July 17, 2018 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast


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Embedded below the fold in two parts. This podcast, entitled “Why does the US not have a manned spacecraft to orbit and to Mars?”, was a special broadcast, where the entire two segments were focused on outlining the delays NASA has forced on the private commercial crew companies, most especially SpaceX, in order to favor SLS as well as Boeing.

The first segment outlined the background. The second segment outlines solutions, central to which was the need to shut down SLS, Orion, and LOP-G now, before they do even more harm to the U.S.’s ability to compete effectively in space.

Whatever manned projects the federal government decides it must do, it must stop trying to ask NASA to build these projects. Instead, it must name a goal (building a base on the Moon, for example), and contract the requirements out to private companies. For the price of SLS we could launch between 300 and 400 Falcon Heavies, and do it NOW, repeatedly, rather than once four years hence. Nor is Falcon Heavy the only private option. Both Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are building rockets that can supplement or even supplant SpaceX.

We should be relying on freedom and competition, the basic tenets of our country, not a Soviet-style top-down space program run by the government.

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15 comments

  • wodun

    For the price of SLS we could launch between 300 and 400 Falcon Heavies, and do it NOW, repeatedly, rather than once four years hence.

    Not exactly. This is the sunk cost fallacy. The opportunity cost is what is spent currently on SLS/Orion and LOP-G. We have to look forward not backward but this is much better than the misuse of opportunity cost in that petition.

    The analysis wouldn’t include just launches but would have to cover payloads, development, maintenance/resupply, and administration. While that makes the analysis more complicated, it is still a very convincing argument. What makes the analysis harder to perform is that providing services to NASA comes at a higher price than the providing them to the private sector. So, you say that a billion dollars would purchase around 7 FH launches a year at $130-150 million a launch and that would leave 2-3 billion dollars left over for payloads, development, maintenance/resupply, and administration.

  • Localfluff

    @wodun, Using SpaceX instead of even developing SLS+Orion would’ve saved the entire $40 billion whatever.

    NASA has contracted $133 million for the first crewed F9+Dragon launch. If one adds that to the $90 million for an uncrewed FH, the mass to orbit after docking is at on par with SLS’ capacity, with reusable F9 and FH. So lets say that SpaceX can match SLS+Orion’s launch cost for $225 million.

  • Richard M

    Have not had a chance to listen to The Space Review segment, but you drove the shiv into SLS/LOP-G nicely on the Batchelor Show.

    The hard reality is that NASA has about $3 billion, give or take, to spend per year on whatever it decides to do beyond low earth orbit – the rest of the HSF funds are spoken for so long as ISS stays operational (which looks to be 2028 now). $3 billion can’t pay to develop and operate SLS/Orion *and* any destination for it, let alone LOP-G. $3 billion *could* get NASA a lunar surface base, *if* it aggressively uses commercial partners. And we know this because enough studies have been done on it (see the 2015 NextGen study by Charles Miller, for example), and because commercial space has established a pretty significant track record by now.

    Unfortunately, the other hard reality is that Congress is content to just have a jobs program, and there hasn’t been an administration willing to spend political capital to move them off that dime let alone hack down the “safety first” brigade in the NASA bureaucracy.

    So here we are.

  • First time commenting, here. Glad to see you all are crunching the numbers that give proof to freedom’s boost, and the age of competitive space. If we’re not allowing fair competition between our private sector space companies, we’re only subjecting ourselves to the hind tit in the competition the whole world is now engaged in. Beyond competition, let’s add the grass roots campaign idea for launching a kickstarter to the real age of space. I’m laying out the investor’s guide to space, so that our sluggish rush to space can be accomplished step-by-step. Elon said, it, but maybe he read my book (“The Space Trade”). If we merge space engineering with the investment community, great. Investor guide portion of “The Space Trade Update” will show that in September or October, 2018, when published. Then, taking each step and kickstarting it, will build interest, and actual forward movement to a grass roots investment in building the first of 5 types of ships required by the new private sector in-space economy. We can make this happen, and I hope you all will cheer us on, even as you deride government interference with the American ideal of a free nation. – LPT

  • Edward

    wodun,

    I hate to disagree with you in two posts in a row, but Robert was talking about the whole price of SLS development, not the remaining development cost or the cost of its payloads. The sunk cost fallacy does not apply, especially since Robert proposes the opposite of the fallacy — ending the project despite the already sunk cost.

