The Dawn of a New American Enterprise

The space program announcement on Monday was, in my view, status quo shattering.

It engages a lot of risk, but if you look carefully at what it says (as opposed to what the mass media says it says), you will see that it unlocks an enormous realm of opportunity. In my view, the opportunity far outweighs the risks.

When NASA operates the only crewed vehicle to space, then NASA decides who gets to go. NASA’s choice is a select cadre of individuals, highly trained not only in the systems and environment of space, but also in how to keep it together when the crap hits the fan. Taking this training to the private sector will no doubt prove remunerative for many.

From a company perspective, not being able to send the employee you choose because NASA said no rather works against your business decisions. When a company can pay a launch provider to take their chosen employee to an orbital site to do whatever, then a barrier to entry has been removed, making it easier for a company to make the decision to send an employee to orbit to do research or production in space.

By choosing to end NASA’s monopoly on the provision of crewed transport to orbit, the President (via his advisors, I’m sure) has made the decision to open space commerce to all of the American enterprise.

The challenge is the provision of transport to orbit. I’ve seen a lot of negative comments regarding whether U.S. industry can step up to the plate and deliver on their potential. Given that Boeing and Lockmart are the legacies of the companies that have built our spacecraft, it seems a bit unreasonable to say that they cannot provide a crewed vehicle for their existing launch vehicles. They may choose not to take that route, but I have a strong feeling that they can in fact do so.

There are folks who say that we shouldn’t rely on the private sector, yet that is what everyone does every day. As I look around my apartment I the only thing that I can think of that is actually government-provided is my clean water. Sure the government has touched pretty much everything in my apartment in some way, shape or form, but for my DVD player I rely on Dynex. For my laptop I use Fujitsu. The bowl with all my pens in it is from Clark of the Navajo. My desk was made by Leopold Co. of Burlington, Ohio. My ride to work is a Volkswagen.

Let’s talk about rides to work for a minute. The shuttle and Soyouz are, right now, the rides to work for those on orbit. The Soyouz has a long track record of getting its passengers home alive. Not spotless, but definitely solid. The Shuttle has had two major stand-downs in the last quarter century, for a hair’s breadth over 20% of that time. In essence, one year in five was non-performing. Imagine if your car could only get you to work four days out of the standard five day work week.

So when people say that only government can provide transportation to orbit, they’re saying that the U.S. is limited to the transportation that NASA provides, when NASA can provide it, and who they say can go. I don’t know about other folks, but I tend to chafe under that kind of diktat.

“Oh, but there’s no business up in space!” cry the nattering nabobs of negativity. As if they have any clue of what business is about. Their lack of imagination should not be my burden.

So what kinds of things are there to do on orbit? My first suggestion would be to scrounge up a copy of the book “Space Industrialization Opportunities“, edited by Jernigan & Pentecost, and then actually read through it. Sure it’s long at 601 pages, and there’re sections that can be skipped over, but reading through it is absolutely eye-opening as far as seeing what kind of research still awaits us.

So there are going to be two initial approaches – a continuation of the existing Mid-Deck Locker (MDL) model, and infrastructure pieces that allow for more crewed work, the orbital equivalent of the lab bench. It’s unknown (or at least, I don’t know) whether the Bigelow facilities will conform to the ISPR standard (which the MDLs fit in), but my guess is that would be the decision of the lessor or the lessee and the terms of the contract.

Microgravity science research is not a make-believe industry. People paid Richard Garriott to take their experiments to orbit. The former SpaceHab (now AstroTech) is doing breakthrough research on orbit. Before Challenger, NASA had a long list of private companies queueing up to send their payloads to orbit. After Challenger, and then catching up with the military payloads, and then the NASA science payloads, and then the runs to Mir, and the private companies could never get back on board. You can’t blame them, they don’t have the capital to keep people on payroll on standby waiting for NASA to take their payload up maybe at some point. Business can’t operate like that, but that is where we have been for the last couple of decades.

And who’s going to provide human crewed transport to orbit in competition with NASA and Energia? That made no business sense, but everyone talked as if that was the way it had to be.

