Monday, August 24, 2009

Using existing rockets could save taxpayers cash

The Atlas V and Delta IV rockets were designed, built and launched by private companies.

But they're far from privately developed rockets. You and I and other taxpayers will have spent at least $30 billion on The Boeing Co.'s Delta IV and Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Atlas V over the rockets' lifetimes, more than double what the companies and military leaders told Congress it would cost.

So, it could be a good thing for taxpayers if the government adds work to America's underutilized existing rocket fleet rather than continuing to spend billions more dollars developing a new rocket that is destined to end up over budget and years behind schedule.

The story of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles is like most other big government space projects, whether run by NASA or the Defense Department. They almost always end up less capable than planned, more expensive than advertised and reaching space years late.

In the beginning, taxpayers were to invest just $1 billion in the development of the two new rockets. Boeing and Lockheed were to pick up the rest of the tab, and then sell launches of military, science and spy satellites back to the government at a cheaper rate. Taxpayers would save up to $10 billion over the life of the program compared to past launcher programs.

It didn't quite work out. As with most big space projects, the government and contractors based their plans on overly optimistic assumptions. The cost of the program skyrocketed. Boeing and Lockheed couldn't make enough money selling private launches to keep two rockets viable, and the government -- fearing the loss of a rocket for critical national security spacecraft -- stepped in to bail out the aerospace giants.

The program's lifetime cost was estimated at $16 billion a decade ago. Now it's $32 billion. It may go higher, according to government audits.

The reason for the taxpayers' investment is the U.S. needs assured access to space for high-priority payloads.

Now the rockets are being flown under a joint venture called United Launch Alliance, which says it could modify the Delta IV Heavy to launch NASA astronauts to the space station, Earth orbit and beyond. That's one option under consideration by a presidential panel studying NASA's future. Some panel members, as well as independent analysts, say it makes sense to maximize the government's investment in existing rockets.

Adding NASA as a Delta IV customer shores up business and stabilizes jobs for the rocket companies' production teams in Alabama and its launch teams in Florida. As the flight rate goes up, it could decrease the per-flight fee for customers, including government agencies such as NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force.

Some also say the existing rockets have a leg up on NASA's Ares I rocket. Deltas have flown several times. That experience could mean it would be quicker and cheaper to modify a Delta IV Heavy to launch an Orion capsule and astronauts than it would to finish development of the new Ares I.

Flying Orion on the existing rockets wouldn't help preserve many jobs at Kennedy Space Center after the shuttles retire. It might, however, make some United Launch Alliance jobs safer down the road or even allow that company to expand operations here on the Space Coast.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why not another option:

DOUBLE the current NASA budget for Manned Space Flight and do
simultaneous development of both Ares-1 and Ares-5.

John Kelly said...

We accidentally rejected a few comments this morning. Sorry. If you refile, I'll send them through.

But I'm going to paraphrase two questions and answer them.

First, someone asked if this was a reversal of opinion from FLORIDA TODAY. Nope, this column represents just my opinion, but it is based on our reporting and research over the past few years. Certainly, our space reporters, other editors and editorial board members at the newspaper might have differing opinions. To be clear, however, we've reported that NASA has SAID that the Ares is safer than the EELVs. Noone has proven that beyond computer analyses and other data reviews. I've written on that point before. It'll be decades of real flight experience before we know the safety record of any rockets. These 1 in XXX numbers that come out are simply the best guess based on sophisticated computer analyses built upon very, very educated research. That's fine and all. But can anyone cite for me what the ridiculously overstated 1 in XXX number was for loss of crew and vehicle on the space shuttle pre-Challenger and even pre-Columbia. So the Ares program can cite all the safety studies it wants, but it doesn't replace real flight data and can't be used to make categorical statements about whether one rocket is safer than another. By default, Ares or EELV will be much safer than the space shuttle simply because the crew will be above and not alongside the launch elements and will include a launch abort system (although the abilities of that system remain in question by folks over at Air Force Range Safety).

