back to article NASA 'deep space' ship: Humans beyond orbit by 2020?

NASA has declared that its pork-tastic Orion moonship – whose primary mission disappeared with President Obama's decision that there will be no manned US return to the Moon – is now to be a "deep space transportation system", suggesting that the agency plans to send it on missions beyond Earth orbit. Concept pic showing Orion …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Quicker.. faster route into deep space

    Just ask our Eben friends for a lift, next time they visit and think of the cost savings......

    Mine's the one with the extra big thumb...

    1. Colin Brett


      Don't you mean Dentrassi?


  2. Anonymous Coward

    Having worked for NASA

    The best thing for the Space Program is to minimize NASA involvement in the design and building of spacecraft. The people there want to tweak things continuously for trivial reasons, and have zero clue as to how doing that affects costs. So they just do it because they can. The best and the brightest stopped going to work for NASA back in the 70''s when Apollo was shut down. If the move to commercial systems had taken place in the 70's, I have no doubt that we'd already have colonies on the moon with people having even been born there.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Your unteamplaying is worthy of a Review Item Discrepancy!

      Please put it into the Software Requirement Review document version 1.4, annex B [Excel Sheet], then drive 200 miles to see me for a 2-h meeting.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        @Destroy All Monsters

        My my, someone has been reading their NASA standard terminology manual.

    2. Mike Flugennock

      best'n'brightest left NASA in the '70s?

      Stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the as-flown STS Orbiter designed by Max Faget -- the same engineer who designed the Apollo CSM? As I recall, when the first series of Apollo CSM concepts were submitted by the aerospace "majors", it was said that any kind of design would be considered as long as it matched Faget's Apollo concept.

      Also, I'm still amazed to this day that an engineer as bright as Faget would design an orbital spaceplane with no crew escape system. I remember watching the first launch of Columbia in '81, and being rather boggled with the thought that they were launching a brand-new spacecraft for the first time with a live crew aboard, and that there was NO GODDAMN' ESCAPE SYSTEM, f'cripesake. Even as I marveled at the awesomeness of the sight of a Shuttle launch, in the back of my mind I was guessing when they'd have their first LOV&C incident (or, as the NASA boys so elegantly put it, A Very Bad Day).

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        @Mike Flugennock

        "Stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the as-flown STS Orbiter designed by Max Faget -- "

        You're wrong.

        Like various other NASA projects the same name has been applied to several different vehicles which changed out of all recognition between proposal and implementation.

        Faget's *original* shuttle design was for a straight wing low cross range, low wing loading "space truck." with a 20Klb payload pay launched as the 2nd stage of a 2 stage manned vehicle (*both* using the same SSME with different nozzles) and IIRC having jet engines in case they fluffed the landing and had to make another pass.

        Faget's plan was to have a descent *so* mild that the wing top surfaces would not even *need* thermal protection.

        However his entry maneuver was considered pretty sporty and prone to stall, which made the pilots of the astronaut corp nervous.

        And then the merry men of Tricky Dicky's OMB got busy with a few "revisions"...

        Not quite what you see when a Shuttle takes off, is it?

      2. Stevie Silver badge


        Apollo didn't have a crew escape system either, it had a Command Module escape system. If the escape tower system were to have malfunctioned, the crew would have been up a certain creek without any propulsion means.

        As I understand it, one problem is that making holes in spacecraft for doors and hatches and stuff makes them that much more dangerous and likely to fail (though I'm not an aerospace engineer).

        With the shuttle there is the added problem that everyone is buried deep in the body of the thing.

        I'm not saying that it shouldn't have been a concern, but there must be some reason that crew ejector systems haven't been tried anywhere but on Gemini spacecraft.

        I expect it has to do with the killing-on-ejection speed the vehicle might be expected to be doing when things go wahoonie shaped. The air might as well be brick at those sorts of speed.

        But again, I am not trained in the field and don't know why things went the way they did, design wise.

        As for Challenger, that was lost because the almighty bottom line was elevated above the importance of the safety factors and the lives of the crew.

        Entirely avoidable, entirely predictable, absolutely disgraceful.

      3. David 164 Bronze badge

        It was meant to operate like a passenger jet.

        The shuttle was design to be like a passenger plane.

        An passenger planes do not have any escape system once they are flying, same as the shuttle. An that why there is no escape system included on the shuttle.

  3. Colin Brett

    "This is certainly a long way off."

    Picture 3's caption is definitely a long way off. It looks like they're orbiting Tatooine!

    Alien Icon because we don't have a Hutt.


  4. Mike Brown

    Privitise NASA

    The days of western governments "reaching for the stars" is long gone. the only reason they were doing it was to beat the dasdardly reds. Now that that isnt a priorty they have almost zero reason to fund the missions most of us lot would love to see. Private corps are the way to go now. Obama should massivly reduce NASA's headcount and subcontract to these new space companies. Hats off to Musk and his team, they may be standing on the shoulders of giants but they are doing it with aplom.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Only problem is...

      Companies are there to make money - normally for shareholders - not to take huge, expensive flights of fancy. After all, spaceflight isn't cheap - it's absurdly expensive just to put a satellite into geostationary orbit.

      Musk is merely (ha!) building the tools so that others can stump up the big bucks to actually go out there and fly the missions. I'm sure he intends to get his money back. Maybe if it's deemed financially viable to go out and pick up raw materials from asteroids, then private industry will pick up the baton. Until then, though, the government penny is the only one that will pay.