Now we have a different path to not only the ISS, but additional (thank you Mr. Bigelow) destinations on orbit. And Man, in the generic species-wide sense, does not live on science alone. What other things could we be doing in enclosed microgravity environments? I imagine part of the reason that Mr. Cameron wrote such a glowing editorial in support of the changes proposed is that he has his eye on a large hollow three-dimensional space with cameras everywhere, as could be provided by a Bigelow balloon. He could pay a company to take his team and equipment to orbit, and he would be able to film in a way that no one ever has before, although the IMAX films come close. I can also see Hong Kong filmmakers doing away with the wires and filming radical new combat scenes. I don’t know about the Apollo folks, but my generation grewup on Ender’s Game, and I was a huge fan of the Battle Room. Laser Tag in 3-D? You know that’s going to be a popular workout.

Habitation is a de rigeur requirement of humans in orbit, so there exists any number of opportunities in that domain. From the design of sleeping quarters to the provision of supplies, there are a number of niches for companies to exploit. Final Frontier Beef Jerky seems to have already cornered the market on dried beefstuffs on orbit, but there are lots of other things that go well with the microgravity environment.

What to do in space? Sightseeing is already a favored pastime on the ISS, so I have no doubt it will be popular in that regard amongst a broader audience. Certain adult recreational activities are oft cited, and if you want to do some research in that regard I would point you to the 3-DVD set “The Uranus Experiment” [Link absolutely totally not safe for work or children]. This is an adult film that is absolutely not for amateurs, but does contain the first cinematic instance in microgravity of what is colloquially referred to as the Money Shot. And no, things don’t behave the way they do here on Earth.

There’s actually an interesting story behind the movie. A German adult film company decided to make a science-fiction film sometime in the mid to late 1990s. They toured NASA, but when NASA found out what they wanted to film on the Vomit Comet, they declined to license their services. So the company went to the Russians, who said “You pay us how much? Okay! And you clean up afterwards!” Having flown on Zero-G, I have a great deal of respect for the professionalism of the actors and actresses who performed under unique and difficult circumstances. I’ve already got an idea for “Murphy Straps” to help facilitate the process, perhaps do a licensing agreement with Victoria’s Secret. So is there a market for that sort of stuff? Duh! Because in addition to The Uranus Experiment there is also Rocket Girls, Emmanuelle in Space, Space-Thing and others. Oh, can’t forget Wham! Bam! Thank you Spaceman!

One obvious piece of orbital hardware, part of the “infrastructure” that people talk about, is a Universal Docking Node (UDN). This would allow unlimited modularity of vehicles and modules. Setting universal interface standards is a key way to accelerate cislunar development. Provision of a UDN would more easily allow a private venture to cobble together a couple trans-LEO vehicles, some Bigelow balloons for habitation and storage, and sufficient fuel for a trip to take-your-choice destination. GEO, EML-1, LLO, a visit to an asteroid, maybe park out at L5 for a while to get some preliminary environmental readings. That’s the power of opening space to private interests. It allows for a much greater variety of projects, and more destinations can be explored.

That of course, is not enough to sustain a LEO economy, so let’s consider other ways to add value. One obvious way is post-launch inspection and repair of satellites. The roughest part of the trip for a satellite is the launch through the atmosphere of Earth. Stuff ends up not working right after launch, and being able to inspect and repair satellites may be a key part of the service sector in LEO. There’s also going to need to be an aggregation of materials in LEO for pushes further out. Things like research and development on propellant depots will help to accelerate this process. As will the availability of storage so that longer-term assets can be parked in orbit for a while.

So where would one have facilities in LEO? Given how tough it is to change inclination that deep in the gravity well, facilities are likely to spring up at inclinations of particular utility. Equatorial would provide a fair amount of GEO CommSat traffic that might be interested in a post-launch overhaul. Jon Goff over at the Selenian Boondocks (one of my old haunts) suggested something in the low-40s that would be readily accessible to most inland spaceports, making it of particular interest to the tourist trade. ISS has the benefit of passing over 85% of the land mass of Earth over the course of its orbits, making it an excellent platform for Earth observation. So different markets are going to be available.

eml1station.jpg

Looking further out, the Earth-Moon L-1 point (EML-1) is the next logical destination, as it is indifferent to the LEO inclination. This is not necessarily intuitive, but the best way to think about it is like this – imagine the Earth and Moon in three dimensions, about 240,000 miles (384,000 km) apart. Now draw a line from the center-of-mass of the Earth to center-of-mass of the Moon. Hold that line fixed in 3-D space.

