Author Topic: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat  (Read 57513 times)

Offline alexSA

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #40 on: 10/28/2009 07:28 PM »
No, I haven't made a single assumption.  Quit putting words into my mouth.  The only info I have to go from is a couple of official looking websites.

If SpaceX's claim of an order of magnitude smaller workforce is true, who am I to assume otherwise?  If someone has better info, then may they come forward.  I could make the "assumption" that SpaceX is paying their workforce 10times the going rate and thus they aren't making a good profit.  That's a safe assumption.  Not.

Furthermore, SpaceX claims to be making the large part of their rockets, not relying on sub-contractors, with their inevitable layers of overhead and profit.  I didn't look into ULA's use of sub-contractors, just at the reported bottom line $90M number, so I can't comment on that.

Now maybe my suggestions are wrong.  So say that.  Again, I didn't make a single assumption.

Well, risking to continue this off topic discussion:

1. Falcon 9, despite all announcements and efforts, is still a paper rocket with not a single launch.

2. It's very easy to state paper rocket launch prices on company websites. People might not remember, but the price for the Falcon 1 was originally stated to be 5 million USD in 2005, now it has risen to 10 million in just 4 years. Inflation wasn't that high...

3. Jim correctly pointed out that the prices SpaceX put on their website aren't prices that the government would have to pay. And even SpaceX says that those prices are only "guidance" and dependent on actual negotiations of particular contracts.

4. ULA has more employees than SpaceX. This is surely correct, but it is far from being one magnitude higher than SpaceX, despite ULA operating 3 rocket families with different rocket variations. I remember that Musk in an interview in 2004 said that he wanted to limit SpaceX to about 500 people because he wanted it to be small and efficient. SpaceX is at 800 now and counting - they will break the 1000 mark quite soon.

5. And just to put labor costs vs. claimed launch costs into perspective, let's assume the average engineer at SpaceX costs them 200k (that's salary, benefits, taxes etc. etc.) and assume they also got lower paid workers, very optimistically their per employee cost is in the 120k area (that's VERY optimistic) then at 800 employees SpaceX's labor costs alone are 100 million per year and once they got 1000 employees next year it's more. They need at least 3 launches per year at their stated prices to just pay their employees. And that's just labor costs, not counting costs for infrastructure, buildings, rocket parts, launch site fees, range fees etc.

To sum things up, we can safely assume SpaceX's actual launch prices will be in the range of other market players. They will compete with others and offer launches at prices that help them get contracts even for a yet unproven rocket. If the Falcon 9 proves to be a reliable vehicle, they will increase its price further.

Offline Will

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #41 on: 10/28/2009 08:00 PM »
Forget GTO, then if you wish.  I feel certain that SpaceX will get to GTO, since that's where a good bit of the comsat and geosat market is.  And I'm sure government prices are much lower.  [stifled snort]  And when SpaceX sez: "same pricing for all customers" on their website, that's a falsehood?

It appears that Atlas V 401 and Falcon 9 can carry roughly the same payload to LEO, and it also appears that Falcon 9 costs about half as much to launch.  And if SpaceX has 1/10th the personell overhead, that tells me that oldspace looks more like a dinosaur, and newspace looks more like a mammal.  It also suggests that SpaceX is making a good profit.  Unless there's profit to be made in space, there will be no companies doing business in space.

Which then suggests that commercial actors are beginning to succeed.


Price is not the same thing as cost. SpaceX prices could be loss leaders to build experience in the early years, or overconfident plans that do not match the real costs to operate going forward.

Also for most customers the relevant metric is payload to GTO, not LEO.
« Last Edit: 10/28/2009 08:10 PM by Will »

Offline qti

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« Reply #42 on: 10/28/2009 09:05 PM »
No, I haven't made a single assumption.  Quit putting words into my mouth.  The only info I have to go from is a couple of official looking websites.

If SpaceX's claim of an order of magnitude smaller workforce is true, who am I to assume otherwise?  If someone has better info, then may they come forward.  I could make the "assumption" that SpaceX is paying their workforce 10times the going rate and thus they aren't making a good profit.  That's a safe assumption.  Not.

Now maybe my suggestions are wrong.  So say that.  Again, I didn't make a single assumption.

Well, risking to continue this off topic discussion:

4. ULA has more employees than SpaceX. This is surely correct, but it is far from being one magnitude higher than SpaceX, despite ULA operating 3 rocket families with different rocket variations. I remember that Musk in an interview in 2004 said that he wanted to limit SpaceX to about 500 people because he wanted it to be small and efficient. SpaceX is at 800 now and counting - they will break the 1000 mark quite soon.
 

