Fanning the flames of the near future

By Phil Plait | October 10, 2010 7:00 am

Sometimes, it’s easy to read our own feelings into a simple picture.

soyuz_oct82010

That’s the flame from a Soyuz TMA-01M rocket which launched on Friday with a crew of three men headed to the International Space Station. As a picture, it’s very engaging; I love imagery which possesses a geometric symmetry but is still off-center and a bit unbalanced.

As a metaphor, it’s also engaging: once the Shuttle retires, we’ll have to rely on the Russians for a few years to get supplies and crew to and from the ISS; the image of the flames but not the rocket give a definite "Elvis has left the building" vibe.

But we’ll see. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule is scheduled for a test flight as early as next month, and the new NASA authorization bill provides a tidy sum of money for commercial flights (don’t believe the rhetoric some in Congress are using about Obama killing manned spaceflight; it’s baloney). And there’s also funding for a new rocket system as well. It will take NASA several years to get their own big human-rated rockets flying again, but it will happen. I’m angry and frustrated about the current situation, and I’ll be a lot happier when it’s resolved. But I’m also hopeful that the path is being laid out for not only a return to space, but one that is sustainable and permanent.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space

Comments (54)

  1. Kaptain K

    The dark color pallette gives it an ominous feel.

  2. Beautiful pic. It has a stark, post-apocalyptic feel to it. Not that I condone apocalypses.

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    Awesome, atmospheric and evocative image there.

    Very poignant and powerful.

    Thanks for sharing it with us, BA. :-)

  4. Gary Ansorge

    A Nuclear light bulbs thruster exhaust would be exiting the craft at a temp of around 20,000 Kelvins. As I recall, that’s hot enough that most of the Em released would be in the UV range and would thus be invisible to us.

    ,,,but the effects on the launch pad would be dramatic and insects would be quite attracted to it.

    So, not so good for an apocalyptic vision, eh?

    More nukes are good nukes(at least as a rocket thruster).

    Gary 7

  5. N

    That looks like some end-of-the-world/doomsday scene :-)

  6. réalta fuar

    I’m angry and frustrated that the leading space faring nation in the world has wasted well over $100 billion on the ISS. That would fund, if used intelligently, many missions to NEOs or probably at least two to Mars. The U.S. probably spent less on all the Apollo missions than it has on the ISS.

  7. John Paradox

    insects would be quite attracted to it.

    In the words of Blank Reg from Max Headroom: The World’s Biggest/Most expensive Bug Zapper.

    J/P=?

  8. Dennis

    Ominous indeed. To me it looks like the legs of one of H.G. Wells’ martian war machines emerging from the ground, about to lift the pod containing the martian and his deadly heat-ray from the hole.

    Awesome.

  9. Grand Lunar

    I have a similar feeling, Phil.

    It’d be nice for someone to lite a fire under their collection rear ends (metaphorically of course) and say “Make it happen NOW!”

    Indeed, I’ll be much happier when we finally see stuff happen.

  10. Gary Ansorge

    5. réalta fuar

    On the contrary, the Apollo missions cost 24 billion in 1960s dollars, which, depending on whose cost of living increases you use, would be around 240 billion in todays dollars, so the ISS and Apollo projects are more or less comparable.

    Warner von Brauns original concept for a space station was as a construction and refueling site for space craft. Since he was much more an engineer than a scientist, his orientation was building things rather than doing basic research. The ISS as proposed by congress was for research rather than creating space craft that would be built in space and sent onward, to the moon and Mars.

    Like DaVinci, von Braun, while a generally peaceful guy, wasn’t above selling the weapons aspect of space craft to moneyed interests in order to convince them to invest in space as a survival interest.

    If I have to give the apes with money new toys to blow themselves up with, just so I and others can create new survival options is something of a no brainer to me.

    It’s all in the timing. First, create and staff a self sustaining lunar colony, then whatever happens to the political situation on earth, we’ll have enough people (and other critters) in space to ensure species survival.

    Hey, I like to look at the BIG picture.

    Gary 7
    PS 10. Alfredo
    NASA did the best they could with the money congress DIDN’T vote for them. Blame congress and the Bushies for the launcher gap.

  11. Alfredo

    I find it interesting and disappointing that NASA allowed a gap to occur in the manned space program in the first place.

  12. Utakata

    I thought I was looking at a pic some steam punk CGI with a Hollywood budget of yet some undisclosed up coming big budget sci-fi film. Or what happens when you put too much “red sludge” into a Hungarian river over night…

    …but saddly it’s 21st century space flight program using 1960′s technology to get itself to an orbitting space station. I’m surprised the Astronaughts/Cosmonaughts don’t have to pop their legs out of the rocket and run start it up as it was done back in the Flinstones. /sigh

  13. oldebabe

    @Gumby, an apocalypse is an `unveiling’, a `disclosure of something that has been concealed’ (see Kirsch), a good thing, I would think, when it comes to science and technology.

    Unless of course you are pairing it with `eschatology’…

  14. Gary Ansorge Says: “It’s all in the timing. First, create and staff a self sustaining lunar colony, then whatever happens to the political situation on earth, we’ll have enough people (and other critters) in space to ensure species survival.”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your overall point, but I doubt a lunar colony will survive long without support from Earth.

    If we have armageddon down here they’re screwed up there.

  15. Crux Australis

    Looks like a scene from Lord of the Rings.