Now drop the Earth and Moon into gravity wells. The Earth’s gravity well is quite deep, the Moon’s a dimple in comparison. Perched about 86% of the way to the Moon along that fixed line is where those gravity wells peak, at EML-1. This is the lowest delta-V launch point in cislunar space to more places than anywhere else.

eml-1.jpg

Now draw a Hohmann ellipse from LEO out to EML-1. This is traditionally done in the plane of orbit of the Moon, but we’re dealing with space, you have to think in three dimensions. Rotate that ellipse around the fixed line, and you have your map of orbits to EML-1, and they basically all cost the same delta-V, which helps to standardize fuel delivery requirements. Polar orbits are the exception, as the Earth is a bit pudgy around the middle and that messes things up a bit.

EML-1 serves as a crossroads in cislunar space, making it a key logistics point. It will also serve as a stockpiling point, enabling missions to the Moon, the asteroids, and even Mars. I would love to be the bartender on that facility.

Cargo and Machinery is going to be heading out to the Moon, eventually you want LOX to head back all the way down to LEO. Hydrogen we really need to be getting from asteroids, but the Moon’s polar deposits can help serve as a stopgap measure to supplement shipments from Earth.

Dropping back down to GEO, one long-term business plan is to provide near-constant Solar power as baseline electricity. It has been noted that we have been beaming Solar power to Earth for decades now, via our communications satellites, so to say that solar power satellites are a flight of fancy is patently false. What is a flight of fancy is to presume that terawatt-scale facilities are going to be launched from the surface of the Earth. That’s just not going to happen. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do space-based Solar power, we just have to consider alternate paths to that end.

One of the most valuable exports from the Moon is going to be mass. Luckily, it’s a lot easier to get stuff into cislunar space from the Moon than the Earth. LOX is the most frequently cited export, and it is one of the easier business cases to close, thanks to its manifold utility and abundant availability on the Moon, just locked up in minerals. LOX/LH is pretty much our best possible chemical propellant combo (unless you want to deal with some really, really nasty stuff), but oxygen represents about 7/8ths of the combined mass. Lifting that from the Earth’s gravity well is hard, and we could be sending more useful mass up instead. That’s why, over the long term, there is even a market for Lunar LOX in LEO.

A byproduct of Lunar oxygen production is slag. This could be exported to serve as radiation shielding for long-term facilities out beyond the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Another possible Lunar export could be the high-mass/low-value added components of a GEO Solar Power Satellite system, such as structural members and cheap and plentiful, if not terribly good, solar cell arrays.

The point is that the only thing you need to be lifting out of the Earth’s gravity well is the kind of high-value-added stuff like electronic components or high-precision parts. Earth is like the Switzerland of cislunar space; its contributions to commerce have to be small-mass/high-value-added items, at least until we can get a space elevator in place.

As capabilities grow on the Moon, more value-added can be brought to bear on the raw resources found there. Commerce will start stepping up the value-added chain. Foodstuffs is a good example. It’ll be easier to get foodstuffs from the Moon to LEO, even with a detour to EML-1, than to get it up from the Earth. Not by much, but it’s still a transport advantage. Given the unique terroir of the Moon, it’s not difficult to imagine a trade springing up in specialty food items, akin to the spice trade of yore.

If you’re interested in Lunar commerce, there are a few books I can recommend. First and foremost is Neil Ruzic’s “The Case for Going to the Moon“, written in 1965. Mr. Ruzic was editor and publisher of Industrial Research magazine, so he had a pretty good handle on what industry was all about. Decades have passed and the book is still relevant, as Mr. Ruzic understood the roles of things like vacuum and extreme temperatures in industrial processes. If you ever only read one book about Moon business, make it this one.

Another title I would highly recommend would be “The Once and Future Moon” by Dr. Paul Spudis. Dr. Spudis is one of the leading Lunar scientists in the world, and I’ve long considered him something of a Moon mentor. His book lays out a lot of geological background on the Moon, but also talks about how commerce and industry can take advantage of that. He blogs at “The Once and Future Moon” blog, and has, to my surprise, expressed a certain amount of disdain regarding the new policy. I can understand his point. The strategic objective of “Provide the tools and the processes to open up cislunar and translunar space to American enterprise” allows for a lot of interpretation. That’s not the NASA way. They want something like “Go to the South Pole of the Moon, explore, go to Asteroid B612, characterize, go to Phobos, set up base camp.” This makes it easier to design an optimized system, close out all the variables in the parametric models, and run some Monte Carlo simulations to nail down the budget.

