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Senators Want Big Rocket Instead of New Tech, Commercial Transportation 342

FleaPlus writes "Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation are drafting a bill (due this week) which slashes NASA technology development/demonstrations, commercial space transportation, and new robotic missions to a small fraction of what the White House proposed earlier this year. The bill would instead redirect NASA funds to 'immediate' development of a government-designed heavy lift rocket, although it's still unclear if NASA can afford a heavy lifter in the long term or if (with the new technology the Senators seek to cut, like in-space refueling) it actually needs such a rocket. The Senators' rocket design dictates a payload of 75mT to orbit, uses the existing Ares contracts and Shuttle infrastructure as much as possible, and forces use of the solid rocket motors produced by Utah arms manufacturer ATK."
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Senators Want Big Rocket Instead of New Tech, Commercial Transportation

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  • In Other Words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmgxmichael ( 1219692 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:16PM (#32877532) Homepage
    • by epiphani ( 254981 ) <> on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:20PM (#32877590)

      Naw, this is just a case of NASA being a political punching bag. It will never get anything done ever again.

      Not because it isn't capable - but because every four years someone new comes along that thinks they know how to run things. They gut everything that has been happening, and refocus the organization. Thus, there are a good dozen projects that got half done. Some of the early X33 work had a lot of potential, and I remember reading about how the rocket nozzle work could be qualified as a major breakthrough. But it got scrapped. NASA isn't suffering from a lack of vision. It's suffering from too many visions that change too often.

      • Re:In Other Words... (Score:5, Informative)

        by dmgxmichael ( 1219692 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:24PM (#32877644) Homepage
        As I said, pork. The senators behind this set specfic requirements that demand their constituent's plants and factories get the money. It has nothing to do with practicality or being cost effective. It's just Pork. In its purest and most disgusting form.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          whenever the senate states you must use XYZ product as a critical subcomponent in a large engineering project before it's started, you know there are going to be problems.

        • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:29PM (#32877730)

          Eh, thats more of a ticket puncher (military reference) or seagull manager (fly in, crap all over everything, fly out).

          Look at this quote and try to explain how its not ticket punching or seagull management:

          because every four years someone new comes along that thinks they know how to run things. They gut everything that has been happening, and refocus the organization

          Obviously NASA was supposed to be a technical organization, but now its just a MBA stepping stone.

      • by magsol ( 1406749 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:27PM (#32877688) Journal
        I can't comment personally, but I've heard through friends who have done internships at NASA that the working atmosphere there is terrible. It's depressing, it's uninspired, and I suspect it has to do with exactly what you just mentioned: entire mission changes with every single administration.

        NASA is good at what it does, it just needs to be allowed to follow through.
        • Re:In Other Words... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:42PM (#32877874)
          I worked at FNAL (DOE Lab) for a year on an LHC detector project. Same deal, except that instead of things changing all the time, you have people who have been there for 30 years who don't want to change at all. Virtualization? The Devil's Work! Puppet? Not Invented Here. Everyone just burning days until retirement. Give me the private sector any day over gov (props to SpaceX, Mars Or Bust).
          • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:23PM (#32879184)
            I've worked my share of government and private sector jobs. More than enough to be able to say that your attempt at generalization fails. Business struggle and fail all the time because of pervading "that's the way we've always done it" attitudes. Can you say "U.S. auto makers"? And I've seen government entities that were managed by competent leaders who were not interested in "burning days until retirement". Google "Chief Alan Brunacini" for a sterling example of such a leader. Stereotypes such as those you've trotted out don't add to an intelligent discussion.
            • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:45PM (#32880268)

              Stereotypes such as those you've trotted out don't add to an intelligent discussion.

              I'll agree with this. My anecdote is only that, and not data. Let's roll through government agencies that have less than spectacular results, shall we?

              Minerals Management (Gulf Oil Disaster)
              the VA (with regards to the complete lack of care provided to returning soldiers)
              FEMA (Katrina/New Orleans)
              the TSA (instituted as merely security theater)
              NASA ($500 million per shuttle launch, yet the total cost SpaceX spent to develop their lift vehicle)
              the USPTO (and their utter incompetence at properly vetting patent applications for prior art)
              the USPS (who is bleeding money, but congress hamstrings them against making the needed service cuts)

              I could continue. But, I'm sure my list speaks for itself. Government has it's place, I completely believe that. Unfortunately, after working for the government, I simply have more faith in private organizations that don't accept/promote mediocrity. Call it "ruthless efficiency". It's something the government simply can't do.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                Well, there's Social Security, which is about 10 times more efficient of a low-risk mutual fund than you'll find in the private sector. You can bitch and complain endlessly about what they spend the money on, but as a pure mutual fund, they are cheaper, by far, than anything the private sector puts up.