Another questioner asked if the EELVs have enough thrust to do lunar missions and the cost difference. The panel has punted on the finer details of the cost question by saying that the White House ought to analyze EELV vs. Ares V Lite vs. a new shuttle-derived option. However, in general, they and the Aerospace Corp. have found that several non-Ares options can be done more cost effectively and sooner than Ares I for crew launch and possibly for heavy lift too. We hope to see the backup cost figures in the report submitted to the president. As for thrust, it's important to keep in mind that the current reference mission has the crew launched to LEO to rendezvous with an Earth Departure Stage that would then provide the propulsion for the rest of the trip. Yes, EELV can get to LEO. There are some modifications necessary to the Delta IV Heavy to make it safer and increase structural margins. But one thing noted in the Aerospace Corp. report on the EELVs was that the Delta IV Heavy could put Orion where Ares I was to put Orion (and do it with more margin). Just like the cost data, I'm looking forward to seeing some backup charts on the comparison. I don't have a strong opinion yet on which rocket NASA should choose. I do have an opinion that it should be safer than the space shuttle (but doesn't have to necessarily be as safe as Ares I is advertising it is); it should be cost-effective and not just from a NASA-centric standpoint, but from the standpoint of the entire national budget (hence, the intrigue of possibly expanding use of the EELVs we already paid and paid handsomely to develop), and that it should be available as soon as possible for LEO. It makes no sense to me that it will take another 5-10 years to develop a rocket capable of carrying astronauts to LEO. If that's the government's timeline, I have little doubt SpaceX, Bigelow or others could beat them there (and it appears the Augustine panel feels the same way).

Those are my opinions though.

Anonymous said...

In it's first 10 years NASA went to the moon. 40 years later we've circled the earth. NASA has spent Billions in the last 40 years. And we circle the earth. So let's double their budget... and circle the earth.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely concur. The taxpayers have spent WAY too much money on the EELV program to date. If we can amortize that investment into the new NASA launch requirements, then that seems like a no-brainer. Perhaps even a further partnership to develop the next generation of heavy launch vehicle similar to (or identical to) the Ares V. But I'm not sure of the payload/cost comparison between an Ares V and something like the Delta IV heavy or the big Atlas launcher.

Anonymous said...

Why haven't the rocket scientists thought of this?

Anonymous said...

Waht I don't understand is why the Atlas/Delta option was not considered years ago - even then it seemed like a good idea!

Anonymous said...

It will take a good bit of time and money to give the EELVs a man-rating. Why not use an existing system that is already man-rated and modify it? Hello... Direct is knocking!

Anonymous said...

Good article. Of course if you were to go back to The Good Old Days of Atlas (for example) where it started as an ICBM, you could argue that the boosters were not developed by private companies!

Leaving that behind, and talking about the current incarnations... The Atlas and Delta have decades of experience behind them - in some variations of course. But they are far better known than the Ares!! And always will be. Cost estimates, safety ratings, etc always will be far more reliable on the Atlas or Delta. Those two boosters have well known safety records whereas the Ares has unknown weak spots.

So when ULA gives a cost estimate, or a safety recommendation, for Atlas or Delta - it is probably far more accurate than a similar NASA report about the Ares.

And Atlas/Delta could launch to Mars or the Moon. It might take a couple of launches, and a rendezvous in Earth orbit. Rendezvous is a well understood process today! And if you lose one of two or three launches - at least you did not lose the complete mission. You still have a working part of the vehicle in orbit.

Switching to Atlas/Delta is the smartest thing we could do today. We would have a more reliable future of launches and would lose fewer skills. Ares could be made to work but might take ten years to qualify.

Gaetano Marano said...

.

are you curious to know WHAT you can do (in Space) with (the $35 billion) Ares-1 "price"???

well, you can find NINE options here: http://www.ghostnasa.com/posts2/051ares1price.html

.

Anonymous said...

And just how much is the added cost going to be to have the Atlas and Delta family MAN RATED ?

Since they lack system redundancies (they were left out to save weight) the rockets would have to be re-designed from the ground up. You just cannot bolt on quick fixes on these rockets.

They would cost alot more than we have already put into the Ares launch system, and even though at the end of the week when the announcement comes that the stick is dead and the Ares 1X will be scrapped, it is MHO that we should stay the course with the new rockets, instead of letting lobbyists sway the decisions of our space program to the biggest envelope under the table...

Anonymous said...

"But can anyone cite for me what the ridiculously overstated 1 in XXX number was for loss of crew and vehicle on the space shuttle pre-Challenger"

It's an interesting question. Take a look at this IEEE Spectrum article:

http://www.eng.uwo.ca/MME2259a/course/illustrations&documents/Challenger-Risk.pdf

I note that NASA was given a 1-in-20 (5%) chance of a successful Apollo moon landing by a GE probabilistic risk assessment.

From the above article:
"By the early 1980s many figures were being quoted for the overall risk to the shuttle, with estimates of a catastrophic failure ranging from less than 1 chance in 100 to 1 chance in 100000. "The higher figures [1 in 100] came from working engineers, and the very low figures [1 in 100000] from management" wrote physicist Richard P. Feynman in his appendix "Personal Observations on Reliability of Shuttle" to the 1986 Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident."

Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous who feels like all we've done in the last 40 years is circle the earth ...... You can't be serious. Do you really have no idea of the accomplishments we've had as a country, due to our "circling the earth?" Here's an article to get you started: http://www.wired.com/science/space/magazine/16-12/st_best

As far as the billions spent on NASA .... did you know we spend more on Chapstick every year than we do on NASA?

NASA can keep spending my tax dollars just how they have been - I believe our progress as a country is well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the earlier comment that we should increase the budget for NASA and continue developing Ares I and V. The Augustine committee agree on one thing--we can not have a robust space exploration program if we stay with the current budget. Given what we have invested with Ares, and the large workforce that is carrying out the program, it would be a huge step backward to throw all that away. The economy would suffer tremendously. And, after going through the scrutiny of the man-rating process, an EELV would end up taking at least as long as Ares I.

Anonymous said...

If you want to talk about time lines; what about the time (not to mention cost) to develop Orion to sit on top of a Delta IV Heavy? It has been reported it will take three to four years or more to make a Delta IV Heavy man rated (which it is currently not) not to mention the cost to do this. We should not throw the money, time and energy invested into the Constellation program away and start over. We have already spent money and time on Constellation. We now need to do what it takes to get the Constellation program moving. Enough talk, let us see some action.

Anonymous said...

It's very disheartening to know that someone like John Kelly is assigned to write articles on the Space Program & NASA. It is obvious that his lack of knowledge of all things related to space and inexperience with even the simplest concepts of space flight contribute to such an intellectually inferior article.
Could FlaToday at least assign a decent, knowledgeable writer to the space program? Please?

John Kelly said...

If there is a specific inaccuracy in this piece, please point it out. Otherwise, if you've got an actual point to make related to the ones we made in this opinion column, please share. We welcome your feedback and input.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kelly,
Your is article is so frustrating, I don't even want to waste time correcting you. Suffice to say, articles like this are why I canceled my subscription to FloridaToday.

John Kelly said...

It's an opinion column, so perhaps it's the opinion that is frustrating you. Which is fine. We all have opinions. If you've got one that's pertinent to the issue, share it. Otherwise, I often find people who say things like this actually can't find a fact error in the story or column. Rather they disagree with the point of view or opinion being expressed. That's totally different. I definitely want to know if you've found an inaccuracy. You must not have or you'd specify it. Thanks again for reading us online.

jake said...

Man rating these boosters would add 10 years to the present flow of things. One launcher cannot do it all so bring on Direct 3.0 !! Hello..McFly..Is anyone home at NASA.? You let NASA use these rockets and we'll never get out of Earth orbit for another..say..40 years ????

Anonymous said...

Russia has a pretty good record using older, proven technology...Why do we insist on having the latest (pun intended) a not always best of everything...Use what works...We do not need to improve on the "mousetrap"...

To the moon!!!!!! said...

John Kelly you should take a good look at Direct launch.

http://www.directlauncher.com/

It will be the most ready rocket, human rated, and can go to the moon. It uses the Shuttle SRB's, Main tank, engines (human rated), and everyone knows these parts work. It has over 30 years history. It will save money by being the most ready and you no longer have the use the Shuttle. No more tile problems and high maint.

Anonymous said...

John Kelly you should take a good look at Direct launch.

http://www.directlauncher.com/

It will be the most ready rocket, human rated, and can go to the moon. It uses the Shuttle SRB's, Main tank, engines (human rated), and everyone knows these parts work. It has over 30 years history. It will save money by being the most ready and you no longer have the use the Shuttle. No more tile problems and high maint.

Anonymous said...

John Kelly, look at this

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=38704114

This rocket will work. The DIRECTLAUNCHER...no more political games..get something that will work, cost less, and get the USA flying again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

brobof said...

Interesting article! From what I understand the EELV route was intentionally discarded: "black zones" ...in order to build the Program of Record [POR]. Amusingly (if true?) ...Orion was additionally 'super-sized' so as to also prevent its launch on EELV. Alas the latter seems to have come back to bite the hand that drew up the design specs. Perhaps one day the American Taxpayer will find out the truth!
Turning to the current interregnum and the speculation surrounding 'Augustine II'; a combination of sheer guesswork and gut feeling propels me to put this forward: Given that escaping from a self/auto-destructing Solid Rocket Motor is not an easy task AND that the EPA is examining the perchlorate issue. Could it be that ATKs Solids are no longer on the table? Hence: the sudden interest in a KeroLox HLV; the Damascene conversion to Commercial; the non option of the POR; the strange costings of ARES-V 'lite' vs NS-C and the apparent dismissal of the Jupiter 130 as a stop-gap measure.
Time for DIRECT to come up with their take on the ураган "Hurricane" Flyback Kerolox Booster methinks.
Nice picture on the Energia Wikipedia page. For anyone that is interested.
Dave Lermit

Gregg said...