      Sure, NASA could probably do with a bit of thinning out, and private industry could reasonably build the tools required, but governments have a greater incentive to fund deep-space missions than private companies.

      That's the way I see it, at least.

      1. Captain Thyratron

        Greater incentive?

        Like what? Name a single one!

        Space exploration has stagnated precisely because it has relied on whether governments can find such an incentive. Everything substantial costs effort and resources to acquire and make, and rockets, being among the most tedious and expensive things in the world to make, are as bound to this as anything.

        The cold war is over, and every politically convenient reason that might have helped push scientific progress into deep space has vanished--or do you think the general public actually cares about that when their national pride is no longer being measured against another superpower? A far better source of money--and someone has to pay for it, somehow--is not the inefficient, bureaucracy-clogged, slow, generally space- and science-disinterested funding apparatus of the US (or any) federal government, but people and companies with money who will hand it over to whichever people require the least of it to get a payload into space, whether commercial or scientific.

        Musk knows the same thing Wal-Mart does: If you charge less by the right amount, you can make more money by drawing business away from relatively expensive competitors. When your competitors are comprised almost entirely of long-established aerospace contractors that have not had to worry about running efficiently for decades, it doesn't take much of a difference. He's not losing money by doing this, in hopes of making it back later. He's set to make the stuff hand over fist--by charging less. The financial environment of space exploration and aerospace research as we know it is unnatural, and arose only because, for a time, the technology was so expensive that it took nothing less than the budget of a superpower (back when it still had a red, hammer-and-sickle-adorned fire under its ass) to so much as get the field started. That's not true anymore.

        You want astronauts exploring asteroids? Find a way for somebody to make a buck in the process, and it'll happen--and it'll be easier than convincing some world government to fund such a program.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Up

          @Captain thyratron

          "Musk knows the same thing Wal-Mart does: If you charge less by the right amount, you can make more money by drawing business away from relatively expensive competitors. "

          He's actually making a *bigger* gamble than that.

          A key reason why companies charge what they do is their customer analysis says business *only* improves when costs drop by a *lot*

          *Not* the 50% that the EELV programme was designed to give NRO/USAF flights.

          I'm talking 1000% or to put it a more useful way price has to drop to 1/10 current market levels for the demand to start *steeply* rising.

          Musk reckons at 3-4 F9Heavy launches a year he can get that down to $1000/lb, which is something of a magic number in the launch market.

          Big risk (although the bookings taken by Virgin Galactic suggest there *are* quite a few people who would want to *go* to orbit, rather than just look at pictures of it).

          Big reward.

    2. David 164 Bronze badge

      He would if he could

      An Obarma would most likely do that if he could get away with it. In fact he probably reduce NASA role to research and exploration only, again if he could get away with it.

      Unfortuantly the Senators in Washington just see NASA as an employment agency for there local voters and care nothing about exploration.

      If NASA has sense it would scrap the orion, and all of it own internal cost plus profits rocket building programme.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Mike Brown

      The commonly suggested proposal is to return to its roots as the NACA, providing impartial R&D to *all* players in the US aircraft industry. What might be called pre-competitive research. Not priatisation, re-focusing their operations onto core objectives.

      This would leave the manned spaceflight centres looking vulnerable. However Marshall does have some unique facilities (but would need a slim down, not something Sen. Dick will tolerate easily) and could offer their services to anyone who wanted mission planning done for complex missions with multiple payloads. JPL would remain in probes and remote sensing (but presumably would not be tied to NASA only launch vehicles).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...what its destination might be..."

    Maybe they found this? LOL

    1. Mike Flugennock

      Hey, man, where'd you find that icon?

      I don't see it in the icon menu below, here. You crafty bastard.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        That's an easy one

        Post as an AC, I reckon.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hey, man, where'd you find that icon?

        Because we hacked El Reg, being Legion and all.

  6. Beachrider

    There is a clearer explanation in the USA media...

    The USA media shares the same fact-set listed in the article, but the inferences are quite different:

    1) SpaceX is about putting people & supplies in the ISS. That is the ONLY contract that they have with NASA. Perhaps they have others with the EU, but I don't know of them.

    2) The American post-shuttle 'supplies' mechanism is coming online. It is designed to take-hold once the EU mechanism 'serves' its 3-mission role (which is active right now).

    3) The Russians will have sole-ownership of human transport for three years. It would be less if SpaceX can get human-certified within the year. Having SpaceX get certified that fast is clearly the 'best case' scenario, but their suborbital and orbital technology has been looking quite good.

    4) The NASA Authorization act of 2010 was signed 7 months ago. It is not new-news. It documents the MPCV (son of Orion) and its SLS lifters. The human part-capsule is not-much-changed from Orion, but its hatch structure, command module structure and escape-system are very different. The SLS lifters won't be ready by 2016 without an increase in NASA funding. 2016 earlier than Ares 5 would have been ready. The big difference is that the USA is abandoning the Ares 1 (human rated) lifter and speeding-up the SLS (similar lift to Ares 5, but now with a human rating).

    5) MPCV is not about the ISS, it is about deep space. It COULD go to ISS, but it is not cost-structured for that mission, the commercial stuff is. The USA doesn't want to go back to the moon, because colonization of the Moon is too expensive for what you get. They are looking at asteroids or Mars's moon Deimos. Those Martian orbiters have been collecting a lot of info about preferred approaches to colonizing the Mars-area. I suppose that we will hear more about it as the data-gathering progresses.