However, as nice as those would be to have, that’s not the point of opening space to private industry. We don’t need a transport system optimized for going to the South Pole of the Moon. We need a transport system that allows for multiple destinations, because there’s no surer way to set off a rancorous frenzy in the space community than to assign a particular goal such as the Moon or Mars. I’m a known Moonatic. I have zero interest in Mars, and I don’t see it as THE Goal of our space efforts. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help the folks who want to go to Mars to get there (for a fair price). But I’m not going there, so if Mars is set as NASA’s (and by extension the U.S.’s) goal, bypassing the Moon, then I’m being excluded and will react accordingly. This is no different from the resentment felt by Mars Advocates when they see the Moon, what they consider a cul-de-sac, given a priority over their goals. And then there’s the long simmering angst of the asteroid folks, who know that their destinations are the best (and they’re right), but everyone ignores them. There’re also the L-5 colonists, who think the gravity-well-bound-thinkers are ignorant and can’t understand the human cultural potential that could be unleashed by micro-cultures in the different L-5 colonies. (Sort of what the U.S. is supposed to be about with the different cultures in the different states) We also can’t forget those who thought we would be exploring the Jupiter Moons by now.

So while I think I understand Dr. Spudis’ perspective, I have to disagree with his conclusions. I have no doubt that if we set the folks at NASA on, say, optimizing the design of inflatable fuel depots that use straps to transfer propellant, what I call Murphy Bags, then they would blow our minds with their results. By using straps controlled by electric motors, you’re doing away with the need for pumps. And by having multiple electric motors used to tighten the straps, the failure of a couple of them doesn’t negate functionality of the propellant bag (whereas if your pump breaks you’re hosed). How do you best place the restraining guides for the straps so that they don’t tangle? What are the actions/reactions at work during that kind of transfer process? That’s the sort of stuff that the NASA folks eat for breakfast. They have much, much to contribute to where we’re going.

Another obvious book choice, and of much more recent vintage is “The Moon: Resources, Future Development, and Settlement“. Lots of good stuff in there on Lunar industries. A little more hardcore is “The Lunar Base Handbook“, and beyond that is the first ISU Summer Session Project, the “International Lunar Initiative Organization“, which contains the best discourse I’ve found on Lunar Medicine. There’re over 2000 pages of densely packed info in those three. Other good titles include “Moonrush” and “Return to the Moon“.

Given how extensively these questions have been examined over the past few decades, it amazes me that there is so much ignorance being displayed in the comments and responses around the blogosphere. It’s almost as if there is a national schizophrenia at work regarding space activities. No one ever really supports space activities that much. Public polls show that time and again. Were that not the case then NASA would have no problem getting funding from Congress each year, and certainly at a higher level than 0.5 – 0.7% of the regular budget. Yet those who follow the process can tell you it is a fight year after year. But have the media trumpet that “The Moon program is dead!” and people start coming out of the woodwork.

There are also the logical disconnects. Some people point to the cancellation of the Orion capsule as the end of trans-LEO human spaceflight. Never mind that Space Adventures has already sold one Lunar free-return trajectory visit to the Moon (they need two for the flight). It is claimed that Orion could be ready by 2014, and yet the vehicle on which it would ride won’t be ready for another 4-5 years. The original Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) (pdf) called for the Orion to have its first test flight in 2010 and operational by 2014. Here we are in 2010 about 4 years from test flight.

I can remember back to the heady days of 2004, when various space companies were proposing solutions for the CEV during the Concept Exploration & Refinement (CE&R) stage of the process. This was in line with what the VSE had proposed, and which had also stated, and I quote:

“NASA does not plan to develop new launch vehicle capabilities except where critical NASA needs – such as heavy lift – are not met by commercial or military systems.” [p. 15]

Which brings us to another topic – that of heavy lift. There is a widespread and ingrained belief in the space community that a heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) is required to do anything in space. My guess is that it stems from the “economics for engineers” analysis which demonstrates that the best way to scale down the cost of a kilo to orbit is to scale up the volume launched on any one vehicle, thereby distributing the fixed and variable costs amongst a greater number of kilos. Which is a fine analysis as far as it goes, but bears little relationship to the actual existing market of space launch vehicles.

There is a vehicle that can take heavy payloads to orbit, the Energia rocket. The Russians looked at the global market and saw that there was no demand for that volume of mass to orbit in one shot, and so don’t manufacture the rocket for the marketplace. And apparently the NASA version, Ares V, won’t be ready until the late 2020s. If all of your budget is being sucked into the design and manufacture of the rocket, then what can you afford to put on top? This particular path of logic seems to assume that there will be NASA budget increases in the future to pay for the equipment to ride on top. I question that assumption.