Your major assumption is believing what is posted.

ULA’s employment is a little over 3,000 folks and declining, no where near 10 times SpaceX’s 800 and growing.  These people support about 15 Delta II, Atlas V and Delta IVs each year covering the entire range of national security and science payloads to all orbits:  ~5,000 to 50,000 lb to LEO; 2,000 to 30,000 lb to GTO; 2,000 to 14, 000 lb to GSO.

Online Robotbeat

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« Reply #43 on: 10/28/2009 09:11 PM »
1. Falcon 9, despite all announcements and efforts, is still a paper rocket with not a single launch.
It has not launched, yet, but it is, by definition, NOT a paper rocket. A subscale demonstrator of its first stage has already flown twice successfully (Falcon 1). That means it is at least as far as the Ares-I. It is already built, and has already been test-fired.
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2. It's very easy to state paper rocket launch prices on company websites. People might not remember, but the price for the Falcon 1 was originally stated to be 5 million USD in 2005, now it has risen to 10 million in just 4 years. Inflation wasn't that high...
It was advertised at $5.9 million in 2005. The Falcon 1 is currently marketed as $8.9 million four years later. That is a pretty big difference, but not as big as you mentioned. Also, the Falcon 1e (which, admittedly, has yet to fly) has well over twice the payload of Falcon 1, yet is less than twice as expensive (marketed at $10.5 million). While the price has gone up for the small launches, the currently marketed price-per-kg for the falcon 1e is less than the initial price-per-kg for the Falcon 1. Your figures are intentionally incorrect, since you round 5.9 million down to 5 million and round 8.9 million all the way up to 10 million.

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3. Jim correctly pointed out that the prices SpaceX put on their website aren't prices that the government would have to pay. And even SpaceX says that those prices are only "guidance" and dependent on actual negotiations of particular contracts.

4. ULA has more employees than SpaceX. This is surely correct, but it is far from being one magnitude higher than SpaceX, despite ULA operating 3 rocket families with different rocket variations. I remember that Musk in an interview in 2004 said that he wanted to limit SpaceX to about 500 people because he wanted it to be small and efficient. SpaceX is at 800 now and counting - they will break the 1000 mark quite soon.

5. And just to put labor costs vs. claimed launch costs into perspective, let's assume the average engineer at SpaceX costs them 200k (that's salary, benefits, taxes etc. etc.) and assume they also got lower paid workers, very optimistically their per employee cost is in the 120k area (that's VERY optimistic) then at 800 employees SpaceX's labor costs alone are 100 million per year and once they got 1000 employees next year it's more. They need at least 3 launches per year at their stated prices to just pay their employees. And that's just labor costs, not counting costs for infrastructure, buildings, rocket parts, launch site fees, range fees etc.
200k? 120k? That's pretty impressive... I know how much benefits, etc, cost, but that is rather high pay.
SpaceX makes their own rocket parts, they bought their launch site second-hand, they don't have requirements to keep two or more separate rocket families available etc...

There are many, many differences between SpaceX and ULA that could drive down the cost of launching for SpaceX. Besides, SpaceX is a private company owned by, as far as I'm aware of, space enthusiasts (Elon Musk, etc) that have a non-financial motive for lowering the costs.

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To sum things up, we can safely assume SpaceX's actual launch prices will be in the range of other market players. They will compete with others and offer launches at prices that help them get contracts even for a yet unproven rocket. If the Falcon 9 proves to be a reliable vehicle, they will increase its price further.
You have no evidence for this. If Falcon 9 turns out to be a reliable and reusable launch vehicle, it would likely have lower launch costs rather than higher launch costs. Otherwise, their customers would demand a brand new Falcon 9 every time.
« Last Edit: 10/28/2009 09:20 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline Xplor

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« Reply #44 on: 10/28/2009 09:25 PM »
Building rockets to a companies internal requirements sets up a certain level of needed people.  Such a company may or may not wind up with a reliable launch system.  I think that although SpaceX has succeeded twice in launching Falcon 1’s the jury is still out as to will it be reliable.  And the Falcon 9 is still a complete unknown.  I am not in anyway trying to be unkind to SpaceX here, I wish them the best of luck!