                Or there are all sorts of Enron stories. Just that Enron was the largest such sham. But then, since you blame the government for BP's negligence, I'm sure you'll find some way of blaming the government for
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )
                  I think you're confusing issues. I have no problem with government regulation. I think it's essential. The free market cannot operate unregulated without horrible consequences (Enron, Lehman Brothers, and so forth). I'm saying that, due to how government operates, when it's tasked with doing something, it's extremely inefficient.
                  • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                    by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                    One of the things listed as a failure was to regulate mineral extraction. That's "doing" in the sense of having the private sector do the doing and the government is just stating how it should be done. And then, when someone violates the rules, that would be a failure of the government because the proper rules were in place and not followed by the private sector. If that's not what you intended, then BP should be removed from your list. At best, put logging on there, as that was actually actively misman
        • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:43PM (#32877894)

          I've heard through friends who have done internships at NASA that the working atmosphere there is terrible.

          I've heard through (probably completely different) friends that the working atmosphere FOR THE SCIENTIST / ENGINEER / "PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR" personnel is as terrible as you report, but the MBA types love it, because they coincidentally just happen to be the ones in charge and have created a paradise for themselves.

          Not a culture of equations and test tubes, but power point and office politics.

          Different strokes for different folks, etc. The scientists are on their way out, and they are well aware of it, and unhappy about it, so I'm told. The unwritten goal is to eventually have nothing but management and PR personnel on staff. Not unlike most American companies.

          NASA is good at what it does

          Like I said, powerpoints and office politics. I am told they're pretty good at those subjects. If you have the mistaken idea that it's like Bell Labs half a century ago, well, illusions don't always work in the real world.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Blob Pet ( 86206 )

            It is fitting then that at the random quote machine at the bottom of slashdot currently says:

            "It might help if we ran the MBA's out of Washington." -- Admiral Grace Hopper

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by theycallmeB ( 606963 )
            That seems to track pretty well with my brief experience as an outside contractor at NASA Langley. Lots of powerpoint, meetings, red tape and general pettiness raining from above, pervasive exasperation down below. Part of why I have come to think that the most dangerous organization currently operating on American soil is Harvard business school.

            At least the food in the cafeteria was cheap and decent, and I could go there without an escort during daylight hours.
        • by shadowofwind ( 1209890 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:10PM (#32878206)

          Having worked there, I think the problem at NASA has more to do with the way job security is decoupled from performance. The organization just rots. Unfortunately, there's no easy fix for that, since if you try to establish stronger "merit based" criteria for pay and retention, the definition of merit just gets politicized and corrupted.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 )
            I did it for 8 yrs for a large contractor. Very uninspiring when you realize that whether you sleep at your desk all year (for the token raise) or bust your butt (for an extra 0.5%), the company only cares the your seat is filled and the customer is mostly happy.
        • Re:In Other Words... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:47PM (#32878708)

          There are some good people at NASA still. Take JPL for example.... Though, I had a friend there who said it gets mismanaged at the top. He got laid off after one of his projects was launch delayed, so Congress apparently fired the entire design team with the idea that they will just be able to hire random engineers off the street to pick up a project they didn't build six years from now when it can launch again. Slightly off topic, although still relevant to the sad state of scientific endeavors in the US, he couldn't find a job after JPL laid him off with a PhD in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech with a thesis in deep space exploration. So, he ultimately had to go back to live with his family in the Philippines and found some sort of teaching job there.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sjames ( 1099 )

          It's only natural to be depressed and unproductive when experience suggests that no matter how well you do you will find that the plug is pulled and you are re-assigned just before your project gets off the ground (literally). All the morso when you know the new project will suffer the same fate and you'll be re-re-assigned to the current project only with just enough changes that you have to start back at square 1 in order to incorporate one or more inappropriate pieces of "technology"

      • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:28PM (#32877724) Journal

        NASA isn't suffering from a lack of vision. It's suffering from too many visions that change too often.

        That's why it's important that the "first leg" of access to LEO is decoupled from the political process as much as possible. This has already been done for unmanned launch for a couple decades now, and the new plan is to do the same for manned launches as well, so that even when political whims change NASA will still have an existing launch infrastructure it can use.