What became the Ares rockets were proposed back in 2004 at about the same time that the CE&R studies were being reviewed. I know this because I have an ATK marketing DVD for the shuttle-derived rockets and the files on it are dated August 2004. But it wasn’t part of the CE&R process, even if it was marketed as Safe, Simple & Soon. My guess is that it was because the SS&S rockets were a solution to a requirement that NASA didn’t have, that of “develop[ing] new launch vehicle capabilities”.

So what did we get? A new rocket development program and not a trans-LEO CEV. NASA was supposed to be out of the launch business and back into the exploration business, but here we are five years later and it’ll be nigh on a decade before NASA can get us into LEO, and another decade still until the Ares V allows us to go trans-LEO. And private industry is supposed to wait on that before we’re ready to develop space? I think some folks are really, seriously underestimating the capabilities that exist in the U.S. Do I think the private sector can get us back to the Moon in less than two decades? Heck yes!

By refocusing NASA’s capabilities on accelerating the development of the tools necessary for cislunar, Lunar, and translunar space, we can ensure that it happens a lot faster.

I’m excited by this new direction. Especially because as an investor I can put some capital into the industry and, if I do it carefully, profit from where we are now going. That excites me a whole lot more than watching a cadre of select government employees planting a flag on [pick your celestial destination]. I want human spaceflight to be a growth industry for our economy, not a government program delimited one.

The U.S. is desperately in need of industries and trades that will lead to economic growth. We have no choice, as we are leveraging our existing future to an unsustainable level. Space is a domain in which the United States has a competitive advantage. We need to exploit that advantage, to the ends of providing energy and resources so that we can start remediating the damage we do to our own planet to get those things.

This new direction opens the door to more than just NASA to achieve those ends. Therefore I applaud the President’s choices, and look forward to American enterprise taking us into space.

8 thoughts on “The Dawn of a New American Enterprise

  1. Ken,

    Your vision of the future in space is both breathtaking and admirable. And I am in total agreement with you on our end objectives.

    The path sketched out in the new NASA budget will not get you any of it.

    I base my opinion on 30 years of experience working with this agency. They do some things very well and some things extremely poorly. Given a specific mission with well defined objectives, a spacecraft can be built and operated that is second to none in the world. However, give them no direction and you get viewgraph engineering, committee reports, endless paper studies, and a lot of really pretty artwork of people in space. You spend money, but you get no flight hardware or systems. And no lasting capabilities.

    The “new path” is a recipe for indefinite bureaucratic stasis. By abandoning the “Vision for Space Exploration,” NASA reverts to the same status they have had for the last 30 years since the end of Apollo — a hammer in search of a nail. Make no mistake — there’s no real thought behind this new “policy;” if there were, they would have put out the new objectives, destinations, and activities along with the new business plan.

    You say that you want commerce and free enterprise in space. So do I. How is the new NASA business model different from the old one? Instead of Boeing and Lock-Mart, Space X and Bigelow Aerospace get the big government contracts. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. This is not private sector space — it’s just contracting. NASA is simply a check-writing outfit, not a space agency.

    You can rail all you want about the deficiencies of Constellation; I have done so myself. But Constellation was never the Vision, only NASA’s implementation of it. Now, it’s all been thrown out the window.

    I guess I am most surprised and disappointed at many of my colleagues and friends in the New Space community, most of whom know NASA and have worked with or for them for many years. They are as aware as I am of the way the agency handles non-direction. But because this new path destroys Constellation and the hated “Stick,” it must be a good thing. For years they’ve railed against NASA and the vast amount of money wasted on stupid government boondoggles, only to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs when that money might be re-directed into their pet rock(et)s. So much for principle.

    I was asked by a reporter last week where we would be in 10 years after this new plan started. I answered “nowhere.”

    You don’t have to believe me now.

    But you will.

  2. Dr. Spudis,
    If I may ask, then, what will it take to change that tendency towards “bureaucratic stasis?” I know more than a few people here at JSC that are tired of that trend, too, and see this budget as an opportunity to break the cycle.

    Is it just a matter of aligning the new initiatives with enabling the goals laid out in the Vision, or do you think it will take something else?

