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NASA Holds Competition to Develop Space Vehicles 227

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the outsourcing-works dept.
BlueCup writes to tell us that the US space agency is holding a competition to develop space vehicles NASA doesn't have the time or resources to develop. The winning companies will get $500 million and NASA will merely lease them as the need arises. From the article: "NASA hopes the private-sector vehicles can bridge an expected gap between when the space shuttle fleet is grounded in 2010 and the crew exploration vehicle is flying in 2014. A thriving commercial space transportation industry also can offer researchers, and others, opportunities to send payloads into space without relying on NASA's crowded space shuttle schedule or worrying 'that the government will decide next month or next year not to launch,' Griffin said."
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NASA Holds Competition to Develop Space Vehicles

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  • by Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:31PM (#15602920) Homepage
    They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?
    • They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?
      Does lining the pockets of a currupt foreign government with american tax dollars seem like a good idea to you?
      • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:45PM (#15602983) Homepage Journal
        As opposed to lining the pockets of a corrupt domestic government?
        • At least the money stays here then -- remember, buy corrupt, buy American (only half-joking).
        • by RalphTheWonderLlama (927434) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @11:41PM (#15603503) Homepage
          I already read about this in Popular Sciencea long time ago. It's actually a very good thing I believe. They set timelines and requirements in each plan with each tech company to design new spacecraft tech. They get so much money each step of the way after they've demonstrated their ideas and product, often through actual testing. This is a good way to not only prevent overspending but it also encourages private sector innovation from a variety of sources, very well qualified people. The startup companies work like hell to get their idea to work, and they pay for the early stages of work in the hopes that NASA will accept their design or someone else will. I like that NASA is staying ahead of the game on this. It's a great strategy.
          • As opposed to the current form of NASA spending: whicher congressman has the most "pull" gets the contract for his buddy who happens to live in his district, who then overcharges up wazoo.
      • But they're our Friends! (this is the motto that has let the US (and many other governments) give weapons/money/support/etc. to such friendly faces as Saddam Hussein, S. Vietnam, the Saudi dynasty, the Contras, etc. etc.)

        Since we're already supporters of Mr. KGB and his new Tsarist state, we might as well get something out of it, like a crutch for our limping space program.
      • In order to maximally accelerate the commercialization of space, NASA should open up the competition to all companies located in Western nations that qualify as America's top military allies. The qualification of "top military ally" is needed to ensure that the developed technology does not fall into the hands of the wrong government: e.g., Beijing. Qualifying allies would include Japan, Australia, Great Britain, and other NATO countries.

        The need for competition is best exemplified by the American automo

    • See you got modded flamebait, but now interesting.

      Too right. If NASA + contractors can't build something that works reliably aand cost effectively then why should they be protected? Let market forces dominate and offshore the whole lot!

      • by Scrameustache (459504) * on Sunday June 25, 2006 @11:05PM (#15603415) Homepage Journal
        why should they be protected? Let market forces dominate and offshore the whole lot!

        Why?
        Well, because you don't want the whole lot offshored... because then it's someone else's space program, and you're ancient history.

        Damn, I can't belive I'm defending the military-industrial complex! I feel dirty.
      • Too right. If NASA + contractors can't build something that works reliably aand cost effectively then why should they be protected? Let market forces dominate and offshore the whole lot!

        They should be protected when they are doing what they exist for doing - air and space stuff that is in the national interest. That's a pretty gray area, but capitalists are far too short term focused to do much of it, for better or worse. If market forces had dominated, we would never have been in space at all. Billions a

    • They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?

      Because we really do need more than a crew of 3 for any real science or construction work. Not to mention that it'd be nice to have something we can leave up on the ISS for more than, what is it, 6 months at at time?
    • really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by mnemonic_ (164550) <<ude.hcimu> <ta> <cemaj>> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:52PM (#15603195) Homepage Journal
      Name it. The Buran? Nope, not well-tested and uses 70s technology. Soyuz? Yes, it's undergone upgrades throughout the years but might an original design in the 21st century be better? The Soyuz is as conventional as any other rocket system. Yes, it works, but it is hardly the best. It's good current technology; NASA wants something that pushes towards the future. Note that all of the finalist companies are start-ups.

      And I can't believe a post got modded +3 without listing a single specific. Oh well, who needs evidence to be "insightful"? Evidently, not the mods.
    • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:55PM (#15603203) Journal
      First, We currently do. But we need to have more systems. If we can get several commercial systems to take hold here, then over the next decade or two, we will see real commercialization of local space.

      Second, these systems are SMALL. The one being developed by Space Dev, is simply a scaled down derivation of soemthing that NASA funded. And it will be bigger than all the others. It will be able to take 2 pilots and 4 crew (with very little cargo) into LEO. Will it get us to the moon? Not even close. And if not moon, then mars is obviously out of the question.