  16. I can’t find WALL – E anywhere?!?!

    ~Rhaco

  17. gss_000

    @10. Alfredo

    How did NASA “allow” this to happen? Unfortunately, NASA does not make its own course. It is given its marching orders by the President and Congress. The constant changes in plans and the lack of promised funding is what got us here, not NASA.

    If we’re going to throw out fictitious blame, let’s blame SpaceX as well. They were supposed to under their original schedule be having this first demonstration flight years ago, not month. It should have been supplying cargo now. They’d be ready to launch astronauts much sooner. So if we’re going to be irrational, let’s be irrational.

    And, Phil, I’m going to take issue with this:
    “The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule is scheduled for a test flight as early as next month”

    You are critical in the past of the oversold potential of the shuttle, yet you never hold the commercial developers to the same criteria. Many of these plans are always 2 years away no matter how much time passes. I think SpaceX has been showing some good progress recently, but how many times has this flight been delayed this year alone? C’mon.

  18. RAF

    I also am surprised by the idea that Space X will somehow “save” the US space program. If I had to make a “prediction”, I would say that the soviets will be our “taxi” to near Earth space for the next decade…if not longer…

  19. 4th Dimension

    *Hums the Soviet anthem*
    tum tuum tutuuuum tum tum tuum tutuuuum tum

  20. Kris

    @19 4th Dimension: “*Hums the Soviet anthem*”

    Given that the Soviet anthem starts with words “Soyuz nerushimy” (i.e. unbreakable), that seems strangely fitting.

    @BA:

    “(don’t believe the rhetoric some in Congress are using about Obama killing manned spaceflight; it’s baloney). And there’s also funding for a new rocket system as well.”

    Of course, the funding for the heavy lift has been put there despite Obama, and not because of him, but we can’t let the facts get in our way, can we?

  21. Travis Bear
  22. Jamey

    The thing that impresses me most is that SpaceX’s website lists solid *PRICES* for launches – $20M gets you one metric ton to LEO on a Falcon I. $50M gets you a flight on a Falcon 5. Admitted, no pricing is listed for the Dragon capsule, but assuming it comes in around $20M, you get $70M for you and six of your friends to fly to LEO and maneuver *YOURSELF* around a while. That’s half of what Tito paid for his launch.

    And note – as I pointed out earlier – those are *PUBLICLY LISTED* prices.

  23. amphiox

    @14 CafeenMan: “Maybe I’m misunderstanding your overall point, but I doubt a lunar colony will survive long without support from Earth.”

    It would depend on how developed the colony is – have they gotten to the point where they are able to obtain all vital resources (including additional people) from sources other than the Earth? How easily this is achievable, and how much time it would probably take would depend greatly on what kinds of resources are available on the Moon itself.

    It would probably take at least several centuries from the initial founding of such a colony before there would be any reasonable chance of expecting self-sufficiency.

    I’m not certain which of the likely initial colonization that have been proposed sites (the moon, Mars, near earth asteroid, or orbital space colony) would have the best potential for attaining self-sustainability.

  24. Peter

    You could’ve told me it was the cover of some science fiction novel, and I would have believed it. It’s pictures like this that make me realize that I’m living in the future.

  25. Gary Ansorge

    23. amphiox

    We have no idea what is actually required for a self sustaining lunar colony, since we haven’t TRIED yet. That’s one of the biggest reasons to attempt this on a base of operations close to earth. Once we’ve succeeded in THAT endeavor, we can move to more ambitious efforts.

    I would love to see the first truly functional colony as an O’Neille type structure but that would be a really expensive first effort. Everything(water, building materials, tech. maintenance equipment) would have to be acquired initially from earth, the moon, an asteroid or comet.

    I prefer to start small enough and close enough to raw materials that we don’t have to ship in or move raw materials TO the colony from far away. Water has been confirmed on Luna and we can build airtight structures in a lava tube. The machines we need to build MORE machines would have to come initially from earth. There will be a point where we are finally able to manufacture in situ all we require to sustain life. Luna is a good place to figure all that out.

    I expect it would take a good half century, with a reasonable effort, even using chemically fueled rockets(but by now, Y’All should know how I feel about such primitive tech).

    Gary 7

  26. PJE

    When I first saw the photo, I thought it was a still from a disaster movie of some sort! The big part of the support tower looks like a skyscraper collapsing.

    Pete

  27. Speaking of private space ventures, VG posted pics today of its first manned glide flight:

    http://www.virgingalactic.com/news/item/vss-enterprise-completes-first-manned-glide-flight/

  28. MadScientist

    Ah, the Baikonur Cosmodrome – there’s one place I wouldn’t mind seeing. Soyuz: 41 years and still running with an excellent safety record. (Well, 2 catastrophes but fewer people killed overall compared to the shuttles).

  29. 12. Utakata Says: “…but sadly it’s 21st century space flight program using 1960’s technology to get itself to an orbitting space station.”

    That’s 1950′s technology. The R7 ICBM (the booster that the Soyuz sits on) became operational ~1955. It’s what launched Sputnik 1 in 1957.

    - Jack

  30. Kris

    “(Well, 2 catastrophes but fewer people killed overall compared to the shuttles).”

    I am not a big fan of STS, but it needs to be pointed out that both shuttle disasters have been caused by knowingly operating the vehicle outside specification, while Soyuz disasters were caused by mechanical failures.

  31. Scott de B.

    Another shipment of spice leaving Arrakis, I see.

