First Starliner manned flight delayed to late 2018


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Boeing has revealed that the first manned flight of its commercial Starliner capsule will likely be delayed a few more months to late 2018.

The latest confirmed schedules from NASA show the uncrewed mission, dubbed the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), slated for No Earlier Than June 2018, followed quickly in August 2018 by the crewed flight test.

However, comments made by Chris Ferguson last month at the Paris Air Show seem to indicate that the crewed flight test is moving from its August timeframe. According to Mr. Ferguson, Director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, the first Starliner crewed test flight is aiming for “last quarter of 2018” – which would be a shift of two to five months into the October to December 2018 timeframe.

The unmanned test flight, however, remains set for a June 18, 2018 launch.

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37 comments

  • Interesting snippet from another article about the Starliner.

    “At most, Mr. Ferguson stated his desire for Starliner to employ 24-hour launch to docking profiles – due in part to the vehicle’s design, which limits its free flight capability (from launch to docking and then undocking to landing) for an entire mission to just 60 hours.”

    This is sharp contrast to the design for Dragon V2 which Elon Musk clearly expects to do longer flights.

    Also, why is Boeing exempt from the in-flight abort test?

  • LocalFluff

    “Also, why is Boeing exempt from the in-flight abort test?”
    Maybe they want the whole project to be killed when it is needed for real and doesn’t work? Or they don’t plan on transporting customers who pay for themselves, so they have no say about their own safety.

    I think it is marvelous how Boeing and Lockmart et al have squandered their space leadership. They can’t even compete with Soyuz, in price or crew capability, which is basically the same rocket that put Sputnik I in orbit 60 years ago in October. They haven’t even tried reusability other than participating in the Shuttle program. They obviously never understood that there’s any commercial use of space. Viewing space as nothing but a tax money account. What a mistake! economic historians won’t be merciful.

  • Michael

    Localfluff – correction: Boeing bought the Space Shuttle program. It was designed, built, and operated by the Rockwell company for the first 10 flights. After the first 10 fights the Shuttle was operated by Lockheed and the Boeing portion essentially consisted of the original Rockwell people and Boeing acted as king.

    Although I cannot complain as it saved my job.

    Still. I am kind of sensitive about the thing. I least Boeing had the decency not to claim the P-51

  • Michael

    Clarification: The Boeing did not come on board until about a third of the way (to lazy to look it up) thru the Shuttle program.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “They can’t even compete with Soyuz, in price or crew capability, which is basically the same rocket that put Sputnik I in orbit 60 years ago in October. They haven’t even tried reusability other than participating in the Shuttle program.

    The Boeing – Lockheed Martin joint business, United Launch Alliance, is not in the business of launching Sputnik-sized payloads. Larger payloads require more powerful, larger, and more expensive rockets. My understanding is that Soyuz can put 1,350 kg into geostationary transfer orbit, and Atlas can put 4,750–8,900 kg into the same orbit.

    As for crew capability, Soyuz launches up to three people, but Lockheed Martin’s Orion can hold six, and Boeing’s CST-100 can hold seven.

    CST-100 is designed so that the ablative heat shield is replaceable, allowing for most of the rest of the capsule to be reusable. NASA is the one who required that Orion be a non-reusable capsule.

  • mkent

    “They obviously never understood that there’s any commercial use of space.”

    Oh, good grief!

    No one — I repeat — no one has done more commercial space than Boeing. In fact, Boeing may have done more commercial space than everyone else put together*. Lockheed is probably third on the list behind Space Systems / Loral.

    *That was certainly true a few years ago, but Space Systems / Loral has been on a tear in the satellite business lately and has possibly knocked Boeing under the 50% level.

  • LocalFluff

    Edward, Yes that’s the plan for the Starliner. But why didn’t they go for reusability 30 years ago?

    mkent, they have always been uninterested in reducing launch costs to multiply the market size. Then a total newbie comes around and does it, which will now completely eliminate all of Boeing’s and Lockmart’s space business. Whatever they try to develop in response now will be way too bad, too expensive and too late to ever become real. This will be in the books of lessons to be learned from history’s worst business management together with Ford Edsel.

  • Pzatchok

    In the bad news department for today.

    http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/07/14/nasa-bombshell-government-agency-admits-it-cant-pay-for-humans-to-go-to-mars.html

    Pretty much the whole reason for SLS and any future manned missions coming out of NASA.

    We all know that Space X will take almost all passenger flights for NASA as soon as they are rated for it.
    Plus they are already planning for Lunar and Mars missions using the equipment they are presently building and testing.

    Now if we can just get politicians to let SLS go.

  • LocalFluff

    Why didn’t they (ATK, ULA) go with Ares I? A crew capsule on an expendable solid booster (that has flown 270 times, 269 successful) sounds like the safest thing for crewed launches to orbit. It shouldn’t be maddening expensive either, and safe crew launches allows for a price premium anyway. It is as if they are not companies, but only government branches that follow orders without any interest at all in doing business or developing products. They would’ve prevented commercial crew competition, but they seem to be stupid or something. I doubt Boeing and Lockmart will have any kind of space business left in ten years.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff asked: “But why didn’t they go for reusability 30 years ago?

    The failure of the Space Shuttle experiment to prove that reusability was the key to rapid turnaround and inexpensive operation harmed the industry in ways that cannot be understated. Buran was no help to the cause, either. The Space Shuttle was supposed to launch so often and at such low cost that no other US launch system would be needed. That it failed to do this was seen by government leaders — Congress — as a lesson to be learned, but they learned the wrong lesson. They learned that reusability was not practical. This is why Orion is a one-use capsule rather than a reusable spaceplane, as Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser will be.