      Third, the system by NASA will go places that none have been able to since what was developed by kennedy's admin. And yes, that includes the Russian system.

      BTW, while the current Russian launch system is mature, it takes them MANY years to get it there on all their systems(for example MIR). They have their fair share of issues with the older versions. When Russia does the klipper, it will be interesting to see how they do.
      • But I see the future as being beyond LEO. There's a lot of crap up there already. Hell, almost anyone can launch to LEO if they have some money either by developing their own launch capability or using someone elses. Commercialization of local space is not space development. It's becoming sprawl. The GP was talking about pushing towards the "future". To me, that is not LEO.
        • This is about competition to get into space. IOW, to do what russia currently does (and we currently buy from). And yes, we do need to go beyond leo. But LEO can be profitable and is a great first step. Basically, just developing ships to carry passengers to the ISS (or to bigelows SS) will more than be profitable for a few companies. Once that is going, then a company can shoot for the moon. Of course, keep in mind, that NASA is developing a system that can shoot for the moon/mars. Ideally, it will allow a
    • Not Invented Here...
    • We are... we currently buy both Progress and Soyuz missions to meet our requirements. We can't continue to do this because there is a law on the book that says we can't. It is called the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act. [govtrack.us] Relief has been extended but it prohibits us from dealing with countries that share technology with Iran and Syria. After 2011, it will be illegal to buy Soyuz and Progress flights.
    • Think about it... China wants to be the world's next space power. They've sucessfully launched three men into space so far, and the next two manned missions will test spacewalks [wikipedia.org] and docking [wikipedia.org] with a laboratory module. The last mission in the series, Shenzhou 10, should be complete by 2010, *exactly* when NASA needs this new vehicle. China already has a reputation for manufacturing low-cost products for Walmart; I see no reason why a federal agency like NASA shouldn't benefit from dirt-cheap Chinese labor.
  • If private industry can come up with a spacecraft that can meet the needs from 2010 to 2014, why shouldn't it meet the needs from 2014 forward?
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:55PM (#15603007)
      NASA is not a scientific body, it is and **administration** which is why it takes so long and costs so much to do anything.

      If civvies can get into space, then there's surely no further need for a federal space program and embarrasments like the shuttle can be put behind us.

      • Repeating myself from a prior post on the subject... Our elected representatives have "pork" projects that are funded from our space program. The federal funds get raped for any kind of "space" project that might be included in some local interest. Does your closest major city have a "science center". Try the Maryland Science Center at Baltimore, the Carnegie Science Center, the Arizona Science Center, or the Detroit Science Center. All of the elected government officials get a slice of the budget that
        • How to fix NASA (Score:3, Interesting)

          Instead of being an administration, by administrators, for administrators, with political goals, perhaps it would be better if NASA was replaced by an organisation run by scientists for scientists, with scientific goals. If the scientists saw the money as research funds they'd probably treat it with more respect and make sure they (1) attacked scientific goals and (2) got their money's worth.
    • Seems to me Griffin is hedging with a 2-pronged approach. He's saying he'll try this approach but keep CEV going in case this approach fails. General Groves did the same thing during the Manhattan project - he had three different uranium enrichment technologies developed at the same time because he couldn't see which one would win out.
    • Private industry can't solve NASA's transportation gap with a trickle of funding which dries up in 2014 because NASA will be back to doing their own thing.

      Although the article was sparse on details, it's already clear that the economic incentives in the proposal are almost certainly unrealistic. Like everything else they have done, this is likely to fail. This time, however, a couple lucky winners are likely to suck a bunch of venture capital into the unrealistic programs and go down in a dot-com sty
      • Ooops... a cut and past error. I *meant* to say:

        Like the endless serious of paper-studies and cancelled test flight vehicles that NASA have done since building the Space Shuttle, this is likely to fail.
  • X-prize? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jollyroger1210 (933226) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .0121regorylloj.> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:33PM (#15602934) Homepage Journal
    Isn't this ust a reiteration of the X-Prize?

    (by a different entity)
    • Yes it is... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679)
      Finally...

      The only part of the government that should be in the business of building and flying space vehicles is the military.

       
    • The X-prize has been won. SpaceShipOne achieved its most spectacular flight yet, climbing to an altitude of 377591 feet (71 1/2 miles) to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize back in Oct 2005. This is a MUCH bigger and much tougher contest, however knowing NASA they'll drag this thing out 2-3-5 years and then all these companies will either be gone or have commercialized the systems on thier own and won't need the NASA $$$. Or NASA could split the prize money 2 or 3 ways and none of the winners would get adeq
    • Re:X-prize? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by plover (150551) * on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:02PM (#15603233) Homepage Journal
      It may be, but the Ansari X-Prize didn't come with a time frame. Don't they think it's a little late to start asking industry to come up with a solution for 2010? Three and a half years may seem like a long time to get a project off the ground (so to speak,) but to design and build an entire orbit-achieving spaceship, it seems pretty short to me.

