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NASA: Maybe $200 Million for first private orbital flight

Posted by: Furious Broccoli - Tue Jun 22, 2004 10:05 am
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NASA: Maybe $200 Million for first private orbital flight 
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Post    Posted on: Mon Jul 26, 2004 1:22 am
Ekkehard Augustin

Well that all depends on the scope of the prize I suppose. One of the Centennial Challange proposals has to do with an imporved glove. Now that would help in construction, but the prize doesn't have to be "executed" in space. An appropriate vaccum chamber could be constructed for it.

The problwm with using the shuttle is that it is a scarce resource that won't be risked for any sort of "prize" endeavor. One of the elements of a successful prize is that the rules should not rule-out outlandish schemes or out-of-the-box thinking. The teams also have to be left alone during their "attempts." Look at daVinci, they might "attempt" without a test flight. Consider the problems that Armadillo has encountered, and even the methodical, careful SS1. NASA isn't going to risk the shuttle without getting too much engineering into the rules. With the X-prize, teams are risking their own equipment, necks, and money...they can try whatever they want--it's THEIR risk. Put the shuttle, or the ISS into the mix and things change GREATLY.

Now NASA could set all sorts of sub-level prizes that could aid orbital operations without risking the shuttle or ISS directly (such as the glove), or orbital rendevous (between two team supplied devices) kind of prize. It has to grab some imagination as well...

One idea I've recently been tinkering with is a prize to bring back a dead satellite already in orbit. It not only demonstrates a number of useful technological challenges, it puts a rabbit out front for teams to chase, allows for simplified rule definition, and provides a somewhat complelling narrative (depending on the situation). There's still problems with the idea, but it might be workable...


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Post    Posted on: Mon Jul 26, 2004 6:22 am
According to the media telling news about NASA, its budget and spacecrafts the Shuttle will be hold in service until an alternative spacecraft will be available. The only alternative available today are some vehicles only used for unmanned launches in the past. I don't wether they are Titans or Atlases but the astronauts don't like them as they are because the see a lack of safety. So setting the Shuttle out of service earlier than intended is proving to be difficult.

The proposal I described doesn't require any additional launch of the Shuttle out of the planned launches if it is reached privately until the lst planned launch. It requires only the Shuttle to leave in orbit after the last planned launch and its crew to return to earth by private spacecraft. This spacecraft is required to have at least eight seats - one for its pilot and seven for the Shuttle's crew. Burt Rutan is reported to think about a SS1 having six to ten seats - this doesn't mean that SS1 is fit to service the Shuttle but it is an example showing that a private spacecraft with the capacity required for servicing the Shuttle seems to be realistic.

Additionaly - if NASA is thinking about manned launches by other spacecrafts than the Shuttle they should take into account private spacecrafts right now and set out prizes by which private teams can prove their fitnes and ability to do service for NASA. The thinking about Shuttle versus Titan or Atlas is due to budget problems and safety problems of the Shuttle. At least concerning the budget problems it has to be checked wether private spacecrafts are less expensive than Titan or Atlas and if so the privates should be used.

The chances for the private crafts to be less expensive than Titan etc. are provided by space tourism etc.

To do like proposed will show wether the privates may be less expensive. So this prize may provide a realistic solution for the budget problems. And the Aldridge report is recommending the use of private spacecrafts and prizes.

What way the proposal may become convincing to NASA etc.?



Dipl.-Volkswirt (bdvb) Augustin (Political Economist)


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Post    Posted on: Mon Jul 26, 2004 8:56 am
In the recent budget appropriation, only the Shuttle was fully funded to the Administration's wishes. However, there are strong pressures to end Shuttle flights after the assembly of the ISS which is already been reduced according to the recent reports and partners are looking at crew transfers based on the Soyuz. It is entirely likely that the Shuttle would be out of the equation after ISS is done.