The American government payloads are typically one of a kind, very expensive, frequently over $1,000 million.  The government self “insures” these payloads because loss of mission means so much more than simply the money involved.  To help ensure a successful launch the government literally hires a large mission assurance army of civil servant and contract help to poke into every aspect of the rocket.  Jim and Antares represent just 2 of the thousands of these folks trying to ensure successful launches. This mission assurance army’s sole job is to dig and dig and dig trying to find hidden failure opportunities.  At the contractor it takes another army of equally dedicated people to answer the questions brought forth by the mission assurance army.

For COTS NASA kept their mission assurance army away from SpaceX to allow SpaceX the freedom of a small company to develop Falcon.  SpaceX is just beginning to enjoy the oversight environment of trying to get American government launch approval for critical, expensive, national payloads. 

Online Robotbeat

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #45 on: 10/28/2009 09:30 PM »
Building rockets to a companies internal requirements sets up a certain level of needed people.  Such a company may or may not wind up with a reliable launch system.  I think that although SpaceX has succeeded twice in launching Falcon 1’s the jury is still out as to will it be reliable.  And the Falcon 9 is still a complete unknown.  I am not in anyway trying to be unkind to SpaceX here, I wish them the best of luck!

The American government payloads are typically one of a kind, very expensive, frequently over $1,000 million.  The government self “insures” these payloads because loss of mission means so much more than simply the money involved.  To help ensure a successful launch the government literally hires a large mission assurance army of civil servant and contract help to poke into every aspect of the rocket.  Jim and Antares represent just 2 of the thousands of these folks trying to ensure successful launches. This mission assurance army’s sole job is to dig and dig and dig trying to find hidden failure opportunities.  At the contractor it takes another army of equally dedicated people to answer the questions brought forth by the mission assurance army.

For COTS NASA kept their mission assurance army away from SpaceX to allow SpaceX the freedom of a small company to develop Falcon.  SpaceX is just beginning to enjoy the oversight environment of trying to get American government launch approval for critical, expensive, national payloads. 
Very insightful. I would suggest, too, that perhaps buying leasing LC-40 was a bad idea, because of the range restrictions there. If there's some magical launch site with virtually no range restrictions (like their Kwaj site) but is really easy to get to (like LC-40), that'd be ideal. If you are being caught up by having a fishing boat nearby, then space travel will never be routine. I suppose this is why fly-back boasters are popular among RLV fans... And yes, this is off-topic.

(On second thought, as long as they are leasing and don't spend billions of dollars on immobile infrastructure there, it might not be a bad idea in the short term.)
« Last Edit: 10/28/2009 09:33 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline Antares

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #46 on: 10/28/2009 09:41 PM »
1) And then there is the CRS $1.6B which he doesn't get any money from until he delivers but can be used to leverage private investment.

2) NASA sience had the free ride, getting to use these two world class rockets without investing in their development.

1) False.  Most commercial launch contracts, NASA and USAF and private satellites, have milestone payments.  Rare are the ones all at the end (NSS-8 being one I can think of).  The CRS RFP, just like other NASA launch contracts, asked for milestone payments to be proposed.  Given the structure of the SpaceX COTS milestones which get most of the money without launching, I wouldn't imagine that SpaceX would settle for all of the money at the end.  Those who provided earlier funds and expect a return would never go for that.

2) Sorta.  The launch prices, for all customers not just NASA Science, include what Boeing and LM want to recoup their development costs.

I really like this commercial debate, but we're in a wrong thread for it.  Can we move it somewhere else?
If I like something on NSF, it's probably because I know it to be accurate.  Every once in a while, it's just something I agree with.  Facts generally receive the former.

Offline Antares

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #47 on: 10/28/2009 10:03 PM »
Xplor, I'm curious what you think the relative sizes of armies are:

Shuttle Contractors
Shuttle NASA
ULA
Orbital
SpaceX
USAF ELV
NASA ELV
If I like something on NSF, it's probably because I know it to be accurate.  Every once in a while, it's just something I agree with.  Facts generally receive the former.

Offline Xplor

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #48 on: 10/28/2009 11:24 PM »
1) And then there is the CRS $1.6B which he doesn't get any money from until he delivers but can be used to leverage private investment.

2) NASA sience had the free ride, getting to use these two world class rockets without investing in their development.

1) False.  Most commercial launch contracts, NASA and USAF and private satellites, have milestone payments.  Rare are the ones all at the end (NSS-8 being one I can think of).  The CRS RFP, just like other NASA launch contracts, asked for milestone payments to be proposed.  Given the structure of the SpaceX COTS milestones which get most of the money without launching, I wouldn't imagine that SpaceX would settle for all of the money at the end.  Those who provided earlier funds and expect a return would never go for that.