      This isn't just a reworked White Knight we're talking about here. The White Knight was specifically designed to win the X-prize. Van said all along that it was a suborbital design from the get go, and was specifically not designed as a first-stage-to-orbit kind of ship.

      My guess is that one of the booster makers (like Boeing or Lockheed) is going to paste a passenger capsule on top of an existing rocket. The technology of lifting is already done.

  • The year was 1987 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Audent (35893) <<audent> <at> <ilovebiscuits.com>> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:36PM (#15602944) Homepage
    And Nasa launched the last of its deep space probes...

    Sadly, I worry that might well be true.

    Why not simply turn over access to "deep space" to private enterprise? Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

    And wasn't there a story about the moon being made not of cheese but of some kind of minable ... helium? Something like that...

    (wanders off to google for a bit)
    • Re:The year was 1987 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:42PM (#15602970)

      Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

      Probably the latter. Chairmen who have to answer to shareholders will choose short-term small profits over long-term huge profits everytime. And asteroid belt mining really is a long-term deal. Besides, weren't Larry Niven's belters all crazy aloof separatists? I don't think any corporation wants its miners to declare independence from headquarters.

      FWIW, Michael Flynn in his future history starting with Firestar [amazon.com] has the human race mining asteroids that come near Earth's orbit first. Slimmer pickings, perhaps, but they are easy to get to, and if you're keeping track of local asteroids for profit, you also have a better early-warning system for one coming close enough to possibly impact the Earth.

      • A big reason no major companies like GE are thinking about mining asteroids is it does not make commercial sense right now, at all. The economics do not work.

        It is very expensive to send stuff into low-earth-orbit. It is substantially more expensive to send stuff into geosynchronus higher orbits. Getting to an asteroid and then getting back is unbelievably expensive. It is not clear that there are any substances or elements in existence used on a large scale (large demand) that would be worth a trip to an
      • Probably the latter. Chairmen who have to answer to shareholders will choose short-term small profits over long-term huge profits everytime.


        In this case, they're choosing short-term profits over long-term complete loss of money. There is no money to be made in asteroid mining.
      • Nah (Score:3, Informative)

        Probably the latter. Chairmen who have to answer to shareholders will choose short-term small profits over long-term huge profits everytime.

        The problem isn't long term over short term profits, people everywhere make 30-year investments all the time. Its called buying property, and no one is saying thats a bad idea (unless you're in a bubble area). In fact with decent initial investments, everyone can make a good living while the space mining program gets off the ground (nyuck nyuck). The big problem is

    • by BenJeremy (181303)
      Yes, we should exploit deep space as soon as possible for any number of reasons, but the most compelling is economic... Isn't nickel (required for stainless steel) getting rather rare these days? Yet it's plentiful in the asteroid belt. While the harsh environment of deep space forces some new processes to extract minerals, it also provides more efficiencies in other areas.

      The simplest approach to mining would be to fabricate simple ablative heat shields and automated re-entry mechanisms for loads of metals
      • Isn't nickel (required for stainless steel) getting rather rare these days? Yet it's plentiful in the asteroid belt.

        I agree, and the concept was a thought-starter. Here's an idea -- it feels a bit trollish, but I hope it's not taken that way:

        Imagine for a moment what would happen if an asteroid of nearly pure gold that was not quite a dinosaur killer, yet capable of some considerable ecospheric shock, was found to be on a collision course for Earth?

        What would the matrix of political pressures look like?

    • by cyclone96 (129449) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:20PM (#15603085)
      Why not simply turn over access to "deep space" to private enterprise? Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

      If there was a commercial incentive, it would be done. There is no "access" to deep space to turn over to free enterprise - they are free to launch stuff into deep space and mine the asteroids all they want if they choose to. Sure, a license is required, but licensing is essentially demonstrating to the government that you won't endanger the public or cause an international incident. Governments appear to have a monopoly on deep space launches only because there is currently no profit to be made, so they're the only ones doing it.
    • Re:The year was 1987 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Qzukk (229616) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:28PM (#15603109) Journal
      is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

      We'll have to wait well beyond then. First we'll have to wait until whats on Earth has been used up. We could go earlier, but the cost-benefit analysis says that it'll cost a lot and if they don't do it, then major corporations will benefit hugely by selling less metal for more money.

