A Small Serving of Crow

guest blogger john hare

SpaceX nailed the Falcon 9 on the first try. There is enough crow being eaten around the country now that somebody should put out a cookbook. My serving comes from the expressed belief that the opening of space will come through the incremental development with RLVs starting from suborbital through small orbital and so on, and not through all up test flights of ELVs. I could develop a taste for this brand of crow, so SpaceX, serve it up. Prove me wrong.

I haven’t changed my opinion of how space will be opened up in the long term, but this is an increasing sum game. I can cheer for my favorite teams without wishing ill on the others.

Ares is a different team in a different league playing a different decreasing sum game, so I can wish ill on that one. I think their players will be drifting away to more productive sports, and the events of Friday will accelerate that drift.

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johnhare

johnhare

I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.
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31 Responses to A Small Serving of Crow

  1. A_M_Swallow says:

    I suspect that space flight will be like the example in the film “2001”. People will catch a reusable space-plane to a LEO spacestation. At the spacestation they will transfer to a proper spaceship – which will not have any wings, wheels or heat shield.

  2. Steverman says:

    I’m with you- let’s get this party started. Everyone has a different idea as to what the party needs, but they all contribute to it. I was doing the dance when this launched, and I was wondering how the NASA flunkies were going to get their crow served to them.

  3. I’m a fan of whatever road to space works!
    I do hope, however, that the success of Falcon-9 doesn’t mean that SpaceX will shift all their talent over to the large launch vehicle side of their business. The wonderful thing about Falcon-1 was that it had promised to be a vehicle to launch to LEO that would actually be cheap enough for small entities (like universities) to launch satellites. (The downside of that, of course, is that it is *hard* to make money selling stuff cheap, until you are way down the learning curve.)
    Still, it would be very nice if we could the small satellite business moving, to allow more experimentation from students and start-up companies, and Falcon-1 (if it remains as cheap as SpaceX promised) is a great start.

  4. 1. This is not the first time Space X has ever launched a payload into orbit. The ULA, another private company, routinely launches payloads into orbit. So what really makes this a big deal is really the politics surrounding it: the government vs private philosophical war that permeates this country.

    2. The hard part is routinely putting humans into orbit and bringing them back safely to the Earth. Space X has not done that. And the only company that is routinely doing that so far is Energia.

    3. There’s no logical reason why Space X or other private companies shouldn’t be able to routinely place humans into orbit. The only questions are how long its going to take them to achieve that goal, how much is it going to cost, and whether or not there is a significant manned spaceflight market for these companies beyond the Federal government.

  5. Coastal Ron says:

    Marcel F. Williams on 06 Jun 2010 at 11:40 am

    Regarding point #2, Energia is really just using hardware & systems leftover from the Soviet government, so it’s only quasi-commercial.

    I agree with your point #3, and this is where the government needs to decide if it’s going to promote private enterprise, or compete with it.

    There is no question that NASA needs to be the government agency leading the space effort, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to do everything. NASA astronauts can ride to LEO on commercial launchers, and transfer to government owned (but commercially built) exploration spacecraft in orbit around the Earth, or take a commercial Moon shuttle to the NASA outpost on the lunar surface.

    Being the largest capitalist country, we already have an economic model for this, and it baffles me when politicians of all flavors are advocating for socialist-style space programs.

  6. Eric says:

    @Coastal Ron

    “Being the largest capitalist country, we already have an economic model for this, and it baffles me when politicians of all flavors are advocating for socialist-style space programs.”

    Well, the real reason is that politicians are myopic and mainly care about campaign contributions from aerospace companies. To them, NASA is no more than a welfare agency for companies that return some of the favor with some contributions. The same dysfunctions and “cost-plus” contracting hamstring out defense capabilities. I find the silence of “conservatives” on all the waste in aerospace defense contracting (which is bigger than NASA) very ironic.