    Thirty years ago, the Space Shuttle was just decommissioned from being the US’s only launch vehicle. The government was almost the sole source of requirements for launch vehicles. The government was the driver when it came to space launches, exploration, and most operations. And the government defined virtually all the launch vehicles that were to launch in the US (as did all other governments of space launching nations). Reusability was not a government priority.

    Thirty years ago, there was not a commercial launch industry to really speak of (even though Arianespace called itself commercial, Ariane rockets were defined by European governments). Orbital Sciences created their own launcher, Pegusus, but it was small, never became popular, and was not intended to be reusable.

    Twenty years ago, Lockheed Martin, McDonell Douglas, and Rotary Rocket were working on commercial single stage to orbit rockets in order to provide reusability. Unfortunately, the experimental versions of those rockets did not get as far as we had hoped, and operational versions remained dreams on paper.

    Ten years ago, Musk became able to try reusability for first stage rockets, since he was finally finishing development on an operational commercial rocket. He also chose to try reusability on ISS resupply capsules in advance of developing them into reusable manned capsules.

    Reusability is slowly becoming the paradigm, even to the point of Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and the (almost late) XCOR working on the concept. I think that if you review your history, it was not until Peter Diamandis boldly proposed his X-Prize (later called the Ansari X-Prize) that reusability was taken seriously by anyone.

    We really cannot fault the launch industry for taking so long to get into reusability, because the government had so badly botched not only the concept but also the entire space industry. Up until Ikonos, it was pretty much only the communications industry that was commercialized in space.

    When competition is the driver, taking risks for improvement becomes necessary. When government is the driver, taking risks for improvement is discouraged.

  • LocalFluff

    Buran/Energia was a very superior design to the STS shuttle. Reusability and modularity combined. Very economic. Its Zenit boosters have launched as independent rockets almost a hundred times. Still today if the Ukrainian conflict hasn’t stopped it. And Zenit has outcompeted all US launchers. STS failed because of the incompetents at ATK, Boeing and LockMart made a very stupid design. And they have never showed any interest at all in producing anything that can fly to space. They are just parasites. They are so stupid that they think that their short term tax money grabbing was smart. Thus they now quickly leave the space business altogether.

    I do fault the failed US launch industry! Because they chose to be lap dogs for the government instead of doing business and developing useful products. Even the Soviet communists surpassed them, that’s how very lousy they are! That’s the root if the half century long catastrophic failure of the US space launch industry. But now competition finally cleans out the losers.

  • pzatchok

    When the Shuttle system was designed NASA was a lapdog of the military and other government agencies.

    Almost everything they designed had a military or spy reason behind it.

    It was NEVER designed for real re-usability instead it was designed to soft land specific cargo’s.

    The same cargo weight could have been lifted into orbit with an SLS/Apollo style launcher. And they never would have had to lift the return vehicle the Shuttle. Hundreds of tons of wasted weight just to lift station parts and satellites.

    We would have already had the SLS/Orion for the last 40 plus years.

  • pzatchok

    By the way the Buran was a total waste of effort and money.

    Built with one reason in mind. Propaganda.
    The fact that Russia ended up using proven parts off of it is a testament to them trying to find some type of return on the investment.
    Unlike NASA who just builds from new, no matter the cost. Even if proven parts are available, they want new and improved ones all the time. SLS/Orion as proof.

  • LocalFluff

    pzatchok,
    I’d say Buran was made for more than propaganda! Its Energia launched Pylos which was a weapon that would kill Reagan’s anti-ICBM satellites. Energia/Buran was much more capable, much more intelligently designed and much more economic than the STS. It was STS, SLS, Ares I and X-37 all in one for a fraction of the cost. No engines to be reused, but that seems to have been a great idea considering that reuse of the STS was a losing deal. Buran was lighter as a result which should’ve facilitated landing including the heat shield problems of STS and allowing for a shorter runway and more landing options.

    It was designed to reuse satellites, not engines. Like the USAF X-37 today, the military seems to like that capability. I doubt the shuttle would’ve been cancelled without the X-37 being available to the military. NASA and USAF should’ve bought Energia/Buran from the Russians in the early 1990s. It’s the best thing that ever flew to orbit.

  • pzatchok

    Your right the Buran was so good that it eventually flew far more missions than the shuttle and is still in use today.

    Much like that Soviet Super Sonic Passenger Transport the Tupolev TU-144 or those great Ekranoplans’ like the Lun.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    You wrote: “STS failed because of the incompetents at ATK”

    STS failed because it was far too much far too soon. The design was stupid because President Nixon did not support NASA’s original plan, so NASA went to the Air Force for support, and the Air Force insisted upon a large do-all craft instead of a small manned craft with a small external experiment bay. Boeing’s X-37 looks similar to NASA’s first plan. A small craft would not have been as flexible of a structure as the large Space Shuttle, which required a heat shield design that could flex as much as the Shuttle’s large structure. This resulted in the heat shield tiles being delicate, which is why so many of them needed repair or replacement between flights, and one of the reasons for the failure of the Shuttle.

    Sticking the Shuttle on the side of the launch rocket is why both shuttle crews were lost. This was required because the large size of the Shuttle made it difficult to put it relatively safely on top of a rocket.