      Once what we've got is all "gone", we'll have to wait some more... see, like idiots the people of the future kept saying "oh theres plenty it'll last for decades, and once it's gone we'll figure something else out!" Only now that it's gone, they're discovering that they really needed that metal to "figure something else out". So now "other" major companies (the mining companies went bankrupt when they ran out of metal to mine, all the miners were laid off, and the top brass assembled a new company, exactly the same as the old, but with cheaper workers since all of the freshly unemployed weren't exactly in a good bargaining position). These companies will recycle the used metal.

      Except! It would be a terrible shame if these companies spent billions figuring out how to recycle all the rare metals and then lost their market to fresh space-ore. So they patent the process of retrieving ore from orbit, and proceed to sit on it for the duration of the patent. Meanwhile, they start spreading FUD about how much more expensive it would be to get ore from space and now that they can recycle nickel and other metals, they don't need it anyway. Metal is plentiful again, and people quit caring about space.

      Problem solved, assuming that we manage to pull off a miracle and find a replacement for oil before it runs out, and not after the last part needed for the oil replacement equipment gets stranded in the middle of the desert because the truck it was on ran out of gas. Maybe companies will figure out a stopgap recycling solution for oil too... soylent oil anyone?
      • Why so pessimistic? We have hydrogen (nuclear) to replace oil, and there's still a quadrillion metric assloads of metal left on the earth. Shit, what do you think the earth is made out of?
    • The space mining conundrum: If there was a belt of gold a foot thick circling the earth at a height that a spacecraft can reach, it would not be worth it - and you want to go to the asteroid belt? What can possibly be that valuable?
  • by DoubleRing (908390) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:39PM (#15602955)
    Oooh! I have a design I've been working on in the weekends, not that I'm an engineer or anything. If anyone had a link to where we can submit our designs...I'm sure I would win. Umm, they're not asking for a working prototype are they? So, when can I expect my 500 million?
  • by alshithead (981606) * on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:42PM (#15602968)
    500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches. 500 million gets you one vehicle that MAY launch successfully...once.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:45PM (#15602982) Homepage

      500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches. 500 million gets you one vehicle that MAY launch successfully...once.

      The X-Prize folks seem to be doing just fine so far with a much smaller budget.

      • A two-man sub-orbital vehicle that barely breaches the boundary of space is a far cry from an orbital vehicle capable of carrying an actual crew and/or supplies and stay in orbit for days on end.
      • In addition to what node3 said, there's also the whole trick about bringing it back. SpaceShipOne never got above 1km/s. LEO is nearly an order of magnitude greater (7.8km/s). Energy goes by the square of the velocity, so LEO requires 60 times as much energy.

        And then you have to shed most of that velocity to get it back; that's equivalent to absorbing and re-radiating all the fuel you burned putting it up.

        It's a long, long way from the X-Prize to commercial orbital vehicles.
      • 500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches. 500 million gets you one vehicle that MAY launch successfully...once.

        The X-Prize folks seem to be doing just fine so far with a much smaller budget.

        Let's put it this way: The X-Prize vehicles are skateboards. What NASA needs is a minivan.

        Which do you think will be cheaper?

        (And the technology gap between the two vehicles is just about that large too...)

    • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:49PM (#15602989) Homepage Journal
      I know it's hard for people to understand this, but spacecraft are not monolithic. You can design a space capsule and then launch it on any launcher that has a standard profile. Kinda like being about to run an application on any operating system, oh wait, no, hang on. Kinda like being able to use any razorblade in your razor. Ok, not a good example either. I know, kinda like being able to use any kind of tires on your car! Yes, that'll do.
    • > 500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches.

      The $500 million is basically seed funding. In fact, each of the 6 finalists has stated that even if they didn't get the money, they would still develop their vehicles, albeit on a lengthened schedule. They forsee a large commercial market for orbital transportation.
  • by Xiroth (917768) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:44PM (#15602976)
    Frickin' finally. This is possibly the best possibly future for the public space agencies - fund research and development through a combination of grants and prizes, and not actually work on the problems themselves. They've done good work in the past, but they've simply become too large and inefficient, and that's exactly what privitisation is best at combating. This is very good news for people looking towards the future of space exploration, exploitation and colonisation
    • by alshithead (981606) * on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:02PM (#15603031)
      I respectfully disagree. At anytime you could have the entirety of your work taken away for "state security" reasons. The US government will NEVER allow a completely private entity to control space to a greater degree than the government. I'll mention it again...Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the example that government will follow. If you control space to any degree you can throw "rocks" at the planet. The rocks can be anything where some mass will survive reentry and be able to be aimed at a target. The US government has contingency plans for "aliens from outer space". Why would they allow a domestic threat of the same magnitude?
      • If you control space to any degree you can throw "rocks" at the planet.