        That's also why NASA should be spending its money on technological development and demonstrations rather than building new mega-rockets. If funding on your mega-rocket costing tens of billions of dollars is cancelled due to political whims when development is only 25% complete, you have nothing. If technology development is cancelled after only a few years, you've still made a bunch of short-term technological advances that increase the capabilities and sustainability of later exploration.

        • Agreed. The only time political processes are stable is during war or under the threat of war. The only reason we reached the moon was it served as a convenient, popular excuse to develop the tech necessary to nuke Moscow with an ICBM. Allowing the Russians to have such a powerful asymmetrical threat was not an option.
          • Re:In Other Words... (Score:4, Informative)

            by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:54PM (#32878024)

            The moon race had nothing to do with nuking Moscow with an ICBM. The missiles needed to put a warhead on Moscow existed before the Moon Race was announced.

            The LGM-30A Minuteman-I was first test-fired on 1 February 1961
            UGM-27 Polaris was test launched from a U.S. Navy submarine on July 20, 1960 and deployed by July 28, 1960
            The SM-62 Snark was deployed in 1958.

            Kennedy established the manned landings on the Moon as a national goal on May 25, 1961

      • Re:In Other Words... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:57PM (#32878064)

        Some of the early X33 work had a lot of potential, and I remember reading about how the rocket nozzle work could be qualified as a major breakthrough. But it got scrapped.

        The X-33 still has a lot of potential! Lockmart is still funding its own development [] the reusable lifting-body concept based on the X-33, there has been significant progress with the most difficult technical issue (i.e. developing a composite material capable of making cryogenic tanks with complex shapes []), and there was any serious technology issue with the linear areospike engine (they just lacked a vehicle to put it in, once the X-33 funding wasn't renewed). IMHO, it's potentially game-changing technologies and lifters like X-33 and the DC-X [] that NASA's R&D resources should be focused on, instead of the the Ares program. If most of the personnel and money that was used to support the now probably-defunct Ares was instead used to continue development on the DC-X and X-33, we would have learned a lot more (even learning what doesn't work is of some value) and maybe even gotten one or two revolutionary launch vehicles out of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RichMan ( 8097 )

      Not pork.

      Male manhood symbol.

      America needs to have the biggest rocket.

      Can't be less than Russia, China, India, ....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That would be true if the point was the biggest rocket. But no, the point is a rocket built in Utah and Alabama regardless of size.
    • by sjwest ( 948274 )

      What is wrong with unicorn meat ?

  • by Haffner ( 1349071 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:17PM (#32877544)
    Senators are cutting NASA's budget because they don't think it will be a good use of money. Then, they underfund it, so that indeed, it is not.

    As an aside, replace "NASA" with "useful government program" of your choosing and the sentence still works.

  • by jayveekay ( 735967 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:17PM (#32877546)

    Why are Senators designing rockets?

    My guess is that they are not designing rockets so much as they are designing pork.

    • I agree Senators should stfu - but dictating a payload capacity is a requirement, not a design.

      • If that payload is described by the the TNT equivalent of a warhead, that makes sense.

      • What trade studies were done that decided a 75mT payload capacity was needed as opposed to a 50 or 60mT? Is there a linear increase in cost vs. payload capacity? Is 75mT some sort of optimum, balancing cost vs. development time vs. existing hardware capabilities?

        Or is it a number pulled out of someone's ass?

        Arguing requirement vs. design is mostly semantics at this point. What matters is where the number came from and what sort of analysis went into it (if any).
    • They are doing this for the same reason senators do anything else: to bring in votes, either by porking jobs to their constituents or by porking funding to their campaign donors.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I am absolutely sure that nobody in the industry has submitted research on this subject and the numbers are purely arbitrary.

      Nobody on the Committee is from Utah, BTW []. If this were a slaughterhouse order, it's more likely the big contracts would be proposed in New Mexico.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CDS ( 143158 )
      Why not let the Senators do the designs too? After all, it's not like it's Rocket Science!
  • Uh huh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lorenlal ( 164133 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:19PM (#32877570)

    I was unaware that the Senate had members who were NASA engineers.

    ...forces use of the solid rocket motors produced by Utah campaign donor ATK.

    Maybe I'm just cynical, but that's how I read the last sentence.