  3. Justin,

    I wish I knew how to change the agency. I’m not sure that it’s even possible. But I do know that a program that doles out bags of money for “technology development” will end up funding widget-making and viewgraph reports. And that philosophically, there’s not much difference between funding hundred million dollar contacts to Space X and billion dollar contracts to Lock-Mart.

    The Vision was a focused, clearly defined mission. Yet NASA managed to ignore even this direction and come up with an unsustainable and unaffordable architecture. How well do you think that they’ll do with NO direction?

  4. In today’s All Hands at JSC, Gen. Bolden asked for everyone’s help in defining that direction under the constraints we’ve been given. If we, as a community, can do that in relatively short order, I think we’ve got a good shot here.

    If not, I think you’re probably right.

  5. Ken: I feel compelled to mention that the first “space elevator” is likely to be from the moon to EML-1. Current materials are sufficient to span the ~ 50 kilometer height. The applications extend beyond an elevator if you imagine a tether from the earth side counterweight extending to the near lunar surface, with enough lateral acceleration to traverse the lunar surface in a circular pattern, a cable car from the sky providing nearly energy free transportation acrossthe moon. A single heavy lift launch (or a few smaller launches) would provide elevator transit to and from the moon on a regular basis from EML1, opening the space frontier like the transcontinental railroad opened the US.

  6. >..you will see that it unlocks an enormous realm of opportunity..

    This seems to be the central fantasy of the Alt.space movement. That if NASA isn’t there to fly to space, it will spawn a new private space launch business. This forgets that NASA isn’t going to switch its launch manifest to commercials – its canceling it. A couple extra ISS flights might get contracted out to “New space” companies to carry crew — or not.

    Did NASA used to compete with commercials with the Shuttle? Yeah – until ’87. Since then they have been out of it, but still no commercial explosion of launch demand.

    The second fantasy is that just around the corner, NASA will announce a new return to the moon program based on commercial transport. But everything NASA is saying is that maned space exploration is over for decades? The numbers of US astronauts going to space will go down 80%-90%.

    Thats not enough market to spawn any new industry, or any of the dreams outlined above.

  7. Wow, I’m not used to having this much dialogue on one of my posts.

    Thank you Dr. Spudis for the kind words. Breathtaking and admirable are not things I usually hear.

    As I noted, I understand where you are coming from. I saw it during the NASA Academy, and remember a conversation I had with their head of university programs. Back in 2002 they were looking at the hump of the Baby Boomer curve hitting the retirement age in 5-10 years, and had pretty much no plan in place to deal with it. Now we’re most of the way there, and NASA is seeing demographic structural effects.

    NASA used to be an agency of the young and adventurous. It may be that way again in the not too distant future, as mass layoffs provide good cover for strategic personnel decisions. I’m not saying that’s what is going to happen, but now is as good a time as any to move away from management by the Apollo legacy and towards a management of techonology portfolios or some other applicable structure that maximizes the contribution of NASA to the American space sector (as opposed to NASA handmaidens contributing to the NASA space sector). Maybe it’s my military brat background, but if you think of the different NASA centers as battalions, then project teams can be thought of as platoons skirmishing with particular technological challenges while the center as a whole moves towards particular strategic goals, be it propulsion at MSFC or Life Sciences at JSC or Sensor science at GSFC, or launch site science at KSC, or whatever.

    There are a lot of younger folks out there that want to take some responsibility and make things happen. They can’t right now because they aren’t in a position to do so, and promotion upward is stymied. But when it comes to recognizing raw leadership potential I will lend more credence to a military officer than to most other folks’ opinions. In that regard it may be a good thing that Administrator Bolden comes from a military background.

    Honestly Paul, I see this new direction as being more in the spirit of the original VSE than anything we’ve seen in the last half-decade . And what was status quo ante is not necessarily what will be status quo ad infinitum.

    Mr. Grimm, I am entirely in agreement about a Lunar elevator for a number of reasons. I do wonder about an L-1 node, as the distance between EML-1 and the Moon varies over the course of a month. However I see it as a perfect testbed for an eventual terrestrial elevator. I’m just not seeing a Lunarvator until closer to 2050 than to 2010.

    Ms. Starks, I don’t know where to begin. You address two what you call fantasies.

    1) “[I]f NASA isn’t there to fly to space, it will spawn a new private space launch business.”