        Yes, and that's why there's the US Space Command. To come and nuke your space outpost back into a lifeless unhabitable stretch of vacum.

        • And exactly what does the US Space Command have in its closet that can get off the ground as far as even the 'space station'; let alone with any kind of weapon attached?

    • by node 3 (115640) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:00PM (#15603227)
      they've [NASA] simply become too large and inefficient
      They've always been large and inefficient. That's the only way certain things can be accomplished.

      and that's exactly what privitisation is best at combating
      Almost. Privatization is best at "optimizing for profit", and only that. It just so happens that in a great majority of endeavors, that leads to increased productivity, freedom and quality-of-life.

      However, some things do not benefit from privatization. These things tend to be public services, utilities, life-and-death services, very difficult/expensive endeavors with inadequate profit potential, and things that don't get done otherwise. In the case of NASA, we are stuck with "very difficult, expensive, and lack of sufficient profit motive".

      That said, properly executed partnerships with private corporations (as is done with the shuttle, and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't also the case with Apollo), can let the private sector do what it does best and large governmental organizations do what they do best. The biggest problem with just throwing it out there for the private sector (as it sounds is the case here), is that:

      1. The private sector will only do it if they believe there's profit in it.
      2. The private sector may fail to provide anything.

      The drawback with #1 is that the private sector won't necessarily provide the best vehicle, but the most profitable vehicle. That's not to say that a government agency will necessarily do the best (after all, the Air Force's interests altered the shuttle into a substantially inferior craft). Still, removing the profit motive removes a major potential conflict of interest. Additionally, the profit will have to come from NASA anyway, so what's the difference for NASA to just design the craft and contract out construction anyway?

      The potential drawback of #2 is even more severe. A hobbled craft is superior, at least in the short-term, to no craft at all (poorly executed, a hobbled craft could set the space program backwards (as some have claimed the shuttle has done), but at least we've got something to get us into space). What are NASA's plans if the private sector fails to deliver a product (note: the private sector has never delivered a complete orbital human-flight spacecraft, so what makes NASA think they will manage to do so so quickly?)? Do we just bow out of space for the interim? Do we hitchhike aboard Soyuz? Extend the shuttle program? (According to TFA, sadly, it appears that the answer is this is only to go to ISS, so, aside from missions there, we effectively will be bowing out of non-ISS-related human spaceflight for four years. F**K! Someone, please, prove me wrong!)

      In my opinion, I'd prefer Congress just fund NASA enough to do what they need to do, so long as it can be done within reason. After all, as I point out above, if the private sector does come up with a solution, NASA will still have to foot the bill anyway. If NASA really thinks this will work, it sounds like excessive faith in the free market. If NASA really knows the high improbability that this will succeed, it sounds more like an attempt to use the private sector as a scapegoat ("no one anticipated[*] the private sector would fail to provide a solution").

      [*] Three magical words which seem able to absolve the speaker from any personal responsibility or blame for any disaster or failure.
    • Frickin' finally. This is possibly the best possibly future for the public space agencies - fund research and development through a combination of grants and prizes, and not actually work on the problems themselves.

      Actually - this is the worst possible future. Prizes tend to generate point solutions to winning the prize - rather than general solutions.[1] Grants tend to generate solutions that go precisely to the bounds of the RFP - and no further.

      [1] The X-Prize is a perfect example of

  • by clragon (923326) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:44PM (#15602980)
    are we seeing the forming of an equivilant of the Military-Industrial_Complex [wikipedia.org] in the field of Space Exloration? Will the government contracts to private companies lead to massive spending in the field of space exloration like it did for the Millitary starting after WWII?
    • "forming of an equivilant of the Military-Industrial_Complex"

      Forming? Isn't military, industrial and space technology already [wikipedia.org] having close ties? You're probacly right: the military and big corps may benefit (again) from NASA-money. I'm not sure if it's a bad thing or not. If it was just me, I'd considerably reduce military spending and put it in industry & space tech, but this has more to do with social values than how you try to foster innovation (such as promising prizes to out-source development and
    • like it did for the Millitary starting after WWII

      You're confusing the end of WWII with the beginning of the Cold War. The type of spending that was done for WWII (other than that which finally ended it for Japan) wasn't really aligned for staring down the Soviets. Of course, that new wave of R&D sure didn't hurt the space program.
      • The type of spending that was done for WWII (other than that which finally ended it for Japan) wasn't really aligned for staring down the Soviets.

        Oh?

        Radar? B-2 bombers? Jet fighters? High-altitude spy planes? Tanks? Aircraft carriers? Navy destroyers?