    They are just parasites.

    These parasites have been getting us into space for half a century. They have been following the requirements of their government customers, because that is what is — well — required of them. It is exactly because the government-as-customer limits a space company’s ability to innovate that we are so excited that commercial space is finally able to prove the government’s restrictive ways to be counterproductive. Free market capitalism and freedom to choose is winning out over the government’s central control methodology.

    Because they chose to be lap dogs for the government instead of doing business and developing useful products.

    You may see that as a choice, but the government is the only real customer at the launch pad. Even SpaceX required government contracts in order to stay in business long enough to get commercial contracts, and those commercial contracts are only now starting to be enough to keep up SpaceX’s business model.

    Commercial space has always been a Catch 22. Even the great Robert Truax was unable to get funding to start a commercial rocket, back in the early 1980s. Armadillo and Kistler also failed, a decade ago. Bush’s COTS program is the miracle that has made commercial space possible, and that is only because government was the customer for a couple of independently designed rockets and unmanned spacecraft.

    Soviet communists surpassed them

    They were surpassed because the STS almost killed the US launch business. It took the government’s EELV program to bring it back again, and it is that program that resulted in ULA. The choices to make the Shuttle Orbiter a large vehicle and to make it the only US launch system is the actual root cause of the half-century long catastrophic failure of the US space launch industry.

    And as for Buran-Energia, well, its superiority was not demonstrated. It flew once, unmanned and payload-less, yet STS flew 135 times, manned every time. It was not even demonstrated that it was reusable, since it had no second flight, and the Soviet Union never built a second one, showing that they had no intention of continuing on with the project. It looks to be a bigger failure — and from the beginning — than the STS, not the best thing that ever flew into orbit. Its best innovations seemed to be the things that the Soviet Union could not successfully copy from the Space Shuttle.

    As for Energia itself, it was an expendable rocket. The beginning of this discussion was about why there was no reusability, but even Energia wasn’t reusable, and for the same reason that there wasn’t reusability 30 years ago: “the government defined virtually all the launch vehicles that were to launch in the US (as did all other governments of space launching nations). Reusability was not a government priority.

  • wodun

    LocalFluff
    July 15, 2017 at 3:04 am

    Why didn’t they (ATK, ULA) go with Ares I?

    I am by no means an expert or have complete knowledge of Ares I. I recall there being several technical problems with the Ares I. The largest problem was excessive vibration making in unsuitable for launching humans. It could cause significant brain damage.

    They tried to restart the launcher later as Liberty or something but I don’t know if they ever solved the vibration issue.

    I am sure the more knowledgeable commenters could add more.

  • LocalFluff

    wodun,
    I’ve read that they fixed the vibration problem on the drawing board, but it never flew again. It shouldn’t be impossible to put a fifth segment and a payload on a solid booster that has flown successfully 269 times.

    pzatchok,
    Buran didn’t fly again because the Soviet Union collapsed politically and economically, remember? V2 was the best rocket of its time, it stopped flying for other reasons. All of Soviet was as communist and severely mismanaged as the US space industry.

    Edward,
    50 years without any new thinking about launcher design. Then in a few years they are completely outcompeted by the Pay Pal guy who’s self tought in space engineering! Their stock holders must be crying.

    Buran flew uncrewed, yes that’s one of its great advantages, by design, over the STS. If a mission needed an EVA it could be flown with two astronauts in ejection seats. Together this would’ve made any loss of life very unlikely, while STS killed 14 of the 18 ever killed in space.

    The Russians seems to have had better know-how about rocket engines, so they didn’t try to make them reusable. STS’ engines were reused but without any advantage from doing so. So they got a lighter orbiter and Zenit as a successful and economically competitive spin-off launcher. And of course the Saturn V class stand alone Energia launcher.

    Buran’s design (and since it did fly once the details seem to have worked too) is far superior to that of STS in every respect: Capabilities, safety, economy, flexibility. A scandal that US space industry didn’t buy it. Instead they bought the NK-33 engines that had been sitting in a storage since 1970, and blew up Antares as its fifth launcher victim.

    Elon Musk has picked an extremely easy industry to compete in. An industry lazy by parasiting on political money and that has a complete lack of ability to innovate. The leading competitor is the old Soyuz, the new version I think will use those old NK-33 engines from the storage. And that’s the cheapest and most reliable and the only crewed one. The space industry is still stuck in the 1960s. I think it will be harder for Elon Musk to advance as fast once he has picked up the easy slack of 50 eventless years in the industry.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Localfluff,

    That orbital weapon was Polyus, not Pylos. It was supposed to shoot down U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) anti-missile satellites to clear the way for a Soviet strategic nuclear strike on the U.S. Its first, and only, launch on the maiden flight of Energia resulted in total loss of the spacecraft, which didn’t reach orbit.

    The problem described with its launch is oddly reminiscent of that Proton failure a few years ago that resulted from position sensors being installed upside down. Energia apparently worked fine, but following separation, Polyus fired its engine pointing backwards instead of forwards and dropped itself back into the atmosphere.

    Whether Polyus would ever have worked against its intended sorts of targets is unknown as such targets were never deployed by the U.S. and Polyus was never tested in orbit against anything. It’s megawatt CO2 laser was taken from an airborne laser weapons project that was designed to fire on targets much closer than the ranges to satellite targets. One megawatt is a pretty powerful laser, but putting it on and holding it on the target is the key problem. Its guidance and targeting system never had a real in-space test.

