Tag Archives: commercial space

According to the deputy head of Russia’s space agency, they are not planning any retaliatory sanctions against NASA.

According to the deputy head of Russia’s space agency, they are not planning any retaliatory sanctions against NASA.

Whew! That’s a relief.

Seriously, I never expected them to do anything, as the sanctions NASA has imposed, excluding ISS, are so minor that they mean nothing to Russia. The only people NASA really hopes will react to these sanctions are Congressmen and Senators when they realize how dependent we are on the Russians to get to space.

NASA’s short statement, in connection to the Obama administration’s decision to suspend all non-ISS related activities with Russia, is almost entirely a demand for more funding for its commercial space program.

NASA’s short statement, in connection to the Obama administration’s decision to suspend all non-ISS related activities with Russia, is almost entirely a demand for more funding for its commercial space program.

To quote:

NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Though I agree with them about accelerating manned commercial space, I can’t help wondering if this suspension of activities was actually instigated to generate this lobbying effort. ISS comprises the bulk of the U.S.’s cooperative effort with Russia, and by exempting that from this suspension the Obama administration essentially exempts practically everything, making the suspension somewhat meaningless.

What the suspension does do, however, is highlight our fragile dependency on Russia, just as Congress begins debate on the 2015 budget.

The developmental engineering successes of the new commercially-built private spaceships, Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser, appears to be winning over Congress.

The developmental engineering successes of the new commercially-built private spaceships, Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser, appears to be winning over Congress.

The article linked above is mostly about Boeing’s effort with its CST-100 spaceship, but within it was this significant paragraph:

Last week, the House Appropriations committees approved $500 million and Senate appropriators $775 million for commercial crew development as part of NASA’s 2014 budget. The first figure is well below the Obama administration’s $821 million request, a figure NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has characterized as essential to meet the 2017 objective. Nonetheless, agency and company managers believe legislators are losing their skepticism over a program that has so far committed $1.4 billion to competing vehicle designs from SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and others. [emphasis mine]

Congress is still insisting that NASA spend far more for the Space Launch System (SLS), but they do appear to be increasingly less interested in cutting the new commercial crew program. Eventually, a light will go off in their dim brains and they will realize how much more cost effective this program is compared to SLS. I expect this to happen sometime in the next three years, It is then that SLS will die.

Note that I don’t have any problems at all with the above cuts to the commercial program. It is far better to keep these private efforts on a short leash, thereby forcing the companies to stay lean and mean, than to give them a blank check (as has been done in the past and with SLS) and thus allow them to become fat and lazy.

The plundering of NASA

From one of my readers: The Plundering of NASA: an Expose, How pork barrel politics harm American spaceflight leadership. You can buy the ebook edition here, and the print edition here.

I just finished reading it. Boozer’s introduction and opening two chapters provide one of the best detailed summaries explaining clearly why the United States today cannot launch its own astronauts into space, and why we are threatened with the possibility that we won’t be able to do it for years to come. And while his perspective is mostly from an engineering perspective, he also gives some of the political background behind this situation.

His later chapters are not as effectively written, but the opening is still worth it.

I will give a hint about his thesis: it involves comparing the Space Launch System (SLS) with private commercial space. And SLS does not fare well.

Private space is winning

Today I attended an space industry conference here in Orange County, California, sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Unlike the Space Hackers conference which also occurred today and to which I was also invited, this was not a New Space get-together, but a standard aerospace event which included a lot of old time engineers from the big old-time companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Most of the talks today were engineering related. For example, one described in detail the engineering advantages of building ion engines and solar sails at the molecular level, nanotechnology to the max. Another talk, which I found astonishing and exciting, was an analysis of the orbital mechanics of getting to Mars. This analysis found that using constant acceleration as low as .01 G it would be possible to get to Mars in weeks, not years, and without the necessity of waiting for the perfect launch window. You could launch almost anytime. Though we don’t have engines that as yet can provide this much constant low acceleration, these numbers are not so high as to make it impossible. With some clever refinements, it might be possible to come up with propulsion systems capable of these constant Gs, and to do it in the near future. If so, it will open up the entire solar system to manned exploration very quickly. Not only will we be able to travel to the planets in a reasonable time, the constant Gs would overcome the medical problems caused by prolonged weightlessness.