Give up trying to get Florida Today to look at Direct.
We have been trying to get them to just talk to us for over two years now with no luck.
Until just recently Florida Today has been drinking the NASA PAO Kool-Aid by the gallon. Florida Today has just started to see the light, concerning how wrong Ares I really is.
Team Direct is willing to talk with any one, and Florida Today knowes how to get intouch with us.

John Kelly said...

Is Direct among the options being put forward to the president, meaning one of the options given any serious consideration?

Anonymous said...

DIRECT is, technically, amongst the options where they talk Shuttle derived launch vehicles. However, Mr. Augustine specifically stated that they had no time or intent to get down into the details of exactly what that "shuttle derived" vehicle is... whether it be DIRECT or John Shannon's "Not Shuttle-C" side mount vehicle.

Jim Hillhouse said...

Very interesting article.

Kelly, yes, the Direct team presented to the HSF Committee. Unfortunately, their alternative, esp. for LEO missions, has many question marks since it is just a paper rocket. As for Lunar missions, if we still get that option from the President, nobody yet knows whether that will be with the Ares V, a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), an Ares IV (Little V), or some form of Jupiter (Direct) launcher.

Before EELV, there was the Big Dumb Booster to replace the Delta II, Atlas, and Titan 3 (then Titan 34D, then Titan 4). To recoup some of the developmental costs of the EELV program by using the Delta IV HLV for LEO missions would be good, esp. if that means putting the Ares I second stage on the D-IV HLV.

It is regretful that the work and effort of so many great people on Ares I may, I repeat may, not result is a new launcher. I think if Ares I is cancelled, it will be more due to budgetary than technical reasons. If we recall all of the other rocket programs that came and went without seeing the light of day, and just look at any of the 8 or so derivatives of the Saturn IB and you'll see what I mean, it's clear that the Ares I will be in good company. I hope we at least launch the Ares IX to validate the computational models used in its development as such advancement of estimation techniques will be useful down the road.

Of more concern is what the President, who made some very specific, broad promises in Titusville just over a year ago, will do to fulfill his promises, regardless of what happens to Ares I. The technical know-how of launching manned rockets is a hands-on learning experience, as we learned with Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Letting our KSC workforce atrophy because the President doesn't want to spend what would constitute a rounding error in his projected spending based on his 2010 budget, would be as politically silly as economically harmful to the area.

John Kelly said...

That's how I understand it too. That's not a knock on the DIRECT folks. They made their case again and got a chance to be heard. As I've written many times before, bring data and compare the launch vehicles. The one that matches up best in terms of cost, schedule and capability should be chosen. Not necessarily the one that protects the most current space shuttle program workers. That can't be the goal of the space program. It is, after all, a space program and not a jobs program.

Anonymous said...

Everybody needs to remember that it's not just the development costs that must be considered. The operational costs are, arguably, a much larger problem. During the last public hearing, one of the members of the commission made a great statement. Paraphrasing, "Even if we got our Christmas wish, and Santa delivered a fully developed Constellation Program at our front door, the very first action we would have to take the next day would be to cancel it because we cannot afford to operate it." The operational cost of the ESAS architecture has always been as questionable as the technical issues, if not more so.

Anonymous said...

DIRECT vs. Side-Mount will not be a decision for Congress, OMB, or the President. That level of detail is just too low for a decision to be made above NASA. It would be borderline micromanagement (not that NASA is any stranger to being micromanaged... doesn't make it right though). At best, the higher authorities will direct a Shuttle-Derived vehicle or some other alternative architecture.

That said, I'm pretty confident that COTS will win big out of all of this for LEO access.

Jim Hillhouse said...

John,

NASA certainly shouldn't be a jobs program. But remaining in political office is making sure the locals have their jobs. And NASA's KSC workforce is the only group we have that can launch people safely. That is on the minds of Rep. Kosmos, who is up for re-election in 2010, and to a lesser extent at this time Obama, who's also up in 2012.

If the President takes a course that results is further economic devastation to the eastern anchor of the I-4 Corridor by not fulfilling his Titusville campaign promises, among others he made in Florida, keeping Florida in 2012 will be harder.