        I think the parent is wrong about this becomming a new military industrial complex, through. You can justify regularly wasting billions of dollars when it's for "defense", but you just simply can't when it's for... well... absolutely anything else. Par

        • Radar? B-2 bombers? Jet fighters? High-altitude spy planes? Tanks? Aircraft carriers? Navy destroyers?

          Lacking those things certainly would have made dealing with the Soviets and their proxies harder, of course. I was refering to the more "strategic" things that dominated military spending and development afterwards - nukes of all sorts (and delivery systems), high-end surveilance goodies, and so on. The more traditional military hardware was certainly needed in Korea and Vietnam, but the fancy stuff woul
    • The real problem is that we already have that. Basically, the gov is in the process of approving the merger of LMart's and Boeings rocket division in the interest of saving money. But it will not. Basically this admin just moved our 2 biggest companies into a monopoly and is willing to grant them huge contracts. OTH, NASA's COTs approach will encourage multiple companies to develop rockets and space access. I suspect that COTs will be be divided with 250M going to one company, and then another of 150M and a
  • Out of reach? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by triskaidekaphile (252815) <xerafin@hotmail.com> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:46PM (#15602984) Homepage
    A curious thought here: if a corporation could launch a fleet of ships to outer space, wouldn't that put them out of government reach? Sure, seize their ground control, they'll just land in another country. (If not drop a bomb of their own!) Obviously we would need a way to destroy such a threat! Let's contract out for a solution!
  • Orwell updated.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by styryx (952942) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @08:50PM (#15602994)
    "When deep space exploration ramps up, it'll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks."
      - Fight Club ;)

    It's bad enough now with the Telco's thinking they own the internet. So NASA will lease them for some of the time, what about the rest of the time...? Does the company get to use it's own gear to put up satellites and what not?

    To be objective, I guess someone's got to pay for it. But space travel and the means to do so should not be patented away, preventing anyone else the means to get to space should they wish to build their own machine and get off this rock; perhaps assurances against something like this will be needed?

    (Toungue-in-cheek throughout.)
  • NASA should get a hold of him - his ship even made it to the moon, and was built using an old cement mixer!
  • by bgfay (5362) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:26PM (#15603104) Homepage
    wouldn't this make a fantastic project for science departments in universities? It seems like it would be a great connection for some venture capitalist and NASA to create several design centers that would share all information and create a plan that would have as its goal to be inexpensive, creative, and efficient. It's probably a pipe-dream, but it would be an incredible way to invigorate science work in this country at all levels, to engage funding in educational institutions, and likely earn an incredible profit down the road.
  • Resurrect Apollo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SourceVisigoth (141614) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:42PM (#15603160) Homepage
    NASA already has an extremely well-tested and effective vehicle. The Space Shuttle is a weak and complex design that replaced a great and simple design.

    For less than $500 million NASA could replace the Apollo program 1960's computers (on board and ground control) and develop a new hatch to allow the Apollo command module to connect to the Space Station. Beyond that, just mass produce Saturn 5's and Command/Lander modules.

    This new competition is a Feel Good(TM) program that hands out money to the contractors, when NASA has already done the job.
    • by wonkobeeblebrox (983151) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @11:07PM (#15603422)
      I don't think anyone (even NASA) still has the full blueprints for the Saturn V rockets anymore. As I recall, Apollo 17 went up and then the rockets for 18 and 19 were still in the launch pipeline when the moon program was canceled.

      Now, over 3 decades later, you are looking at military contractors which have gone bankrupt or merged or been acquired or who-knows-what-else. Beyond that, the "people knowledge" of those who designed and built the Saturn 5's is long gone by now, and I'm willing to bet that in something as complex as a Saturn V, there is at least one piece of now-undocumented design information, waiting to spoil someone's day...

      In short: the two remaining Saturn V's that are still around (Johnson and Kennedy Space Flight centers, serial numbers SA-514 and SA-515) are the only two to exist for the foreseeable future. When we, as a nation, decide to go to the moon again, we'll have to build a new rocket from scratch.
    • You do realize that (in today's dollars) the Saturn 5 cost over $2.4 billion per launch, right? Saying that NASA should resurrect the Saturn 5 to perform the same space station servicing role that they're hoping this $500 million (spread over 4 years) program will accomplish is just silly.
    • by DerekLyons (302214)

      NASA already has an extremely well-tested and effective vehicle. The Space Shuttle is a weak and complex design that replaced a great and simple design.

      Apollo wasn't well tested, nor effective (for LEO work), nor simple. Apollo flew only around 20 flights - not even remotely enough for any reasonable testing program. Apollo is far too heavy for LEO work, as it's heatshield and engines are sized for cislunar work. Lastly, even by today's standards, the Apollo CSM is an extremely complicated beast with

  • The Private Sector (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:51PM (#15603190)
    I think its great giving free enterprise a shot at this. This kind of thing would be impossible in the Marxist societies I have been seeing advocated all weekend on Slashdot.
  • NASA should... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kahrytan (913147) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:58PM (#15603216)
    What NASA should be doing is developing a workable business model that will make itself self-sufficient.

    NASA SHOULD BE OFFERING commercial services to American Civilians.

    1. Suborbital Flights.
    2. Cremation Services with Partial ashes launched into space.
    3. For Fee Licensing of Patents resulting from NASA Research.
    4. And any other compettiive services Comercial companies plan to offer.

    And those who think government shouldn't be making money, you should be reminded of United States Postal Service. USPS is a self-sufficient government agency. They rarely ask for federal money.

  • by Chris Deegan (764287) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:59PM (#15603219)
    The sad thing is that for 20 mill a pop, you can contract Energia to fly soyuz/progress. Much cheaper, safer and reliable. But politics just get in the way of good science. If I were NASA I would buy the design and rights to manufacture it, but they never would because it aint made in the US.
  • by Cr0t (963724)
    I started to laugh so hard after I read the title. The first thing that came me was some weird looking space mobile with spinners, hydraulics and the aliens from mars keep on yelling turn down the bass bro!
  • NASA? (Score:4, Funny)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:40PM (#15603347) Journal
    What's NASA? Some kind of lottery agency? Prizes for this. Prizes for that. Are they based in Vegas?
  • Griffin said it. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:46PM (#15603365) Homepage Journal
    "It is well past time for NASA to do everything it can to stimulate commercial space transportation ... and I'm trying to do that."

    Right on, Mr. Griffin. [geocities.com]

    Introduction

    Americans need a frontier, not a program.

    Incentives open frontiers, not plans.

    If this Subcommittee hears no other message through the barrage of studies, projections and policy recommendations, it must hear this message. A reformed space policy focused on opening the space frontier through commercial incentives will make all the difference to our future as a world, a nation and as individuals.

  • Armadillo (Score:5, Informative)

    If you're interested in what John Carmack is doing these days, he's made a bunch of interesting posts on the aRocket [exrocketry.net] list, specifically about developing an OTRAG [wikipedia.org] modular rocket engine vehicle. He recently made this post (he has specifically given premission to reprint his words in the past, BTW). Exciting stuff. Carmack is the only one who I have any confidence in that will be able to go to orbit cheaply.

    ---------------------
    Peter Fairbrother wrote:

    > >> First, $100 million isn't enough, several people have tried
    > >> and failed at $100 million projects.
    > >
    > > Failure has not been limited to $100 million projects. I suspect the
    > > failures you speak of are where people tried to build $1 billion
    > > vehicles for $100 million price tags.
    >
    >Yes - and a reasonable LEO launch system needs a half-billion-dollar
    >vehicle. You can't really do it more cheaply. Reread the minimum mass to
    >orbit thread, and then remember we need a decent payload as well.

    We have been discussing the modular OTRAG designs for a reason --
    they offer an incremental, scaleable, low cost development path to
    inexpensive access to LEO.

    I'm completely confident that "per-tube" costs can be under $10k, and
    they might get below $5k. You should be able to get 10 - 20 pounds
    of payload to LEO per-tube, depending on final Isp and mass ratios.

    The size, scope, and complexity of the individual modules is lower
    than the work we are currently doing at Armadillo, so development and
    tooling expenses are modest. Module design and production can be
    improved incrementally to decrease costs, like any mass produced item.

    A few screw ups on the way to orbit are probably inevitable, so you
    might need to produce several hundred tubes before entering revenue
    service, but it still looks like it could be done in the low tens of
    millions of dollars, even being rather pessimistic. You could even
    buy a few pacific islands for yourself if you really needed to. That
    is a long way from half a billion, let alone ten billion.

    A system like this won't get to $100 / lb to LEO, but it will
    outperform a conventional expendable upper stage on a hypersonic
    booster, even disregarding development costs, plus it scales to a
    wider range of payloads.

    The real point though, is that billion dollar reusable space booster
    developments are just fantasy projects at this point. You might as
    well posit that you will develop anti-gravity in your garage. If you
    were to say something like "The next generation of space vehicles
    will prove out an elastic market for space launch, at which point my
    ten billion dollar project will look like a sure thing to the smart
    money investors" it might be a little more credible, and only have
    more standard business and technical arguments against it, instead of
    being just nuts.
  • that is why space shuttles are always having problems, they are design flaws. I wonder what it would have been like if they went for the best quality instead of the lowest price?

    All I can think of was a Sci Fi TV show called "Salvage 1" [imdb.com] where some Junkyard turned junk into a space ship and went to the Moon to salvage the equipment that NASA left there. That is when I think of NASA asking anyone to build a space ship.
  • In general the idea of competition and prizes is good, however, as the number of 'challenges', 'races', and 'prizes' increase, I don't see a similar increase in traditional funding of basic research.

    As a person working in research at a university, who will be paying my expenses for material and labor (=graduate student and tuition fees, I'm not counting my summer). There are two ways for me:

    1) I take the full risk and hope to win the prize or
    2) I screw a funding agency and use some of their grant money to
  • To all the people who fantasise about mining asteroids and the commercial exploitation of the rest of the Solar System I have only one comment to make: Gravity well. You can pour all Gates's or Buffet's billions into the gravity well and nothing significant will float to the surface. All this Libertarian crap about corporations being the way to exploit space is just that: fantasy.

    Any credible plan to, for instance, acquire a nickel bearing asteroid into a useful Earth orbit (somehow avoiding an accidental m

  • by smilindog2000 (907665) <bill@billrocks.org> on Monday June 26, 2006 @03:50AM (#15604101) Homepage
    Count on NASA to screw this project up, too.

    In the late 90's Lockheed Martin wanted to build a single-state-to-orbit (SSTO) replacement for the space shuttle. They were so confident in their design, all they asked for to build it was $100M. They would fund the rest themselves, and recoup their expenses selling the ship commercially.

    NASA killed it in stages. The first stage was to take over program management of the project, which they did simply by funding it to $500M, rather than the $100M Lockheed asked for. Then, they spread development of various pieces of VentureStar to several companies, some of whom have a proven track record of failure. Finally, as various companies failed to develop their piece, they turned on the project, claiming it could never work and was a bad idea in the first place. The end result was much additional funding from Congress to continue backing NASA's stupid shuttle program.

    The legacy of VentureStar was quite interesting, and seems to go back to secret SkunkWorks projects. A previous SkunkWorks director, Ben Rich, who presided over the development of the stealth fighter, wrote a book called SkunkWorks. In it, he denied that the hyper-sonic plane (referred to on the net as Aurora) exists, and further claimed that it could not be built. The skin would get too hot, and the hydrogen/oxygen engines were impractical. Not three years after publishing this book, however, Lockheed was asking for a mere $100M to build VentureStar, using technologies never publicly seen before - linear spiking hydrogen/oxygen engines, and a special metallic skin that could take the heat of reentry. Hmm....

    So, Lockheed is still sitting on it's VentureStar plans. Boeing has finally built the linear spiking engines, and just to show how NASA was trying to kill the project, Lockheed's VentureStar crew built a successful fuel tank for free (NASA killed the project after another company failed in this portion of the effort).

    Another cool project NASA killed was the DC-X, as well as other related SSTO vertical takeoff and landing craft. The cool thing about this rocket was how cheap it was to fly. They demonstrated on their reduced-scale prototype that they could land on gravel, run out a fuel truck, and launch again. Even though the prototype was clearly successful, NASA killed this project after the prototype fell over due to a simple hydraulic malfunction on one of it's three legs and exploded. One of the reasons stated by NASA for killing the DC-X was to focus funds on the higher performance VentureStar project!

    A multi-pronged approach may have been better than NASA's single-minded shuttle focus. A DC-X technology based rocket could cheaply lift satellites and building materials for the ISS to LEO (or even lower). Focusing on low-cost, rather than reliability would greatly reduce the cost per-pound of getting stuff in orbit, but would not be suitable for human flight. Space-tugs, using ion-drive (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_propulsion [wikipedia.org]) could be used to haul the loads from low orbits to higher orbit, and part of the load would be additional fuel for the ion-drive. It would take weeks to months for such a space-tug trip, but that's not long for space borne projects. A separate project like VentureStar or any of the other advanced next-generation designs could be used for human flight.

    Oh, well... NASA has a long history of funding and then killing good space concepts. I think this will be no different. It's probably $500M wasted. In the mean-time, thank God for the Russian rockets!
    • by necro81 (917438)
      I don't deny that VentureStar had a number of other problems going against it, some technological, many beaurocractic. But, I think one of the real problems that killed VentureStar and the DC-X was the simple fact that attempting single-stage-to-orbit is really ambitious. We've done very well in space flight by realizing that we don't need to carry everything up into orbit and back. That is the primary reason why rockets have stages, why there was a separate command and lunar module during Apollo, and wh
  • Well hell (Score:3, Funny)

    by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:14AM (#15604287) Journal
    Just have it featured on Monster Garage and we'll be back in space in no time... ..with chrome headers, multi-pipes, and air scoops that serve no purpose in orbit.

    The science may not be the deepest, but hey - we'd have the most bitchin' ride this side of
    the solar system.

    Now where's my fuzzy dice...

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