Policy: April 2014 Archives

SpaceX to Sue Over EELV Sole-Sourced Contract, SpaceRef Business

"In a news conference held at the National Press Club in Washington SpaceX CEO Elon Musk started off by outlining the recent success of the soft landing of the Falcon 9 first stage off the coast of Florida. He then dropped a bombshell aimed straight at the heart of Washington with news that he was going to protest and sue over the recent sole sourced Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contract won by United Launch Alliance (ULA)."

Marc's note: I've included the full audio from the news conference. The first half of the news conference relates to the soft landing of the Falcon 9 first stage. Then Elon Musk begins to discuss the legal action started by SpaceX.

NASA Names Six New Members to Advisory Council

"The six new members are Wanda Austin, Wayne Hale, Scott Hubbard, Miles O'Brien, Thomas Young, and Kathryn Schmoll. The group has a wide range of expertise in the aerospace field. They are joining NAC Chair Steven Squyres and continuing members Marion Blakey, Kenneth Bowersox, David McComas, William Ballhaus, Charles Kennel (ex officio) and Lester Lyles (ex officio)."

Message from the Administrator NASA's Updated Strategic Plan

"We stand at a pivotal moment in space exploration and our ability to improve life on our planet. Humankind is making plans to further extend its reach into the solar system, and NASA is leading the way. Our orbiting outpost, the International Space Station (ISS), is home to a crew of astronauts from across the world conducting research and learning how to live and work in space. "

Keith's note: This thing reads like an annual report - there is no "plan" in this strategic plan. The authors are utterly confused as to what a "goal", "objective", and "strategy" are and confusingly use the terms interchangeably. It is almost as if they say "it is important that we do what we are doing because we are already doing it". Also, doing things in a cost-effective and innovative way seems to be some sort of strategic objective preoccupation with the reports' authors. Well, DUH, you should always do such things in a cost-effective and innovative way as a matter of course in ANY project - government or otherwise - not do so as an end in and of itself.

It is like saying "our goal is to drive under the speed limit on the right side of the road" as an objective - when your real objective is to travel to a specific location. NASA is bafflingly confused when it comes to form and function, cause and effect, and that the specific managerial process of doing something and actually achieving a specific goal are not the same thing.

Then again NASA people often cannot tell the difference between nouns and verbs. Ever hear a NASA person say they are going to "action something"?

Keith's note: There has been a flurry of comments via Twitter and press releases over the past 24 hours about going to Mars - and what things we can do now to help us to get there. It all started with NASA Administrator Bolden telling an advisory group yesterday that "Inspiration Mars is not Inspirational". He was referring the the latest incarnation of the ever-changing mission idea first proposed by Dennis Tito. This is part of a larger discussion regarding the SLS (Space Launch System), destinations in space, the value of commercial space - all of which was turbocharged by NASA's stealthy direction to its staff to cut off all ties with Russia except those involving the International Space Station.

Bolden, the White House, and some Democrats want to do the ARM (Asteroid Retrieval Mission) as a first test of the Orion/SLS system. Republicans and members of Congress from states where SLS/Orion hardware is made want a more robust Mars flyby mission using additional SLS hardware. All of this is fueled behind the scenes by partisan politics and the puppetry by former NASA employees scorned by the cancellation of the Constellation program.

And no one in this food fight can point to a clear, cohesive space policy proposal - one with budgets, milestones, and overall goals. Indeed everyone's notional policy is deeply flawed and wholly out of synch with the realities of using the same old approaches to conduct a program of human exploration mandated by the government. But when has that stopped anyone from having a good argument about what the current Administration's policy is - or is not? Indeed that is what this is all about. No one wants to really explore space any more. They just want to argue about it.

The argument currently finds itself focused on asteroids Vs Mars. So lets start there.

ARM is not without its fiscal problems and fundamental flaws. If the whole idea of ARM is to give Orion/SLS system a test in deep space then they should actually send a crew *to* an asteroid IN DEEP SPACE. Grabbing an asteroid and then bringing it back to a location close to Earth via robot such that Orion can visit it totally undermines the purpose of a deep space test. Its like lowering a basketball hoop to make it easier for you to sink the ball. Your test now becomes a stunt. It would be vastly simpler and less expensive to send a robotic mission to characterize the target asteroid - if asteroid characterization was the main goal.

If a true test of Orion/SLS systems in a risky environment - for a first flight - was the goal, then NASA should do just that. But to suggest that a Mars Flyby is a good way to do this test is to run in the exact opposite direction - for a first mission. Operating much closer to Earth ARM has the virtue of providing a contingency return if any critical systems fail on their first flight. Mars Flyby commits to everything with no way to abort. The crew is along for a 500+ day ride no matter what.

So ARM is too wimpy and Mars Flyby is too risky. How do we test Orion/SLS? And oh yes, everyone is waving their arms as to whether either mission "helps us get to Mars". Well, if you have already decided that Orion/SLS is the only (preferred) way you want to send humans to Mars then ANY flight has to provide some value. Of course some missions provide more bang for the buck than others. So people saying that it doesn't help us get to Mars are simply playing politics with their preferred mission.

The issue as I see it is how you use this absurdly expensive system in a strategic, systematic way that reduces real risk without taking unreasonable risks and demonstrates systems and technologies specifically needed to land people on Mars. You need a firm goal, and a long term plan for what you do once you get to Mars and build backward from what it takes to meet those goals.

Here's the problem: NASA has no firm plan, goals, destinations, and it doesn't even have the slightest hint of any evidence that a budget significant enough to make Mars exploration possible is in the cards. "Some time in the 2030s" is not a policy to send humans to Mars. Its a punchline for policy wonks to use.

Indeed there is not enough money NOW in order to get started. Moreover, we have one singular government solution (Orion/SLS) irreparably mandated by a collision of meandering policies from successive White Houses with overt pork preservation tactics by Congress. No discussion of alternate approaches is possible. And when one private sector alternate approach appeared (the original Inspiration Mars) it was immediately abducted by big aerospace companies and morphed so as to now justify the Orion/SLS - the very thing it originally sought to eclipse.

Have I missed anything?

- Bolden: Inspiration Mars is Not Inspirational, earlier post
- Is Inspiration Mars a "NASA Mission"? It Depends Who You Ask, earlier post

Keith's note: The Space Studies board is meeting jointly on April 3-4, 2014 in Washington , DC
[Agenda  register online]. The meeting starts today at 8:30 am but is closed. The public (open) session starts at 10:50 am. Marcia Smith reports that Charlie Bolden will be there.



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This page is an archive of entries in the Policy category from April 2014.

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