It wasn’t these interesting engineering presentations that got my juices flowing however. Instead, it was presentation on public policy issues that completely surprised me and made me think the future of the American aerospace industry is really going in the right direction. This significant take-away was further reinforced by the audience’s reaction to my lecture in the evening.
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Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The company just opened a 185,000-square-foot addition, bringing its North Las Vegas plant up to about 350,000 square feet. It slashed its work force from 150 before the recession to 50 during the downturn; now, it’s looking to jump back up to 90 workers by Christmas. It’s hiring structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as chemists, molecular biologists and workers who craft composite spacecraft parts.

Hat tip to Clark Lindsey at NewSpace Watch.

The FAA and NASA have worked out their differences concerning their regulation of private commercial space.

The FAA and NASA have worked out their differences concerning their regulation of private commercial space.

Essentially, NASA has finally conceded with this agreement that it has no control over a private space launch that is not flying to a NASA facility. That the FAA continues to have as much regulatory control is bad enough, but getting NASA out of the loop will at least ease the bureaucratic burden for private companies.

A rocket launch pushes Congress towards free enterprise

Several key elected officials who have generally been hostile to commercial space have commented positively to the successful launch of the Dragon capsule last night.

First, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) released this short statement:
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Killing private space

The financial foolishness in Congress, by Republicans this time, continues. In making its budget recommendations for NASA, the report [pdf] of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee also demands that NASA immediately choose one commercial company for its commercial space program. (Hat tip to Clark Lindsey for spotting this.)

The number of ways this action is counter-productive almost can’t be counted.
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Senate panel proposes major NASA/NOAA budget changes

A Senate panel today proposed shifting the responsibility for building weather satellites from NOAA to NASA.

It is very unclear from this article why the Senate panel proposed this shift. They claim it will save money but I don’t see how.

What I can guess is that there is probably a turf war going on in Congress over this money. For example, shifting these weather satellites to NASA almost certainly means that the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland will get more money, which is almost certainly why Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) is for it.

One thought however: NASA generally focuses on individual missions, not long term operational stuff like weather. I suspect it probably is not a good idea to give this work to NASA.

The same article above also outlined the panel’s proposals for other areas of NASA’s budget. To me, the key issue is the budget for commercial space. The White House requested $830 million. The Senate panel has instead proposed $525 million.
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NASA budget compromise

Congress has come up with a NASA budget compromise. More details here.

Overall, the NASA budget is cut by about a half billion dollars, the total matching what the agency got in 2009. The key figures are $406 million for commercial manned space, $3 billion for NASA’s in-house heavy-lift rocket and capsule, and $529 million to finish the Webb telescope.

I predict that the $3 billion will be a waste of money, the project getting cancelled before completion.

Tea Party in Space argues for more money for commercial space

Andrew Gasser at the Tea Party in Space website today argues strongly for Congress to fully fund the new commercial space program at the $850 million amount requested by the Obama administration.

As much as I am for these new commercial companies, I do not think it a good idea to fund them at these high levels.

For one thing, the government is still broke. It can’t afford to spend that much money. It is therefore unseemly for a website that uses the “tea party” label to advocate more spending at this time.

For another, the more money the government commits to these companies, the more control the government is going to demand from them. Far better to keep the government participation as small as possible. Make it just enough to allow the companies to succeed but not enough so as to make the whole effort a government program.

Being tone deaf is not a good way to fund a government space program

Yesterday the House appropriations committee’s released budget numbers that included no additional funds for commercial space, limiting the subsidies to $312 million, the same number as last year and significantly less than the $850 million requested by the Obama administration.

This is what I have thought might happen since last year. The tone deaf manner in which the Obama administration has implemented the private space subsidies is leaving all funding for NASA vulnerable.
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