second term.

POTUS #44 must spend billions every year on NASA when his / her successor shall reap all the political prestige IF ESAS proves successful.

Forget engineering, from the perspective of pure politics, ESAS is a total dog. And of course, the DIRECT 2.0 team makes a good case from an engineering perspective.

= = =

Griffin winning this thing (if it gets loose in the halls of Congress) shall be very difficult, IMHO.

And it does NOT matter whether its McCain, Clinton or Obama since reality constrains them all.
EML architectures should be seen as ratchet opportunities

Offline MB123

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Quote
renclod - 3/4/2008 9:58 AM
Quote
jkumpire - 2/4/2008 2:32 AM ... a very simple question ... why is it that NASA sticks with Ares?
1/ Provide crew transport to ISS. Do it with a minimalistic system, but don't forget to assure the 6 months life boat. Do not expand into ISS cargo transport - there is another venture for that called COTS. Do not expand into prolonged/augmented ISS operations. We have international obligations but enough is enough.

I have been reading about DIRECT for a while on this forum and I am yet to see this point addressed -

How will DIRECT satisfy the requirement for a minimalistic crew transport vehicle? (definition:minimalistic - Ares I)

DIRECT has, from a cursory glance (i.e. not even requiring a detailed look into the system) much more of a booster than Ares I (2-off SRB plus a liquid stage vs. 1-off SRB)

Is the DIRECT team arguing that an additional SRB (neglect 4/5/6 seg) and liquid fuel stage represents the gap between Ares I and a booster with 'safe' ascent performance, or,

-does the crew version of DIRECT really have much more performance than is required to satisfy crew launch?


Offline Jim

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MB123 - 3/4/2008  12:48 AM
 Can someone please explain to me how DIRECT/which configuration of the DIRECT vehicle will satisfy the requirement for a minimalistic crew transport vehicle?

There is no requirement

Offline A_M_Swallow

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MB123 - 3/4/2008  5:48 AM
How will DIRECT satisfy the requirement for a minimalistic crew transport vehicle? (definition:minimalistic - Ares I)
DIRECT is just the launch vehicles J-120 and the larger lift J-232 (100 tons).  The team intends to use the same Orion capsule as Ares.

Each J-120 can lift 45 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), twice as much as an Ares I.
This means that the full lunar Orion, including the extra fuel, can be lifted to the ISS.  There is sufficient lift left over that 10 to 20 tons of cargo can be lifted at the same time.

Offline jml

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J-120 Crew Launch Vehicle:
Two existing 4-segment SRB, plus an ET-derived core stage with two ground-lit existing RS-68. No upper stage. Variable cost: $130 million per flight. Estimated in-service availability: Late 2012 (85% confidence level). Capable of launching a non-ZBV Orion CEV and SM with full safety systems, two-string fault-tolerance, and airbags for hard landings, along with additional ballistic shielding between the CEV and LV and a wee bit more extra payload margin.

Compared with Ares I:
One new (to-be-developed for $1.8 billion) 5-segment SRB, plus an upper stage with one new (to-be-developed for $1.2 billion) air-lit J-2X engine. Variable cost: $120 million per flight. Estimated in-service availability: Late 2015 (65% confidence level). May or may not be capable of launching a ZBV Orion CEV and SM to ISS after the weight penalty of TO mitigation.

If NASA desires to reduce the capabilities and cost of the J-120 to more closely match Ares I's duplication of an EELV-class launcher, and wishes to more closely match the Constellation budget profile through an increase in the overall development and fixed cost by having multiple launch vehicle variants, the $115 million per launch J-110 option is also available.     :)
 

 

 

Quote
MB123 - 3/4/2008  12:48 AM

I have been reading about DIRECT for a while on this forum and I am yet to see this point addressed -

How will DIRECT satisfy the requirement for a minimalistic crew transport vehicle? (definition:minimalistic - Ares I)

DIRECT has, from a cursory glance (i.e. not even requiring a detailed look into the system) much more of a booster than Ares I (2-off SRB plus a liquid stage vs. 1-off SRB)

Is the DIRECT team arguing that an additional SRB (neglect 4/5/6 seg) and liquid fuel stage represents the gap between Ares I and a booster with 'safe' ascent performance, or,

-does the crew version of DIRECT really have much more performance than is required to satisfy crew launch?


Offline alexterrell

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jkumpire - 1/4/2008  6:33 PM
When Sean O'Keefe left, Griffin had his chance. O'Keefe left the agency in the position of doing a lot of studies - all based upon EELV architectures which Congress was strongly against because of the jobs situation. By all accounts they made it *very* clear they wouldn't accept an Administrator who would abandon the STS infrastructure.


Is this statement true?

If it is true, then that means that NASA's role is not to conduct a Vision for Space Exploration, but to provide jobs.

Providing jobs  = added costs. You can't have a cheaper solution whilst providing more, or the same amount of jobs.

Across the World, Defence Departments do not engage in building missiles, ships, tanks etc. They procure them and operate them, and for good reason. Perhaps NASA needs to be banned from developing and building rocket launchers.

Offline jml

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alexterrell:

I take it then that you are not familiar with the current state and historical practices of military procurement in defense departments across the NATO alliance.  Defense departments are subject to the exact same whims of government pork and lobbying as NASA. From the legendary $500 toilet seats and hammers to fights over post cold war base closures to the current battles over projects like F-22, A400M, KC-767 vs KC 330, the military certainly doesn't have any less politics and pork involved.

Not that this long public-sector tradition excuses any government branch for this sort of behaviour. Regardless of whether we're talking about new Air Force tankers or new NASA rockets, I want government to provide the best value for the taxpayer dollar. In this case it sure looks like Direct provides the best value if we want to carry out the VSE, while perhaps EELV (or possibly COTS) provides the best value if we want to simply launch crew to the ISS.

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