    I hope that helps...

    1. David 164 Bronze badge

      Perhaps it is old news

      It old news. but I think most people was expecting NASA and the Whitehouse to have found some way to avoid wasting all this money on projects which are not needed and are not probably funded to begin with. It seem they could not. I personally thought they would try and delay any spending of money until at least 2013, by that stage Falcon Heavy Lift may have prove itself, and then NASA could easily abandon at least the SLS, saving several billion dollars at least. But now we know NASA is almost certain to wast billions spent on a programme which may not be needed at all, all that money down the drain to keep a few senators in congress happy.

      NASA could have everything that the SLS is capable of doing, in Falcon Heavy. If the project is successful, and it should be as it is just strapping 3 Falcon 9s together with some a bit of extra plumbing to link the fuel tanks together, the SLS is just money down the drain as Falcon Heavy will cost just a fraction of SLS running costs, estimated to be over half a billion per launch, some have suggest 3 quarters to a billion per launch, and you do not get anything back for the next launch. Even if SpaceX triple its current prices they still provide by far the cheaper option.

      1) SpaceX is about putting people & supplies in the ISS. That is the ONLY contract that they have with NASA. Perhaps they have others with the EU, but I don't know of them.

      But they are not stopping there, they are developing Falcon Heavy, with there own cash. For NASA to just ignore them, which they seem to have done, shows how well or in this case how badly NASA is run. Falcon 9 has been proven a success, if NASA was smart they would wait and see if they are as success with the Falcon Heavy, with a heavy bet that they will be.

      As the point made the only current missions for the MPCV is the ISS, there nothing else even on the Horizon, if it not going to the ISS then it effectively sitting on the ground, an on Nasa time table until after 2023. As this meant to be ready by 2016 that 7 years just sitting there with nothing to do.

      By the time NASA would even have the money to use it for anything, most likely the MPCV would need an upgrade anyway to take advantage of some of the new technologies available. An MPCV is design to use chemical rockets only, not the VASMIR drive equip with a nuclear power plant for instant. Now it be stupid not to use something like the VASMIR drives on beyond Earth orbit especially if the tests to run it on the International Space station are proven successful, I believe this is to be carried out by 2014. This would make the MPCV even more obsolete than it already is.

      To me it look like NASA is running two programmes, the private industry led approach, with NASA backing private projects such as Ad Astra and SpaceX, which are looking likely to have the capabilities to take us to Mars in the foreseeable future.

      Why also funding a second programme, basically as an employment programme design to win votes for congressman and repay Boeing an co bribes I mean election funds, rather than actually doing anything useful in space in the foreseeable future. According to this article sometime after 2023 according to NASA current time table.

  7. Mike Flugennock

    bleak literary analogies

    For the past decade, I've felt that living in the USA was like living in a Margaret Atwood novel. On top of that, Obama's "vision" for space exploration has also made me feel as if I were living in a Stephen Baxter story, which almost too damn' much to handle.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Mike Flugennock

      "has also made me feel as if I were living in a Stephen Baxter story, which almost too damn' much to handle."

      Except in Stephen Baxter's novels NASA manages to *launch* something. Admittedly quite a few of the crew end up dead but they manage to *achieve* a goal.

      IRL NASA has managed to avoid killing any crew for quite a while but continued to spend money and not really achieved very much. IIRC $11.4Bn of cash into Constellation got 1 test flight.

  8. crowley
    Thumb Up

    Have I missed something?

    It seems to me that the SLS isn't being built yet, and that the story effectively tells Musk to go ahead and plough resources into the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, because NASA's going ahead with Orion and so he needn't divert too much resource on Dragon capsule right now.

    If Musk focuses on Falcon Heavy and gets it ready, NASA can drop the SLS in 2016, thus guaranteeing SpaceX the return they need to fund Dragon thereafter.

    Then shortly after Falcon Heavy/Orion can get on with initial work on deep space efforts, with NASA ploughing ex-SRS money into better things - such as a LaGrange point station, asteroid mining kit, and maybe kit to process mined material into fuel, etc.

    But, if Musk can't make the deadline, the pork will go into SRS and the whole deep space effort will get kicked into the long grass for a while longer.

    Nice to see Lewis have a go at US pork for a change, but it doesn't seem that bad to me - but then, that's why I ask - have I missed something?

    1. David 164 Bronze badge

      The law is the law I am afraid.

      Except congress made it law that Nasa has to produce a SLS, even if there alternatives on the market, such as the Falcon Heavy.

      In fact Nasa only needs to wait 18 months to 24 months to see if Falcon Heavy will be successful. It seems a wast of fund to even think about the SLS at this stage. But NASA need to follow the law and the law requires them to produce a SLS for about 10 billion dollars.

  9. Beachrider

    Wow, that is a lot of assumptions...

    You can certainly have your personal hopes, but we are discussing the rationale behind the October 2010 NASA decisions. Your hopes have the following issues:

    - Falcon Heavy is NOT human rated, only Falcon 9 is planning that. There are no stated activities change Falcon Heavy, yet.

    - SpaceX has separate plans, just like any commercial venture. Those plans are the topic of conjecture from bloggers, even though SpaceX hasn't officially released data.