  • Ugh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:19PM (#32877576)

    This is the most brazen act of pork barrel politics since the Bridge to Nowhere. Actually, it *is* a bridge to nowhere.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:21PM (#32877610)
    Lockheed Martin, Boeing, ATK, and the United Space Alliance on track once again to spend over $50 million [] for lobbying efforts in 2010, including educational activities like treating Congressmen to luxury box Springsteen tickets [].
  • Safe solution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:26PM (#32877674)

    and forces use of the solid rocket motors produced by Utah arms manufacturer ATK.

    There is no such thing as a truly man rated solid booster. They can put on their manager hat instead of their engineer hat and ram it thru for political reasons, but that doesn't make it true or safe.

    So, whats the technical solution?

    Politicians are pretty stupid and/or they don't care as long as their Utah connection gets some dough. They don't really care about the technical needs. So I have occasionally daydreamed they should be hired to produce two giant smoke grenades, or something like that. They'd be a "safety system" since the "boosters" would be dead weight and if the actual rocket had a problem, it could eject the dead weight boosters to gain quite a bit of performance.

    Or, rather than trying to generate net upward thrust, if they barely broke even with their own weight, maybe they'd be safer.

    Its an interesting technical solution to a political problem.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )

      There is no such thing as a truly man rated solid booster. They can put on their manager hat instead of their engineer hat and ram it thru for political reasons, but that doesn't make it true or safe.

      But of course there is! As long as you can extinguish the combustion process, you'll be fine!

      //huge fan of the Merlin engines
      ///would fly Dragon any day

    • Re:Safe solution? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:47PM (#32877950) Journal

      Why would you man-rate your heavy lift rocket? It would be a stupid requirement. Big grunty rocket to lift mass, small safe rocket to lift people.

      • Re:Safe solution? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:58PM (#32878078)

        man-rate = reliable. There are some other specifically man-rating features aside from reliability like abort modes, that probably don't matter for payloads with no emergency recovery system.

        But to a first approximation, I claim man-rate = reliable.

        Booster cost scales slower with mass than payload costs. After all, communication satellite microwave transmitters are much more expensive than "big fuel tanks".

        So, I also claim heavy lift = expensive payload.

        So, use the least reliable engine technology that is available to lift your most expensive payloads. What could possibly go wrong?

        I'd also claim if a person generates a $1M of economic activity over the course of their life, making a bad engineering decision that "wastes" $500M on a fireworks show, is morally equivalent to killing 500 people, because it wasted their entire life's work. Men with guns had to extort that money out of the population, for nothing. More practically you have thousands of guys literally spending a decade of their life to get "something" into orbit, so turning it into a fireworks show is about the same thing as destroying hundreds of folks life works.

        I'll admit you caught me thinking "shuttle". That bad solid booster design cost us one vehicle and one crew. Making the same engineering decision, even if just launching a non-sentient box of rocks, is emotionally distasteful. Last time we tried this we killed seven people, so lets try it again!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by camperdave ( 969942 )
        Big grunty rocket to lift mass, small safe rocket to lift people.

        If you've got lots of money to throw at the problem, then by all means, develop two completely new rockets and perform those tasks. However, if you've got limited funds and you've already got a nice, man-rated, heavy lift system that has 30+ years of near flawless operation, it makes more sense to take a more DIRECT approach.
  • Well shit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kongit ( 758125 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:26PM (#32877676)
    Why can't congress just leave NASA the fuck alone and let it actually do something. Or barring that at least give it a mission and not micromanage a government agency of which congress cannot adequately manage. Since we will never elect a majority of rocket scientists for our representatives, what gives them the right to think that they should determine what an agency that deals with rocket science does. Do they micromanage the FBI, NSA, CIA? Do they think that they have the right much less the ability to tell people that know what they are doing what they should be doing. This is like a badly run business that has an accountant running the IT department. Shucks guys but microsoft gave us a deal on server products so we scrapped the linux boxes because our balance sheets told us its better.
    • Re:Well shit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:05PM (#32878154)
      Where the hell have you been? Seriously. Congress DOES micromanage FBI, NSA, CIA?

      Have you heard of Homeland Security??

      Congress has been doing this for decades. Stop being stupid.

      NASA has a history of screw-ups and cost over-runs. Are you seriously this dim to think Congress wouldn't do their job and manage a government agency!

      Space exploration has changed. The US is no longer the dominant player. The government is no longer necessary for space exploration. It's time to allow commercial flight. It's time to do responsible science, not these pie in the sky man to mars missions. This is the only way to move forward.

