The "Gap" and Continued Light Blogging

I’ve got a couple of other posts I want to write about soon, and I’m about 75% finished with my final Orbital Access Methodologies post. But unfortunately, for the next week I’m not going to have much of any free-time at home or at work, so light blogging is going to continue for a while.

That said, here’s a brief thought about “the gap”, spurred on by Clark and Rand’s recent posts on the subject. I really am not a fan of keeping the shuttle flying. It’s time to let go. A lot of the subcomponents are no longer being made. It doesn’t really keep us with access to the ISS because we’d still have to rely on the Russians for lifeboats. Sure, we could visit it once or twice a year, but is that really worth the billions it would take to keep the Shuttle flying? I don’t think so.

Quite frankly, I’d almost rather see a gap than try filling it with a kludge like keeping the shuttle flying. The fundamental problem is that even though “commercial” companies like Boeing and LM and Orbital (and hopefully SpaceX if they can get their act together) have been providing the majority of US spacelift for the past two decades, there is no commercial supplier of manned orbital spaceflight in the US. That’s the bigger problem, IMO than the fact that NASA can’t access a space station that it really doesn’t have much use for.

I’d rather see more focus on how NASA and DoD can help encourage and grow a strong and thriving commercial spaceflight (manned and unmanned) sector than how NASA can fix its broken internal spaceflight problems. Once the US actually gets to the point where it has a thriving manned orbital spaceflight sector, there won’t be any gaps again in the future. A strong commercial spaceflight sector with a weak NASA is still a lot better than a strong NASA and a weak commercial spaceflight sector.

Anyhow, I’ve got to head to work. There’s my $.02 for the day.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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5 Responses to The "Gap" and Continued Light Blogging

  1. murphydyne says:

    I’m pretty ambivalent about continuing to fly the shuttle. I think we can get a few more useful flights out of them, but with the understanding that it’s maybe two flights a year , tapering down to one, then going to zero by around 2015.

    I don’t know about them crawlers. They’re well past their best-by date, and the treads are cracking, Given everything else that NASA has been optimistic about, why should I be optimistic regarding the ability to continue using the crawlers for another couple of decades.

    I posted somewhere on line last year that there was [at that time] now a greater than 50/50 chance that the shuttle would keep flying past 2010. I do think the deadline was unnecessarily arbitrary, and somewhere I have a Shuttle 2020 pin from Boeing.

    You know what I’d really like to see? NASA work with industry and the DoD to come up with a generic launch tower facility, such that you could roll up an Atlas V or a Delta-IV or a Falcon-IX or a Taurus and the tower gantry could handle all of them. Now that would be useful. Difficult, I know, but not something I think our engineers should be scared of. It would certainly make for an interesting design project for some up and coming university students.

  2. Habitat Hermit says:

    Signing on to the doubt about a continuing Shuttle program. A few extra flights might make sense (for payloads) but anything more seems like a big step sideways further into the wilderness.

    Interesting idea Murphydyne, how about making the flame trench common instead?

    Here’s a terrible sketch with obvious flaws.

    Several sets of rails on each side that are used as needed. The tracks would multiply and branch out to as many launch vehicle integration bays as needed. Each kind of launch vehicle might have it’s own separate and differently sized rail-based crawler and launch tower. Depending on the launch vehicle needs it could be erected at the destination or at the assembly/integration site.

    All purely hypothetical but I’m thinking it would allow for more flexibility and straightforwardness.

  3. Rand Simberg says:

    Why “taper down”? If you’re going to pay to keep flying the Shuttle, you should fly it at the maximum rate, otherwise your cost per flight gets truly ridiculous. One flight a year would be four billion dollars per flight.

  4. David Stever says:

    I just don’t see a need to fly anything beyond that last module that NASA didn’t want to fly (I’m much too lazy to look the name up- you all know what I mean). Beyond that, it would be much more cost effective to pump a few bucks into flying almost anybody’s capsule on top of an Atlas V or a Delta IV to get us to the ISS, 2-3 times a year.

    Doing that in turn, would also do good things for getting Bigelow’s AirBag into orbit. We have two working launchers now, NASA thinks they’re about to add another (hah!), and Musk is adding another as well. The next NASA Administrator will have a much easier time of things then what Griffin is making it out to be now.

  5. Karl Hallowell says:

    I agree with Rand. It’s a bad idea to let linger a program with high fixed costs like the Shuttle. Either use it hard or drop it. Further, as I see it, the Shuttle ran out of “useful” missions sometime back in the mid 90’s or earlier. At some point, if the US wants to stay in the space game, it’s going to need to both get more value for the money spent (particularly in the manned program) and focus on commercial development of space.

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