Author Topic: NASA told to slow down CRS payment schedule for Orbital's cargo runs  (Read 26566 times)

Offline QuantumG

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Yeah, I remember when Pegasus was very exciting.  I think if external circumstances had been different, Orbital might have been a lot more successful than it has been so far at shaking things up.

Well, that was eight years after the company was formed. Their initial business plan was to encourage others to develop cheap launch by making satellites available for cheaper. The launch providers never arrived so they had to do it themselves. All the time getting fatter and slower.

That said, they still do awesome satellites.
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Offline ChrisWilson68

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So what would have been a good slogan for Orbital?
"We might not be the best at launches, but we're definitely best at negotiating favorable contracts with NASA!"
Because OSC left $12M of COTS money on the table, or because they ate an 8 month delay to COTS PDR, or what?  Can you describe those "favorable" contract terms and how do they differ from others?

I was referring mainly to the report that started this thread.  For example,

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Under the current payment schedule, the company is on track to receive up to 70 percent of the funds associated with six of its eight CRS missions prior to having flown a demonstration flight.

Also, there's the fact that for CRS Orbital managed to get NASA to pay $1.9 billion for 8 flights while SpaceX's contract, awarded simultaneously gave them only $1.6 billion for 12 flights.  Both contracts are for the same total mass, 20 metric tons.

Offline joek

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I was referring mainly to the report that started this thread...
The OIG's concern is contract execution, "that NASA has leaned too far forward", not the contract itself.  There is no indication that OSC has received more favorable terms than SpaceX.

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Also, there's the fact that for CRS Orbital managed to get NASA to pay $1.9 billion for 8 flights while SpaceX's contract, awarded simultaneously gave them only $1.6 billion for 12 flights.  Both contracts are for the same total mass, 20 metric tons.
Agree that it appears lopsided.  However: (1) OSC started late (after the RpK debacle); (2) OSC received significantly less COTS funds than SpaceX; (3) the capabilities of Cygnus and Dragon are dissimilar and the value/price per flight is not directly comparable; and (4) the CRS contracts are nominally for up to 20 metric tons for which there are a number of factors that can modify that requirement and render it dubious as primary basis for comparison.

Offline Robotbeat

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I don't get the venom aimed at Orbital. Orbital isn't SpaceX and isn't trying to be. But Orbital launched 7 times in 2011 (the last year for which I have full numbers right now), which is far more than the max of 2 per calendar year that SpaceX has been able to do so far. And this is for a company that doesn't sell themselves as primarily a launch company, unlike SpaceX.
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Offline Jim

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Yeah, I remember when Pegasus was very exciting.  I think if external circumstances had been different, Orbital might have been a lot more successful than it has been so far at shaking things up.

Well, that was eight years after the company was formed. Their initial business plan was to encourage others to develop cheap launch by making satellites available for cheaper. The launch providers never arrived so they had to do it themselves. All the time getting fatter and slower.


The same pattern that Spacex is going to follow

Offline Jim

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I was referring mainly to the report that started this thread.  For example,


Wouldn't be surprised if a report will come out on Spacex with the delays coming up.

Offline Lar

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I don't get the venom aimed at Orbital. Orbital isn't SpaceX and isn't trying to be. But Orbital launched 7 times in 2011 (the last year for which I have full numbers right now), which is far more than the max of 2 per calendar year that SpaceX has been able to do so far. And this is for a company that doesn't sell themselves as primarily a launch company, unlike SpaceX.

I think OSC is awesome. But they aren't driven by the fire in the belly of a charismatic leader the way SpaceX is.[1] They're in business to make money, and if there are awesome things that come of it, great!! 

I see SpaceX as existing to do awesome things that its founder wants to do, and making money is the fuel to get there. And yes, that makes me a kool aid drinker. It may not work out, but I truly believe Elon isn't in it just for the money.

I would think most people here see that too... they might not think he is going to succeed, they might not agree with his decisions, but do they doubt his sincere desire to go that way rather than money as the motive?

Yeah, I remember when Pegasus was very exciting.  I think if external circumstances had been different, Orbital might have been a lot more successful than it has been so far at shaking things up.

Well, that was eight years after the company was formed. Their initial business plan was to encourage others to develop cheap launch by making satellites available for cheaper. The launch providers never arrived so they had to do it themselves. All the time getting fatter and slower.


The same pattern that Spacex is going to follow

Jim, I hope you're wrong. But I acknowledge and fear that you may be right. I think working with government does that to companies.

1 - today. Perhaps they were at one point but they've mutated. Not good, not bad, just is And OSC's very own NSF posting rocket scientist certainly IS charismatic :) (Hi, Antonioe)


« Last Edit: 06/20/2013 02:52 PM by Lar »
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Offline Jim

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Jim, I hope you're wrong. But I acknowledge and fear that you may be right. I think working with government does that to companies.


a.  It is not just working with the gov't that causes it.
b.  It happened to Spacehab too.