    - Please read the NASA bill. MPCV is NOT about going to the ISS. It COULD go there, but its cost structure is too high, compared to (hopefully successful) commercial alternatives (like SpaceX). Assuming that MPCV will make-its-living going to the ISS is simply ignoring what NASA is saying.

    - NASA has interacted with a large number of private operations since project Mercury. COTS is all about getting to the ISS with commercial vehicles. MPCV is about deep space. Ion-rockets & other things COULD be used for trans-planetary path speed. We certainly need SOMETHING for human transport over such huge distances. SLS is about trans-planetary path insertion, though.

    - MPCV has another critical specification in the NASA 2010 spec. MPCV is only designed for 21-day missions. Anything that goes much beyond Earth-moon space will need something else for the longer trip.

    - SLS could certainly fail or be late or whatever. Neither one of us really knows if it will fail or how-late it could be. NASA needs more money to hit the 2016 time-bogey, they have been clear on that.

    - The assumptions that NASA is about technology employment without commensurate benefit to society is an OLD argument. NASA has many proven benefits to its programs.

    1. David 164 Bronze badge

      Mensk already talking about using it for Mars missions

      Mensk was talking about using Falcon Heavy for Mars missions. Which does kind of suggest he plans to get Falcon Heavy Human rated at some point.

      Also Falcon heavy is just three Falcon nines strap together, getting human rated will not be that difficult as they are all being built with the same systems and designs.

  10. Alan Brown Silver badge

    EU 3 mission mechanism

    Is just the trial period. There will be more.

    The cargo haulers are quite capable of being extended to:

    1: Lifting people (but man-rating reduces capacity - people don't react well to acclerations over 3G - and it increases costs)

    2: Reentry and recovery of hardware/experiments.

    The only question is..... would you go into space in something built by italian engineers?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Alan Brown

      "The only question is..... would you go into space in something built by italian engineers?"

      Do you know what a large chunk of OSC's CCDev is based on and where it's made?

    2. Cochituate

      it's built by Itlian Engineers

      Well, the reusable shipping containers brought to orbit multiple times (named after Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles) were all built by Italian engineers, and one of them is permanently attached to the ISS, so I guess my answer is that I would. I think they also built most of the connector modules. Not sure what they'd be called in the world of Legos.

  11. Beachrider

    Uplevel to Human Rating...

    I agree with Alan Brown. There are key things that would need change though. The emergency crew rescue system for Dragon would have to be drastically enlarged to enable capsule separation from Falcon Heavy under maximum thrust, quite a bigger thing than on Falcon 9. The launch pad would be quite different, too.

    Best of luck to them, though. Anything to get my taxes down!

    I just don't think that NASA expects them to perfect all of this with an MPCV, either. MPCV is quite a bit larger than Dragon and can do 21 day missions.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    to see a bit about why NASA is *still* basically funding 75% of Constellation

    Start here.

    Check the *size* of those earmarks.

    And to see what one of the Augustine committee thought about Ares/Orion you might find this helpful.

    It helps to know that the process of setting the US budget is (unless you're an America presumably) insane.

    The President, Congress and Senate can *all* put out budget proposals. The President can veto a budget (but that just puts it back to square one) and can't get

    Senators on "oversight" committees associated with different subjects have *substantial* power and tend to be keen to "support" their local Big Aerospace supplier(s).

    Hence it's not too surprising that sometimes the SLS is referred to as the "Shelby Launch System" after the ever busy Senator for the area.

  13. Beachrider

    NASA Budget...

    No need to use someone's characterization of the budget. NASA publishes it here:

    the MPCV is $200Mln less that John Smith's document

    the rocket is unchanged.

    Sometimes 'earmark' is used to characterize a rider in a budget for something that doesn't belong with the larger budgeted item. In this case, all major activities are listed in the budget, so I guess it would be a list of earmarks.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      Firstly it's not my document, it's written by the Space Access Society. They've been around for about 20 years and they're certainly more experienced at reading (and reading between the lines of) NASA's appropriations and requests than I am.

      "the MPCV is $200Mln less that John Smith's document

      the rocket is unchanged."

      In the sense that it is pointless and simply designed to ensure continued jobs, primarily at Marshall and ATK I agree. President Obama *directed* NASA shift funds to systems research and shut down constellation. This being America and with such large chunks of cash on the table that was unlikely to be the end of it. Jeff Greason's comment that it looked more like a case of baby-wants-his-rattle-and-he-wants-it-now seems quite apt.

      "Sometimes 'earmark' is used to characterize a rider in a budget for something that doesn't belong with the larger budgeted item."

      Quite so. It is also used in the sense of *forcing* the use of funds for a *specific* purpose within a government institution *despite* those funds either not being requested in the first place or requested for other purposes.

      I gather the feature of such clauses is the use of the word "Shall" rather than something less directorial such as "requested."

      In the context of the NASA budget it is being used in the 2nd meaning. A civilian launch development project *does* belong in the NASA budget *if* it belongs *anywhere* in the US government budget.

      The question is *does* it belong anywhere? A NASA *designed* launch vehicle, operated on NASA pads (by USA personnel of course who are *already* a public company) launching a NASA designed (or rather re-designed from Orion) capsule.

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    The world does not move linearly.

    This all assumes that the whole monetary system of the US won't go titsup before 2020 and cause the Federal Gummint to pull the plug on adventures abroad and up high as irate mobs of heavily armed but recently pensionless baby boomers burn down congressmens' mansions [discovering large freezers full of now worthless cash I would hazard].