    I don’t see any reason for NASA to stop sending NASAnauts (U.S. astronauts who fly for NASA) to the ISS, or anything else for that matter. There’s talk of ISS being extended to 2020, so there’s no reason to think that NASAnauts would stop going. We already know that the Russians will sell us seats through that time period, and at the prices that NASA is paying who wouldn’t?

    If U.S. industry can step up to the plate and deliver launch products, then why shouldn’t NASA use them? They’re an exploration agency, not a launch vehicle agency. If you’ve read the VSE you will remember that NASA was supposed to be test-“flying” a trans-LEO Crew Exploration vehicle this year. Not building a rocket, but flying a CEV. Orion may have been envisioned by some as that CEV, but clearly that was not the case. It was being optimized for an Apollo Redux throw-away architecture, and so was tied to the fate of the Safe, Simple & Soon rockets.

    “This forgets that NASA isn’t going to switch its launch manifest to commercials – its [sic] canceling it. A couple extra ISS flights might get contracted out to “New space” companies to carry crew — or not.”

    Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell, and decreased demand by NASA may be met by increased demand from other quarters, as we’re starting to see with the microgravity science payloads from universities and others.

    If you don’t have faith in the resiliency of your country, then I can see your point. Perceiving NASA to be the end-all and be-all of human space exploration, I guess it would be hard to contemplate a future where the U.S. citizenry is traveling to and doing business in space. There are people who have thought such things throughout history about new frontiers here on Earth. We don’t usually remember their names.

    If you worked on Orion than I can empathize with where you are. Your cheese has been moved, and it always sucks having to find new cheese.

    2) “[J]ust around the corner, NASA will announce a new return to the moon program based on commercial transport.”

    I, for one, harbor no such fantasy. I have enough dealing with my own fantasies, I don’t need more attributed to me.

    I do see NASA, not having to spend beaucoup budget on massive rockets, spending more on doing things like sending more robots to the Moon, focusing on the Poles. They can test ideas on mining in ultra-cryogenic environments, beacon-directed landings, Laser comm relays, maybe a Solar sail perched over the pole to provide data flow. Who knows? I’m sure not the NASA brainiac around here.

    And guess what, if NASA were sending more robots, they’d be buying still more launches from the commercial LV sector. It’s an old, fundamental principle of economics that when you produce more of something, the price goes down. Rather than competing with the private sector, NASA can participate with the private sector on purchasing more launches to LEO, thereby helping everyone, including themselves, pay less per launch. Why this would be a bad thing is beyond me.

    “But everything NASA is saying is that maned space exploration is over for decades? The numbers of US astronauts going to space will go down 80%-90%.”

    Not being particlarly hirsute myself I’m okay with maned space exploration being down. Not like I was ever going to be a part of it anyway.

    Do I want the NASAnauts to go away? No. We just got our first class of Gen X NASAnauts, we need to make sure they get time on the station so that they can share that with those who will follow.

    Taking about 20 years as the average for a generation (which in the current U.S. is creeping closer to 25 years) then it has been two generations since we were on the Moon, and under the current scheme it would be at least another generation (late 2020s, more likely early to mid 2030s) before we are back on the Moon. Like a bad paraphrase of JFK,

    “We go to the Moon maybe by the next generation and do these other things, not because they are hard, but because there’s a fight every year with Congress for funding.”

    This is our best path forward? This is the way we Must proceed? Human space exploration in that context doesn’t make any sense to me. Because it’s hard for me to rationalize all of that tax expenditure for rides for a few government-selected individuals to a place that no one else will get to visit (unless they do the right kabuki dance, eh Sen. Nelson?).

    By ensuring that the private sector is providing crewed access to space, NASA would be ensuring that more U.S. citizens than ever have the opportunity to visit and work in space, creating new value that neither you nor I can envision. Down 80-90% NASAnauts, maybe, but I doubt by so much. U.S. citizen astronauts? I seriously doubt it.

  8. > Ms. Starks, ==

    Mr. actually.

    😉

    >>== “[I]f NASA isn’t there to fly to space, it will spawn a
    >> new private space launch business.”

    > I don’t see any reason for NASA to stop sending NASAnauts
    > (U.S. astronauts who fly for NASA) to the ISS, or anything
    > else for that matter. ==

    No that’s not what I ment. During Shuttle era NASA sent about 40 people a year into space. For ISS they are only talking 2 flights a year of 2 on Soyuz 4 each on Orion – now possibly 4 each flight on SpaceX. But that’s about it, and that means the total demand for NASA until 2020 is 20 flights, a couple years are booked via Soyuz, etc. Obviously 10-15 flights is not enough to support a new industry, and NASA is talking about splitting that up.

