back to article NASA: We need commercial rockets! SLS: Oh no you don't!

As NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) continued to cry out for its own variant of the "Distracted Boyfriend" meme, Russia showed the US space agency how to do delays properly. SLS: So yeah – we can make that date. You don't need your commercial chums After NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine's surprising announcement to the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boeing involved

    Will it insist on pointing the rocket at the ground all the time?

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Boeing involved

      Too soon, bro, too soon.

      (Upvoted you anyway.)

  2. phuzz Silver badge
    Boffin

    "The module, which was originally constructed as a backup for the core ISS Zarya FGB module back in the 1990s"

    "speculation that the MLM could be repurposed once more, to serve as an independent Russian space station"

    So this module was originally constructed (by the Soviet Union as was), as a backup for Zarya, which was originally intended to be part of Mir 2*, and now having sat in a warehouse somewhere for thirty years, might still end up being part of an independent Russian station. Funny how things go around eh?

    * The main Russian module in the ISS, Zvezda, is actually an evolution of the original Salyut space station module, and was originally intended to for the core of Mir 2, up until the US realised that they couldn't afford Space Station Freedom**, and the Russians realised that without the Soviet Union around, they couldn't pay for Mir 2 either, so both countries got together and built an International Space Station.

    ** Never allow Americans to name things, they're crap at it.

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Facepalm

      It only takes one time

      ...up until the US realised that they couldn't afford Space Station Freedom**...

      ** Never allow Americans to name things, they're crap at it.

      We make one mistake and all the Apollos, Geminis, Titans, Mercuries and so on are forgotten - one mistake that wasn't even used!

    2. Alister Silver badge

      ** Never allow Americans to name things, they're crap at it.

      To be fair, that's quite a recent problem, they used to be quite good at it.

      Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour. Even SkyLab wasn't bad...

    3. Daedalus Silver badge

      Cuts to the program in the US resulted in proposals to cut the name from "Freedom" to "Fred" to match.

      BTW "Nauka" is Russian for "science". Strangely appropriate, nyet?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Never allow Americans to name things, they're crap at it."

      Meanwhile here in dear old Blighty, where we have form on this sort of thing, we're preparing the plans for our own magnificent space station, "Orbity McOrbitface"...

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      > ** Never allow Americans to name things, they're crap at it.

      Space Station Freedom did become Space Station Fred after all the budget cuts...

      1. Daedalus Silver badge

        Reminds me of the old (and I mean old) joke about Milton Keynes having so many public spending budget cuts that they were going to rename it Milton Friedman.

    6. Mark 85 Silver badge

      and now having sat in a warehouse somewhere for thirty years,

      After 30 years in storage, there's probably a lot work that would need to be done to get it "flight ready". Such as replacing all the seals for starters.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Big Fucking Rocket? Oh wait, that was named by a South African, who is also fond of borrowing names from a Scotsman.

    I agree, the Americans have had some good names for hardware, and there's no shame in taking those names from ships of discovery from a previous age.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      "Big Fucking Rocket"

      best name ever :)

      "there's no shame in taking those names from ships of discovery from a previous age."

      or, indeed, from fictional (star)ships of discovery from the future!

      1. John Stirling

        or, indeed, from fictional (star)ships of discovery from the future!

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ships_of_the_United_States_Navy_named_Enterprise

        The future is just the past, rebooted.

        1. jonathan keith

          Re: or, indeed, from fictional (star)ships of discovery from the future!

          All of this has happened before, and will happen again.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: or, indeed, from fictional (star)ships of discovery from the future!

            There is the theory of the mobius, where time becomes a loop

        2. ChrisC

          Re: or, indeed, from fictional (star)ships of discovery from the future!

          Or even. given what appeared in the opening credits for Star Trek: Enterprise - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Enterprise

  4. Christoph Silver badge

    "the events leading up to the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia"

    Challenger was under pressure to launch before the President's State of the Union address.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Boeing’s Starliner capsule not doing well either

    It hasn't even done the pad abort test that SpaceX Crew Dragon did 4 years ago.

    It appears the first Starliner uncrewed flight isn't going to happen until a month after Crew Dragon flies with actual crew.

    https://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/with-crew-dragons-first-flight-complete-wheres-boeings-starliner/

    Between SLS, Starliner, and the 737MAX... sheesh.

  6. Clive Galway

    I watched NASA's announcement video yesterday, and LOLed at his squirming trying to justify SLS as enabling re-usability - "It will launch re-usable moon landers, thus it's furthering the sustainability goal"

    Admit it guys, it's a one-trick pony (Bigger max diameter), and that trick is looking pretty pointless given how promising Bigelow inflatable habitats are looking.

    Just ditch the incumbent industrial military complex already, it's been sucking you dry for years

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Just ditch the incumbent industrial military complex already, it's been sucking you dry for years

      Good luck with that idea as it ain't going to happen. They're too big and too embedded in Congress's collective rectum.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Sadly probably true. As the saying goes, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers."

        Or perhaps to create my own version, "no pork, no giant flying sausage." OK, that one probably needs some work...