    The odds for that, I would say, are far, far better than even.

    Roosevelt managed to enter World War II so the facts about his economic and political insanity managed to be rather conveniently elided from history. This time, the band will play in the open.

  15. Rattus Rattus

    I'm so tired of politics derailing science projects

    We should have had a moonbase for twenty years now, and there should already be manned ships about to make Mars orbital insertion. We also should already have multiple robot landers on Europa, Ganymede and Titan at the very least.

    I blame Nixon first and foremost, then every US president after him for completely failing to have vision.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      They weren't kings.

      Blame the people who voted for them, and blame the America that lost the will to bring the awesome future we imagined closer to the present.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: science projects

      You may blame Nixon, but a quick look at the finances shows clearly that manned spaceflight is far more expensive than robot missions. The reason you haven't had the multiple landers on various moons is because the lion's share of the cash was spent "preparing" for that moonbase and Mars mission.

    3. Peter Murphy

      I don't blame Nixon by himself. I blame the Vietnam War.

      The US government blew $111 billion of their cash on the war - $686 billion in today's dollars. My rough estimate of the total NASA expenditure for '65-'75 is about $50 billion in their dollars.

      A lot of cash that could have gone into moonbases and rocket landers was blown on Napalm, Agent Orange, and unexploded ordinance, and about 2 million extra deaths in what was quaintly known as "Indochina".

      Blame Nixon, or Johnson, or Kennedy or MacNamara or Kissinger, or even useless South Vietnamese leaders like Nguyễn Văn Thiệu (forcing the US had to prop them up with their own troops). Or maelevolent Northern Vietnamese leaders like Lê Duẩn (forcing the US to send in more and more troops against them).

      But I prefer to blame the war. It's the damned war that moved budget money from NASA to the military.

  16. Ronny Cook


    I persist in thinking of the Orion spacecraft as the concept design driven by nukes and a BIG pusher-plate. It appeared, amongst other places, in the Niven/Pournell SF collaboration "Footfall".

    I only know of one instance in fiction where an Orion design spacecraft takes off from Earth (that being Footfall, again) for fairly obvious reasons. Apparently it was a serious proposal in the late 50s however.

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Scrapping the "Shelby Amendment" would seem to be a good start.

    I'm not an American but as I understand when the US legislature (the whole bunch of President, Congress and Senators) can't agree on a new budget they issue a series of financial band aids called "Continuing resolutions," basically saying continue at last years level.

    These have funded NASA at the 2010 level set in NASA's Appropriations act. It also leaves in force an amendment to the act included by Sen Richard Shelby (Rep Alabama). Senator Dick's clause *stops* Constellation work being shut down by NASA while the CR means it *continues* to be funded *at* that level.

    *Any* CR could have contained a repeal clause to shut this down and stop NASA p***ing this money away and let them do something useful with it. So far none has.

    I'd suggest American tax payers could save NASA (but probably not all its jobs in Alabama) and themselves a ton of money by scrapping Senator Dick, but that might be viewed as inciting domestic terrorism.

    So perhaps they should vote to their local representative and *politely* request the next CR (or the new budget) *dump* this. NASA did *not* ask for this. It's driven by the large snouts of some *very* big porkers in Big Aerospace.

    Thanks to Jeff Foust for the crash course in govt finance.

    To get a flavor of the way he operates having got the clause in he then votes *against* the act (although knowing there were enough people on board to get it passed) so he can look good with voters as "Fiscally responsible."


    For a 3 min outline of the system of what the Augustine commission came up with

    Note this requires 3 sizes of launchers they called the 25,75 and 150 metric ton sizes.

    Falcon 9 Heavy *is* a 25mt launcher (as AFAIK is Delta IV Heavy) and Elon Musk announced that they have a small ($300k) NASA study contract to work out how to get to the 75mt size.

    The *big* difference is the actual *exploration* part can start with *existing* or near existing launch vehicles on *existing* or near existing US production lines (and yes that sort of "bulk" buying *does* lower unit cost) *now*.

    Deep space by 2020. Not on Senator Dick's road map.

  18. Beachrider

    Deep space by 2020 isn't on ANYONE's map...

    The official information in the NASA budget has deep space hardware beginning testing no-earlier-than 2016. The more-general info on their 'timelines' shows real deep space missions happening after-2020, so it is good that Senator Dick to go along. Any adventures in the area of Mars show as after-2030.

    The timelines went out in press information with the 2010 NASA act, but they don't have budgeting or force-of-law.

    The NASA budget doesn't have force-of-law, either. It just means that deviations from the numbers require justification and could be denied.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "he NASA budget doesn't have force-of-law,"

      Budget no.

      *Appropriations* Act. Yes. I believe the clue is in the word "Act," as in Act of Congress.

  19. Beachrider

    The ACT numbers are already modified...

    The NASA Authorization ACT is what was signed in October 2010. The Budget Appropriation was just signed in April. The numbers from the ACT have already been overridden.

    That is what I was talking about. It just happens like that.

    You can see the ACT here:

    I earlier showed you the budget. The Budget overrides...

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Some notes on man-rating

    This process was developed by NASA in the early 1960's *originally* to asses what needed to be done to convert ICBM's into man carrying vehicles.

    Today a *lot* of this can be designed into a launch vehicle from day 1 at *no* cost to design time but a *potential* reduction in payload mass.

    Key points.

    Safety factor has to be 1.4, rather than 1.25.