  32. #30 Kris – Soyuz launch system which includes both Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo craft has not had a disaster or loss of life since 1971. That is 39 years of successful operation. The Soyuz launch system and spacecraft are far more reliable and safer than the space shuttle.

  33. Phil, I am liberal, progressive Democrat. A big supporter of science, astronomy, and human spaceflight. And even I have to admit that President Obama’s support of human spaceflight can only be described as tepid or nonexistent. When the NASA budget was announced on Feb 1, NASA Administrator Bolden was the one doing the talking. This was a major national shift in US space policy which not only cancelled the Constellation program but gutted the Vision for Space Exploration, a critical strategic vision for NASA. President Obama has been virtually silent as far as public comment goes about NASA and the space program, with the exception of a couple of rare comments enlisted mainly because the media put the question to him. While I support many of his policies, I am in disagreement over the new space policy.

    I am not interested in NASA racking up firsts. I am interested in establishing human civilization beyond Earth orbit into the solar system. While commercial companies should be able to provide cargo and eventually crew transport to the ISS, I remain highly skeptical that commercial industry can lead the way beyond LEO. History does not support such a scenario for commercial transportation systems.

    Even as late as 2004, NASA came perilously close to being dismantled. It was known as the ‘Shawcross option’ and there was Congressional support behind it. Paul Shawcross, OMB Director, proposed scuttling the ISS, retiring STS, and turning NASA back into a R&D organization much like its predecessor NACA. Like it or not, this is pretty much the picture presented by President Obama’s new policy with the exception of retaining the ISS and working with international partners. His policy did not suggest or propose any new strategic direction with any set timeline outside of the suggestion that NASA may focus on landing on an asteroid or travel to Mars in the later future. Also, no plans for an HLV was offered. Congress has had to step in demand HLV development, but a Wayne Hale and several others pointed out, Congress is not likely to appropiate enough money to make such an endeavor successful.

    President Obama may not be trying to kill manned spaceflight, but his new policy leaves a lot to be desired if the US wants to move beyond low Earth orbit into the solar system.

  34. Wow. That *so* looks like a photo from Mordor.

  35. ASFalcon13

    “don’t believe the rhetoric some in Congress are using about Obama killing manned spaceflight; it’s baloney”

    I agree…because the White House isn’t driving this train any more. Obama made his appearance at KSC on April 15 and, by parroting Buzz Aldrin’s “We don’t need to go to the Moon, I’ve already been there!” line and by suggesting that Orion become the ISS lifeboat that nobody wanted or needed, revealed that his “plan” wasn’t really a plan as much as it was a rehash of whoever had spoken to him within the last five minutes (recall Obama shared an Air Force One flight with Aldrin on the way to the KSC speech). Since then, Congress took over the debate with almost complete disregard to the plans Obama outlined at KSC. The debate shifted to House resolution vs. Senate resolution, with the administration watching from the sideline, ready to sign whatever Congress hands them.

    @ 12. Utakata

    “…but saddly it’s 21st century space flight program using 1960’s technology to get itself to an orbitting space station.”

    Funny you should mention that. This was the first launch of a “digital Soyuz”: http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/space-flight/a-digital-soyuz You see, whereas we seem to like to throw away a vast majority of our space architecture and start from scratch every couple of decades or so, the Russians have stuck to a series of incremental upgrades. Saying that the Soyuz is 1960′s technology is like saying that the car in your garage is 1910′s technology. Besides, Soyuz does what they need it to do…if it works, why should they replace it?

    @ 22. Jamey

    You’re missing some costs in your analysis. When a satellite provider buys a launch vehicle, the launch provider’s job is done at MECO and payload sep; it’s assumend that the satellite owner will provide their own spacecraft operations once in orbit, as well as training their ops folks. For the Dragon however, in addition to the cost of the spacecraft and launch service, SpaceX will also have to provide on-orbit operations, including people, facilities, assets, and communications – a “mission control” – as well as spaceflight and vehicle training for the crewmembers. Neither of these things are cheap, so expect higher costs than what you’re quoting here.

  36. So Phil, what capabilities does NASA have for manned space flight after the shuttle is retired? Zero and Obama signed on the dotted line. You can apologize and obfuscate all you like but until a program is realized he is the guy who killed it. Likewise if the next program is successful and he is responsible I will tip my hat accordingly.

  37. Tom

    @14 CafeenMan: “Maybe I’m misunderstanding your overall point, but I doubt a lunar colony will survive long without support from Earth.”

    The New England colonies in the 17th century wouldn’t have done well without support from England, either.

  38. X15

    @ 36 The Arquette SIsters: Oh please, Bush canceled the Shuttle Program, and despite everyone’s delusions to the contrary it was to far gone for Obama to save even if he had wanted to. Meanwhile Orion on Ares I has been a consistent 7 years away since the program started, too bad the ISS was going to be splashed in 2015.

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    @12. Utakata Says:

    I thought I was looking at a pic some steam punk CGI with a Hollywood budget of yet some undisclosed up coming big budget sci-fi film.

    At first, seeing just the top of the image I thought it was going to be some nebula perhaps a jet or a active galaxy in X-ray or suchlike.

    The Bad Astronomer wrote:

    I’m angry and frustrated about the current situation, and I’ll be a lot happier when it’s resolved. But I’m also hopeful that the path is being laid out for not only a return to space, but one that is sustainable and permanent.