2) Sorta.  The launch prices, for all customers not just NASA Science, include what Boeing and LM want to recoup their development costs.

I really like this commercial debate, but we're in a wrong thread for it.  Can we move it somewhere else?

Thanks for the clarification.  I thought for CRS SpaceX and Orbital got paid on delivery.  Any idea what the progress payment milestones and amounts are?  What happens if they eventually can't support cargo delivery are they required to return the progress payments?

Yes, NASA is now through launch prices paying for the development, just like any commercial product, say a Mac. 

Yes, this is off topic, but fun.

Offline Xplor

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Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #49 on: 10/28/2009 11:31 PM »
Xplor, I'm curious what you think the relative sizes of armies are:

Shuttle Contractors
Shuttle NASA
ULA
Orbital
SpaceX
USAF ELV
NASA ELV

"Army" is maybe an inflammatory term that I used to make a point.  I didn’t mean to insult you or anyone else. 

I believe that KSC LSP has about 400 people supporting all expendable launches (Atlas, Delta II & IV, Pegasus, Taurus, Falcon, …).  Let me know if I remember correctly.

I don’t know the head counts for Analex, Aerospace, various parts of DoD and NRO.

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #50 on: 10/29/2009 12:06 AM »
Split the thread as it was taken off course into the world of SpaceX. Continue.

Offline Jim

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #51 on: 10/29/2009 12:24 AM »
If there's some magical launch site with virtually no range restrictions (like their Kwaj site)

Kwaj isn't so magical.  It shuts down weeks at time.

Offline kkattula

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #52 on: 10/29/2009 02:42 AM »
SpaceX make their own rocket engines, with all the testing overhead that implies. Three different engines; Kestrel, Merlin & Draco, plus two versions of Merlin. Plus an enhanced Merlin & a BFE being designed if not yet developed.

ULA buy rocket engines from PWR and (in-directly?) from the Russians. So engine development & production people aren't counted in their 3000 workforce.

SpaceX are developing & building the Dragon spacecraft. Those people are included in their 800.

ULA don't build spacecraft.


So how many people at SpaceX work in LV related jobs comparable to ULA? 300? 500?  Order of magnitude might not be too far off.
« Last Edit: 10/29/2009 02:43 AM by kkattula »

Offline Ben the Space Brit

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #53 on: 10/29/2009 10:02 AM »
If there's some magical launch site with virtually no range restrictions (like their Kwaj site)

Kwaj isn't so magical.  It shuts down weeks at time.

It is in the middle of the Pacific, IIRC.  Getting stuff there must be a pain (and costly).
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Offline William Barton

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #54 on: 10/29/2009 11:18 AM »
Reagarding SpaceX and LC-40, I'm guessing there was a considerable advantage in getting an existing pad sited where there is a range already used for HSF and for existing rockets in the same general class as Falcon 9. It's also a site where, I assume, commercial service already exists for necessaries like LOX, RP-1 and hypergolics. I wonder how much of that is true for Wallops? Maybe like the difference between building a world-class hotel in a major city, vs. building one in a small town. I like Wallops because of it's dual launch azimuth to ISS orbit, which doubles launch windows, as well as letting you launch manned capsules over the tropics in the winter, instead of over the North Atlantic. But I don't know how important that is in the long run, since we have no idea when ISS will be coming down (some time between 2016 and 2030 is a big range). As far as I know, Taurus II is going to be the largest LV ever flown from Wallops. I don't know where you would site a launch complex that had zero range restrictions. Inland at the western edge of a large, almost uninhabited equatorial desert? Timbuktu Space Center, here we come...

Offline alexSA

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #55 on: 10/29/2009 11:54 AM »

200k? 120k? That's pretty impressive... I know how much benefits, etc, cost, but that is rather high pay.
Try to get a good engineer in CA for under 120k per year (that doesn't even have all the extra costs that are not going to the employee in it). Impossible.

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SpaceX makes their own rocket parts, they bought their launch site second-hand, they don't have requirements to keep two or more separate rocket families available etc...

1. Making rocket parts in-house doesn't actually have to be cheaper than buying them elsewhere.
2. They did not buy any launch site, they lease it. Costs for launch sites are in maintenance, and that's pretty much the same for anyone launching from a major US spaceport.
3. It's not inefficient to have two separate rocket families if it's a requirement by your de-facto sole customer. Launching two separate rocket families doesn't need to be a bad thing either, if it opens up possibilities for different payloads (e.g. Soyuz from Kourou).

