Orbital Sciences has successfully launched its Cygnus cargo ferry into orbit.

Orbital Sciences has successfully launched its Cygnus cargo ferry into orbit.

Another perfect launch for the company.

Consider once again what has happened. While it cost NASA six years and $9 billion to build nothing before its Constellation program was cancelled, two private companies have built and launched two different rockets and unmanned cargo spacecraft in that same time period for about a third of that cost.

The contrast couldn’t be more stark. And that contrast will get even more stark as the flights of the privately built manned spacecraft by SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada unfold in the coming three years, while SLS and Orion sit around and do little but spend money.

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30 comments

  • geoffc

    I love your series on the “Competition heats up” and a really nice visualization of this is the visting spacecraft schedule to the ISS in this post:

    http://space.stackexchange.com/questions/3294/how-much-crew-time-is-required-for-visiting-craft-at-the-iss

    • Yup, the schedule at ISS is getting busy. And it will get busier if the U.S. replaces the shuttle with more than one manned craft. At the moment it appears there is a real possibility that Dream Chaser will be bought by the Europeans, while NASA will buy either Dragon, CST-100, or Dream Chaser. And no matter what, Dragon is going be built anyway, and I would not be surprised if it ends up flying tourist flights to ISS as well.

      • geoffc

        What is interesting is that NASA only wants one manned vehicle at the station at the US Segment end at a time.

        They plan to move the PMA from Node 3 to the space facing CBM port on Node 2. Move the PLM on the earth facing Node 1 port, onto a forward facing port on Node 3. (The beginnings of the race track design!!! But not)

        Then Node 1 and Node 2’s earth facing ports are for cargo berthing to a CBM. And Node 2’s forward and space facing ports have PMA’s for manned flights.

        But never two at once, since the second port is always a backup for the first.

        Unlike the Russian segment which is usually occupied at all 4 ports.

  • wodun

    Well, Orbital didn’t design their own engines but it shows how they actually did leverage existing technology. Constellation and now SLS didn’t do very well when leveraging shuttle legacy.

  • Kelly Starks

    I’m working at Orbital Technologies now (on the ECLSS and TCS for Dreamchaser and CST-100) and they were watching the launch eagerly since they had some of their gear on the Cygnus.

    >..before its Constellation program was cancelled,..

    Given its still going, just renamed, “cancelled” is a bit of a stretch.

    • Granted, Constellation wasn’t purely cancelled. However, your point actually strengthens mine considerably. The Constellation/SLS/Orion program has now been on-going for ten years and has spent, say, roughly $18 billion ($9 billion through 2010 and then approximately $3 billion per year thereafter) and it has still not produced one flight.

      By 2021, when its scheduled first manned flight is supposed to occur, it will be 17 years since its inception. And it will have spent at least $39 billion to produce that one flight. O joy, doesn’t that level of production just warm the cockles of your heart?

      Meanwhile, I expect at least one Dragon manned flight by 2018 at the latest. That private ship would have taken 10 years to build, but for a great deal less than $39 billion, somewhere around $5 to $6 billion. And I expect it to be able to produce at least two to three flights per year, right off the bat.

      In addition, by 2018 I expect Sierra Nevada and others to also be close to flying as well, also for far less, and also far more frequently.

      As I said, the contrast couldn’t be more stark.

      • By the way, congratulations on the new job. You have now joined new space! I expect you will like it there.

        • Kelly Starks

          Hope they turn out better. Last couple contracts for companies that figured sweeping it under the rug and laughing off customer or gov agency demands — it was starting to really sour me on my career.

          I must say leaving Wisconsin in ’81 for one shuttle program and coming back for another is weird. ;)

          Though I wouldn’t dis them by calling them New Space. So far they seem much more professional then that.

          • wodun

            The next F9 launch should be interesting. These unprofessional hobbyists working out of their mom’s garage will be doing more tests on being able to land their first stage.

          • Kelly Starks

            hobbyist’s have done rocket hover and landings before. Major firms have done it on and off for about half a century. So for other companies it would be a no brainer. For SpaceX…..

            ;)

      • Kelly Starks

        >.. Constellation wasn’t purely cancelled.

        Purely?

        >… However, your point actually strengthens mine considerably.
        > The Constellation/SLS/Orion program has now been on-going for ten years and has spent, say,
        > roughly $18 billion ($9 billion through 2010 and then approximately $3 billion per year thereafter)
        > and it has still not produced one flight…

        Given boosters cost about $30B under NASA FAR rules, adn Orion (or Apollo) about $20B, its not surprising it hasn’t flown anything after $18B, part of which was eaten for the Aries-1 insanity, and some Altair work.