    Multiple redundant launch vehicle guidance system. More generally no single point failures.

    Emergency detection system and display wired to the crew capsule. Typically the outcome of a detailed Failure Effects Mode Analysis to identify what parts failures would cause a flight failure and where to place additional sensors to detect them. So additional wiring (although a modern 1773 FO network cable in non-compatible mode is good to 20Mbs and 2 of them will not weigh much either).

    Emergency escape system to do something about it.

    Note that if you have an *existing* fully developed ELV (like Delta IV and Atlas V developed under the EELV programme) and good telemetry you could just design the capsule to *fit* them rather than spec a whole new LV. A design that is *already* flying is *known* safe, a paper design *might* be safe.

    I'm less aware of what constitutes man rating on a rocket engine. More specifically why the J2-X *is* man rated (but mostly built of parts of an RS68) while the RS68 (from the Delta IV vehicle) is not. The relevant standard is I believe NPR 8705.02A, along with NASA-STD-5012.

    Note that for quite a lot of people the performance hit taken to carry any additional "human rating" hardware would be balanced by a *significantly* improved chance of getting their $1Bn satellite into orbit.

    As other have noted Shuttle was *not* man rated (various reasons. SRB's you can't shut down at will, no escape system over a large part of its flight plan). Falcon 9 *is* and given Musk's ambition Falcon 9 Heavy *will* be.

  21. Beachrider

    Falcon Heavy and a NASA 'manned' rating...

    Falcon 9 is working to become man-rated with its Dragon capsule. It isn't done yet, but looks promising. I hope that it saves TONS of my tax dollars for traffic to the ISS. That is what they were designed to do.

    Discussing whether the space shuttle has human-rating is akin to discussing whether Isaac Newton knew about Special Relativity. The Space Shuttle CAUSED the need for NASA to develop human-rating. Amongst other things, human rating is supposed to reduce rocket failure by 90% over existing technology.

    Dragon has NO chance on getting to trans-planetary targets. Perhaps some day it will have a follow on that does. Falcon Heavy has an interesting lift plan, but no one is planning the use of it to get MPCV to trans-planetary flight paths. A couple of bloggers are musing about it, though.

    Were it possible that Falcon Heavy were planned for MPCV, I would be joyous.

    MPCV is working on getting

  22. A J Stiles
    Thumb Down

    Please, less with the sexist language already

    Please, please, for the love of all that's sane and wholesome, can we all just start saying "staffed" or "crewed" missions, instead of "manned" ?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @A J Stiles

      "Crew" would be the gender neutral term but this process has been around for a *long* time.

      It dates from the days of the "Mercury 7" (or rather Mercury 13 until NASA got cold feet at the prospect of smallish chunks of American womenhood falling from the sky in a failed launch).

      Things might change in another generation or so.


    2. Steven Roper
      Thumb Down

      Please, less with the political correctness already

      That "words and women" feminist claptrap went out back in the 90s. Please try to keep up.

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    "Falcon 9 is working to become man-rated with its Dragon capsule. It isn't done yet,"

    True. My point was man-rating a *launch* vehicle is straight forward *provided* it's factored into the design from the start. The process is not complete unless the payload has systems fitted to handle an emergency. I'm quite well aware that the escape rocket system is still under development by Spacex.

    As for how much it will save that will depend on what price level NASA set. I think it's generous at present and should be negotiated *down* (IIRC it's still about $20000lb) but it's current level is probably what Shuttle costs per lb and allows the good ol' boys of OSC to make a profit, given their no doubt ridiculous cost structure as a govt con-tractor. I suspect at these prices Spacex will make out *very* well indeed.

    <shuttle man rating>

    NASA's man rating efforts date from the 1960s. Your information is simply incorrect. Shuttle managements behavior in man rating the design (or rather issuing waivers) demonstrated the very *worst* aspects of optimistic statistics multiplied by (also in the worst sense of the term) design-to-cost.

    "Dragon has NO chance on getting to trans-planetary targets. "

    Nor did I suggest it would. But that's not going to be an issue for at least 8 years.

    Let's see if we can find some common ground.

    I believe this is merely an excuse to justify *needing* the SLS in the first place, much as the size of Orion was the excuse for needing to retain a first stage based on the Shuttle SRB's.

    By *forcing* NASA funds to be used on this and SLS NASA will be forced to strip other budgets as these projects overrun on budget (and *all* previous evidence is they will overrun on cost).

    The *key* findings of the Augustine Commission were that Constellation would *never* fly unless the NASA budget *rose* 50% + inflation for several years and 25% + inflation for several more years. The funding level *actually* being offered made its status that of an employment programme. Obama's proposal was very much either *fully* fund Constellation or kill it.

    The US Congress and Senate appear to have decided to do neither.

    This appears to be very much BAU. It seems there are some sections of NASA whose knee jerk reaction to *any* problem is "We need to design a new launcher, preferably a *big* one".

    This attitude dates from the days when "private" meant the Scout with a payload of about 130lbs and "big" meant a converted ICBM carrying c8500lbs (Gemini/Titan).

    Today big means Delta IV Heavy at 56800lb to LEO. Available right now, with a discount for bulk orders.

    BTW another key realization of the Augustine commission was a "dry" lunar lander stage (placed in orbit and fueled by 1 or more propellant flights) could be 6x bigger, hence avoiding the *literally* paper thin walls of the Apollo LM.