      FYI NASA was never about space travel.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jythie ( 914043 )
        Pity so many of those cost overruns and screw ups were due to congress sticking its nose in NASA's operations.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Grishnakh ( 216268 )

        It's time to allow commercial flight.

        Allow commercial flight? Since when has anyone restricted commercial spaceflight? There's no law saying you can't send humans to space in commercial rockets. Commercial rockets (from companies like Orbital) already carry tons of commercial satellites to orbit.

        What's missing is technical capability and funding. Several firms like SpaceX and Armadillo Aerospace have been trying to develop spacecraft for humans, and haven't succeeded. No one's holding them back except

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 )

          Actually, SpaceX is developing a human rated vehicle without any NASA funding to do so. The only NASA funding they have is a series of pay-for-performance contracts with NASA for delivering cargo to the ISS. Giving some of the money in advance has helped lend SpaceX some credibility, and also made it easier for them to complete their goals, but at this point there biggest contract is with Iridium, not NASA.

          And Armadillo is doing something entirely different -- the markets they're in are the suborbital pas

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Antisyzygy ( 1495469 )
        I dont understand how you can assume that private science is more responsible than public science. Just look at Monsanto and it will immediately discredit, in part, that idea. Do you not recognize the failures of capitalism? We are approaching 1920's levels in wealth disparity, the government and corporate upper management have a revolving door between eachother, and the recent recession was caused basically by greed of those who had more money than they deserved anyway.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:26PM (#32877684) Homepage

    No wait, not the pigs, just the pork.

    I can't wait for all the interesting and new technology that would actually expand our capabilities to get canceled in favor of a appeasing a government contractor who wants us to keep doing what we've been doing and all the people who can't get past Size of Rocket = Size of Nation's Cock.

    News flash for the space mid-life-crisis crowd: Big rockets are really impressive... if you live in the 70s! You want NASA to regain it's mojo and reclaim the lead in space? Shuttle 2.0 ain't gonna do it. Everything that will be scrapped in favor of the pork project would.

  • by Mashhaster ( 1396287 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:28PM (#32877720)

    They should therefore not be attempting to dictate the future of rocket science R/D in the appropriations bills. It's all fine and good to set lofty goals, but leave the nuts and bolts to the nuts and bolts people.

    What saddens me is that they're talking about spending ridiculous amounts on human spaceflight, and a comparative pittance on sending up more 'bots. You don't need to look much further than Hayabusa or Spirit and Opportunity to see the potential for real Science to get done is staggering when you don't have to worry about sustaining all those pesky biological systems. IMHO, we should be devoting at least a fifth of the budget to non-human spaceflight and exploration.

    Once we know what's up there, we can send the fleshbags.

  • ... then they should look into a better way to get them to the launch sites, so they don't have to worry about railroad tunnels while designing rockets.
  • In other news, the same senate committee proposed legislation requiring tail fins on all automobiles.

  • Incompetent Senators telling us that we don't need any more operations at hospitals, but replace them with blood-letting?

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:33PM (#32877774)
    "Do you think he's maybe compensating for something?" -- Shrek
  • want big rocket
  • What is the need? (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:36PM (#32877810)

    I can see why DoD would want to keep the solid rocket companies in business, because those same companies also build and replace ICBMs. But surely DoD can figure out a way to pay to keep those companies in business without forcing NASA to go with solid rocket boosters.

    Solid rockets are a good choice when you need to keep a rocket in storage for a while (like an ICBM hopefully), but for an active launch program it is a little less clear why you would go with solid fuel since they make lots more pollutants when you burn them.

    • Re:What is the need? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:47PM (#32877956) Journal

      I can see why DoD would want to keep the solid rocket companies in business, because those same companies also build and replace ICBMs. But surely DoD can figure out a way to pay to keep those companies in business without forcing NASA to go with solid rocket boosters.

      I agree. I think it's quite bizarre that much of the hubbub in Congress has been about how NASA would no longer subsidizing ICBM motor production under the new plans, and that NASA using commercial liquid-based rockets instead would be disastrous for our strategic deterrence capability. I'd argue that it should be the DOD's responsibility to maintain ICBM production capability, not NASA's. A quote from an article providing some context from those unfamiliar with the situation: []

      Sen. David Vitter, R-La., insisted again March 17 that the cost of solid rocket motors that the U.S. military needs for its intercontinental ballistic missiles will double if President Barack Obama gets his way.

      Vitter blames Obama's space strategy, as spelled out in the 2011 budget, which would cancel NASA's Constellation program. ...