        • Kelly Starks

          Oh, another bit of irony. The Orbital Technology group here is teamed with the People I worked with in Hamilton-Sundstrand to do the environmental control systems and thermal control system for Orion. This team is doing them for both the Boeing CST-100 and Dream Chaser, so they are in great shape to be a winner on the Commercial Crew contract if it goes ahead.

          Also Orbital Tech got some cudos for their response to Dream Chaser program’s RFP for a new RCS system, and think they may have a shot to re-engine the Dream Chaser if they dump the hybrid rockets (politically sensitive in Dream Chaser company, but SS2 isn’t the only program having problems and concerns). So they are psyched over 2014 brining good things to them.

        • wodun

          Don’t those price tags lend some credence to our host’s points on the comparison of costs? $50 billion for a capsule and a rocket compared to the relative pittance spent by both NASA and partner companies on 3 manned vehicles, 2 unmanned vehicles, and 2 launchers.

          • Kelly Starks

            more they lend suspicion to the quality of the other ones. When a new comer into a market, and is a bit cheaper that maybe a good deal – when they get to be orders of magnitude cheaper (unless its a much simpler adn less capable design) you have to wonder waht corners they are cutting.

      • Edward

        Robert, here is an article saying that former NASA Deputy Administrator Garver thinks that SLS should be cancelled. Thought you might like to read it.
        http://www.spacenews.com/article/civil-space/38912garver-nasa-should-cancel-sls-and-mars-2020-rover

        “Later in the show, Rehm asked Garver what NASA programs she felt should be cut. …’[W]e’re building a huge rocket called the Space Launch System, the SLS.’ … ‘[I]t’s $3 billion a year of NASA’s $17 billion. Is that how you would be investing in the space program? Where is it going to go? When will it even fly?'”

        It looks like some influential people also think that SLS is not worth the price tag, and are willing to speak up.

        • I’ve read Garver’s comments. She was in NASA when Constellation was cut and then said she thought it was a waste of money, I suspect she always disliked SLS and only supported it because Congress required NASA to do it. Now that she is out of NASA she can speak her mind honestly.

          The tide is turning. SLS will die within three years. Sadly, it will waste a lot of money in that time, a sad testament to the corruption we have in Washington, aided by the willing ignorance of voters to not fire these guys at every election.

          • Kelly Starks

            >… The tide is turning. SLS will die within three years. …

            Dispite the fact congress just past a law outlawing it being cut, and it has always had broad bipartisan support?

            You seem to be betting against steep odds there Bob.

            Unless (unlikely before the next president) a differnt big policy toward NASA, new mission adn big dev program, are developed/proposed in DC, SLS is golden. Congress realizes if that kill SLS otherwise they might as well go ahead adn shut NASA down at the same time. Politically a non-starter. (As Obama found out.)

    • wodun

      Too bad the strategy was the part that was cancelled.

      • Kelly Starks

        Obama killed the goals, but Ciongress saved the program and industry for later.

        • wodun

          A rocket that wont fly for a decade and only launches once a year for government services isn’t an industry. These government contractors are not in the launch industry, they are in the government contract industry.

          • Kelly Starks

            > A rocket that wont fly for a decade and only launches once a year for government services isn’t an industry. .

            Hell the US doesn’t launch many more then that a year as is.

            >..These government contractors are not in the launch industry, …

            They are still the industrial base for all that for the nation – If SLS was dead, CST-100 and Dream Chaser certainly wouldn’t have any source for their life support. The gov is the only customer for maned space at the moment, and industries don’t stay around long with no customers.

          • wodun

            “Hell the US doesn’t launch many more then that a year as is.”

            Don’t we put up 20+ rockets a year between NASA and the private sector?

            “They are still the industrial base for all that for the nation”

            I agree. The government is certainly the anchor tenant but that doesn’t mean that is best in the long term. But the good thing about CST 100, Dreamchaser, or the Dragon is that their manufacturers are free to pursue customers other than NASA. SLS has only one customer, NASA, so its presence doesn’t help the private industry. If a private company owned a SHLV vehicle, they could market it to other customers.

          • Kelly Starks

            > Don’t we put up 20+ rockets a year between NASA and the private sector?

            Oh your right. Atlas-V and Delta-IV alone is 11. Up quite a bit.