    But back to the government versus private sector issues:

    As far as the right mix of government and private investment, the reality should be a mixture of both. SpaceX’s has a major achievement, build on a foundation of experience developed by NASA over the past few decades. Even the Web, and the Internet, which are huge areas of commercial growth, started from a government program and government infrastructure. So, it’ll be nice to move policy discussions away form government or private sector, to find ways of having government and the private sector develop better synergies.

    Government (public) investment is better for the more basic research and infrastructure / capacity building. NASA really does a great job at basic science. Some of which can be commercialized. But let’s not forget basic science is good in itself (!). For example, the news of possible life on Titan is mind-boggling. Scientific knowledge is a great public good, and as a public good, it provides the knowledge infrastructure needed for commercial growth, while also enriching our lives more generally.

    I like the new policies that have NASA doing more to incubate a marketplace in space. It’s a great mission for NASA, and more compelling (in the long run) than some stunt like landing on the Moon without a clear way to actually sustain a presence there.

  7. @Coastal Ron

    NASA is a socialist program. And so is the military (probably the most expensive socialist program on Earth). But practically all of the world’s economies are mixed economies (socialist and capitalist). NASA is probably a good example of productive socialism since it creates a lot more wealth than it consumes. And the investment of governments in space technology helped to create the $100 billion a year satellite based telecommunications industry.

    I assume that Elon Musk also likes socialism too since he wants to shuttle humans to the ISS (an international socialist program).

    But I’d prefer that these emerging private manned spaceflight companies shuttle people to private space stations rather than to government funded and operated space stations. There’s really not enough manned spaceflight traffic commissioned by NASA for more than one company. In fact, I’m not sure why NASA even needs more than two manned flights per year to the ISS from the US side.

    Bigelow claims that space tourism demand for their private space stations will probably require 20 manned spaceflights per year. That’s a lot more than NASA’s 5 shuttle flights in 2009. Over the next 20 years, I think space tourism will dwarf any manned spaceflight activities commissioned by the Federal government.

  8. Brian Swiderski says:

    This isn’t about “capitalism” vs. “socialism.” The main constituency behind Constellation is not socialist – Dick Shelby and Kay Bailey Hutchison are hardcore right-wingers, and most of the manned spaceflight infrastructure is in Texas, Alabama, and Florida: Not the most economically progressive regions of the country. The Ares faction is about one thing and one thing only: Keeping the gravy train rolling into TX, AL, and FL. Corrupt politicians respond to economic interests that already exist, not ones that might exist in the future.

    Furthermore, despite how it might appear, most of the support for entrepreneurial space comes from the apolitical fact that it’s making real progress while NASA is going nowhere – it’s not a result of ideological cheerleading for capitalism. If it were, we would be against COTS, and insist that entrepreneurial space should rely exclusively on private-sector contracts. But that is a radical minority opinion in this community.

    We care about one thing: Success. NASA has proven what it can’t do: Reduce costs. But it has also proven what it can do: Go places that are (currently) economically unfeasible for the market to support. Hence the Newspace vision: Commercial services to LEO and as far beyond as the private sector can manage, with NASA pushing the envelope to otherwise unreachable frontiers.

  9. Coastal Ron says:

    Eric, Marcel and Brian:

    In general, I concur with you all.

    Eric, like Elon expressed too, they are standing on the knowledge and success of the last 50 years. As the Internet has shown, those who do not innovate, die off.

    I had a chance to hear Guy Kawasaki talk last year, and part of his talk was in actually showing how he uses the Internet to promote his company. During the audience Q&A, someone asked how long he thought Twitter would be around. Remember this was last year. He thought about it and said that he couldn’t answer a question like that anymore, because if someone would have told him three years ago that Facebook would be far more popular than MySpace in 2009, he wouldn’t have believed them.