    Falcon Heavies (FH) are currently said to cost $90 million per launch, not the higher range you specified. Due to a recent announcement, you are confusing a more costly Air Force launch with a more realistically priced NASA or commercial launch. Robert’s comparison was just for launches, not payload development, maintenance, or administration. If you want to include these other costs to SLS, at NASA expenditure rates, and we might still be able to get scores or hundreds of commercial missions for each SLS mission, especially when we consider that each SLS costs 20 to 60 FH launches alone (at least $2 billion per SLS launch vs. $.09 billion per FH launch).

    If you wanted a more appropriate comparison, rather than a lost opportunity complaint, then we should compare SLS development cost (tens of billions of dollars) with FH development cost (around half a billion dollars, per Elon Musk). Clearly, developing a commercial rocket is a better deal than developing a Congressional pork barrel rocket.

    Either way, the point is made that for manned space we are not getting value for our NASA space-bucks.

    In addition to Robert’s point, I am becoming fond of pointing out the lost opportunity costs of misspent money and delays in CCDev. Without these imposed delays, Bigelow and other companies could already be sending up alternative space stations, which have more user-friendly rules and less politics than ISS. Not only could SpaceX and Boeing be operating manned launch services, but other companies could be taking in operation revenue on their outposts. In addition, other companies (such as those that L. Paul Turner wants to encourage) and other countries could be performing their own manned space experiments, explorations, or operations.

    But instead we are stuck with delays, virtually useless pork projects, and politics as usual, with fewer space services for the rest of us. Each delay puts off our exploration of the solar system by that much more time.

  • wodun

    Localfluff
    July 18, 2018 at 6:10 am
    @wodun, Using SpaceX instead of even developing SLS+Orion would’ve saved the entire $40 billion whatever.

    Doesn’t matter. That is the sunk cost fallacy. You have to look at things going forward. I’ve been harping about opportunity costs for years as it is the most persuasive argument but it has to be used correctly. It falls apart a little bit when it comes to payload and missions because its all imagination and speculation but at least launch costs give us concrete numbers and we can still set aside billions reserved for firing up imaginations on how to spend the money.

    Your second paragraph is better but you also have to account for the additional cost of dealing with the government. A FH launch for the government is going to cost more than $90 million.

    I have several points:

    1) The COTS programs are fully funded and are likely to continue to be fully funded. We can also expect that as things progress, they will get the money they need. Congress wont give them money for things NASA wont be doing until years from now.

    2) You can’t assume cancelling a program means that your favored program gets that money. There are many programs and agencies other than NASA that will compete for those funds or maybe they would not be spent at all and be applied to paying down debt.

    3) SLS/Orion and LOP-G are not that expensive when compared to the entire budget. When congress is planning how to spend over $3 trillion, why would they even worry about the paltry sum that goes toward SLS/Orion and LOP-G?

    4) We are in a trap of competing for government funding. The only way out is to enable the private sector to be able to chart their own paths. Some people get this but then still want a big government program. This can be very dangerous and we need government to always allow for companies to not just meet the needs of government but also their own needs.

    5) At this stage, those programs are not holding anything back. People want to do other things with that money, but there is no existing plan or program that is being harmed. Congress can decide at any time to direct NASA to do something and are perfectly able to appropriate the additional funds to do so. They have already demonstrated that more than one approach will be funded.

    From my perspective, if it takes throwing some money at SLS/Orion and LOP-G to enable the commercial sector also get their shot, it is worth it and cancelling a program wont necessarily lead to my preferred course or action being adopted or funded with the money from the cancelled program.

  • wodun

    Edward
    July 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm
    wodun,

    I hate to disagree with you in two posts in a row, but Robert was talking about the whole price of SLS development

    Disagree as many times as you want :)

    I know what our host was talking to but it is the sunk cost fallacy. It literally doesn’t matter when making a decision other than it can lead you to making poor decisions.