    I’m certainly angry and disappointed by the curent situation, I wish I was as optimistic as you are for its future but I’m not. :-(

    What are NASA left with out of Obama’s plan manned spaceflight~wise? No specific set program, no set goal or timeline for getting there. Some vague waffle about going to Mars in the future because in Obama’s unbelievably ignorant and facile words : “We’ve been there already.” :roll:

    Well, *we* haven’t been – the past generation of Apollo have – only for their children and grandchildren to let them down by not keeping the torch alive and continuing the exploration. There was still so much to do and explore – even on the Moon not to mention going further beyond it.

    If you had a time machine and could go back to the 1970′s, everyone then expected the USA to keep going, to colonise the Moon, to race the Soviets to Mars and to be building a future in space. It was supposed to be the start of the space age – not its peak. We’re weren’t supposed to give up and turn our backs on the new High frontier after winning the space race to the Moon. We weren’t supposed to just sit on our backside and bewail the economic constraints and the utter lack of political boldness and vision. We weren’t supposed to still be messing about in Low Earth Orbit today. :-(

    If Obama’s plan is so good then when does it get us to a landing on Mars or any other object in the solar system outside of Earth? What year exactly? How are we meant to get there? With what rockets and technology? Specifics please!

    What does it leave NASA’s astronauts – except begging for rides with Russia and the Private Space Corporations? :-(

    Private companies are fine and have their place in space – but I view them as complementary to NASA and the public agencies not a replacement for them.

    Assuming for a moment that ‘Constellation’ really was so bad that it couldn’t work (an assumption which I’d dispute) then what about “Plan B”, another space technology that would at least keep the United States in the game while we worked on planning something better??? Where’s the NASA alternative program, what happened to that?

    Why have a complete cessation of human spaceflight activity, an indefinite pause and a doubtful future if any at all for NASA’s manned space program? Doesn’t that look a lot like Obama is killing the American manned spaceflight program in all but outright name?

    I hope I’m wrong about this, I really do. I hate the thought of NASA and the legacy of the Apollo, Mercury, the Shuttle and so many other great and promising human space programs ending in this pitiful, pathetic way.

    But I don’t think I’m wrong about this situtation and Obama does bear an awful lot of blame for this. Yes, other Presidents before him weren’t so great either but the manned space program didn’t die on their watch and they did suggest visionary plans even if they didn’t fund them well enough.

    When Obama departs the scene – probably in 2012 as a one-term disaster after a prolonged lame duck period begin after these mid-term elections & maybe even getting impeached beforehand – he will leave NASA far worse than he found it. That is pretty much indisputable. NASA’s manned space program will be in the worst shape it has ever been in. It will be on hiatus, very near death if it still can be said to be around at all. Obama can’t dodge that reality. Obama is responsible and the buck ultimately does stop with him.

    Maybe Space X will be flying instead and going as well as planned. I hope so. It had durn well better be because NASA won’t be there if its needed. NASA has a successful track record that beats all other space agencies. Destroying that agency, losing that capability, throwing it away like this is just an unforgivably disgraceful course of action. Obama’s name will, almost certainly, be cursed by future generations over this massive betrayal and failure.

  40. Ferris Valyn

    Messier Tidy Upper

    First, there is a goal. However, I will grant that goal is not a destination. OTOH, I’d rather have a goal that is funded, rather than a destination that was unfudned.

    As far as going to mars against the Soviets in the 70s – a lot of space geeks convinced themselves of that. The rest of the world moved on. I wish it were otherwise, but having learned about the history first hand, it was a delusion we had.

    With regards to your questions
    1. We’ll land on a Near Earth Asteroid by 2025. I wouldn’t rule out a lunar landing sometime in the 2020s as well.

    As for what rockets and technologies

    Rockets
    1. Atlas V
    2. Delta IV
    3. Falcon 9
    4. Taurus 2

    Spacecraft
    1. Orion (only for BEO missions)
    2. Dragon
    3. CST-100
    4. Cygnus
    5. Dream Chaser
    6. ISS

    Technology
    1. Fuel Depots
    2. Inflatable modules
    3. Advanced propulsion (odds are good it’ll be solar electric or nuclear electric)
    4. Aerocapture (odds are very good)
    5. ISRU

    The point you continually keep missing is NASA doesn’t have to provide the ride from Earth to LEO to ensure that NASA has a spaceship, with astronauts.

    You keep asking for an alternative plan – the alternative plan comes AFTER we do the necessary tech development.

    Honest question here Messier Tidy Upper – why is it ok for NASA to be dependent upon contractors, like ATK, but not Commercial Companies, like ULA & Boeing?

  41. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Ferris Valyn :

    why is it ok for NASA to be dependent upon contractors, like ATK, but not Commercial Companies, like ULA & Boeing?

    That isn’t what I’m saying.

    I never said it isn’t okay for NASA to sub-contract to the private companies or for the private companies to sub-contract among themselves.

    I’m saying I’d like to see NASA in the manned spaceflight area as well.

    We’ll land on a Near Earth Asteroid by 2025. I wouldn’t rule out a lunar landing sometime in the 2020s as well.

    I hope your right, I really do. I’d love to see that. :-)

    The point you continually keep missing is NASA doesn’t have to provide the ride from Earth to LEO to ensure that NASA has a spaceship, with astronauts.

    My problem with Obama’s plan is that it does seem to leave NASA without a spacecraft. Period. :-(

    So now NASA has astronauts but it wants to fly them on somebody else’s craft – and it has none of its own. That puts it and American astronauts at the mercy of others. It means NASA can’t do things for itself. I think that sucks.