            >> “They are still the industrial base for all that for the nation”

            > I agree. The government is certainly the anchor tenant but that doesn’t mean that is best in the long term.

            Its not good, it just is.

            > But the good thing about CST 100, Dreamchaser, or the Dragon is that their manufacturers are free to pursue
            > customers other than NASA. SLS has only one customer, NASA, so its presence doesn’t help the private
            > industry. If a private company owned a SHLV vehicle, they could market it to other customers.

            Right now there are no other markets for manned space, and my point was if SLS is killed now, there won’t be any US companies left to market to any future commercial or governmental customers. They simply would starve out. Commercial crew would die without that industrial base as well. (The life support system for for Dreamchaser and CST uses parts developed for Orion for example. Not sure what Dragon has/will developed, but presumably they need a industrial base to.)

            Agree that companies ability to market their craft is a plus, it really would have been a huge plus for space dev is the team operating Shuttle for NASA, were allowed to offer services to others (or NASA) commercially – but that would hardly have benefited NASA, and NewSpace would have screamed bloody murder with shuttle then GROSELY undercutting all NewSpace launchers with $50M a flight margin costs. ;)

          • Edward

            > Right now there are no other markets for manned space, and my point was if SLS is killed now, there won’t be any US companies left to market to any future commercial or governmental customers.

            I don’t think that is quite true. There is definite interest in commercial manned space. Here is one example:
            http://www.parabolicarc.com/2014/01/08/esa-outlines-cooperation-sierra-nevada-dream-chaser/

            Several countries and companies have expressed interest to Bigelow for use of their space habitats, which will depend upon commercial manned space, once it starts to happen, not on SLS.

            I have great expectations of a grand future for commercial manned space. I suspect that more than one company will be able to thrive on the business that will be available.

          • Kelly Starks

            > I don’t think that is quite true. There is definite interest in commercial manned space. Here is one example

            Yeah I’m on the Dream Chaser engineering team, but right now the only potential customer willing to sing orders or cut checks is NASA.

          • Edward

            Kelly, I worry less about who is willing to cut checks today but more about who will be the customer tomorrow. If NASA will forever be the only customer, then commercial space will die a horrible death. If the commercial space companies can gain the confidence of other customers — and the interest that is shown makes that look certain once hardware successfully flies — then the future of commercial space is great (in the “large” sense).

            Congratulations on being in a company that is on the cutting edge of commercial space. I am jealous of your position; three decades ago, it is what I had expected that my career would be. Good luck with Dream Chaser. I am rooting for you!

          • Kelly Starks

            Thanks Ed. Yeah when I started in shuttle in ’81 I was hoping the same thing. Hopefully this time it will work out better, even if on a smaller and slower scale.

            I worry more about who is willing to cut checks today, because the vast bulk of US aerospace industry has already been lost. Even “NewSpace” companies like Orbital tec and Serrara Nevada are dependent on the few that are left. If SLS/Orion etc is canceled, those companies starve out and take the new guys down with them. So with no today, you don’t get to a tomorrow.

            But at the moment folks are optimistic. Bigelows starting to order life support gear for its stations, and likely hoping/confident they can close some deals if CommercialCrew provides them with some viable launch vehicles to carry customers to their stations with. If SLS/Orion keep funding (which at this point is virtually assured) and the plug isn’t pulled on commercial crew to soon, it should happen.

            Next couple years should tell..

          • Edward

            > I worry more about who is willing to cut checks today, because the vast bulk of US aerospace industry has already been lost.

            I see your point. At the moment, I am one of the “lost.” I don’t know yet if I am between jobs or retired.

          • Kelly Starks

            With the ave age of aerospace engineers being in the upper ’50’s. A lot of us could quickly start disappearing from the job market regardless of what we want. I worked with some guys at Sikorski who started there in the 50’s! Ok, they were part time, mainly consultants (I was working to upgrade the specs for the presidential helicopters, and the airframes were developed in the ’50’s.), but they had critical knowledge that they quickly won’t be able to provide. So nuclear rocket projects have had to call back similar really grade beards. The life support team who did Shuttle, ISS, and Orions systems (and presumably CST-100 and Dream Chaser) still had folks who worked on Apollo era systems.

            Our aerospace could go like Soyuz and progress, where the folks who remember how to keep them working, die off.

      • Kelly Starks

        Obama killed the goals, but Congress saved the program and industry for later. Without it all the capacity for all those goals is dead.

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