    I think CO2 lasers in the same power range as Polyus will probably wind up being the long-term solution to the sub-trackable orbital debris problem. Fired retrograde to the orbits of most small debris, a laser wouldn’t have to be precision-pointed at any particular object, just rastered through a given volume of orbital space on vectors that don’t intercept any live satellites. Photonic momentum transfer, and actual vaporization of surface material from close-by debris objects would result in fairly rapid de-orbiting of sub-trackable objects.

    As for Ares-1, it had a lot of problems but the worst, as others here have noted, was vibration. Solid rocket boosters are bad shakers. That’s because they are, in essence, huge flaming organ pipes. They each have a characteristic frequency based on length. The more length, the lower the frequency and the higher the amplitude of the vibration.

    The Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB’s) generated a lot of vibration, but they were attached to the External Tank (ET) during the part of the Shuttle ascent profile during which the ET still held much of its propellant load. The ET was, thus, a huge vibration damper for the SRB’s. Even so, Shuttle astronauts always commented that the early part of a Shuttle ride was wild and wooly. Then the SRB’s would separate and things would settle down.

    The 5-segment SRB’s for SLS are even more “noisy” than the 4-segment Shuttle SRB’s, but they will also be attached to a huge damping mass that will, in relative terms, be even more effective at damping their vibration than the Shuttle’s ET was. Future versions of SLS – if there ever get to be any – might be powered by 5.5 or even 6-segemnt SRB’s. The SLS core stage design seems massive and stiff enough to handle this.

    The problem with Ares 1 is it was a stand-alone 5-segment SRB with essentially nothing to act as a vibration damper. Initial simulations showed that going to orbit in Ares 1 would be a lot like going to orbit in a paint mixer. A lot of fairly creative engineering time was expended trying to come up with ways to keep Ares 1 from emulsifying its crew on the way to orbit.

    The reasonably effective approaches all added too much weight. The ones that fit within the weight limits weren’t effective enough at damping the vibration. Some of the proposed solutions were quite Rube Goldberg-ish. Ares 1 was, quite fundamentally, a bad idea that couldn’t really be made good. It met its deserved end by being cancelled before it ever flew.

    The Ares 1-X that did fly had essentially no parts in common with what a flight-article Ares 1 was supposed to be. The SRB used on Ares 1-X was a Shuttle SRB with only four active segments with a “mass simulator” for a fifth segment atop them.

    That “mass simulator” was also – by no particular coincidence – effectively a huge vibration damper too. With that thing in place, measured vibration levels in the boilerplate Orion mockup that also flew showed that a crew could have survived the trip. Cold comfort given that a real Ares 1 would not have been pushing a big dead weight ahead of itself.

    To add a big damper mass to the Ares-1 design would have required even more segments in the SRB, which would have increased the vibration to be damped, etc. Even the 5-segment version of the Ares 1 was getting pretty near a practical fineness ratio (ratio of length to width) limit. Not for nothing was Ares 1 derisively dubbed “The Corndog” by its detractors. Increasing Ares 1’s fineness ratio further would have vastly increased the chance of the vehicle buckling during ascent – something one would particularly not want to have happen with a solid-propellant vehicle stage.

    The fact that the whole Ares 1 first stage was built of segments didn’t help the situation. On Shuttle and, now, SLS, the ET and core stages, respectively, act as structural braces for the SRB’s as well as vibration dampers. Ares 1 had no such backstop.

    Fundamentally, Ares 1 was inside a box of engineering limits that didn’t have a viable exit. In the end, this box became, in effect, its coffin.

  • LocalFluff

    Dick Eagleson

    Polyos (sorry I don’t spell Russian) had a mass of 80 tons. Could the US have launched that in the 1980s? No. But Soviet did. And they were so poor that they could only spend a fraction of what the STS cost. That’s how bad the US was in the nuclear/anti-nuclear space war. No capability beyond Reagan’s global candy umbrella cartoon on his TV commercial.

    The evil stuff was well delivered to its orbit by Energia, and I’m not talking about here how that laser weapons payload then worked out in space. That stuff certainly requires some trial and error to make work on an everyday basis. Soviet created the ability to try out a megawatt 80 ton space laser weapon. The US never did.

    Too bad to hear that the STS solid boosters were useless as stand alone launchers like Ares I. The Zenit boosters of Energia/Buran on the other hand became a competitive commercial stand alone launcher success for decades!

    When guys like the Soviets and the Pay Pal guy whip your white behind red and blue like your flag with stars and all, you maybe should start paying attention to what is actually going on! :-)

    And thanks, Dick Eagleson, for taking your time to share your insights on Ares I and more, I love it, even when we maybe disagree on some speculative political conclusions. It just seems to me that the Russians knew how to avoid all of those problems with Ares I and turn their boosters into stand alone launchers. And they launched their “SLS” (Energia) 30 years ago! On a peanut budget.

  • John E Bowen

    “Elon Musk has picked an extremely easy industry to compete in.”

    LocalFluff,

    Hmm, that’s one I did not expect. It’s true in hindsight that there’s a lot of fat in some of the successful (meaning fat) traditional space companies. But I would not say it’s easy to get to that point, so how is it an industry with an easy entry?

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “I am sure the more knowledgeable commenters could add more.”