  7. Andy Mac
    Coat

    "...it is also important to remember that NASA has history when it comes to racing to meet arbitrary deadlines."

    To be fair they were good at it once "...before this decade is out...land a man on the moon".

    But also, Apollo 1. So...yeah.

  8. eldakka Silver badge
    Coat

    As NASA's Space Launch System (SLS)

    I think you mean the Senate Largesse Scheme.

    1. IT Poser

      We're not that creative over here. It's merely called Senate Launch System.

      Although considering the estimated 1:50 LOC(Loss of Crew) estimate Shuttle Lots Safer(1:90) might be the most descriptive option.

  9. sean.fr

    all a waste of money

    This space station is said to have cost 150billion dollars so far. Not a lot of bang for the tax payers buck. Skylab and Mir were much better value for money. So dumped it in the sea now please. Liberate some money for real science like probes – remember voyager.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: all a waste of money

      What's the running costs of ISS though? That huge figure comes from adding up all the historical costs of ISS over the 21 years since they launched it - and also includes design and build cost. So the question is what extra science can you get from giving up on ISS now?

      Also that huge ISS figure probably includes shuttle launches at $1bn a time. Rather than the $400m they actually cost - the billion figure coming from adding in design, re-design and building costs. But shuttle was built before ISS was even an idea - and though some people talked about shuttle costing a billion a launch the point is that cancelling it didn't save you that, it only saved you $400m a launch.

      Also the ISS does some science that we simply can't do with robot probes. Which is the science of how to live in space. Which may, or may not, be important - depending on whether we ever have space-based industry. Which depends on whether there are any useful processes we can do in microgravity, which again we can only really find out by having a space station.

      The other important thing about the ISS is the foreign policy aspect. It's one of our few remaining areas of cooperation with Russia - as well as one of its original purposes which was to keep all those Soviet rocket engineers from being sacked and going off to work for Iran and North Korea.

      As happens the ISS has also given the perfect excuse for NASA to develop the COTS program, which has given us a huge growth in the private space industry, so we now have all these shiny space capabiliities like SpaceX - which we otherwise wouldn't have had. And that lowering of launch costs makes robot science missions a lot cheaper too.

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: all a waste of money

        @spartacus:

        You're talking to an echo chamber resident at a guess. Shortly that echo chamber will start talking about the billions of dollars SpaceX has cost the US citizens, and why Boeing is cheaper and needs more funding. I've yet to comprehend just *how* both logic and reasoning have fallen so far out of reach of such a *large* proportion of the population.

      2. IT Poser

        Re: What's the running costs of ISS though?

        The operations costs of ISS are on the order of $900 million per year. The science budget is ~$350 million. The lion's share of the costs, nearly $3 billion until we can't stop paying for Soyuz seats, is transportation.

        "Also the ISS does some science that we simply can't do with robot probes. Which is the science of how to live in space. Which may, or may not, be important - depending on whether we ever have space-based industry."

        We already have emerging microgravity manufacturing. See my reply to sean.fr for an overview. If the private sector research and manufacturing markets continue growing at the rate they have been for the last six years private industry will be able to support private space stations supplied by private rockets sometime in the mid to late 2020s.

        In other words ISS is working better than anyone could have hoped a couple decades ago.

    2. zuckzuckgo

      Re: all a waste of money

      If you free up that money I suspect they will just spend it on a huge monument (aka wall).

    3. IT Poser

      Re: all a waste of money

      ISS gets roughly half of NASA's human spaceflight budget, or just short of $4 billion until Soyuz flights end. For comparison SLS/Orion has been getting roughly the same amount since 2011. The remaining ~$12 billion of NASA's budget goes to things like deep space probes.

      What you are missing are the benefits from ISS.

      IT angle: Thanks to having ISS two companies(Made in Space and Fiber Optics Made(???) in Space) are nearing production of microgravity drawn ZBLAN. The advantage of drawing ZBLAN fiber in microgravity is gravity induced crystals don't form, allowing fiber runs to be twelve times longer than is currently possible. Based on current fiber and repeater prices a single cargo Dragon should be able to return on the order of a billion dollars in profit each launch and landing.

      While this one product would be enough to dwarf NASA's budget, ZBLAN isn't the only thing being worked on in the only lab not located on Earth. Pharmaceuticals companies like Merck are researching new drugs that can't be created in gravity. Another biomedical application is growing replacement organs without needing the scaffolding that is required on Earth. Budweiser is experimenting in how to brew space beer for the workers the above industries require.

      This only covers companies that are publicizing their efforts. Most commercial work is employing security through obscurity.

      Perhaps you don't want better fiber optic cables, drugs, replacement organs, and whatever else we discover is better to make in space. If so I can understand you calling ISS a waste. I don't share that opinion.

      1. sean.fr

        Re: all a waste of money

        The limit to the length between fibre joins is the mechanicals. How big a roll of cable can you get on a truck and pull in. Typically around 4km. Bandwidth is improving by putting better active equipment on the existing fibre types. It is not normal for tax payers money to pay to improve the fibre and not fund the equipment on the fibre or fund more installation into the ground.