    =

    >> “This forgets that NASA isn’t going to switch its launch manifest to
    >> commercials – its [sic] canceling it. A couple extra ISS flights might
    >> get contracted out to “New space” companies to carry crew — or not.”

    > Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell, ==

    Bolden and Garver made it pretty clear the direction is nothing other then ISS for a couple decades.

    > and decreased demand by NASA may be met by increased demand from other quarters, ==

    Might, Bigelow is hopeful, but thats not the same as having a exploration agency., or even something like a private “National Geographic” of space.

    >== If you don’t have faith in the resiliency of your country,
    > then I can see your point. ==

    Not where I’m coming from.

    >==Perceiving NASA to be the end-all and be-all of human space exploration,==

    I don’t – but were not going to do much else in dep space anytime soon. So were talking about maned exploration by NASA stoping, nothing much else in the US likely for a decade or 3. I mean I could see Virgin Galactic doing a lunar tourist base or something in the 2020’s. Possibly space industrialization in LEO. Not exactly exploring deep space.

    >== If you worked on Orion than I can empathize with where
    > you are. Your cheese has been moved, and it always sucks having to find new cheese.

    Nope, I was EXTREAMLY glad Ares/Orion was canceled. If it takes losing manned space exploration to kill those disgusting, humiliatingly bad systems, so be it. Lot of folks on Orion were hoping they never flew because they were pretty substandard by the companies standards — but NASA demanded lower quality.

    >> = “[J]ust around the corner, NASA will announce a new
    >> return to the moon program based on commercial transport.”

    > I, for one, harbor no such fantasy. I have enough dealing
    > with my own fantasies, I don’t need more attributed to me.

    😉

    Sorry to sweep you in with others.

    > I do see NASA, not having to spend beaucoup budget on
    > massive rockets, spending more on doing things like
    > sending more robots to the Moon, focusing on the Poles.
    > They can test ideas on mining in ultra-cryogenic environments,==

    Not real excited by that prospect. Nore do I see it exciting congresman. NOt enough pork to generate votes.

    Also not likely a huge likely demand. Its not like NASA would likely send a large fleet out. Not enough to allow any real economies of scale.

    >==

    > Not being particlarly hirsute myself I’m okay with maned space
    > exploration being down. Not like I was ever going to be a part of it anyway.

    > Do I want the NASAnauts to go away? No. We just got our
    > first class of Gen X NASAnauts, we need to make sure they
    > get time on the station so that they can share that with those who will follow.

    I’m about the reverse. I want maned exploration and development – the ISS is just a waste. We developed it as a PR stunt, though it did allow us to develope a lot of on orbit assembly ability – which we’ll lose now.

    > “We go to the Moon maybe by the next generation and do
    > these other things, not because they are hard, but because
    > there’s a fight every year with Congress for funding.”

    😉

    > This is our best path forward? This is the way we Must proceed?==

    I would hope not. I would have hoped that some other exploration program with combined commercial/gov projects. Something where NASA contracts for services to carry them where ever they need to go, and go places. But instead its the worst option. NASA does nothing, but internal expensive studies. Billions of dollars could fund commercial supported bases on the moon and facilitate a lot of research by universities etc. Instead, its just going to be studies of things already known about. Commercials getting pretty much nothing out of it.

    So the new path offers close to nothing. Commercials are doing what they weer going to be doing otherwise. NASA not doing anything else – or really doing anything supportive.

    > By ensuring that the private sector is providing crewed
    > access to space, NASA would be ensuring that more U.S.
    > citizens than ever have the opportunity to visit and work in space,==

    The private sector was doing that anyway. SpaceX’s man rated capsule will start flight tests in a month or three. Its scheduled to fly Humans to Bigelow stations in a couple years, and auto transporting cargo to the ISS late this year. L/M or Boeing are prepping their own. Bigelow was signing contract options for over 20 flights a year. NASA has now stated maybe over half of 20 over the next decade So NASA really isn’t ensuring anything. Its not even proposing to be a significant buyer.

    >== Down 80-90% NASAnauts, maybe, but I doubt by so much.=

    That’s the numbers planed for sometime now. After dropping constellation and VSE, that only lasts until 2020. By then, there won’t be much left of NASA.

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