« Last Edit: 06/20/2013 02:55 PM by Jim »

Offline Antares

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The actual delivery contract should not have started paying them until they actually started delivering stuff.

The obvious question is are Spacex on these terms as well? Because they seem exceptionally generous by the standards of a commercial contract and NASA should not have signed it with either of them.   :(

Naive.  What's the alternative?  Delaying delivery capability another two years, the time that it takes to integrate a mission.  Sorry, this is space operations.  We don't have time for that.

Launch vehicles are not built in a few days or even weeks.

I expect that without staged CRS payments, they wouldn't have been able to start building much of the CRS hardware yet.

And if they hadn't started yet, there would be no chance of meeting NASA's resupply requirement schedule. So NASA spends some money up front to get what they want, when they need it.
Alternate reality science fiction.

kkattula is spot on.  QuantumG is in a la-la land we all wish existed.  It'd be great to plunk down 100% of the mission price only upon accomplishment of a successful mission, but so far no rocket provider is willing to stand up for that (at least with the unique spacecraft requirements of a government mission).


later on NASA "decided" they wanted a "risk reduction flight" and paid OSC about another $300m
False.  Orbital and SpaceX went to Congress with tin cups out during the 2009 stimulus porkfest.  Congress appropriated additional money in the stimulus for COTS (and other NASA programs), and the COTS partners proposed what those funds should go to with NASA's agreement.


To NASA the contractors can do no wrong. To Congress, they can do no right.

Sir, you were just hidden.
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Offline john smith 19

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Naive.  What's the alternative?  Delaying delivery capability another two years, the time that it takes to integrate a mission.  Sorry, this is space operations.  We don't have time for that.
what capability? True they started around 18 months behind Spacex but instead of making up that they have just fallen further behind.
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Launch vehicles are not built in a few days or even weeks.

I expect that without staged CRS payments, they wouldn't have been able to start building much of the CRS hardware yet.

And if they hadn't started yet, there would be no chance of meeting NASA's resupply requirement schedule. So NASA spends some money up front to get what they want, when they need it.
Alternate reality science fiction.

kkattula is spot on.  QuantumG is in a la-la land we all wish existed.  It'd be great to plunk down 100% of the mission price only upon accomplishment of a successful mission, but so far no rocket provider is willing to stand up for that (at least with the unique spacecraft requirements of a government mission).
Actually I know enough about how 1 off contracting work is done to expect stage payments. Work is done, work is paid for. Fair enough. But hold on. NASA is paying for launch 3 and 4 when the development programme is not complete and the system is not fully verified. Have the Russians threatened to break up the tooling? Because there's an old rule of aerospace thumb that says "He who owns the tooling owns the programme."   :(

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False.  Orbital and SpaceX went to Congress with tin cups out during the 2009 stimulus porkfest.  Congress appropriated additional money in the stimulus for COTS (and other NASA programs), and the COTS partners proposed what those funds should go to with NASA's agreement.
I wondered about this. so OSC weren't that confident their design would work first time.

My problem with OSC is from an outsiders perspective they have approached this as a typical cost plus government contract.

COTS seemed to have a clear goal of avoiding having any major non US supplier in its supply chain, although (for some reason) that was not specifically written into the programme terms.

Which OSC interpreted as "The Russians are cheap and have great engines we'll use them." Re-creating exactly the situation this programme was designed to address.

My 2c is they will make the launches (or not) and sell additional flights either to resupply the ISS (or not) and any other payloads they can get till the supply of engines runs out and can the programme as "mission accomplished."

Let's now return to the topic of this thread.
« Last Edit: 06/29/2013 09:04 AM by john smith 19 »
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Offline marsman2020

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I think OSC is awesome.

I think you must have missed the part where they put $700 million in taxpayer hardware at the bottom of the Pacific ocean.

And we paid them over $100 million to do it.

Ask the folks who put their time and effort into OCO and Glory how "awesome" they think Orbital is.

How hard is it really to cobble together different stages that other people make like a real-life version of KSP?  Lots of people have tried it. Orbital has just...failed less.  And the one part of the entire vehicle that is uniquely Orbital's to engineer and not a government leftover (how come no other companies get to use these leftover stage to make launch vehicles?  Shouldn't there be some bidding process to receive them?) or provided by a subcontractor, they managed to have 2 failures in a row.

Offline Jim

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1.   And the one part of the entire vehicle that is uniquely Orbital's to engineer and not a government leftover (how come no other companies get to use these leftover stage to make launch vehicles?

2. Shouldn't there be some bidding process to receive them?) or provided by a subcontractor, they managed to have 2 failures in a row.

1.  Taurus doesn't use any leftover stages.  The Castor 120 (stage 0) and the Pegasus motors (Stages 1, 2 & 3) are all commercial stages.

2.  Yes, there was.  See OSP and OSP-II for Minotaur.

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