    *Real* progress in space will address on orbit propellant transfer and long term storage, *closed* cycle (after 50 years) life support, and (dare I even suggest them) high thrust non chemical propulsion systems.

    I've found it fascinating to watch Senators at work. I get the impression that Sen. Shelby is a real slash-n-burn Republican, *unless* it's the North Alabama Space Agency and it's oh-so-precious gaggle of suppliers.

    In the UK in the 1980's Margaret Thatcher had a little phrase that pops into my head when I've dug into NASA's history and the politics of space flight.

    "No lame ducks."

    It refers to the selling off of industries owned by the UK government like steel and coal.

    NASA (and it's supporters inside Congress and the Senate) appear to have created what are in effect "nationalised" companies *without* control. Hobbled by rules that prevent them selling elsewhere and cost structures (no doubt designed with the best of motives) which make doing anything *painfully* expensive. For a viable space programme this co-dependency needs to end.

    Or do you feel that the objective of the US space programme *is* to supply lifetime employment of workers in *some* companies in *some* states?

  24. Stuart Duel


    If Richard Branson can knock up a sub-orbital reusable space plane in a few short years, how could it possibly take so bloody long for NASA to design, test and build what is essentially just a very big rocket?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Stuart Duel

      3 Things.

      BAU. Business-As-Usual. 1000 page "procurement" contracts with *lots* of prescriptive clauses (we don't just *want* this done, we want it done *this* way), pre-design-reviews, Preliminary Design Reviews, Critical Design Reviews, change control.

      Cost plus contract, *despite* the fact that basically what it comes down to is "Give us a Saturn V lifting capability to LEO" which has been done once successfully already (and at least one *complete* example exists to study, mostly on the law out front of various NASA buildings). I like to think of these as more cost++.

      It'll be executed by "Big Aerospace" who will probably set up a whole "Division" to do this (which of course will need a VP or two to oversee matters and make sure that fat budget is "properly" spent).

      The proper example to study would be the DC-X programme of the early 90's under Jess Sponable, whose airframe was *also* built by Scaled Composites (BTW Scaled is actually part of Northrop Grumman, who seem to be smart enough to leave them well alone most of the time).

      DC-X. 0-M3. 4x RL-10 Hydrogen/Oxygen powered rockets, uncrewed built for the SDIO.

      Price 60m.

      It's amazing what you can do when your organizations goals have *nothing* to do with *how* something is achieved, they simply want to get it *done*.

    2. Cochituate


      Stuart- the answer is that getting pas the first step ("design, test and build") is what holds them up. No one plans better than NASA. The reams of paper generated by the various plans developed since the 1990s is simply staggering. To build a test article and build the damned thing, that's where they lack the fortitude to follow through, that is what is lacking. If they did step two or three, they'd be committed to something, and NASA does not want to be committed to anything. That's why taking the reins out of their hands and giving them to someone like SpaceX or Orbital, is such a great idea.

  25. Beachrider

    too many unsubstantiated judgements...

    Today's human rated specs hare BLACK LETTER about improving safety ten fold over shuttle and soyuz. SpaceX is ONLY contracted for (important) LEO missions, not deep space. NASA wants a deep space rocket by 2020. NASA is NOT building any competing LEO hardware. All are simply true.

    I suppose that you can infer what you want. I choose to infer that NASA doesn' think that ANYONE will have a suitable deep space rocket by 2020, so they will get one built.

    I agree with your inference that some 'other' propellant will be needed to get to 'wherever the lifting systems' stop.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      I'm not sure what "hare BLACK LETTER" means so I'll skip my opinions and simply ask yours are.

      What *is* your point of view? Specifically weather MCPV and SLS are good ideas and weather they are at NASA's request *or* foisted on NASA by Senators and Contresspeople keen to top up the port barrel.

      Saying "Too many unsubstantiated judgments" *repeatedly* makes you seem like you're avoiding questions. Which makes you look like someone with either a personal stake in the outcome, some kind of PR shill or flat out troll.

      A simple explanation of your point of view can then be argued against or agreed with or corrected.

  26. Beachrider



    Black Letter means that they are explicitly stated, not indirectly interpreted.

    MCPV is a limited production device that is more useful as a standard than as an overall technology. I doubt that anyone will make more than 4-5 of them before their technology is significantly changed. They do have an established shape and an established weight. If they continue to take on the role of self-contained emergency evac & reentry mechanism, PLUS limited to 21-day missions, then that is the useful part of their job.

    I am in favor of privatization of lifting devices, so long as they don't limit the scope of what-is-lifted too much. Falcon Heavy doesn't lift as much as SLS, so I am concerned about using MCPV on Falcon Heavy.

    We can also privatize the replacement of MCPV, so long as the role and specs don't preclude the use of lifters built for MCPV. I don't want to see a Nikon/Canon situation where incompatibilities sap the funding for deep-space work.

    I am not convinced that SpaceX is committed to an MCPV lifter by 2020. They need to generate profits from LEO for a few years to build up the capital & experience to go through a product development cycle for this. I don't believe that they will do it any faster than NASA's suppliers, either. They will probably do it more cost effectively, though.

    My conjecture is that MCPV is about 'getting to some deep space transport that isn't safe to fire in LEO'. Perhaps some Lagrange point or some NEO asteroid. I am surprised that there isn't more discussion about the usefulness of the MCPV as a 21-day-limited deep space transport.