As for transporting Shuttle astronauts down to Earth, Irving has already highlighted the main point. It would be messing with NASA's people and hardware. Without doubt, if any private space vehicle is to transport NASA people and hardware, NASA will demand to have a full review of the vehicle. I am not implying that private vehicles are unsafe, but the safety review and standards set by NASA would be very very high. The bar might literally be set to so high that it would be impossible for a commercial launch company to meet in a long time without subsential investments, Boeing/Lockheed/ESA style.

There is a mis-match now, in the safety and testing levels between NASA projects and what is going on in the private sector. The NASA like solution of hundreds of ground crew and support staff can never be and should never be replicated by private companies because the overheads/bueracracy would kill any such projects. I don't know. Maybe this thing lies somewhere in between.

Secondly, I do not think ballastic type launch via Atlas/EELV is more unsafe as opposed to a Shuttle flight. Heck, the launch profile is well proven and worked for more than 50 years and the Constellation project as well as various X-Prize teams are also using it. Not to mention existing Chinese and Russian programs.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Jul 26, 2004 9:28 am
Hello, koxinga,

when I posted my answer this morning I didn't recognize that irving has answerd. Sorry, Irving, for that error. But there is a point I recognize right now - when the shuttle is going out of service this means economically that it is depreciated totally and NASA doesn't need it further for its space missions. So then leaving it in space doesn't mean no risk for NASA. The risk is the risk of the astronauts' lifes. Can the Shuttle be launched without crew? Has NASA equipment to return the crew without the Shuttle?

Your point is right, koxinga - it is implying the possibility that NASA is working at a level of costs to high under economic aspects and due to safety levels that are considered to be required. In short - not the launches and flights are expensive but the safety. As a consequence launches, spacecrafts and crews on the one side and safety on the other side shouldn't be in the responsibility of the same institution, organization or firm. But safety should be privatized to that degree that is possible.

The level of safety NASA likes may be due to be governmental which means to be forced to show the public for political reasons that the government doesn't never risk the astronauts' lifes really.

Your statement is partly highlighting an aspect I have been searching for since a long time - th structure of NASA's costs. And it is an argument assisting a statement of mine in a german fore - the statement that governmental space flights are economically less efficient due to politics.



But if not the Shuttle and not the ISS - what can be in its place within my proposal?



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Post    Posted on: Tue Jul 27, 2004 2:04 am
hello,

For this Centennial Challenges Program, I do not think NASA would be willing to put up any form of hardware. It would be a monetary incentive only program and would take the form of both manned and unmanned capability.

What you propose has merit especially for the private space industry because i believe what people really want is more than just a 5 min jaunt in zero G. But the problem is how do we structure it (orbit rendezvous, space walk) into a prize without undue complexity? My solution would be to team up with someone like Bigelow Aerospace to produce a basic 'test' station that will consist of a docking collar and a small tranhab, much like the subscale prototype which they will be launching soon. Whoever gets there first, wins. But honestly, i think they will offer something more simple, like orbital mission, long duration, unmanned lunar flyby etc etc.


As for safety levels, it is as you pointed out, government by political considerations. Loss of vehicle has always been a traumatic event and there is a strong desire to protect, not just the astronauts/vehicle but the entire space program. Failure is really not a option as it would give reasons for cancellation. Multiple redunadancies add to cost which was what partly got ESA Hermes cancelled after they tried to redesign the vehicle after Challenger. Safety is a serious issue that faces the private space industry as it seeks to establish credibility of its technology and business models in these early baby steps. Burning rockets crashing down on Earth with daytrippers will be to be a big setback for everyone. The trick is to build a acceptable level of reliability and safety without the excessive overheads. It is too early to talk about outsourcing/risk insurance at this point. I don't think any company will be willing to ensure the vehicle or its passengers at any point soon.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Jul 27, 2004 3:41 am
Ekkehard,

Remember the rules must be very simple, not lean towards any pre-concieved design, and must present something that the general public "gets it." To accomplish much of what your going for, I'd envision a 'Duration Prize." During the Cold War, one of the competitions between the US and the Soviets was long duration space flight. It's simple to understand and to judge--total number of days between launch and return. No engineering bias. No hidden rules that might favor one company over a another one.