    At an AIAA meeting, a year or two before Constellation was cancelled, I talked with an engineer who said that he was with a company that was working on solving the vibration problem. He said that they were working on putting vibration dampers at mount points between the Ares and the manned capsule. This solution seems like a kludge to me.
    http://www.dictionary.com/browse/kludge

    LocalFluff wrote: “Buran didn’t fly again because the Soviet Union collapsed politically and economically, remember?

    Buran didn’t fly again years before the Soviet Union collapsed. They didn’t build a second Buran years before the Soviet Union Collapsed. Remember? I didn’t think so.

    LocalFluff wrote: “50 years without any new thinking about launcher design. Then in a few years they are completely outcompeted by the Pay Pal guy who’s self tought in space engineering! Their stock holders must be crying.

    This makes my point about commercial space being more innovative than depending upon government as a customer.

    LocalFluff wrote: “Buran flew uncrewed, yes that’s one of its great advantages, by design, over the STS.

    Had STS been an unmanned craft, then the complaint would have been that the US had no manned presence in space for half a century while the Soviets/Russians, and later the Chinese, did. Some people will find something to complain about, no matter what. We already shifted from the topic of reusability to the topic of the unreusable Buran.

    As for the loss of life, we have to be willing to take the calculated risks if we are to make progress:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXbdJ3kyVyU (7 minutes: “The Deal”)

    LocalFluff wrote: “The Russians seems to have had better know-how about rocket engines, so they didn’t try to make them reusable.

    After complaining about lack of reusability, having better know-how makes it OK to not make things reusable?

    LocalFluff wrote: “STS’ engines were reused but without any advantage from doing so.

    Reusable is now bad? Learning from failure to create advantage is now a disadvantage? I get the feeling that the US can never win, in LocalFluff’s mind.

    Lighter but with reduced capability (no crew) (and without a crew, it did not demonstrate superior safety) is hardly an advantage, and without the desired reusability it is even less advantageous. Launched only once demonstrates that it was even less economical than STS, and flexibility was never demonstrated. It did virtually nothing in space, unlike the many, many different things that the STS did.

    US space industry never considered buying Buran, which supports a conclusion that it was inferior. Clearly, the NK-33 engines showed greater promise — and they didn’t work as well as expected. I would not get overly excited about the superiority of Soviet rocket hardware. (And I don’t.)

    LocalFluff wrote: “Elon Musk has picked an extremely easy industry to compete in.

    I would have to agree with you there. Unlike the 18 months that it took to emulate the iPhone, a whole bunch of new reusable rockets came on the market, worldwide, right after Musk showed us that is was possible.

    Oh, wait.

    Frankly, that statement alone makes me think that LocalFluff has drifted far from his knowledge base. But worse, that “Pay Pal guy” is American, and he is currently whipping the Russian’s behinds in the commercial launch business. LocalFluff should already have that in his knowledge base.

    While the Russians continue to rely upon 50-year old rocket designs, the US uses 20-year old Atlas Vs and Delta IVs, and now is in a frenzy to innovate an even more modern space industry through commercial companies. It is the US commercial companies that are producing the reusable space vehicles, not the Russians. What is more, NASA created the first reusable craft, the Shuttle Orbiter. The Soviets only came up with a barely functional, single-use, unmanned copy.

    I can’t get over how LocalFluff sounds so sincere in his statements; he should be admitting to sarcasm.

  • LocalFluff

    Disgusting how some defend communism when it is done in the US. They defend failure because they claim that it is patriotic to never learn.

    STS reusability was bad, or at least it did no good. Why did the backward communist US space industry make shuttle boosters that vibrated themselves to pieces if launched alone, when the Russians instead made shuttle boosters that became the world’s cheapest stand alone launchers? Because it is patriotic to fail in the US? After the Columbia disaster the investigation concluded that it was unmotivated to put crew on that mission. Instead of a school teacher for propaganda purposes, launching a Buran with two astronauts in ejection seats and only when collecting a satellite wasn’t possible on remote control, was a good idea. Like the STS on a good day, Buran could launch seven to a space station as well, and then land uncrewed. A superior design in every way.

    Americans aren’t born superior to Russians. They have to work for it. When they become communists they lose all of their superiority. Luckily, a South African immigrant now helps them out.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Disgusting how some defend communism when it is done in the US. They defend failure because they claim that it is patriotic to never learn.

    Let me get this straight: LocalFluff wants to know why events happen, and when I explain them he believes that I am defending the reasons for those events and attacks me for answering his questions. Do I have that right?

    I have stated that STS was a failure in its most important objectives. Being more successful than Buran does not mean that STS was a success or that it was patriotic to not replace it with a more successful system thirty years ago; it shows that Buran was a greater failure. That Buran was a one-and-done mission shows that it was not successful, and the continued use of Soyuz manned spacecraft and expendable launchers for unmanned payloads shows that Buran was not more economical than the 50-year old expendable vehicles.

    Failing to accept these facts suggests a problem with learning, perhaps with being too patriotic to learn.

    LocalFluff wrote: “STS reusability was bad, or at least it did no good.

    That was my point last Friday:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/first-starliner-manned-flight-delayed-to-late-2018/#comment-1000506

    I wrote: “The failure of the Space Shuttle experiment to prove that reusability was the key to rapid turnaround and inexpensive operation harmed the industry in ways that cannot be understated. Buran was no help to the cause, either. The Space Shuttle was supposed to launch so often and at such low cost that no other US launch system would be needed. That it failed to do this was seen by government leaders — Congress — as a lesson to be learned, but they learned the wrong lesson. They learned that reusability was not practical. This is why Orion is a one-use capsule rather than a reusable spaceplane, as Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser will be.