  27. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    For a beginners guide to NASA's situation, funding and situation see.

    part 2 focuses on the SLS.

    While I have met the writer I have no involvement with his work. His criticism is much more informed.

  28. Beachrider

    I can see where you get your material...

    OK, finally someone has blogged something on YouTube about NASA that is in line with you comments. I don't really see where they did anything more that state an opinion. You asked me for facts, process and history, I gave you links to governmental sites for those things.

    You have this YouTube clip. Wasn't it you that suggest that I was a TROLL? Hmmmm. I suppose calling someone else something that you don't want to be called...

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    I'll begin with an apology for a misunderstanding. I'd believed the MPCV was required to give SLS a mission to carry out.

    I realize this is absurd. SLS's capacity of a mimimum of 70 tonnes (but with design margin up to 130 tonnes according to the act) is stupidly in excess of MPCV's mass. Depending on altitude both Delta IV Heavy and Falcon 9 Heavy *could* carry it

    That leaves SLS with *no* payload it's *needed* to carry, *except* the paycheques of NASA and various major con-tractors for a few years more.

    "I can see where you get your material."

    No ironically I found the videos on the day I posted the comment, although the two on Apollo do sum up my impression of the Senators who have *ordered* SLS to be built.

    My opinions come from several decades study of human spaceflight programmes both as technology and as political systems and their *repeated* inability to deliver significant improvement. My background is engineering, not IT supplemented by background reading of various text books on the subject, along with following the relevant news groups since the early 90s with further assistance from the NASA technical reports server. Learning about the insanity of the US federal budget "system" was a more recent exercise and an almighty PITA, as I'm not a US taxpayer. I've just been amused by what they have let their legislators do to them.

    "OK, finally someone has blogged something on YouTube about NASA that is in line with you comments. I"

    That's not encouraging. The YouTube poster is an active blogger, which you would know if you followed this debate through blogs or news groups

    I asked what is your point of view. I'll look at your answers.

    "Black Letter means that they are explicitly stated, not indirectly interpreted."

    This appears to be more of a legal term than one drawn from engineering standard.

    "MCPV is a limited production device that is more useful as a standard than as an overall technology. I doubt that anyone will make more than 4-5 of them before their technology is significantly changed. "

    The question was did you think it was a good idea to do it and was it something NASA requested or is it being foisted upon them.

    "I am in favor of privatization of lifting devices, so long as they don't limit the scope of what-is-lifted too much."

    That appears to be an actual opinion.

    " Falcon Heavy doesn't lift as much as SLS, so I am concerned about using MCPV on Falcon Heavy."

    A quick check indicates F9H can lift the *entire* Apollo stack minus the SIVb departure stage.

    MCPV based on Orion seems to be about 28 tonnes. It would have to bloat a *lot* before F9H could not handle it. It's original mission duration was substantially longer so if anything MCPV should weigh *less* than Orion, again eliminating *any* SLS need.

    " I don't want to see a Nikon/Canon situation where incompatibilities sap the funding for deep-space work."

    Nor would anyone in their right mind. The sapping of funds to fund SLS and MCPV is *highly* likely. It's happened with every other NASA human spaceflight programme, ISS (or SS Freedom, or Alpha) and launcher replacement attempts (X33 and its predecessors).

    "I am not convinced that SpaceX is committed to an MCPV lifter by 2020."

    Barring *major* bloat in MCPV mass F9H is MCPV capable in 2012 and Delta IV Heavy *might* be capable right now (depending on orbital parameters and MCPV fuel loads). SLS looks more like a jobs programme.

    "They need to generate profits from LEO for a few years to build up the capital & experience to go through a product development cycle for this."

    They've gone through *two* PDC's for launchers and *four* for their engines since their founding. They appear to have a fairly healthy worldwide order book for launches *other* than NASA.

    " I don't believe that they will do it any faster than NASA's suppliers, either."

    Adam Harris of Spacex stated Dragon took 4 1/2 years and about $300m to develop

    Although AFAIK this does not include the NASA $75m to deliver an escape system to make it human rateable.

    Constellation has been running since 2004 and consumed IIRC $11.4Bn.

    Perhaps you could confirm if that figure is accurate and how much of it went toward Orion.

    "They will probably do it more cost effectively, though."

    Seems likely does it not?

    "My conjecture is that MCPV is about 'getting to some deep space transport that isn't safe to fire in LEO'."

    I'll presume you mean a nuclear thermal engine. There is AFAIK *no* provision for such long term development in the current NASA act and I'd hazard a guess that it's timeline would be even *longer* than the MPCV development schedule it there were. So unless there's a large nuclear thermal engine in the black budget that will be de-classified I think that's wishful thinking.

    " Perhaps some Lagrange point or some NEO asteroid. I am surprised that there isn't more discussion about the usefulness of the MCPV as a 21-day-limited deep space transport."

    Perhaps because people doubt it will *ever* be built or launched.

    Here is a reminder of some of the elements discovered by the Augustin Commission

    In particular from roughly 07:30 onward Jeff Greason explains why an SLS launcher at 130 tonnes is useful but far from *mandatory* for *any* mission below a mission to Mars.

    His other point is there are *lots* of tasks NASA *could* investigate which *would* enable people in space and improve US capability. How NASA does business could make as *big* a difference in this area as *any* technical development it makes.

    My regret is I am unable to find a video where he draws an analogy between the Senators involved in funding process and baby crying for its rattle.

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