Once a private company claims an Orbit Prize, and multiple companies are able to make orbit somewhat regularly...then perhaps a Duration Prize would fit the bill. If the duration is set correctly, then teams would have to demonstrate hardware reliability & re-supply...and maybe even inflight repair.

One possible variant would be to allow multi-passenger hardware to be additive. i.e. 3 people for 1 day is equivilant to 1 person for 3 days. Teams would probably arrive at an optimal configuration of crew-size versus flighttime. If the number was set with care, it might spur designs/attempts that construct 5, 7 or 10 person configurations which would lead to solving a basic question for an eventual space tourism market--How do you support a large number of people for a respectable length of time?


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Post    Posted on: Tue Jul 27, 2004 7:25 am
Hello, koxinga,

concerning safety I didn't think about ensurance and the like - you will be right at that point as long as ensurance is what it is today. But this is changing.

I'm thinking about another aspect concerning safety - in none of the both Shuttle catastrophies the staff of NASA has been of any use. Between launch and landing it can't do nothing and exactly within that phase the catastrophies were taking place. And they never would have been able to repair the damage if they had discovered it when the Shuttle Columbia was in orbit.

So the methods, ways, infrastructures, organization, applied technologies etc. have to be changed. And the ensurance companies are changing from financing recovery from damage to providing prevention of damage and sending experts of prevention and repair - in general. One day in the next years it will be valid concerning spacecrafts and their freight too.

The staff is too much due to psychology and politics and not sufficiently oriented to repair, safety assistance in orbit and prevention of catastrophies at launch or landing. And the most of this doesn't require human equipment but technological equipment.

But I'm discussing aspects now that haven't to do anything with prizes I suppose. Might safety be a possible subject of prizes?



Irving,

your answer is meeting some thoughts I posted in other parts of this message board. What has been said in this discussion concerning NASA and saftey makes me doubt wether NASA will make use by private spacecrafts any day in the future and wether NASA will follow the recommendations of the Aldridge commission. It seems to be the responsibility of the US government itself, the responsibility of the President of the United States himself to privatize all concrete space activities - the NASA itself never will do that. What about that?



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Post    Posted on: Tue Jul 27, 2004 9:45 pm
No, NASA will never support a privatization scheme that puts itself out of a job (or any part of itself). That's not how government agencies work. They're all about empire building and turf defending. Now NASA probably wouldn't mind ADDING a Prize Management Beauracracy to it's mission quiver, setting up a Prize Management Headquarters, engineering arm, evaluation group, and staffing it with a 100 or so people...


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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 12:34 pm
So what will be the fate of the Aldridge report that is recommending prizes too? Is it to be considered to be adreesed to the Congress and the President, to the genral public and the tax payers?

Someone has to do something useful with it.

But - is the privatization scheme really putting NASA out of job? Your'e mentioning something quite familiar to me - in my job as well as from Economics - it's the political behaviour of bureaucracies to be expected. But what the privatization scheme does is shifting the job of NASA and not removing the job in general. The area the job is being shifted to might be something NASA and its staff its engineers consider as more sophisticated, being at a higher level and providing more responsibility and power... Someone has to create acceptance at NASA - perhaps the President, the Congress and the Aldridge Commision might work together to achieve that acceptance required.

Under this aspects - it's remarkable, thta Dr. Diamandis gave testimony to the congress and not to NASA and the Foundation was on the Centennial Challenges workshop of NASA too.

Might that work?



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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 2:36 pm
hello,

The status of the prize money is being 'considered' again. Basically, the Appropriation committee did not approve of it but NASA is sending back in to the Congress for a second try.

