[FPSPACE] Study backs COTS
"Benigno Muñiz Jr."
bmuniz at rain.org
Sun Feb 11 17:46:14 EST 2007
At 10:34 AM 03-02-07, DSFPortree at aol.com wrote:
>I think the point is that estimates of the kind we're discussing
>aren't actually based on much. They serve to sell a program, but
>then they are conveniently forgotten.
>CEV is at that stage now. Who knows what it will be like when (if)
>it actually flies?
Since I'm going to talk about my opinions and not just provide facts,
let me take off my CSI hat, use my personal email address, and state
up front that the following are my opinions alone and do not
necessarily reflect CSI's corporate position. But they are based on
24+ years in the aerospace industry working on military, civil, and
commercial projects, as well as 15+ years of personal support and
advocacy for commercial space development.
I'm making no judgement about the accuracy of the projected CEV
budget, or the viability of the program. But you said there should
be a backup plan to COTS ("Not that I think COTS is a bad idea,
though of course we'd have to make sure we had a backup plan."). My
point is that COTS is itself the backup plan, as evidenced by NASA's
budget and program announcements as compared to CEV's. The "backup
plan" for COTS should therefore simply be to fund more companies with
a variety of technical approaches.
>US/Russian space cooperation involved politics, true, but then so
>does everything. Integrating two different space programs ate up the savings.
The technical integration is not what ate up the "savings." There
have been many articles about what happened to some of the $, some
even reported on this email list by Jim Oberg and others.
Additionally, it's interesting that one rarely hear's complaints
about the costs of integrating the space programs of the other 14 or
so counties that are the other ISS partners, e.g. the costs incurred
for the RPOC Working Group in integrating ESA's ATV, JAXA's HTV, etc.
And somehow, the commercial airline manufacturing sector is able to
successfully integrate programs across international lines, e.g.
> Working with private organizations through COTS, it seemed to me,
> would be like creating another layer of bureaucracy and diffused
NASA purchases commercial launch services for its ELV missions right
now, and quite successfully. There does not seem to be "diffused
>Myself, I'd rather NASA spent that $500 million on a robotic
>exploration mission or two. COTS would have had little chance if the
>ideological climate in DC hadn't been conducive to private
>enterprise space projects whether they actually make sense or not.
The "the ideological climate" should have been in place at least
since Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990, when NASA by law has had
to start purchasing commercial launch services.
> It could easily go away. We don't actually *need* COTS.
NASA has a future "need" for cargo to ISS, as evidenced by numerous
ISS program presentations over the years.
The question is how should that need should be met. The debate over
the proper role of government has been going on since at least
Plato's time, so I don't think it's going to get resolved in this email.
But the fact remains that NASA's interest in commercial services for
providing this cargo have been evidenced in one way or another for
over 6 years:
And more recently:
"But the Station is expensive to sustain, if we continue to rely upon
a government-only approach to that effort. As I stated earlier this
year, one strategy NASA will employ to meet our future needs is to
utilize, to the fullest extent possible, commercially-developed cargo
resupply and, ultimately, crew rotation capabilities for the
International Space Station. Indeed, we will issue this fall a
request for proposal for such capabilities, with the development to
be done on a commercial basis, much like that in the commercial
communications satellite market. This is a priority for NASA.
Utilizing the market offered by the International Space station's
requirements for cargo and crew will spur true competition in the
private sector, will result in savings that can be applied elsewhere
in the program, and will promote further commercial opportunities in
the aerospace sector"
"Government agencies do not generate profits, and should not, since
we should never compete with private industry. When technology
reaches a point that an activity can become profitable, as
communication satellites did or as many functions once performed
exclusively by the U.S. Postal Service have, the activity should be
performed by private industry. ... Most of the nation's economy is
driven by commercial rather than government interests, and I believe
that most of us are thankful for that. In that context, NASA's
announcement that its preferred approach to meeting ISS logistics
requirements would be through commercial purchases can hardly be
considered "non- traditional". The vast majority of our economy is
fueled by such commercial transactions ... A measure of NASA's
success in carrying out the exploration of space is the extent to
which we architect the program to help create a viable commercial
space industry, which we can then leverage to obtain increased
efficiency in achieving our own goals."
Does NASA "need" COTS to deliver that cargo? Maybe not. Maybe
NASA-badged employees could design, build, and operate every single
piece of space equipment to deliver cargo to ISS, and for CEV, and
for every single science mission NASA launches, too. With apologies
for the list readers in other countries for being U.S.-centic here, I
wonder would that be what ***the U.S.***, with an economy that the
NASA Administrator acknowledges is driven primarily by private
enterprise, really "needs"?
This is a question the U.S. has struggled with since the dawn of the
Space Age. But my thoughts on this can best be summarized by what
Ralph J. Cordiner, Chairman of the Board of the General Electric
Company said in his lecture "Competitive Private Enterprise in Space"
at UCLA on 4 May 1960:
"Will the drive for space push mankind into a steel trap of
regimentation, or will it open up new vistas of creativity and
freedom? Will the new, larger world of the future, with its
boundaries moving out to the other planets and beyond, be a free
world or a regimented world? The answer to this question, the
heritage we leave our children, will be determined to a large degree
by how the United States -- the world's leading industrial nation --
goes about the exploration and development of space. If we go at it
by the route of regimentation and government enterprise, if we allow
the communist powers to establish our course, patterns will be set
that will be almost impossible to break. On the other hand, if we
use the strength of competitive private enterprise, we will not only
develop faster, but will help to assure that the world of our
children will be a free world, honoring the dignity and creativity of man."
I think history unfortunately shows that the U.S. took the wrong path
in human spaceflight. Compare the current status of commercial
communications satellites -- where NASA was forbidden by law from
playing a dominating role -- that are so ubiquitous that viewers
around the world don't know or care that satellites are involved in
their ability to watch the big game (be it the Super Bowl, World Cup,
etc. as one tiny example) vs. the relative handful of people that
have been to space themselves, the overwhelming majority of them
being government employees. I haven't looked that the actual
statistics, but I'd guess that, ironically, more private citizens
from Russia -- employees of RSC Energia -- have probably been to
space than from the U.S.
At 10:31 AM 04-02-07, DSFPortree at aol.com wrote:
>NASA should spend its limited funding on projects that don't offer
>immediate commercial return - exploration and development of
>advanced technologies. These are likely to yield commercial return
>in the future, though that's not guaranteed, which is why government
>should assume the risk of doing them.
I agree that NASA should push the envelope where private enterprise
can not or will not (and part of that problem could be cured by
non-technical solutions like tax policy).
But the key issue in delivery of cargo to ISS is not "development of
advanced technologies", it is NASA's actual purchase of those services.
>Re: insurance, it's more complex than you've made out. How are you
>going to cover an accident that kills NASA astronauts and destroys
>NASA equipment to the tune of billions? It becomes NASA's
>responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen, which means
>oversight, which means more organizational complexity and cost. All
>so our tax dollars can subsidize a service we don't need.
Certainly the issue of insurance is more complex that I can lay out
in a short email. But ultimately NASA faces these very risks
themselves when their own vehicles, or their partners, go to ISS. A
solution for "less complexity" would be to eliminate *all* vehicles
going to ISS, but some how I don't think that would help the ISS program.
"Space Is A Place, Not A Program"
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