      While others praise Obama's plan to invest in commercial space companies, Vitter worries that one of the real losers in all this will be the U.S. military.

      His logic: NASA is the nation's biggest customer for solid rocket motors, so if NASA drops out of the market, prices for everyone else will double. The military needs solid rocket motors for Minuteman ballistic missiles, submarine-based Trident ballistic missiles, missile interceptors and all sorts of tactical missiles.

      The Navy, which has studied the matter, says prices will probably rise, but they won't double.

      During a Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing, Rear Adm. Stephen Johnson, said he expects solid rocket motor prices to rise 10 to 20 percent. He assured Vitter that 100 percent price growth is not likely. Johnson heads Navy strategic systems programs.

      Vitter, who has been sounding this alarm since the 2011 budget was unveiled Feb. 1, seemed unconvinced.

      NASA provides 70 percent of the business that sustains the solid rocket motor industry, he said. If that vanishes, costs for other customers must increase more than 20 percent.

      Not so, said Johnson. NASA's requirements are so different from the military's - think size and weight - that eliminating NASA's demand will not cause military rocket costs to double.

      "It's a valid concern," Johnson told Vitter. And costs may rise, possibly 20 percent. But they won't double.

      • Re:What is the need? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:07PM (#32878186)
        Ah good old Dave Vitter. He gets busted paying for prostitutes to spank him while he's wearing a diaper, and his madam ends up committing suicide in the scandal's aftermath. Yet here he is still in congress, in a position of power.

        He also voted to impeach Clinton, and at the time time stated that Clinton deserved it for cheating on his wife. It's sad to think he has influence on the direction of our space program...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mbone ( 558574 )

        Expecting sense out of David Vitter is like expecting valid legal advice from Slashdot. Yes, it might happen, but it's not the way to bet.

  • The real question.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zero0ne ( 1309517 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:37PM (#32877816) Journal

    Is what will this be attached to? If it goes on its own, I would imagine Obama would give it the big red VETO

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:44PM (#32877900)

    Since when do a bunch of lawyers know dink about the best cost solution to any technical problem?

    Want NASA to provide a heavy-lift capability? Give NASA a broad goal (say for example to get to the moon in ten years), get the hell out of the way and have NASA produce a design study showing cost-benefit trades for all options studied (including whatever the engineers think might be feasable / possible / affordable - who knows, maybe those engineers actually know a thing or two about what they do). If the projected costs come within the realm of feasibility, authorize a multi-year funding profile (with offramps for failed performace), and get the hell out of the way. Otherwise, any effort is doomed to failure as a political football.

    - A Practicing Aerospace Engineer
    PS: N(a)SA, the National Space Administration; lack of adequate funding has already killed any useful Aeronautics they might have once accomplished

  • NASA Repurposed? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IflyRC ( 956454 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:52PM (#32878006)
    I'm surprised this didn't make it higher - but this article in addition to this one about NASA to strengthen ties with Muslim world [] - is NASA getting repurprosed?
  • Lame. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crhylove ( 205956 ) <> on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:03PM (#32878136) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to see better orbital insertion technologies pursued. Like a mag-lev cannon or something. Rockets CANNOT be the most efficient way to orbit. Especially Heavy lift rockets. Grrrr

  • by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:04PM (#32878144)

    The NASA I grew up with is truly dead and gone. NASA was about going somewhere; we could go to the moon, I can't wait to see what's next. It's so hard looking at the pictures at the Apollo Archive [] without feeling melancholy about what NASA was, back in the 60s, and has never been since.

    I wonder what Neil, Buzz and Michael are doing for fun these days.

  • Heck, I have a friend who is/was an engineer on the Ares rocket / Orion spacecraft; and he WANTS Ares to die. He would prefer that NASA get out of the rocket design and LEO-transport businesses. He really wants to work on experimental stuff. He feels that THAT is what NASA should do. Leave the LEO stuff to private businesses. (Obviously, with the caveat that NASA buys the use of them when needed.)

  • This means Direct (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dlapine ( 131282 ) < minus language> on Monday July 12, 2010 @04:52PM (#32878768) Homepage

    This potential bill means congressional support behind a Direct version of a shuttle replacement [] or something close enough not to matter. Direct is a design to replace the space shuttle with a rocket that puts the cargo and capsule on top of the tank, and moves the shuttle engines on the bottom of the tank. Without having to lift the load of the space shuttle itself, the rocket gets 77mT of cargo to orbit.