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1. There are many, many differences between SpaceX and ULA that could drive down the cost of launching for SpaceX.
2. Besides, SpaceX is a private company owned by, as far as I'm aware of, space enthusiasts (Elon Musk, etc) that have a non-financial motive for lowering the costs.
1. I am not aware of (any additional) prominent differences that have a substantial effect on costs. Please elaborate.
2. I fail to see how that should work out. Even enthusiasts will price their product to market prices.

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1. If Falcon 9 turns out to be a reliable and reusable launch vehicle, it would likely have lower launch costs rather than higher launch costs.
2. Otherwise, their customers would demand a brand new Falcon 9 every time.

ad 1. What I said was, that in order to gain a certain market share you need to price your rocket low first until you have a certain number of launches on record and established a reliable service. Once you have a reliable service, more customers will be willing to use your services. You then increase your prices to match the possible yearly launch rate (if you really get as much customers). If I got 10 times product X and sell it for Y and there are 20 potential customers, I increase X until I match a price Z where the number of customers has gone down to 10. And no, even if you are a space enthusiast, you will still not arbitrarily set a very low launch rate that doesn't make you good profits, you maximize profits as much as possible. You work with the price that gets you enough contracts for the highest possible yearly profit or - depending on your strategy - as many payloads as you can launch.

ad 2. Every (paying) customer SpaceX will have will demand a reliable rocket. Whether the first stage has been reused and retooled or not is irrelevant. SpaceX has to show that they are providing the best possible reliability with their vehicle. Considering the costs of payloads these days, nobody will settle for a lower reliability in exchange for a 5-10 million lower launch price.
« Last Edit: 10/29/2009 11:59 AM by alexSA »

Offline JohnFornaro

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #56 on: 10/29/2009 12:27 PM »
Herb:

When I read Jim's post about "government prices" I quickly assumed that he might be making an oblique reference to the complexities of certain government contracts, such as the necessary secrecy, redundancy, reliability and whatnot for a DoD spysat, for example.  But then, if I were to have made that quiet assumption, I'd be comparing this launch to, say, the launch of an "ordinary" comsat by Joe's Cellfone Company.  That would not have been an apples to apples comparison.

So, technically, I did make an assumption, mea culpa.  I assumed that when SpaceX advertises the "same price", that it means the same price for the same sort of mission.  I insist that that was a valid assumption, and ask again, what point could Jim possibly have been making about government pricing.

I stand corrected about the F9 inaugural flight.  I misread and mis-reported the website, which is really embarrasing, but there it is.  I appreciate AlexSA's comments.  SpaceX needs to use bigger type for older eyes.

[writes on blackboard 100 times: I will not confuse F1 and F9...  I will not confuse F1 and F9...  I will not confuse...]

Having figured out how to count to nine, I reiterate the comparison of only F9 to Atlas V 401, correct?

"they bought their launch site second-hand..."  Hey buddy, I got some land in Texas or Florida I'll sell ya pretty cheap.

Also, what about the western edge of Madagascar?  I got some land for sale there, too.
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Offline yg1968

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #57 on: 10/29/2009 02:28 PM »
I've noticed that some people are fans of both NASA launchers and SpaceX while they dislike ULA. I found this perplexing, but it may have something to do with political outlook.

I am one of those that favours SpaceX's Falcon 9 and NASA's Ares rockets. I think that they can co-exist under a COTS-D type program. NASA would concentrate on beyond LEO and companies such as SpaceX (or other commercial companies) would concentate on bringing crew to the ISS and to other LEO destinations (space tourism, DragonLab, etc).  What I like about Space X is that they have been selling their manned space program as an LEO option (not as a a replacement for the Ares rockets). In other words, they haven't been lobbying to get Ares I and V cancelled.
« Last Edit: 10/29/2009 02:31 PM by yg1968 »

Offline mmeijeri

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #58 on: 10/29/2009 02:30 PM »
What about ULA? And are you a NASA employee if you don't mind my asking?
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Offline yg1968

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Re: Augustine HSF Review SpaceX and Commerical Chat
« Reply #59 on: 10/29/2009 02:32 PM »
No, I don't work in the space industry. I would be OK with an option involving ULA if it was a LEO commercial option such as an EELV with a SpaceDev vehicle. But I would prefer that NASA keep Ares V. I have a hard time making my mind up about whether canceling Ares I is really necessary for commercial crew to happen.   The HSF Committee seems to think so.
« Last Edit: 10/29/2009 02:39 PM by yg1968 »

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