    1. The Space Shuttle failed its mission to demonstrate reusability is the best economical way to operate.
    2. Buran, the Soviet copy of the Space Shuttle, did no better.
    3. Congress learned the wrong lesson (which is why we have Orion today), and
    4. Free market capitalist commercial space companies are doing what the centrally controlled aerospace companies are not doing.

    Is there a way for me to make this more clear? In the past, I even cited examples to back up my statements, yet I am accused of defending the central control (mis)management method. I have been a free market, anti-central control guy throughout all my comments on this site (because I learned early in life that the former system works and the latter does not, as seen in countless examples around the world).

    It is getting frustrating to have to repeat myself in the same thread when readers do not pay attention to what I have already stated.

    LocalFluff,
    Try paying attention, this time:

    You asked: “Why did the backward communist US space industry make shuttle boosters that vibrated themselves to pieces if launched alone, when the Russians instead made shuttle boosters that became the world’s cheapest stand alone launchers?

    Because when it designed them, NASA had no intention of using them for anything other than the Space Shuttle, so it did not set requirements that they be man-rated when launched alone. The Soviets had a secondary use in mind for their boosters, and we don’t even know whether they can be man-rated at all, either.

    You are trying to compare man-rated launchers with launchers that are not man-rated, and that is not fair to NASA.

    Oh, and the Ares booster did not vibrate itself to pieces; the test launch demonstrated that. The problem is a vibration in the natural frequency region of human organs, which would potentially cause the organs to turn to mush.

    You asked: “Because it is patriotic to fail in the US?

    In the US, it is patriotic to learn the right lessons from failure. Failure is inevitable, as there are always accidents. In the 1980s, a major lesson that the US airlines learned was that they needed to dramatically increase the safety of their operations, and they succeeded. They learned the right lessons from previous failures and incorporated those lessons in a broad solution, so rather than having a major airline accident in the headlines every week, we haven’t had a major American airliner accident in the US in 15 years (and counting). Safety of operations of minor airlines and foreign airliners operating in the US are improving, too. That is patriotic.

    You wrote: “Like the STS on a good day, Buran could launch seven to a space station as well, and then land uncrewed. A superior design in every way.

    So you say, but the reality does not show that any of this was possible. Other than landing unmanned, if it could do these things, it failed to do so.

    Its presumed superior design was not demonstrated. Indeed, its one-and-done status demonstrated otherwise. We don’t even have evidence that Buran could keep a crew alive in space. You make claims without any facts to support them. Your claims fall on skeptical eyes, because what I saw shows that Buran was inferior as an operational craft. In fact, it never became an operational craft. I am having difficulty getting excited about a craft that was never operational. It is almost as bad as the X-33, DC-X, and Roton. I could make the same claims about VentureStar, but would you get excited over that vehicle?

    You wrote: “Americans aren’t born superior to Russians. They have to work for it. When they become communists they lose all of their superiority. Luckily, a South African immigrant now helps them out.

    Duh. I have told you all these thing before, over the years, mostly in other threads. Tell me something new, or if you are agreeing with me, please state them in ways that let me know that you are acknowledging my previous statements.

    1. Americans are not superior to anyone else. We come from everywhere else. We are everyone else. What makes America (the country, not the people) exceptional is the freedom it allows us to innovate, create, express our talents, think for ourselves, and use our skills in ways that we choose, rather than are chosen for us by a central controller. Indeed, that is why Musk came to America; he is no more exceptional or superior here as he was in South Africa, but he is able to express his innovations here, not in South Africa.

    2. The socialism, communism, and Marxism systems do not work. It is not because the wrong people are trying them, because then it would be the people who are doing it right rather than the system being capable of doing it right. Free market capitalism has worked everywhere it has been tried, because it is the system itself that works rather than the people in the system that make it work. Look at China and India as examples of failure under central control and success under free market capitalism; the more they turn to free markets, the better they do. America is turning more socialist, and it is doing poorly — under that communist, Obama, and his central-control policies, our productivity (GDP) was barely able to keep up with inflation and population growth.

    3. Elon Musk first went from South Africa to Canada, but then he came to America, because this is where he can make great things happen. He did make great things happen here. It is not Americans who are superior, it is the American free market capitalist system, combined with a governmental system (US Constitution) that encourages the individual to make great things happen. What other constitution says anything like: “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity“? (This is not a rhetorical question, if there is one, please let me know.)

    4. We have seen in this thread, and in many others, that the US government does not make great things happen. At best, it hires free market capitalist companies to make the things happen that it wants to happen, and the more control it puts into the hands of those companies the greater the happenings. Robert Zimmerman has pointed out the vast superiority of NASA’s commercial COTS/CRS and Commercial Crew programs over the government-run Orion/SLS program. In the former, commercial companies have great freedom to make decisions; in the latter, NASA and Congress control the decisions.

    LocalFluff,
    If you pay closer attention, rather than seeing only what you want to see, you may become somewhat less disgusted when I answer your questions.

  • pzatchok

    Actually the Shuttle was capable of landing on autopilot.

    It was just never used and only tested down to about 300 feet when the human pilot took over. I am sure the launch was also capable of being auto piloted also.

    Think of it this way. When an astronaut trains for 10 years to fly the space shuttle he actually wants to fly the dang thing.