    It isn’t even a fair comparison as FH didn’t exist when SLS/Orion was started and the method used by SpaceX to develop their products is one NASA is incapable of performing because they are not a business than can use revenues for funding.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with out host’s conclusions but I do want him to do a better job persuading people. Anyone with an education in economics will see the holes in these arguments because the arguments misuse sunk costs and how opportunity costs works. By using these concepts correctly, it makes a stronger and more persuasive case, but one that is less sensational.

    In addition to Robert’s point, I am becoming fond of pointing out the lost opportunity costs of misspent money and delays in CCDev. Without these imposed delays, Bigelow and other companies could already be sending up alternative space stations, which have more user-friendly rules and less politics than ISS.

    It is a bit of a trap isn’t it? But do you notice that people are advocating for yet another government program? There is a danger here that we stay in the trap. I think the COTS way of doing things provides the best way out but only if companies are not shackled to NASA. Only time will tell how successful this is.

  • wayne

    wodun–
    I hate to disagree with you as well, but will do so, but only slightly.
    -And while I know exactly what you mean to communicate, I think we are co-mingling opportunity-cost & sunk-cost at the wrong points in the analysis.

    God knows we have billions in rock solid sunk-costs, not even counting the interest we have to pay cuz’ its all borrowed money, but the opportunity cost analysis gets even more fuzzy— we can only account for some of the Seen, and very little of the Unseen.

    (bottom line— sls was and remains a waste of money)

    -Opportunity cost— the value (not a benefit) of the choice in terms of the best alternative while making a decision. A choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives; assuming the best choice is made, it is the “cost” incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would have been had by taking the second best available choice.”
    i.e.: the cost of the next least expensive alternative.
    -A sunk cost is distinct from economic loss which describes a sum paid, in the past, which is no longer relevant to decisions about the future; it may be used inconsistently in quantitative terms as the original cost or the expected economic loss.

  • Richard M

    Edward,

    “Falcon Heavies (FH) are currently said to cost $90 million per launch, not the higher range you specified.”

    Only in fully reusable mode.

    If you need to expend the center core, the price rises to $100 million. If you need to expend all three cores, then it’s $150 million. That’s exclusive of any additional charges related to special NASA requirements.

    Still, a rock bottom bargain compared to SLS.

  • wayne

    The Big Bang Theory – Se11Ep22
    Sheldon asks the University for $560 million
    https://youtu.be/JLF-8uiiTJ4
    2:02

  • wodun

    wayne
    July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm
    wodun–

    I think we are co-mingling opportunity-cost & sunk-cost at the wrong points in the analysis.

    ***

    (bottom line— sls was and remains a waste of money)

    It is always the right time to use these concepts correctly. SLS is a waste of money and pointing out the total spent is useful, and saying how many M&Ms we could have bought might help conceptualize the sum of money, but what is important is what will be spent going forward and comparing that with alternative uses for that same money.

    The sunk cost fallacy works in two ways. 1) We have spent so much money that we must continue. 2) We have spent so much money that we must stop.

    We can’t go back in time and stop SLS and we can’t go back in time and spend that money on things that didn’t exist. A rational approach ignores sunk costs and fantasy alternatives and looks at costs going forward and that is all that is needed to make a persuasive case against SLS/Orion and for some people, LOP-G.

    When our host says we could launch 400 FH for the price of SLS and do it right now, it isn’t a true statement. For one, SLS doesn’t have a price but a cost. For two, the money was already spent. The only way this could be a true statement is if it looked at present and future costs and that might actually be true but then frame it that way. Then that number becomes far more persuasive than looking at the sunk costs.

    But it is less sensational to say that we could buy 5 FH heavy launches a year and spend $2 billion on payloads. Considering how NASA works, would $2 billion even be enough for 5 FH payloads? In any case, 5 FH launches is still more launches than we would have with SLS, which would be 1 a year or every two years and it is an existing alternative that can be used right now.

    It is more persuasive when you focus on the future and what you can do to change the future than focusing on the past and what you can’t change about the past. This is true even if reality is less sensational.

  • Edward

    wodun,
    You wrote: “I know what our host was talking to but it is the sunk cost fallacy.