You can read about it here. here

Actually, when we discuss the 'private' industry, we are actually making is distinction of a unique new non-traditional industry. The 'private' space industry already exist now but they are as much the problem as NASA. It is people like Boeing / Lockheed, the traditional military-industrial complexes. These entities, in some way, operates in the same fashion as NASA with the same level of bureracy (and some of their people are ex-NASA anyway). Basically, economics drives their behaviour. To 'sell' to NASA, you have to accept their level of safety and operations. There is no incentive for them to do a cutting edge and unproven design if it means the NASA evaluation board is not going to select them. Having a de-facto duopoly situation in the States does not help. There are exceptions and new comers like Orbital but these are far and few (see Beal Aerospace)

If you want to discuss the economics of the industry, i guess what i see is the opening up of non-traditional markets and customers. The traditional market consist of NASA, military, goverment and telecommunications companies. The market place is therefore structured to 'sell' to these consumers. In business terms, the incumberent companies have sewed up the market to themselves and set the barriers of entry and cost of competition to be high.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 28, 2004 6:07 pm
desertbadger wrote:
That would be a terrible waste of good government surplus.


*heh* That it would. But I don't think they would give it to you or me, either :)

But speaking of Hubble... what if we kind of expanded the original concept. Instead of proving you could service the shuttle, prove you can service Hubble. That would be useful.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Jul 29, 2004 6:59 am
Hello, koxinga,

yes - you're right. And this might have consequences not desired by the XPRIZE Foundation - because of the significant differences of scale, know how etc. between the established NASA-oriented space industry like Boeing/Lockheed and the firms and teams like those competing for the XPRIZE today a 200 million dollar-prize set out by NASA (initial proposal) probably allways will go to the established industry firms and that will prevent the public from the orbit. The established firms were part of the Aldridge commission - and they proposed prizes - to win them theirselves perhaps? Might be - we have to read the report I think.

What might be done to reduce disadvantages between the established and the new that are due to power etc.?



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Post    Posted on: Thu Jul 29, 2004 2:40 pm
Hello Ekkehard,

Right now, I do not think these traditional space launch industries feel threaten by the XPrize. Different target markets. But someone like SpaceX if they succeed will change the way the space launch market works. SpaceX was not the first. Andrew Beal had tried previously and i was really hoping for it.


I have no previous knowledge of the launch market so it is very hard for me to understand why the customers choose certain launchers over the other. While price plays a factor, i think others things like location, schedule plays a factor. What NASA and other customers like DOD can do to help is abit tricky. It boils down to what sort of requirements and standards they have and how they make the selection. Fairer competition so to speak. Ask SpaceX. They have complained abt the way NASA awarded a contract to Kistler without any competition. This sort of behaviour and lack of transparency is the last thing NASA to start to do.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Jul 29, 2004 10:58 pm
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Ask SpaceX. They have complained abt the way NASA awarded a contract to Kistler without any competition. This sort of behaviour and lack of transparency is the last thing NASA to start to do.

You bring up an interesting point. Is it better for NASA to try to aid the new space industry or to retain the traditional government practices of acting slowly, deliberately, and fairly (what some would call "politically correct") The Kistler event is a great example. NASA awarded Kistler a contract, SpaceX protested, and now no one gets the contract. So what's the moral? Next time, NASA shouldn't even bother trying to help these companies? Or that NASA should take the time to do a competition, thus spending many more months with paperwork?


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Post    Posted on: Fri Jul 30, 2004 2:18 am
hello Legionnaire,

It depends on how you look at it. Who's fault is it? I don't see having fair and transparent competition equals long paperwork and red tape. The two does not have to work against each other.

I am bias to this because my previous work involved tenders for my government (ain the States if you are wondering). We are both fair and transparent and fast 8) ! Our statement of requirement, our Invitation to Tender to the industry and our evaluation procedure was above board and everyone we worked with knew we awarded fairly and our procedures was clean and tight. Paperwork is inevitable in this line but i know it can be done fairly and it can be done in reasonable time.

The moral is how NASA should put in place workable, clear equal opportunity competition rules. The question is, does it have the motivation and desire to do so? Your guess is as good as mine.


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