    It’s the same in aerospace, but much slower. The larger companies will devour the smaller ones, and soon there will only be a few at the top. This creates an opening for new, agile companies that focus their solution on an area of great demand. The older companies can not hope to compete, so they either pour money into improving their product, or they exit the market. If they don’t innovate, they eventually shed units and die off, and the new companies start the cycle anew.

    I think Boeing and Lockheed Martin are smart enough to want to stay in this market, and though ULA may not be able to compete directly against SpaceX, I think they will find a way to convince the government to make them their “official U.S. crew service company”.

    As long as the ISS continues to fly, it will need supplies. SpaceX is in a great position to win the majority of the next round of service contracts (2015-2020), which subsidizes their future crew services. This will give the non-government crew market time to react to the $20M/seat SpaceX price, and allow individuals and companies time to create business plans that drive demand for SpaceX crew services. It’s a pretty neat business Elon is building.

  10. JohnHunt says:

    > Hence the Newspace vision: Commercial services to LEO and as far beyond as the private sector can manage, with NASA pushing the envelope to otherwise unreachable frontiers.

    Yes, exactly. But has this idea been set in stone yet? Has it been decided that a certain % of NASA’s budget will go for COTS-like facilitation of the commercial development of space? Or are decisions being made piecemeal:
    – Cargo to LEO – yes,
    – astronauts to LEO – probably,
    – space tug? – umm…
    – fuel depots? – umm….
    – commercial development of an EDS? – umm…
    – commercial development of a lunar lander/ascender? – umm…
    – exploitation of lunar ice water? – umm…
    The Administration should say something like 20% of NASA budget to facilitate US development of cis-lunar space as fast as those financial incentives get commercial companies to achieve each step.

  11. Jardinero1 says:

    Brian, you said, “in Texas, Alabama, and Florida: Not the most economically progressive regions of the country.” How do you define “economically progressive region” and where are these regions?

  12. @Brian Swiderski

    NASA is going nowhere because the politicians don’t want NASA to go anywhere. If Nixon or Obama and Congress say that NASA can’t go to the Moon then NASA can’t go to the Moon. That’s it. Don’t blame NASA.

  13. And what would Elon do if the Congress decided to terminate the ISS? Would he lobby Congress to keep this government program going in order for him to stay in business? Being dependent of government contracts and tax payer dollars just isn’t good idea.

  14. Marcel, please die, thanks.

  15. Ed Minchau says:

    Marcel, the ISS contracts are a “nice to have” for SpaceX. They had a business plan in place regardless of COTS and NASA, and accelerated Falcon 9 when they got the contract. If Congress kills off ISS, which was the plan for 2015 before Flexible Path, then SpaceX is going forward anyhow.

  16. Kelly Starks says:

    Marcel has a point. NASA is not directed to do anything maned beyond LEO. For all the jumping up and down from space advocates and DC PR, NASA is directed to “advanced research” focused mainly on technology and systems in use for generations. So no big push out is in work.

    Noises are NASA/DC will not consider SpaceX or Orbital for commercial crew transport to LEO. So NASA seems pretty well limited to Soyuz, or Boeing and/or Lock/Mart — but Boeing and L/M seem highly unenthusiastic at working on a high cost program with virtually no political support. They are just closing out the Ares/Orion related teams.

  17. @Trent Waddington

    I’m sorry I hurt your feelings Trent:-) But sometimes the truth hurts!

  18. Marcel never has a point. He’s a troll who contributes nothing to the conversation, ever, and lately I’ve been avoiding any forum in which he is permitted to speak.

  19. “Marcel, the ISS contracts are a “nice to have” for SpaceX. They had a business plan in place regardless of COTS and NASA, and accelerated Falcon 9 when they got the contract. If Congress kills off ISS, which was the plan for 2015 before Flexible Path, then SpaceX is going forward anyhow.”

    I sure wish that would happen. The Federal government has already loaned Elon $465 million for Tesla Motors. I don’t want any more of my tax payer money going for his private enterprises.