But right now, Rep. Kosmos is the one who has to be scared out of her wits that Obama will not continue a strong manned program because, if he makes that decision, she'll have as much chance at being re-elected as I do becoming the Pope.

According to some friends who work on Orion at JSC, Orion's original girth of 5.5m was shrunk to 5m in order to fit on the EELV's, specifically the Delta IV Heavy, the core for which is...5m, at the cost of about 20% of Orion's internal volume.

Anonymous said...

"Until just recently Florida Today has been drinking the NASA PAO Kool-Aid by the gallon. Florida Today has just started to see the light, concerning how wrong Ares I really is."
Agreed.
I have been posting in support of the EELV's as a shuttle replacement for some time and only now does FT seem to support it.
It is so easy for a job-scared county as Brevard to speak in support of Jobs jobs jobs, pork barrel projects that everyone supposedly despises, yet expect.
The rest of the country deserves a say in the space program too.

brobof said...

"The one that matches up best in terms of cost, schedule and capability should be chosen." [John Kelly 8:08 PM]
But what if the answer is Soyuz! Bearing in mind a politically expedient ESA-Soyuz at Kourou (Guiana Space Center)is available ...once they have finished launching the Galileo GPS Constellation.
I would add in passing that the DIRECT team has done well to pass muster, bearing in mind that NASA testimony before one congressional panel stated that the launcher violated the laws of [strike]politics[/strike] physics!
David Lermit

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding. Fly astronauts on a Delta IV rocket that can't even loft ballast into the proper orbit?

Mission Control to crew: "Ah, sorry guys. But we left you about 10,000 miles short. Have a nice day."

Todd Halvorson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Nelson said...

Augustine Committee didn't look at commercial space shuttle...It's the best option for human launch cost. The Orion alone will cost is at least $345 million per launch...it's a no go.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated by all the blanket statements that imply how easy it will be to turn EELV into the ‘next’ big thing, how they will be ‘safer’, how they will be less expensive. The very argument Mr. Kelly uses - “possibly expanding use of the EELVs we already paid and paid handsomely to develop” can essentially be used for ARES. At this point – it’s ALL laced with political rhetoric.

Look at the effort being made to disprove decisions that were previously evaluated.

Am I the only person out here that believes it is completely irrational to not consider the upcoming scheduled tests of ARES?

An ARES motor is being tested this week. There is a ‘stacked’ vehicle awaiting test launch at Kennedy. The politics, however, have everyone jockeying for a possible new foothold – and it seems to be in effort to stop the progress.

To me it seems completely irresponsible to talk EELV options, man ratings, etc. until testing disproves ARES effectiveness.

John Kelly said...

I want to reiterate I am not lobbying for the EELVs as the choice here. I'm noting that it could save taxpayers money, compared to Ares. What Ares would not provide is lower per-launch costs for other customers, particularly the government. More flights on EELVs will stabilize and lower the per-launch charge to the military and intelligence agencies, as well as add value to the country's investment in the rockets. Yes, we've spent a lot of money so far on Ares too and certainly it would be better to see that investment realized. Under the current circumstances, however, what's the point of finishing Ares to launch Orion to low-Earth when there's nothing there to go to anymore. Even now, if Ares and Orion are miraculously delivered on time in 2015-2016 because there's not one single glitch over the next five or six years, they will launch into low-Earth orbit to go to a space station that had to be shut down that very year because the U.S. has no money to fund its continued operation. So, what's the point then? Extending station costs enough money that it forces a drawn-out Ares/Orion development that basically causes the same problem. You'll have capability to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit around 2018 and only two years to use it to go back and forth to the space station. And, still, no capability to launch Orion anywhere beyond low-Earth orbit. That's the budget situation. Unless you see President Obama coming through with $3B to $5B extra per year for the space program, that's the hand you've been dealt. Now, you've got to come up with a solution that fits within those budget constraints. Seems to me like piggybacking on the huge head start in launcher development provided by the U.S. military and the EELV contractors might be a better part than continuing to drain NASA's budget to develop a rocket and a spacecraft with no place to go. But again, that's just one opinion and I appreciate hearing from everyone. Keep the conversation going.

Anonymous said...

In order to utilize the EELV, extensive analysis to "man rate" the vehicles will be required for all aspects of ground and flight activities, systems and hardware. Should it be looked at? Why not? It is another option which has existing technology available. I am a strong supporter of the space program, I grew up here and definitely don't want to see massive job losses. But, objectively speaking, we should look at the feasiblity of utilizing the EELVs for human space flight. Through the analysis, it may not be the answer. But why not look at it?