    Re-using all the major shuttle components provides the cheapest possible option for a Heavy Lift Vehicle, not to mention the quickest, as a Direct design could be flying by 2013. The current plan from the administration doesn't even decide on a HLV design until 2015, let alone start the process of building and testing it. This is not a barrel of pork. Yes, somebody will make some money, but this is the cheapest option at the moment to keep a US heavy lift capability in the near future, and it will be built here in the US.

    Current US lift capability stops at only 25mT in the Shuttle cargo bay to Low Earth Orbit. By funding a Direct style vehicle, we get a minimum of 75 mT to orbit without a second stage. This a very good thing. With further development of a second stage, the payload capacity increases to 115mT+. Not only that, but by putting the payload on top of the vehicle, a direct style rocket can support a payload as wide as 12m across (shuttle can only do 5m). So we get the ability to send more per launch and save over the life of a large project. For example, five flights of Direct would have been sufficient to build the ISS, versus the 40 shuttle launches it actually took.

    By re-using the same engines and boosters as the space shuttle, we save billions (maybe $10 billion over time) in research and launch facility changes necessary for other designs (Ares would have required 2 new pad designs and new crawlers at a $1 billion a pop). The cost per launch for Direct will be less expensive as well. For comparison, recovery of the shuttle SRB's, refurbishment of the shuttle and launch costs per launch have averaged out to about $1.3 billion per launch []. A Direct will cost somewhere north of $200 million for the launch vehicle, plus operating costs, but won't include refurbishment or recovery operations. For the immediate future NASA says it will launch the last shuttle in 2011, and after we'll be paying the Russians $20-30 million per seat for rides in a Soyuz []

    We save time in that we can have an un-manned cargo version of the vehicle doing test flights by 2013, whereas the engine testing alone for a liquid-fueled booster would take 5 years by the current plan. as all the parts are already man-rated (save for the modified ET), we could be launching Orion capsules on a Direct as soon as the Orions finish development in 2015 or so.

    If this passes, I'll be one very happy space fan.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus ( 6935 )

      Actually, the DIRECT team's recommended near-term launcher, the J-130, would only do 70mt and wouldn't be able to meet the Senators' 75mt requirement. Either a second stage or other augmentations would be needed in order to meet the requirement.

    • Re:This means Direct (Score:5, Interesting)

      by boarder ( 41071 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:29PM (#32879252) Homepage

      Your ideas and goals and numbers are all well and good, but you don't ever look at the actual design of the vehicle you propose.

      I worked on Ares and know what the design is. That thing was a gigantic piece of crap just waiting to fail. Badly. From the barely stable structural dynamics of a 400ft long pencil flying at mach 6, to the ugliest, most disaster prone separation sequence; that design was doomed to fail.

      Look, I like the idea of saving money by using off the shelf parts and getting something flying fast, but you end up making too many sacrifices to the overall design to accommodate the limitations of the pre-built parts. Think of it like trying to build a city bus out of parts you scrounged from a Ferrari warehouse.

      Also, the very first class you take in Aerospace Engineering teaches you exactly why SSTO (single stage to orbit) is not as cost-effective as multiple stages. So your argument that this design is better because it doesn't need a second stage is not a good one. The design might be simpler and easier to build, but it requires so much more fuel per launch that it isn't worth it.

      • Re:This means Direct (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dlapine ( 131282 ) < minus language> on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:55PM (#32879644) Homepage

        Um, I was referring to Direct, the "SSTS without the space shuttle" design, not the Ares I "Stick". I was looking at the actual design for Direct's J-130 model right here. [] It's a stage 1.5 design with all engines ground lit and the boosters jettisoned during flight, just like the SSTS.
        I do agree with your statement about the Ares I:

        I worked on Ares and know what the design is. That thing was a gigantic piece of crap just waiting to fail. Badly. From the barely stable structural dynamics of a 400ft long pencil flying at mach 6, to the ugliest, most disaster prone separation sequence; that design was doomed to fail.

        But that's not what I was talking about. :)

        Also, the very first class you take in Aerospace Engineering teaches you exactly why SSTO (single stage to orbit) is not as cost-effective as multiple stages. So your argument that this design is better because it doesn't need a second stage is not a good one. The design might be simpler and easier to build, but it requires so much more fuel per launch that it isn't worth it.

        As my argument about "single stage", I was referring to the fact that the design already gets 77mT to orbit with just a single (OK, 1.5 stage counting the SRB's) stage and that there was room for more growth, like a second stage, if you needed more lift and were willing to pay extra for it. Did I mention the option to use 5 segment SRB's? I could go on... It's just that the J-130 is the cheapest option for a new HLV, and it leverages all the work and research that went into the SSTS program, rather than throwing it away.