    Obama plans to spend $3 billion a year on the ISS by 2014. I’d much rather have that $3 billion a year spent on a Moon base.

  20. Josh Cryer says:

    Marcel F. Williams, if you watched Elon’s interview on This Week In Space he clearly states that SpaceX would be fine if the COTS program went away.

    However, where would America’s space industry be? Where would American taxpayers be? Where would manned exploration be? Let me tell you right now, it would be dead.

    So your statements appear to be a subtle desire to see America lose its dominance in space, along with America’s manned space program. Shame.

  21. @Josh Cryer
    I’m strongly in favor of giving the emerging manned spaceflight companies $1.2 billion a year (the Obama plan) to develop their own manned spaceflight capability– for their own private purposes. But the idea that we have to destroy NASA’s ability to access orbit– on its own– in order for this to happen is a silly notion. That’s like saying that the Air Force and the Navy can’t fly their own aircraft because it would somehow hurt the private commercial airlines.

    Space tourism is the future for private commercial manned spaceflight. Not the ISS! The ISS should really be decommissioned after 2015, so that NASA can focus on establishing a base on the Moon before the end of the decade so we can get a foothold on those ice resources at the poles before other nations do.

    Space tourism is going to dwarf any commissioned manned spaceflights by NASA over the next 20 years, IMO. The US could help to increase the market for space tourism by establishing a national space lotto system for both Americans and foreigners who want a chance to fly into space aboard a private American space rocket– and the tax payers wouldn’t have to pay a dime.

  22. johnhare john hare says:

    We don’t have to destroy NASA’s ability to reach orbit with manned vehicles, they have already taken care of that little chore. The Shuttle cancelation started six years ago and they didn’t field a replacement capability.

  23. Kelly Starks says:

    > Trent Waddington
    >
    > Marcel never has a point. He’s a troll who contributes nothing
    > to the conversation, ever, ==

    😉

    Even trolls can have points, or be correct sometimes..

  24. Kelly Starks says:

    > 19Marcel F. Williams
    >
    > Obama plans to spend $3 billion a year on the ISS by 2014.
    > I’d much rather have that $3 billion a year spent on a Moon base.

    Big agree.

  25. Kelly Starks says:

    > Josh Cryer
    >
    > == SpaceX would be fine if the COTS program went away.
    >
    > However, where would America’s space industry be?
    > Where would American taxpayers be? Where would
    > manned exploration be? Let me tell you right now, it would be dead.

    COTS, much less SpaceX involvement with COTS, has no impact or relation Manned space exploration. Nor is it a major part of America’s space industry. So I don’t think you statment follow ni any way I can see.

  26. Kelly Starks says:

    > Marcel F. Williams
    >
    >== But the idea that we have to destroy NASA’s ability to
    > access orbit– on its own– in order for this to happen is a
    > silly notion. That’s like saying that the Air Force and the
    > Navy can’t fly their own aircraft because it would somehow
    > hurt the private commercial airlines.==

    The assumption is that eiather NASA’s 10 commercial crew transport flights to the ISS are a major fraction of all possible human space market, or they are a critical initial market — Neiather seem likely.

  27. Kelly Starks says:

    > john hare
    >
    > We don’t have to destroy NASA’s ability to reach orbit with
    > manned vehicles, they have already taken care of that little chore.==

    True, adn though a lot of space advocates think this means NASA will contract commercials to carry them to LEO, and develop ships for beynod LEO manned craft – the reality is all that expertice is simply being lost. The personel are aging, adn this set of layoffs is driving most I know of to early retirement, or other industries. If in 5 years we decide to repair a hubble, go to the moon, etc — we’ll need to redevelope the skills and industrial/government infastructure. With so much of it lost, the cost could make it politically untenable.

    This also impacts potential commercial, or even international, maned space projects. If say India or Virgin Galactic wants to start a moon base or whatever – they now can consult and use a lot of NASA expertice, or the expertice of their subcontractors. With all those benig phased out – everybody is going to have a much harder time to get a program going.