    Using this thought the pilots argued that certain parts of the craft needed to be totally human operated like the landing gear and drag chutes. Once those operations were started they could not be stopped and could potentially crash the craft. They didn’t trust computers then like they do now.

    On launch the pilots also argued that they need control of the throttles and the roll maneuver, even though both could have been controlled by the computer which controlled everything else on launch.

    To me it looks like the Buran was such an mistrusted vehicle that they couldn’t even order, at gun point, any human pilot into it for its first and only flight. They even put ejection seats in it to sweeten up the deal.

  • LocalFluff

    Edward,
    I don’t “attack you”. I very much appreciate your writings here. I’m simply comparing the basic designs of the US and Soviet space shuttle programs. I hope you are not the one responsible for the historic shortcomings you defend here!

    Energia/Zenit/Buran could do everything that STS and SLS and Ares I could do, and much more, at a way way lower cost. An order of magnitude. Just count the number of billions the US government spent on it with the number of billions the Soviet government spent on it. And Zenit seems to have become a commercially very competitive stand alone launcher as a spin-off.

    In both cases we are talking about bureaucrats in planned marxist economies. The Russians are much better than the Americans in that game, so you better not try playing by those rules again. Shuttle and Buran is the very symbol of the failure of US planned economy. Even North Korea could outsmart you with better ICBM designs. If your strength is in your hair, don’t cut it. US Space industry has accomplished nothing for 50 years. Then the Pay Pal guy suddenly took over all of it. Be glad that Kim Jung Ill Whatever didn’t do it already.

    If Buran was a “copy”, it was one much better designed. It had no main engines on the orbiter. It had no ambition to reuse any engines. Pretty fundamental differences! The similarities of the look of it were determined by the nature of aerodynamics. Two independent mathematicians do arrive at the same solution of the same problem. Soviet industrial espionage was a disaster for their Concorde copy decades earlier, cheating in school doesn’t make good engineering. They had obviously understood that by the 1980s.

    Buran was man rated. How many man rated launchers does NASA have today? Let’s see now, euhm, no by the way let’s just not bring that up.

    My point is that Russian politicians and bureaucrats have proven themselves to be much better than their US colleagues. You have the best legal system (believe it or not, it doesn’t get any better, unfortunately). Apply it or lose!

  • LocalFluff

    pzatchok
    You describe the total corruption, ineptness and propaganda of the STS program. Only the final few shuttles were capable of remote controlling. Together with SLS and Ares I, that would almost accomplish what Energia/Zenit/Buran accomplished decades ago.

    First launch uncrewed is the normal and reasonable way of doing things, isn’t it? Unless you have such a lousy design, for the corrupt political reasons you refer to, that it has any safe and rational operation has deliberately been made technically impossible by the losing Soviet style, but worse, US space industry.

    Jobs programs training otherwise clever people to make unusable things.

  • LocalFluff: I think you make a fundamental error in thinking that either Buran or the shuttle was a success. In truth, both were failures. The shuttle flew repeatedly and demonstrated many engineering innovations that will serve space engineers for decades in the future, but it totally failed in its prime mission to lower the cost to orbit. Totally.

    You claim that Buran was cheaper and better designed, but the reality is that the Soviet Union couldn’t afford it. They built it to top the American shuttle, but then had no way to pay for its use. Kind of like SLS, eh?

    In both cases, the concept was not driven for profit or economic gain, but to serve the needs of politicians who haven’t the slightest understanding of economics.

    Both were failures, as will be any big government project divorced from economic reality.

  • Diane Wilson

    I suspect there’s a lot we still don’t know about Buran; if anyone can point to good source material, I’d be very interested. One thing that I’ve heard (and seems reasonable) was that Buran was an attempt to understand what the Americans were up to with the Shuttle. They figured out that it wasn’t such a great idea, which probably also contributed to its cancellation.

    The original, flown Buran was destroyed in a building collapse, but a second orbiter was nearly complete, and is stored at Baikonur. Two more were under construction, and simply abandoned-in-place at the factory. They’re still there. Some folks broke into that building recently to photograph these Burans that were never completed:

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/07/breaking-into-the-buran-graveyard-aging-soviet-vehicles-still-impress/

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “They didn’t trust computers then like they do now.

    Back then, computer scientists were telling us how many operations between errors we could expect for any given computer chip. Chip reliability became much better since then, but Microsoft’s operating system became the next worry for errors — in this case, causing the blue screen of death.

    LocalFluff,
    You wrote: “I hope you are not the one responsible for the historic shortcomings you defend here!

    Once again, you failed to pay attention. As I had written, I explained events — an explanation that you had explicitly requested — but you obviously continue to believe that I defended those events. You continue to insist that Buran, etc., could perform as advertised, and maybe it could, but it was not demonstrated. Like the rest of the space community, I insist upon demonstration of capabilities before accepting them as fact.

    Had Buran been as economical as you believe, the the Soyuz manned spacecraft and the Russian rockets would have become as obsolete as the US Congress believed that the US rocket fleet had become. Buran would have replaced them all. That it didn’t says much about that system relative to the others.

    That is powerful evidence that your position is not correct.

    The Russians are much better than the Americans in that game, so you better not try playing by those rules again.

    Well, duh. They have a century of experience at Marxism. America is only slowly getting into those waters. By the way, that system is a system of failure everywhere it is tried. Even the current pearl, Cube, complains that the US’s trade ban was the reason that it could not succeed, but Cuba has been free to trade with other nations, so the US is not Cuba’s problem.