    The sunk cost fallacy is for decision making, not for cost comparisons. The decision that Robert advocates is different than the sunk cost fallacy. He (and many others) propose cutting our losses now and reallocating the resources to more productive projects. This avoids the fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy does not apply (I know that I am repeating myself, but it is not sinking in to your head).

    The arguments are using lost opportunity costs correctly. We could have used that money in better ways, such as (without excluding other possible uses) developing rockets more inexpensively, purchasing other launches, developing a program to go to the Moon and then to Mars, or a combination of these. The timeliness of those opportunities is lost. We can still apply resources to those other ideas, but we will forever be a decade behind where we would have been.

    Talking about past lost opportunities is not a sunk cost fallacy.

    It isn’t even a fair comparison as FH didn’t exist when SLS/Orion was started and the method used by SpaceX to develop their products is one NASA is incapable of performing because they are not a business than can use revenues for funding.

    This makes no difference to the comparison or to the 2010 decision to keep Orion and to redesign Constellation into SLS. No one is suggesting that we go back in time to change that decision. We are advocating that (to use a business phrase I despise) going forward we allocate our resources better.

    But do you notice that people are advocating for yet another government program?

    If it is government money, it is by definition a government program. Our unmanned probes throughout the solar system are two or three government programs, but they are generally well managed and effective uses of resources. I would not consider them to be mere jobs programs, because we get value for our money. They are our unmanned Lewis and Clark explorers.

    If you want a better argument made, make it yourself. Rather than sitting around critiquing other people’s arguments, do it the way you prefer. Who knows, we may borrow elements of your argument when making our own.

  • Localfluff

    SLS+Orion+FLOP-G has no value what so ever if they are launched. They are designed to not accomplish anything. All marginal cost is only that, cost without value. The sooner it is put to good use as recycled scrap metal, the better.

  • Wodun

    The sunk cost fallacy is for decision making, not for cost comparisons

    The problem is the comparison is not based in reality, it is fantasy desires, and it isnt missed opportunies because the opportunities never existed. No real numbers or outcomes can be put to developing x, y, z things that don’t/didn’t exist. Also, looking at money spent in the past, not what will be spent, is the sunk cost fallacy.

    A cutting losses decision shouldn’t be based on what was spent but will be spent presently and in the future. The real argument against SLS/Orion isn’t what was spent but what will be spent to finish and to operate them. And that is where comparing existing alternatives matters.

    I repeatedly pointed out the better argument for the past few days, as I have for years.

    1) Run the opportunity cost of what SLS/Orion will cost next year and/or in total to projected finish and include operations in comparison with what can be purchased from current launch providers. It is far more persuasive than dwelling on the past.

    2) If someone is compelled to note how much $/time has been spent, people are smart enough to grapple with a large number, look at the wasted time, and judge whether or not the project can be completed without spending undeserved time and money. Fantasy coulda woulda shoulda doesn’t strengthen the case.

    3) Don’t be sensational, a rational portrayal is all that is needed. Saying what could be done with 5 FH launches a year is far easier to grasp than what could be done with 400 in some unknown, or past, time frame. It places attention on the present and near future, not decades out, which is one of the problems with SLS/Orion.

    4) When using fantasy, imagine what could be not what could have.

    It is really simple. Hey, look at SLS. We have spent $x on it but guess what? It has taken x years and know what? It is going to take $x more money and x more years to finish. (That’s a killshot) But that’s not all. Even when completed it will still cost $x a year even if it doesn’t do anything and before you suggest doing something with it, know it can only fly once a year.

    Now, let’s add all those yearly expenses up and let me tell you what we could do with that money and with rockets that can fly as many times a year as we want them too. Oh, let me show you a video of them in action.

    Hits all the major flaws without bogging down in fantasies of the past and sunk costs, provides good picture of current state of affairs, provides alternatives that exist in reality, isn’t sensational, only engages in inspiring the imagination where actual reality leaves off.

    I have a b tested these approaches out with a small number of people whose only care about space is that we do well. I know the way I framed the situation is persuasive. Our host hits many of the same points, I was just pointing out how he can step it up a little.

    That is all the simple stuff related to SLS/Orion. When it comes to being persuasive about where reality leaves off is much harder. Just look at all the debate about what people want to do in space and how it should be done. Its not very often the debate centers on what can be done in the near term but that is where people are making money and what will shape what actually happens in the future. Much more fun to imagine things a few steps into the future though.