    You keep asking for an alternative plan – the alternative plan comes AFTER we do the necessary tech development.

    I thought we’d already done a lot of tech development? Can’t we do something with what we’ve got now?

    NASA were able to get to the Moon forty years ago.

    Now NASA can’t – and in about a years time NASA won’t even be able to get into LEO. That, surely, can’t be seen as anything other than a huge backwards step and and failure to progress. :-(

  42. Ferris Valyn

    I never said it isn’t okay for NASA to sub-contract to the private companies or for the private companies to sub-contract among themselves.

    I’m saying I’d like to see NASA in the manned spaceflight area as well.

    I understand that. What you are missing is that what is actually being talked about isn’t being a contractor model anymore, at least for earth to LEO. That doesn’t mean NASA isn’t doing manned spaceflight.

    My problem with Obama’s plan is that it does seem to leave NASA without a spacecraft. Period.

    But it doesn’t. NASA will have its “own” spacecraft, for areas where no one else is currently providing them – Deep Space, and dedicated LEO. In other words, NASA will have at least 2 spacecraft, and maybe more. And in fact, one of them is already flying.

    These spacecrafts are…

    the International Space Station
    and
    Orion (and there will be more).

    Now, I will grant, NASA will not have a dedicated NASA-centric vehicle for Earth to LEO transport, that is “only NASA’s”

    But it doesn’t need that, since it will get assured access to space, since there will be MULTIPLE providers. And with multiple providers, you’ll get assured access. And consider this – all of NASA’s science probes are launched on “private rockets” (IE rockets from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Science Corp, etc). Whats going on will be no different than how we do unmanned missions. Thats why, when people say “Human spaceflight is going away”, they are wrong.
    Its not that it can’t do things – its that its handing off the easier stuff (IE earth to LEO transport) to other people, so it can focus on the harder stuff (going beyond LEO). The simple fact is, we can either have NASA do earth to LEO, or do LEO to BEO, and have commercial providers do earth to LEO. Because we don’t live in a world where its practical for NASA to do everything and anything space (and no, its not just a matter of budget – this is a societal structural issue).

    I thought we’d already done a lot of tech development? Can’t we do something with what we’ve got now?

    NASA were able to get to the Moon forty years ago.

    Not really, no. Because a lot of the proposed tech, that would bring the price of operations down (things like propellant depots, ISRU, advanced propulsion) has not been developed to the point where it can be considered operational. A lot of tech (that we’ve known would drastically reduce the cost of doing deep spaceflight) we’ve known about for quite a while. And we’ve funded it to the point where its ready to be tested in space. The problem is, we’ve haven’t done the space testing & qualifications because that gets very expensive (we are talking in the hundreds of millions to billions), and Congress has forced NASA to cut the R&D budget, to shore up the operations budget.

    You mentioned NASA went to the moon forty years ago. The thing is, the technology NASA used to go to the moon then had a very high price tag. NASA got something like 4% of the federal budget (which, if you worked it in today’s dollars, is $100+ Billion). Today, it has between 0.5-0.7% of the federal budget (which equates to $8-9 Billion). Thats a huge drop in budget. And as much as I wish Congress & the president would invest more in NASA, 40 years tells me its not going to change, any time soon. So, in otherwords, we aren’t going to get the budget to go back to the moon, using Apollo costing mechanisms and technology. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to the moon, or other destinations – its just not going to look like Apollo (and I mean that in a programmatic sense, not necessarily in the hardware sense). BTW, there is a great video, that talks about this – you should check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XTuzMla1g0 )

    The thing is, Constellation was presented as the new Apollo. But it could never be the new Apollo, without a new Gemini. And while Constellation “showed us the new Apollo” (it didn’t really, but people believed it did), there was no Gemini associated with it. OTOH, Obama’s proposal was only the Gemini – it didn’t have the Apollo – not because we weren’t going to have a comparison to Apollo, (in grandeur and scale), but because that part happens after 2016, and Obama’s budget only goes to 2016

  43. ASFalcon13

    -sigh- Still arguing about Obama’s space plan, I see. Sorry folks, but, as I mentioned earlier, that plan is off the radar. In case you haven’t heard, Obama signed the Senate’s space plan yesterday. Additional shuttle flight, heavy-lift development, commercial to ISS, and a fully-capable BEO Orion.

    However, I feel the need to tackle one of Ferris Valyn’s points here…

    “But it doesn’t need that, since it will get assured access to space, since there will be MULTIPLE providers.”

    All evidence to the contrary. Expect *one* commercial provider, regardless of whatever the commercial guys are trying to say.

    I’m not saying that companies won’t be able to get their prices down enough to allow NASA to afford multiple providers – perhaps they can. However, I don’t believe the market is large enough to support multiple providers. We learned this lesson already with the EELV program (Delta IV and Atlas V). We had a cargo market that’s likely larger than the manned spaceflight market is going to be (I’ll discuss further in a moment…), and assured government contracts (government and military are guaranteed to use only domestic launch services)…and the market still couldn’t support both Boeing and Lockheed Martin at the same time. That’s why we have ULA now: the only way to keep both rockets around (which USAF wanted for redundancy) without the companies going under was to consolidate everything else into a single organization.