  28. Ed Minchau says:

    “the reality is all that expertice is simply being lost”

    The rocket-building expertise was lost decades ago. Everyone who worked on Apollo is dead or long retired. NASA’s experience base is in orbital assembly. The ones who do have experience building rockets are SpaceX and Masten and Armadillo and Unreasonable and Orbital and ULA (note: all private companies).

  29. Pete says:

    the reality is all that expertice is simply being lost. The personel are aging, adn this set of layoffs is driving most I know of to early retirement, or other industries. If in 5 years we decide to repair a hubble, go to the moon, etc — we’ll need to redevelope the skills and industrial/government infastructure.

    In many cases, it is only the experience to do ridiculously expensive space that is being lost. Funnily enough, that experience is not really worth anything. NASA people do not have the required skill set to do cost effective space and early retirement does indeed seem appropriate. Those who can gain the necessary experience to do economically sensible space development work will hopefully move to the private sector, perhaps creating their own start ups, and do so.

    The wasted opportunity cost of the best and the brightest at NASA was always the greatest tragedy. Now that they can come off the bench, so to speak, what great new technologies might they come up with? It would seem to me that the US economy is going to be much better for this in the long term – all that creativity and competence now unleashed.

  30. Josh Cryer says:

    Marcel F. Williams, NASA’s “ability to access space on it’s own” was lost when Bush signed in to law the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. At that moment it canceled Shuttle. We cannot go back and change things, so the best thing we can do is determine the quickest and most realistic way to move forward. NASA has at most 4 Shuttle tanks that they can use to launch STS. Assume the best case scenario you have extended STS, at great cost, for one year only. It will then take another few years to get it back up to par with the program before it. By then SpaceX will likely be shuttling people to the ISS. It is, in effect, a non-starter to return to the STS program. The costs would be enormous and the gains would be hardly worth it (it would effectively give us 4 missions to ISS for billions of dollars). The US will have a gap either way, it is better that the gap in US space flight be as economical as possible.

    I know you like the idea of a moon base, but did you know that ESAS planned to abandon it before we went to Mars? Just like ESAS planned to abandon ISS. I don’t know about you, but I want a permanent human presence in space, on Mars, on a station (be it the ISS or a future orbiting platform), or even the moon.

    Kelly Starks, if it costs NASA more than $3 billion to build a module (Orion), what makes you think they could afford a moon base for $3 billion a year? Instead NASA should be encouraging startups to develop LEO and BEO technologies to reduce the costs by a factor of 10 or more.

    As far as America’s space industry, without COTS, under the program of record, the manned gap would have been at least 7 years, with the cancellation of the ISS you could have expected at the bare minimum another 5-10 years after that with at most 3 flights a year on Ares I, but more likely less than that since there will be no where to go (fly Ares I to orbit, do maneuvers, wait patiently for Ares V to be built). So you’re talking nearly 20 years with no significant manned flights on an American rocket.

    Because of COTS we can reduce the gap by at least 4 years, and be flying regularly to the ISS with a full crew compliment. 3 years from now, Kelly, and we can be back in business.

    As far as other companies relying on NASA to start up their own space programs, I think you neglect to realize one thing, which was mentioned here in the comments awhile ago. SpaceX can be their contractor and can provide commercial astronaut services to those countries. It’s a win win all around.

  31. Pete says:

    NASA’s “ability to access space on it’s own” was lost when Bush signed in to law the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. At that moment it canceled Shuttle. We cannot go back and change things, so the best thing we can do is determine the quickest and most realistic way to move forward.

    It was lost when time and time again NASA failed to come up with a low cost replacement for the shuttle. NASA had so many second chances it was not funny. Constellation was the final straw to break the camel’s back, it was such an impressive waste of money that no number of vested interests could swing yet another second chance for NASA.

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