    What happens if we catch the tiger and SLS/Orion is cancelled? We go straight to the Moon? Where, what is the exact spot? Why there rather than this other place? Will be nice to see debate on specifics rather than “the poles”.

  • Edward

    Wodun,
    You wrote: “The problem is the comparison is not based in reality, it is fantasy desires, and it isnt missed opportunies because the opportunities never existed.

    Well, that may seem like a problem to you, but the Falcon Heavy exists and tens of billions of actual, countable dollars have already been squandered on SLS and Orion. Both of those seem like reality to me.

    Could you please present an actual based-in-reality comparison that pleases you?

    A cutting losses decision shouldn’t be based on what was spent …

    You have missed my point, that we who argue for the immediate cancellation of SLS, Orion, and (F)LOP-G are not basing that decision upon what has already been squandered but upon the uselessness and futility of squandering further resources on missionless projects. At least the over budget, behind schedule, dependent-upon-a-soon-to-be-discontinued-rocket James Webb Space Telescope has a mission, so spending more on it may be wasteful (complete with lost opportunities) but not useless or futile — unless Ariane V is discontinued before JWST can launch.

    And that is where comparing existing alternatives matters.

    But that nakes the argument weaker. “I can buy three Falcon Heavies and a Starbucks espresso for the price of the rest of the development costs.” Well, now we are talking sunk cost fallacy, when Congress says “Gee, we already put in so much, and that espresso only employs half a dozen people for a few minutes, so let’s finish out pet projects and see what we can use them for.”

    When we tell Congress the full extent of their folly, they have better information for their next decision, which they will make. They will be better informed that privately developed rockets and projects done by commercial companies are far, far more cost effective and schedule effective than their one-item jobs programs. How many productive payloads could NASA spend money on and how many jobs can be created if NASA launches on Falcon Heavies rather than SLSs?

    Once Congress is shown how much Lewis-and-Clark-like exploration they can get for the same price and how much private commercial business — including the associated long-term jobs — can be generated due to that exploration, they should be as happy to send out Lewis and Clark and to set up 21st century space Homesteading as the US was back in the early 19th century.

    This is such an important concept that I want to repeat it. Tell Congress the extent of their folly, let them know that we caught them being foolish, they will figure out that they are being watched, evaluated, and found wanting, and they might maybe consider funding a project that is more productive, since that is what We the Voters insist upon.

    I repeatedly pointed out the better argument for the past few days, as I have for years.

    Then your comment presents an instruction manual for your better argument rather than making the argument.

    If it is so simple, then why are you are too lazy to do the homework necessary to fill in the Xs? Why would you expect anyone else to do your work for you only to result in a weaker argument?

    You asked: “What happens if we catch the tiger and SLS/Orion is cancelled? We go straight to the Moon? Where, what is the exact spot? Why there rather than this other place?

    No matter whose argument turns out to be convincing, if we catch the tiger the same thing happens.

    Will be nice to see debate on specifics rather than ‘the poles’.

    I am in complete agreement, but that debate has to wait until Congress is willing to make that debate productive. Right now it is not only futile, it is moot. None of these three projects go to the Moon (or Mars) to make the specifics even debatable.

    At least we know that there are resources “at the poles.” We do not yet know the specific resources at the specific craters, and SLS/Orion/(F)LOP-G are taking up the exploration resources that coulda woulda shoulda been used to settle that debate.

    So here are my non-rhetorical questions: Why do you consider your coulda woulda shoulda arguments non-fantasy? You do it in your (fantasy) argument, full of Xs, but you insist that we aren’t allowed to consider at past squandered resources in ours. And what makes you think you know how long it will take and how much it will cost to finish? No one knows these, so the numbers you would present, if you were to do the work, would be fantasy numbers, not the actual reality of known squandered resources.

    Your argument:
    Hey, look at SLS. We have spent $x on it but guess what? It has taken x years and know what? It is going to take $x more money and x more years to finish. (That’s a killshot)

    You aren’t complaining about the use of sunk cost falacies and past lost opportunities, because guess what: your argument is merely a rewording of the argument that you say that you dislike.

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