    Now, as I mentioned before, I believe that the unmanned market is a lot larger than the crewed market. There are a lot more applications for unmanned space…military, weather, communication, deep space, remote sensing…and that’s just off the top of my head. For crewed space, I see three applications, period:

    1. Exploration
    2. Research (I’m including NASA astronauts to ISS here)
    3. Tourism

    Point-by-point:

    1. Exploration – None of the commercial guys are going to even have the capability to do this, and Orion’s been designated for this role. No commercial opportunities here at the moment.

    2. Research – Outside of government contracts to get astronauts to the ISS, I don’t really see this as being as large an area as some might think. Spaceflight is expensive in any form. Crewed research differs from unmanned space in that something like a comsat generates revenue and gives immediate return on investment. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that research will give any return of investment at all…and that’s a pretty expensive roll of the dice. Expense comes not only through launch costs, but also in the additional cost to design experiments that can survive launch loads and the space environment. Companies will probably look for cheaper, ground-based alternatives for research, and only go to orbital research as a last resort (heck, this goes on already…it’s already preferable to use a balloon, drop tower, or the Vomit Comet wherever possible). I think NASA to ISS is the big money maker here: at what I’d estimate to be 2-4 flights per year for crew and pressurized cargo (assuming Russia’s still putting up Soyuz and Progress as well), that flight rate is just large enough to support one provider.

    3. Tourism – Looks good at first. Folks tend to have a shiny, romantic view of spaceflight. However, once the stories come back about space adaptation syndrome, radiation doses, muscle and bone loss, and spartan living conditions – no showers, wiping puke off the walls, etc…go read “Riding Rockets” by Mike Mullane – that romantic viewpoint will evaporate pretty quickly, and probably a lot of interest with it. Expect Virgin Galactic to corner the market here, since they’ll provide spaceflight without all that nastiness and discomfort, and, since their prices are orders of magnitude lower than the orbital guys, will have a far larger customer base.

    So, out of all that? One provider for ISS, and that provider will probably be sufficient to pick up whatever space tourism that Virgin Galactic doesn’t poach.

  44. MaDeR

    I see MTU at least stopped talking nonsense about Ormianin ancestry of Obama or whatever. :>

  45. Ferris Valyn

    ASFalcon13

    A few things

    1. Its not the commercial guys saying there will be more than one – its NASA. More to the point, you are talking market size. I am talking about what NASA funds vis-a-vie a development contract. NASA has made it very clear – it will be looking to fund up somewhere between 2-4 development contracts. Just as there are 2 cargo resuppliers, expect at a minimum 2(and I think its more likely to be 3 or 4) crew providers.

    2. Part of what is going to support the market is that it’ll be amatorized across the unmanned market, as well as the manned market. Falcon 9 & Atlas V & Delta IV & Taurus 2 unmanned launches will probably be higher than the manned launches. But since more flights on those rockets will bring prices down (thanks to markets of scale & the like), that means the companies will be making it on volume.

    Regarding your point by point

    1. Actually you are wrong. First, Dragon has been said to have a built in BEO capability. However, I actually could care less about that. The reason is thus – Right now, we can launch Orion on a Delta IV, but we can’t put people in it (the LAS is too heavy). Of course, the solution to this is simple. Launch it on the Delta IV, and then launch the people on a CST-100 or Dragon or Dream chaser, and dock it, and go off to the moon. That will happen much sooner than waiting for the big Super HLV, and launching Orion on it manned.

    2. I do agree that NASA ISS is the big money maker. OTOH, I think its FAR too early to know what is happening with Bigelow Aerospace. Specifically, they have said that they’ll announce six countries that will be Bigelow’s first customers – http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=24159

    Now, it is true, any company can say what it likes. But then, Bigelow has 2 prototypes already in orbit.

    3. Tourism – I think people will see the suborbital & orbital tourism markets differently, at least for a little while. As for Virgin cornering the market – there are 4 other companies that I think will give Virgin a run for their money. Anyway, back to the orbitals.

    I also think there are other possibilities offered by orbital spaceflight, not yet considered.

  46. ASFalcon13

    I’ll gladly respond. First, your points…

    1. “Its not the commercial guys saying there will be more than one – its NASA.”

    …and with EELV, it was the Air Force that said there would be more than one launch provider. However, market forces didn’t bend to USAF’s will, and we got ULA. Again, a bigger market than crewed spaceflight, but, even there, anything over one supplier was still too many. But lets play with some numbers here…ISS is basically running 6 astros per 6-month expedition, for 12 astros per year. The 7-seat Dragon can haul an entire expedition, plus an extra tourist, every 6 months, for 2 flights a year. That’s it; there are no other NASA destinations. I haven’t even thrown Soyuz into the mix here…Russia’s sure to want to keep their domestic launch capability as well. NASA wants to break that among 3-4 companies? That’d mean each company would be flying crew at a rate of less than 1 revenue-generating launch per year…can you please point me to an operational non-government launch organization that’s been able to survive that sort of low flight rate? Again, what the government wants, and what the market will be able to actually sustain, are two different things.

    2. I agree with what you’re saying from the launch vehicle perspective, but ops differs between crewed and uncrewed launches. For an uncrewed launch, the launch provider’s responsibility ends at MECO and payload sep. However, for a crewed launch, the provider still has to provide ops for their spacecraft as well. In other words, crewed launch will still carry costs that just can’t be spread over unmanned launches. And rest assured, if companies can’t manage to operate their crewed operations in the black on their own merit, expect them to cut that out and become cargo-only launch providers…why would a commercial, profit-driven organization continue to operate a service results in the company losing money?