        That's a good thing, in my opinion.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:00PM (#32878886)

    and if the CCCP was still around then we may of been on mars by now!

  • 75 milliTeslas? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:11PM (#32879854)

    Seems a waste to develop a new rocket when 75 milliTeslas (75 mT) of magnetic flux density in the form of a neodymium magnet doesn't weigh much.

    One can only assume that the authors wished to express the SI related unit of 75 tonnes (75 t) or 75000 kg. Even in the US this unit is denoted by "t"

    "Metric System of Measurement: Interpretation of the International System of Units for the United States []" (PDF). Federal Register 63 (144): 40333–40340. July 28, 1998. 63 FR 40333.

  • by sl3xd ( 111641 ) * on Monday July 12, 2010 @07:27PM (#32880834) Journal

    It's hardly surprising to see Utah fighting to keep the original contracts. There are entire cities whose fate is tied to ATK launch systems. In a representative government, you have to represent the interests of your constituents; or at least pretend to. If a decision is made that will send entire cities into unemployment, your job is to represent and fight for those who face unemployment.

    The senators and congressmen of other states may not care what happens to thousands of people in Utah, it's not their job. On the other hand, you can't really fault the senators and congressmen of Utah for doing their job and fighting for the livelihood of thousands of their constituents.

    I'm sure the situation is the same for other Ares contractors.

    There's something to be said for honoring the contracts that have been signed for the constellation program. Otherwise, we end up with the same political patronage that plagued the presidencies of the early 1800's; states that favored the current president gets jobs, and states that didn't have jobs taken away. Whether justified or not (I bet it's not), one accusation being leveled against the Obama administration is that the decision was made to hurt states that didn't vote for him.

    The fact is that the Constellation program, while having NASA/government oversight, was designed by commercial entities, under contract. I just don't see how a rocket built designed and built by ATK & Boeing is "government", while SpaceX or Orbital is "commercial." They are both rockets designed and built by a corporation, and delivered to the government according to a contract.

    There actually is a commercial market for unmanned spaceflight. There is a market for sattelite launch.

    Manned spaceflight is a different matter entirely. There isn't a commercial reason to go to space - no untold fortunes to be had from resource collection (like metals or Helium-3), no riches to be had in exploring Mars or the moon... No interplanetary transportation of people between colonies, no transport of scientists to zero-g labs, etc. There are a few joy riders willing to spend a bit more than the launch cost, but that's not enough to justify the billions in investment. Truly "commercial" manned spaceflight shouldn't be completely dependent on the US Government. Sadly, that's all Oribal and SpaceX have for manned spaceflight. Trying to say they are somehow different from Boeing, Lockheed, or ATK is obfuscating the truth: That they are contractors to the government. Without the a government paying for manned spaceflight, SpaceX and Orbital have no way to turn a profit with manned spaceflight -- and neither does anybody else, for that matter.

    The SpaceX and Orbital are latecomers to the shuttle replacement game; they want a do-over because they were still exploding on the launch pad when the Ares contracts were given out. It seems to me that there's a lot of lobbying by SpaceX and Orbital to get government contracts taken from their competition, and reassigned to them. It's a money grab by SpaceX and Orbital, and a transparent one at that.

    If you weren't ready in time for the bidding, that's too bad; maybe next time.

  • Hidden agenda (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joh ( 27088 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @08:32PM (#32881516)

    Apart from the pork angle there's another thing: Even the original Bush plan for the Moon and Mars looked as if it were designed to get a heavy launcher at all costs. Now this. Really, building launchers at all is not something you need to be the US or Soviet Russia for. Every country not being exactly a developing country can do that now. Even private companies can do that.

    Building something able to launch really big payloads though is different. This is hard and expensive and has so few uses that nobody even tries. It has one really good use though: Fscking big military optical and radar spysats. If you want to have an optical spysat in GSO you need more than a few thousand pounds up there. And if you want to have radar spysats with high resolution you also need some serious power and antennas up there.

    Being able to launch 70 or more metric tons is something you can rely on nobody else that easily to repeat. And I think this was the real reason for Ares V and now for this. Having some really big eyes in the sky staring down hard day and night, *this* would make a difference. Everyone with half a brain can now time his operations so that no spysat is in the right place when he wants to get some things done without being seen.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll