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Comment: Re:Boeing bought more politicians. (Score 1) 125

by bledri (#48014951) Attached to: Sierra Nevada Corp. Files Legal Challenge Against NASA Commercial Contracts

Leaving out Boeing would be budget suicide for NASA.

No one should be left out because there should be no contract. Instead, NASA should be fostering a spot market for launches. They should have a separate bid for each launch: "We want X satellite in Y orbit, and insured for Z dollars." Then give the launch to the lowest bidder. That way each company can work continuously to cut costs and improve services, knowing that if they leapfrog the competition, they can win the next launch, instead of being locked out for years.

Except there is not an existing manned spaceflight market, just like prior to the commercial cargo contracts their was not a commercial cargo market. If you award a contract to the lowest bidder (or for that matter, any other criteria) before any hardware exists, then only one company will develop the hardware. This is how it used to work, and is exactly what these contracts are meant to avoid. If you only have a single winner, and that winner is developing the hardware based on the contract they won, then when there are cost overruns they will simply tell you they ran out of money. Give us more, or we quit. Or, they will go out of business. You can't run a company in the red forever, even if you signed a contract.

If you are proposing that companies should build functional hardware and then bid, it's not going to happen (except maybe with SpaceX eventually, but they are the crazy exception with a non-financial goal. But it would not happen on NASAs timetable.) It's not going to happen because the risk to reward is off the charts. Spend billions of dollars developing a manned rated launch vehicle, capsule and infrastructure hoping to win a contract? No sane company would do that.

Now, once there is a real market for spaceflight, then investors may take a shot at entering it if they think they can win a piece of the pie. But that market can't exist until there are commercial manned launch vehicles. You have to prime the pump, at least if you want something on a timetable.

Comment: Re:It was NASA's only option (Score 1) 125

by bledri (#48014881) Attached to: Sierra Nevada Corp. Files Legal Challenge Against NASA Commercial Contracts

They couldn't give it to SpaceX because SpaceX didn't win according to the terms of the competition. From Bloomberg a few weeks ago, "Boeing was the only competitor to meet all of the required milestones". SpaceX was a giveaway to reduce political pressure, and hopefully SNC's protest is against the SpaceX award, which could be overturned, not Boeing's award, which is solid.

SpaceX did win based on terms of the competition and they did complete all of their milestones before the announcement. Furthermore, each company had different milestones based on their proposals and SpaceX's milestones where much more aggressive than Boeing's. For instance, SpaceX already has hardware off of their production line that will be used in a pad abort test in November and an in-flight abort test this coming January. Boeing isn't anywhere near that far along even though they "met all their milestones" sooner.

I am not saying that Boeing did anything wrong, they have farther to go to build a usable capsule and their proposal and milestones reflect this. That's why Boeing is being awarded more money, they have more development to do to finish including developing a new second stage for use with the Atlas V launch vehicle. Contrary to all the frantic arm waving, it is actually a fairly sane process. Competitors are required to make plausible proposals and then show progress against those proposals.

Comment: Re:Any news on the first stage landing tests? (Score 2) 129

by bledri (#47962015) Attached to: SpaceX Launches Supplies to ISS, Including Its First 3D Printer

This time, they launched without the landing legs, but since they are still testing above water that does not matter a lot. Deploying the legs and soft landing on water have been tried successfully already, so I imagine they could test other things like partially flying back to the launching site, fuel permitting. The twitters are silent, so far, however.

At the NASA pre-launch press conference, Hans Koenigsmann said that they would be doing the first boost back burn, as well as a re-entry and "landing" burn. At the SpaceX CRS-4 Post Launch Briefing he said that it looked like all the burns wear successful, but they had to wait for the boat that collected telemetry to return.

I feel like I've seen some confirmation on good telemetry on twitter, but I can't find it now and this story is old enough that no one will likely see my post anyway...

Comment: Re:Decisions, Decisions... (Score 1) 123

by bledri (#47874657) Attached to: SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts

SpaceX is already in the process of man-rating Dragon. NASA is, apparently, perfectly willing to let SpaceX run through the man-rating checklists as long as NASA doesn't have to pay for it.

This is true, you can lose funding but continue to participate in meeting various milestones. I believe that Blue Origin already falls into this category.

But NASAs "manned rating" only applies to flying NASA missions. NASA has no control over non-NASA missions - think Bigelow private funded space stations, MarsOne, etc...

Comment: Re:Can someone explain to me (Score 1) 123

by bledri (#47874569) Attached to: SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts

There is no purpose to manned spaceflight.

If we want to settle Mars and generally expand into space, you need manned spaceflight. I know not everyone thinks that is important. But some people, myself included, do believe that is a worthwhile endeavor.

The scientific return comes from unmanned spaceflight. Manned spaceflights are stunts to keep the pork flowing to Congressionally powerful districts. There is nothing done by manned spaceflight that could not be done unmanned for one tenth or one hundredth the cost as an unmanned mission.

This is true, if the only reason for spaceflight is pure science. I am a huge fan of pure science, but I don't think that is the only purpose of spaceflight.

The problem is that NASA is run by ex-flyboys and astronauts. There is an internal battle between the manned spaceflight directorate and the science directorate (NASA/JPL). The former do maned pork and are always trying to steal funds away from the science guys. The manned fighter-jocks tried to kill planetary science many times, the last time was earlier this year. At one point they allocated more for a Space Toilet (30 mil) than they did for a Europa mission (15 mi). NASA needs a shakeup and the science guys need equal control at the top.

I think the bigger problem is that NASA funding (and therefore mission selection) is completely hostage to election cycles of Congressmen, Senators and the President. It's impossible to have a coherent long term plan.

Comment: Re:Gov't contract award..... bah (Score 3, Informative) 123

by bledri (#47874355) Attached to: SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts

While commercial corporations interested in launching their product into space may go with the best price/performance ratio, the chances of a USG contract even being written in a vendor-agnostic manner are slim. It's all about whose district or state the potential money will go.

Actually the commercial cargo and commercial crew contracts were written specifically to avoid those sorts of shenanigans. Congress has no say in who wins. Of course Senators and Congressmen are still trying to play games for their constituents (like the latest accusations that SpaceX has had unreasonable flight anomalies from senators in competitors states.) They are also trying to starve the entire program of money specifically because it is a threat to ULA. But all in all, the commercial contract approach is a huge improvement and it looks likely that SpaceX or SNC will win the bid (possibly both, if Congress will fund that. It makes sense to have two launch providers so an "incident" doesn't completely halt flights - like the shuttle disasters did.) Funny that the article doesn't even mention SNA (Dream Chaser.)

One of the reasons that SpaceX and/or SNC will likely win is that they both are dedicated to developing their spacecraft regardless of the outcome of the bidding process. Losing the contract would slow development, but not stop it. Where as Boeing, with all their money and resources, has publicly stated that they will mothball development if they don't win. (This is a strange attitude given the fact Boeing and Bigelow are partners in the commercial crew competition.) One of the criteria for winning is the commercial viability of the spacecraft. NASA does not want to be in the position of being financially black mailed with threats like "we need more money or we can't survive". The fact that SpaceX and SNC are pursuing non-NASA missions is seen as a major advantage according to insiders.

Comment: Re:Low grade code monkeys don't need to know (Score 1) 213

by bledri (#47578191) Attached to: Vint Cerf on Why Programmers Don't Join the ACM

There is nothing in there that low grade code monkeys, which is the vast majority of the software industry, need to know. I mean, how much skills do you have to have to run a mom and pop web store, publish the jillionth fart app, or maintain a payroll system?

Of course, these code monkeys get swamped whenever the next major technology change comes along but, hey, we can't all be good enough to work for Google or Apple, etc.

Slashdot, where egotistical rants (by someone to lazy to create an account and log in) about other people being idiots is modded insightful.

Comment: Re:"...vindication of Gov. Jerry Brown's..." (Score 2) 172

by bledri (#47508165) Attached to: California In the Running For Tesla Gigafactory

..., not to mention that Texas has no income tax; what moron would build a factory in California? Elon was just being nice when he didn't categorically rule it out when asked.

You realize that both the Tesla factory and the SpaceX factory are in California, right? So I guess Elon Musk is a moron...

Comment: Re:Too bad he has no Foreign policy (Score 1) 533

by bledri (#47471935) Attached to: Rand Paul and Silicon Valley's Shifting Political Climate

We Americans need to remember what war is and what it is not. It's not about winning hearts and minds, it's about fragging hearts and minds. If we kept this in mind we would resume winning wars again ala 1945, but there are too many bleeding heart liberals who couldn't handle this brutal variety of truth. Therefore those who can't handle this sort of truth should STFU re: foreign intervention.

Maybe a better lesson would be not to invade countries that pose no serious threat to the US and not to believe the fantasy that if you destroy a country's infrastructure that a thankful democracy will emerge from a sea of sectarian hatred.

Comment: Re:For The Love of Glob! (Score 4, Insightful) 552

by bledri (#47458799) Attached to: The Last Three Months Were the Hottest Quarter On Record

I'd rather have seas 30 feet higher in 100-300 years and living with (say) 2314-year tech than current seas and year 2200 tech in 2314...or 2214. Hech, a 10% slowdown, miserably easy for an overbearing government to achieve, would yield a 30 year delta at the end. Hell, I'd rather have 2014 tech than 1984-tech.

Proposed solutions matter and should be judged in the context of tech advancement, or lack thereof. That's what saves lives.

You seem to be creating a false dichotomy, implying that addressing climate change would slow technological growth. Modernizing the power grid, storing energy from non-greenhouse gas generating power sources, better power management, electric cars, solar power, nuclear power, fusion, etc are all technologies that would make life better. Besides reducing green house gasses, energy ultimately becomes cheaper and pollution is reduced worldwide.

Sounds horrible. It's interesting to me that many opposed to AGW (not saying you), complain about the AGW alarmists, but they themselves are economic alarmists. As if addressing climate change will destroy the economy.

Comment: Re:"An anonymous reader" (Score 4, Informative) 112

by bledri (#47451563) Attached to: SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off From Florida

SpaceX is not competing with NASA, because NASA doesn't make rockets. NASA has input on the design requirements, but all the real work is done by private contractors, like Lockheed and Boeing. SpaceX is just a new contractor and they operate just like the others. They have some interesting new engineering approaches that may reduce costs, but it's not any fundamentally new business model.

Actually, it is a fundamentally different business model. You are correct that it was always private companies that did the final design and construction of the rockets, but historically Congress forced many decisions on NASA based largely on spreading the money around. For instance, NASA wanted the Space Shuttle to use liquid fueled boosters, but Congress insisted on the SRBs specifically so Thiokol Corporation of Utah would get the business. The same thing is happening with the STS under development now. Congress is forcing NASA to use Shuttle components in the first generation STS specifically to funnel money into certain congressional districts. Under the non-commercial contracts, Congress and NASA actually make design decisions that may not be optimum from an engineering perspective.

The rules under which SpaceX performs NASA missions, are much different. NASA does not get involved in the design of the rocket/spacecraft beyond listing requirements that must be met. Some seed money is provided, for companies that win bids to compete. But ultimately the winners are paid a fixed price - which is also a big difference. Historically, these contracts were cost plus. This new approach does appear to be saving money and it is also leading to competing designs which is interesting as well. For instance with commercial crew, Boeing is building a fairly conventual capsule that lands under parachute, Sierra Nevada is building a lifting body that will reenter and glide like the shuttle, and SpaceX is building a capsule that will land propulsively (parahutes will only be deployed if there is a malfunction in the engines.)

Comment: Re:The hero Gotham needs (Score 1) 78

Musk strikes me as a lot of things... Carnegie and Franklin aren't among them.

He's an emerging master at PR and managing public opinion, and his fan base (very prevalent here on Slashdot) just laps it up.

His rockets get to orbit with RP-1, not PR. You don't get a $5 billion launch manifest with PR.

Yes, there are delays and difficulties with both Tesla and SpaceX. Now show me someone that is building more compelling electric cars than Tesla. Owner's of Tesla's love them. If it wasn't a good car, it wouldn't have the satisfaction ratings it does. Car magazines wouldn't be raving about it.

Show me a "new space" company that is delivering cargo to the the ISS, returning mass to Earth, developing a manned capsule, self-funding reusability development, self-funding development of seriously big rocket engines for Saturn V size rockets.

I'm an unabashed fan because he's making interesting shit happen. The main reasons I've seen for people bagging on him are envy or ideology (Tesla got a government loan - that they paid back, SpaceX got NASA money - to deliver cargo cheaper than any competitor, etc...)

If you're not careful, you're going to catch something.