The costs of space cargo

This week there was a bit of a political kerfuffle during House hearings over a House report [pdf] that stated that the cost per pound for launching cargo to ISS was much cheaper using the shuttle versus the new commercial companies under the COTS program. This is shown in this table from page 5 of the report:

House charter graph

The problem is that these numbers are a complete lie, as they are based on a yearly cost of $3 billion to operate the shuttle (highlighted in yellow). I have been following NASA budget battles now for decades, and the shuttle operational budget has never, ever been that low. Routinely, NASA figures the cost to operate the shuttle per year, regardless of number of flights, to be about $4 billion per year.
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Space Adventures and tourists to the Moon

Space Adventures and tourists to the Moon.

After consultation with Rocket Space Corporation Energia, modifications to the Soyuz TMA configuration have been agreed upon. The most important of which is the addition of a second habitation module to the Soyuz TMA lunar complex. The additional module would launch with the Block DM propulsion module and rendezvous with the Soyuz spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

“Space Adventures will once again grace the pages of aerospace history, when the first private circumlunar mission launches. We have sold one of the two seats for this flight and anticipate that the launch will occur in 2015,” said Richard Garriott, Vice-Chairman of Space Adventures. “Having flown on the Soyuz, I can attest to how comfortable the spacecraft is, but the addition of the second habitation module will only make the flight that more enjoyable.”

FAA wants your opinion about commercial space rules

The government marches on! The FAA wants your opinion about its future commercial space regulations.

Or to put it another way, how to stifle a newborn in the womb. In 2004 I said the new law allowing this kind of regulation was going to hurt the new space industries. We are about to see, with the FAA’s regulatory effort here, exactly how that will play out.

And I don’t think it will be good.

Elon Musk defends his vision and success

Elon Musk defends his vision and success. Key quote:

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.

To put it simply, Musk is right, on all counts.

Shell abandons oil drilling plans in Alaska after EPA ruling

And Obama wonders why oil prices are high? Shell has abandoned its oil drilling plans in Alaska after an EPA regulatory board denied it permits. This after the oil company had spent $4 billion over five years developing those plans. To me, the quote below reveals much about the political agenda behind the EPA’s decision:

The Environmental Appeals Board has four members: Edward Reich, Charles Sheehan, Kathie Stein and Anna Wolgast. All are registered Democrats and Kathie Stein was an activist attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“We’re going all the way to Mars, I think… best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years.”

Elon Musk: “We’ll probably put a first man in space in about three years. We’re going all the way to Mars, I think… best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years.”

I believe him when he says he’ll launch his first manned mission in three years. However, I think he seriously underestimates the challenges of a mission to Mars, based on our present engineering abilities to build interplanetary spaceships.

NASA Awards Next Set Of Commercial Crew Development Agreements

NASA has awarded the next set of commercial crew development agreements, giving contracts worth from $22 to $92 million to four companies, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing. More here and here.

The amounts that NASA is giving these companies is minuscule, compared the monies spent on the program-formerly-called-Constellation. Yet I bet they all get their rockets/capsules launched and in operation, supplying cargos and crews to low Earth orbit, before NASA even test fires its heavy-lift rocket.

China finds SpaceX’s launch prices challenging

Competition! China finds SpaceX’s launch prices low — and a challenge to meet.

Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them.

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