    Because all Marxist economies are always doomed to failure is the reason that planned economies should not be tried in the US, not because the US is inexperienced in them. They will not work no matter who tries them; Russia, China, Cuba, or America. In America, William Bradford learned this the hard way, even before Marx came up with his failure of a philosophy. Marx had failed to learn from the American experience, and a lot of people convinced have been convinced that everyone should always be equal at all times. Except the leaders, who deserve to be more equal because of their hard work.

    Shuttle and Buran is the very symbol of the failure of US planned economy. … US Space industry has accomplished nothing for 50 years. Then the Pay Pal guy suddenly took over all of it.

    Which were my points, over the years, on this site. Once again: “if you are agreeing with me, please state them in ways that let me know that you are acknowledging my previous statements.” Otherwise we may be in violent agreement, arguing endlessly on something that we agree upon.

    Even North Korea could outsmart you with better ICBM designs. … If Buran was a “copy”, it was one much better designed.

    Again, not demonstrated. Indeed, it seems that the more successful North Korean rocket designs came from elsewhere. If Buran were so much better, then the Soviets would have reflown it. Instead they left it molding in a rickety old hangar until the hangar’s roof caved in. The Russians had less confidence in Buran than you have.

    Pretty fundamental differences!

    Not really. It is just a design choice. In fact, it suggests that the Soviets could not figure out how to build a reusable engine. Strange that you are now defending a lack of reusability when you had complained about that lack at the beginning of this discussion. Remember? Let me refresh your memory: “But why didn’t they go for reusability 30 years ago?
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/first-starliner-manned-flight-delayed-to-late-2018/#comment-1000445

    Buran was man rated. How many man rated launchers does NASA have today?

    There is an off the topic question. Buran may have been man rated, but it never flew a man to verify the confidence in that rating.

    My point is that Russian politicians and bureaucrats have proven themselves to be much better than their US colleagues.

    A non sequitur conclusion if there ever was one. (Hah! I finally get to use that word for its actual meaning. You made me very happy today.)

    First launch uncrewed is the normal and reasonable way of doing things, isn’t it? Unless you have such a lousy design …

    Yes, unmanned first launch is normal. Unless you have a design that you are confident in, not a lousy design. It would be reckless to launch people on any design that you believe to be lousy. Apparently, it was the US, not the Soviet Union, that was confident in its design. The US turned out to be overconfident, but that is beside the point.

    Flying a first flight unmanned is the same as proving the capabilities of the craft before taking a risk with a human. It seems that it is only for American space vehicles — not Russian ones — that you, LocalFluff, seem to agree that capabilities need to be demonstrated before being accepted.

    Diane Wilson,
    I had only been aware that two others had been started, not that there was a third on order.

    As for source material on Buran, LocalFluff will have to give us his references. I don’t doubt that the Soviets expected all those capabilities from Buran, but they were not able to prove these capabilities.

  • pzatchok

    The fact that the Buran even had an ejection system sort of proves our point about it not being a thoroughly thought out system.

    You can’t use it during a catastrophic explosion.
    You can’t use it in space.
    You can’t use it during re-entry.
    The only time it can be used is after re-entry burn in and before landing. Pretty much once you are in a safe glide mode. And by then why even use it? just land the craft.

    I do agree that the Soviet idea of placing the main engines on the bottom of the main tanks was a better plan.
    Just leaving off the shuttle and adding a second stage would have made the SLS as soon as the Shuttle was found to not be as reusable as thought.

  • Diane Wilson

    pzatchok,

    The Gemini capsules had ejection seats, and NASA flew humans in them 10 times. They were intended only for escape on the pad or first-stage burn.

  • pzatchok

    Thanks for the info.

    Just read up and it looks like any rocket larger than the Gemini launcher and ejection seats would never work.

    And damn did it looked risky. It was manually activated so if the pilot was just a bit too slow, well then it wasn’t effective. Or of one was a bit to fast wouldn’t he fill the capsule with flames? Thus endangering the other pilot.

    Then each seat had to be manually disabled. Which could have set it off in space.

    Any safety system that adds more danger to your flight might not really be a good safety system.

  • Diane Wilson

    “Any safety system that adds more danger to your flight might not really be a good safety system.”

    Reminds me of the days of backing up my PC data on tape. I trusted my hard drive more than the tape, with good reason.

    At least one Gemini astronaut did remark that they were happy that they never had to use the ejection seats. I think that qualifies as understatement.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “I do agree that the Soviet idea of placing the main engines on the bottom of the main tanks was a better plan.

    Maybe it was a better plan, but the center of mass and center of pressure were way off toward the the side of the rocket body, making it terribly misaligned from the usual thrust vector. Lord knows what they had to do to compensate.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_of_pressure_(fluid_mechanics)

  • pzatchok

    I think they put the shuttle on the top side instead of on the bottom like the American one.

    I cannot find a film of their roll over maneuver to confirm this idea though.

    Ours pushed the mass off center also.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    The Buran on the top side or the bottom side did not matter for the mass distribution; it was still off the centerline of the launch rocket, even at altitude or after the roll maneuver. Somehow, the Energia had to compensate in order to prevent pitching in the direction of the Buran and turning into a massive, expensive pinwheel.

    The Space Shuttle was mounted on the side of the External Tank, but its main engines counteracted the offset center of mass and center of pressure.

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