    And then responses to my points…

    1. The authorization bill directs Orion to continue to be developed as a crew exploration vehicle. Dragon may be capable of providing BEO, but NASA isn’t buying it (not under the current authorization bill, anyway). By Congressional order, there’s no market here.

    2. I’ll agree with you here too, and I’m interested to see what Bigelow has. I also think that Bigelow and their inflatable stations will be the main provider for commercial space R&D if they’re successful…I believe that once a provider has established a flight history and has seen financial success, it’ll be extremely difficult for a newcomer with no flight history to enter the market and challenge.

    3. When I see some test runs comparable to what Scaled/Virgin have accomplished out of the other guys (remember, Scaled already has spaceflights with a similar architecture and an X-Prize to their name), then I might actually believe in some of the competition. However, between Scaled’s flight experience and Branson’s charisma, I think Virgin will already have already cornered the market before anyone else even gets off the ground.

  47. Ferris Valyn

    Regarding point about Air Force saying there would be more than one provdier

    We are talking about 2 different things here. You are talking about long term market viability, while I am talking about development costs. NASA will fund the Commercial Crew program, so that, at the end of the program there will be between 2 and 4 different vehicles capable of delivering astronauts to ISS. And it has the funds available to do that level of funding. Whether those vehicles & providers can sustain once the market has moved to actually flying vehicles, is a more difficult question.

    To put it another way – at the end of the current Commercial Crew program, in 2016 – there will be between 2-4 providers (My bet is on 3, but I can see up to 4, and as few as 2). Whether there is that same number in 2020 or 2025 – that I grant, we don’t know. I think the market is large enough to sustain 2-3. I know you disagree. And the real answer is, we don’t have enough data to know for sure what is going to happen

    2. You have to be careful here, when you say cargo – because Cargo to ISS (IE COTS & CRS) they have to provide ops cost for everything. However, more to the point – yes, the provider has to provide more stuff than if they are merely a satellite launcher. But the point is, everything done in the satellite launcher will still have to be done in the crewed launcher. So those costs can be spread over the satellite launches, making your total price cheaper, than something solely dedicated to launching humans (whether this lowers the operations enough so it is profitable with a large enough market – again, I grant, we don’t have total conclusive data).

    With regard to Orion – my point, which you missed – Orion flying actually HELPS develop the market for commercial crew. Because if you don’t develop a new rocket, Orion cannot be launched manned. So what you can do is, launch Orion unmanned, and then launch a CST-100 or Dreamchaser, dock it with Orion, and then go and do your exploration mission (go to the moon, or Lagrange point, whatever). In otherwords, the market is transporting astronauts to Orion, which will then go do exploration.

    With regard to newcomers the market – I think this is why its important to have multiple providers get funded, and develop vehicles. With only 1 provider, you end up with a monopoly, and nothing changes. But if you have 3 different providers (plus the suborbital guys working on their projects that will lead to orbit), then you get some interesting market dynamics. And I think this is why Bigelow has consistently said it wants a minimum of 2 providers (IE not just SpaceX)

    With regard to the suborbital guys – I would submit that Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR, and Masten Space Systems all have to be regarded as legitimate competitors. First, there is the point that all have demonstrated hardware, and hardware that is comparable to their operational crafts (and if you look at Blue Origin, the size of their test craft rivals that of SS1). Then, there is the issue of funding, and all of them have enough funding to make them practical (again, Blue Origin is the big rival, but all of them have enough funding to make a serious run)

    Finally, from what I’ve heard, SS2 still lacks a working engine.

  48. ASFalcon13

    1. …ok, you’re right, we are talking about different things here. Outside of specific numbers here, I think we’re pretty much on the same page.

    2. I mentioned ISS cargo in my first post, and should have mentioned it in my previous one. You’re right, there will be cargo launches too, but still not a whole lot of them. I think Soyuz/Progress + a single US commercial service will be sufficient to cover the demand. Any more than that, and the commercial providers will eat each other up, pre-ULA style. Heck, we’ve already seen that sort of attrition in the COTS program…RPK, anyone?

    I also mention manned/cargo vs. satellite, because I think that the newspace guys are going to find a lot more profit by providing cheap access for satellites rather than scrapping for a few NASA crew/cargo spots (and all the man-rating requirements and red tape that comes along with them, threatening to throw a wrench into their simplified, streamlined processes). The massive Iridium NEXT contract that SpaceX recently picked up immediately comes to mind.

    CST or Dreamchaser serving Orion. That’d be a great opportunity for commercial space…if NASA were actually looking into that. But they’re not, so it isn’t. No commercial companies are getting any money to develop that concept. NASA’s looking at crewed Orion launch, with either a heavy lift (which, by the looks of it, will be developed by the usual NASA contractors) or a yet-to-be-officially-identified Ares I replacement doing the lifting. Regardless of whether it’ll work or not, that’s the concept of operations that’s being funded right now, and there’s no saying that they’ll change that. So no, Orion flying doesn’t help commercial, at least not in the way you suggest.

    I’d agree, multiple providers would make for a much healthier market, but they’d need to come on board pretty close to simultaneously. Otherwise, the earlier entries to the market can establish a flight history and reliability numbers, which they can use to coax customers away from the new guys. The problem is that there are a few providers that are already head-and-shoulders above the competition: SpaceX, Bigelow, and Scaled/Virgin already have spaceflight experience at this point, so that initial market parity is already out the window.