        The major drugs issue are affordablity, and resistance. Space is just not important.

        Assuming the processes can be perfected, it is unlikely that manufactering commercial quantities of anything in space of anything will be be thing in the next 100 years. Transport costs are out of this world.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: all a waste of money

        IT Poser,

        Now you've ruined everything!

        Another biomedical application is growing replacement organs without needing the scaffolding that is required on Earth.

        So now you've created the script for some horror film! I'm imagining a darkened space station filled with eerily plusating hearts - stalked by alien horrors, feasting on human flesh - when they can't get crew... Or a crew driven made by space sickness turning cannibal.

        I'm sure this was already done as a Sylvester McCoy Dr Who too - Daleks wanting new organs obviously. The only one of his I remember watching, with Alexei Sayle as a mad space DJ.

        Then worse:

        Budweiser is experimenting in how to brew space beer

        Q. What's the connection between having sex on an icy comet nucleus and drinking space Bud?

        A. They're both fucking close to water.

        Our astronauts deserve proper space beer! Intergalactic Pale Ales for all!

    4. John Jennings

      Re: all a waste of money

      Skylab cost 20 million dollars (in 1970s dollars) per day per crew member - closer to 120M per day per crew in today money now. And the first mission (there were only 3) was a scrub as they had to spend their time jury rigging repairs.

      ISS currently costs less than 6 M per day - and that is falling the longer its aloft and manned.

      Skylab was so horrenously expensive because it was an Saturn V hull. These were so incredibly expensive to build. given that they also needed a saturn V to launch it as well, and recover crew and send people to it 3 times. There was also nothing developed to dispose of waste etc. It only had 1 more mission possible when it deorbitted. It needed the Space Shuttle to raise its orbit - and with its delays it didnt happen.

  10. sean.fr

    Why add new modules

    If you just want micro gravity there are more than enough modules in place.

    We know micro gravity is bad for your health, and we have known for some time. If you want long space flights, you need to fix that issue.

    So next space station tech to try is spinning to get something like gravity. It is hard, as you need a large radius from the centre of rotation. Maybe 100 to 200 metres assuming a couple or revolutions per minute. But it does not have to be symmetrical. A long arm with countereweight may work.The connection from the gravity zone to centre of rotation would be under tension so that makes it a lot easier to find a light solution. Plus, we may find 0.5G is good enough. Maybe a few hours a day is enough - so does not need to be so big a space. But what we are actually - doing is same old same old. So we just do not know. For scale, the ISS is about 100m long now.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Why add new modules

      The problem with gravity, is that it requires extra structural strength. And that means extra weight. It also adds mechanical complexity - which means more astronaut time spent repairing it. I don't think we've got the lifting capacity for that yet - though that should change in the next 5-10 years.

      I'd be amazed if that kind of space station is less than 50 years away. Either with much bigger/cheaper launch or space based manufacturing. For now, if we want a bit of gravity, I suspect it would be easier and cheaper to build a moon base. If we can find moon based water and build a fuel plant, the economics of space flight completely changes.

      Everything in spaceflight is about baby-steps. We've built, and made a decent success of the ISS. But it's a machine, and at some point it's going to become cheaper to build a new one, that it is to keep maintaining the old one. Or maybe add new core modules to the current ISS (using its robot arms to help with placement - then de-orbit the old knackered bits - though I don't know if those arms are up to the job that the shuttle could do.

      But launch costs are plummeting. And that changes everything. 20 years ago it was $400m for a shuttle launch, with a new module. Falcon Heavy is now $90m odd.

      4 years ago a Falcon 9 got you 25 tonnes to LEO for $60m. Going reusable dropped that to $40m. But if they really can reuse those rockets the promised 30 times (if they can even manage 10) - then launch costs can drop into the tens of millions.

      Suddenly if instead of tens of thousands of dollars per kilo we can fly stuff around for thousands or even hundreds of dollars per kilo, then stuff like pharmaceuticals or computer chips can bear that cost - if they're good enough.

      1. sean.fr

        Re: Why add new modules

        Money to get launch costs down makes some sense. But launching stuff you do not need is not the way to go. If at some point you get 22 tons of raw material into a low space orbit for just the 200k dollars fuel cost, you now need the tech to carry your product back to earth. It may be down hill but if it is at all bulky, heavy or delicate like 200Km of premium fibre at 1 dollar the metre, problem. We can not do it yet.

        It could be one or two human hearts - at 250k dollars each. A better investment would be to spend the money on a new and cheaper source of insulin for under insured Americans tax payer, rather than spending on health care for the super rich.

        The health downsides of putting people into a zero G factory to work on the heart production line is far greater than health benefits of the products. Would anyone approve a factory were workers have serious health issue after 12 months. Like not being able to walk for a day or two. Your bones and muscles weaken, and you may get permanent eyesight changes. Plus a significant risk of your transport to work exploding.

        If this stuff make any commercial sense, you do'nt need the tax dollars. You need venture capitalists.

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