    I’ll admit, XCOR/Armadillo are an interesting case though…I’m interested to see what happens with the Rocket Racing League. I imagine that’ll help them get experience with their systems outside of the launch market, if they can ever get it up and running.

  49. Ferris Valyn

    ASFalcon13

    Regarding COTS – what you forget is that there are still 2 US providers – NASA didn’t just fund SpaceX after the collapse of RpK – they took the remaining money, and funded Orbital Science Corp’s Cygnus. And don’t forget – there are 2 other non-US suppliers, outside of Progress (IE H-2, and ATV). You actually have 5 total Cargo suppliers, 2 of which are US based.

    Regarding manned/cargo vs satellite – the point worth asking is can the satellite launch help to lower the cost of the manned launches enough so that other users will come in (since up to MECO & payload separation, the flight will have a TON of similarities).

    Commercial Crew to Orion – actually, we don’t know WHAT NASA has planned for Orion, yet. Yes, the discussion is for it manned, on an HLV. OTOH, there are a lot of people who would prefer an earlier launch date for Orion, rather than a later (something which an HLV will result in). A lot of big people, with money & power (looking at Congress, and the really big aerospace guys, like Lockheed martin). I think this is something that has really yet to be decided at this point, and so I would wait to write off this possibility.

    With regard to coming on at the same time – the commercial crew/orbital guys, this will probably happen. For the very simple reason that they are all getting their funding from NASA. And I think the likely orbital providers are actually all about equal right now – I would be hard pressed picking between Boeing & SpaceX. I am a little more pessimistic on the Dreamchaser, but I am not giving up hope on them yet. They’ve made it this far. That tells me they aren’t stupid.

    With regard to the sub-orbital guys – I am less interested in teh Rocket Racing League, and more interested in the Space Adventures/Armadillo, and XCOR’s 2 wet lease deals. And its hard to ignore Blue Origin (I mean, we are talking about the pockets of the guy who founded Amazon.com), and Masten (who beat Armadillo for the Lunar Lander Challenge)

  50. Messier Tidy Upper

    @42. Ferris Valyn :

    Interesting reply – thanks. :-)

    Except :

    In other words, NASA will have at least 2 spacecraft, and maybe more. And in fact, one of them is already flying. These spacecrafts are… the International Space Station

    (Emphasis added.)

    Okay, first up is a space *station* really a spacecraft? I guess technically perhaps it is but still..

    Secondly, NASA owns & runs the ISS? Really? It has a share in it I’ll grant you sure but it is *also* flown and run by the Russians, Europeans, etc .. NASA here is a stakeholder and not solely in charge.

    Secondly, I gather some people are already talking about the ISS being destroyed after a short spellof operation. I am not convinced that the ISS will be the way of the future. I hope it stays in orbit and runs well for at least a few decades from now, I’m not knocking it, but the ISS hardly seems like a great step forward in the way, say, returning to the Moon or travelling to Mars would have been.

    and Orion (and there will be more).

    I hope so. I wish I had your confidence in that & hope it is not misplaced.

    @44. MaDeR Says:

    I see MTU at least stopped talking nonsense about Ormianin ancestry of Obama or whatever.

    Eh? I have always acknowleged that Obama was born in Hawaii as he claims. There doesn’t seem any real reason to doubt that. I am not, repeat NOT a “birther”. :roll:

    However, It is also true – as I’ve pointed out before – that Obama was born to Muslim father and a American-American mother and was raised in Indonesia. That make him half American by ancestry on this mothers side and half Muslim Kenyan on his fathers side. Given Barack Hussein Obama was raised in Indonesia you can certainly say he is at best one-third culturally American and two thirds unAmerican.

    Also Obama is NOT really “African-American” as defined properly in the sense of people of long distant African ancestry raised in and going back centuries in the USA. His father was an immigrant from Kenya which is very much not the same thing.

    How is pointing out these evident truths “nonsense” or considering that someone whose heritage is 2/rds NOT American might not really be the best, most wholy American choice as somebody to represent and lead the USA? :-(

    @ 45, 46, 47, 48 : ASFalcon13 & Ferris Valyn : interesting comments & discussion – thanks. :-)

  51. Ferris Valyn

    Messier Tidy Upper

    NASA is one of the 2 big stakes in ISS – yes, it doesn’t have absolute rule, but I don’t consider that a huge deal. After all, NASA doesn’t have control over many things (in particular what budget it has). And, as I said, it is one of the 2 biggest stakeholders, and so NASA’s say has weight.

    As for ISS going away – don’t bet on it. There are far to many people who prefer it flying, then going away. It’ll be there through 2020, and my bet is it’ll be there until 2030 (unless it wears itself out, or, god-forbid, a catastrophic accident), and if it does, I suspect we’ll have other stations that can grow/augment & replace it.

    BTW, regarding returning to the moon or going to mars – the point is we can use ISS to go to the moon or mars – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11304559

    And why wouldn’t Orion be there? Its in the budget, and in the authorization act?

  52. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Ferris Valyn : Thanks. :-)

    BTW. I didn’t say Orion would be going away. My reference there was to the (and there will be more) part. Sorry if that was unclear.

  53. Ferris Valyn

    Messier Tidy Upper,

    Assume for the moment that we can assured access to space via Commercial Crew. Also assume that the tech development program succeeds in developing the tech we are talking about. Finally, assume that the budget for NASA’s HSF stays at around $8-9 Billion a year.

    Why wouldn’t there be more?

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