The Antibodies Won

They misnamed the bill though. Should’ve been called “Found a Pork Program (un)Worthy of its Host Nation”.

I find it amusing that so many of the opponents of Obama’s proposed space plan are so happy with this, when it doesn’t actually resolve most of the things they said were wrong with his policy. To whit:

  1. There are no details, plans, or near-term destinations.  Just an unfocused non-plan to build an HLV without really having a plan on how it will be used or when.  So unfocused spending and lack of a plan or near-term destination wasn’t the issue?
  2. Even the Moon isn’t outright dismissed, it’s pretty clear the plan is a modified version of flexible path.  Ie this isn’t going to give people that moonbase they craved so soon.  So actually going back to the Moon anytime in the forseeable future wasn’t the issue?
  3. Without the shuttle extended, and with commercial crew being delayed (let’s get real folks, moving most of the funding to the out years is a cheap way of defunding a project without actually having to have the huevos to do it honestly), it is now guaranteed that the ISS is going to be accessible only via Russia for most of the rest of this decade.  There will be no way of launching those critical spares that were the reason Jeff Bingham was always giving for a shuttle extension.  So apparently the gap isn’t an issue?
  4. The KSC portion of the Shuttle team is going to get decimated next year still, this time with no commercial crew projects ramping up to help soften the blow.  So apparently workforce retention wasn’t really an issue?

As far as I can tell, the only issue Congress really cared about was protecting jobs in Huntsville and Houston and making sure we get a big HLV as soon as possible, even though we won’t have anything to do with it once we get it.

The good news is that the “dot-product” of NASA’s direction and sanity is a fair deal of money, and it grew quite a bit compared to last year.  At least some elements of useful things survived.  Instead of being 99% orthogonal to the actual development of space, it’s now only 95% orthogonal.  It’s just so frustrating and disgusting when we actually had a chance for something so much better.

Here’s to hoping that now that JSC and MSFC got their rattle back, the creative and useful parts of NASA can be moved to locales better-matched to small development programs.  Even the pittance they’re being given compared to feeding the HLV albatross can go a long way if managed by the right group.

[Note (7/1/11): I realized that at least some of what I said was pretty offensive, so I edited out the most mean-spirited part.]

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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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29 Responses to The Antibodies Won

  1. JohnHunt says:

    I’m with you. There was a real opportunity missed here for real space development. This is exactly why I think that there needs to be a set percentage of NASA’s budget to incentivize commercial development of cis-lunar space. Only by designating a set amount and then sticking with it for a few years can the most efficient and productive part of the budget be protected from the the protectionist parts of government space.

    Also, has anyone done the math to see just how much payload a couple of Falcon 9 Heavies (EDS & lunar lander) could land on the lunar equator? If its in the neighborhood of 3,000 kg then what couldn’t fit on that lander? And if we don’t need a heavy lifter to send people to an asteroid, then why do we need to spend $15 billion in development and $2 billion a pop for a heavy lifter. Think of how much of cis-lunar space we could develop for that kind of moolah!

  2. John,
    Unfortunately the argument over SDHLV has never been over actual technical needs. It has always been about robbing Peter (in another state) to pay Paul (who’s in your district and votes for you).

    That said, there was some good stuff that somehow made its way through. I’m just hoping we can find a way to ensure the useful part of NASA’s HSF budget gives a good return on investment.


  3. anom says:

    SpaceX is the biggest winner in all of this.

    SpaceX will get a small contract of $300-Million or more to do commercial crew and they will be the only company with enough funding to develop a human space flight capability.

    SpaceX will not have credible future competition from Orbital or ULA for the man-rated rockets, because these competitors will not get enough funding. Orbital and ULA will not risk their own money, so they will not reach the finish line.

    The Shuttle-derived Heavy Lifter will never be finished and Astronauts will never fly in the Orion. Orbital will be happy that their Taurus-II was funded, ULA will continue to dominate DoD launches, and SpaceX will have a monopoly in US manned spaceflight and US commercial launches.

    In 5 years SpaceX will have a clear monopoly position and be the clear winner. NASA will not get Orion or HLV working so NASA will have to base its human spaceflight policies around SpaceX in 5 years.

  4. asdasd says:

    My understanding was the HLV is necessary. But this guy said “we don’t need a heavy lifter to send people to an asteroid” and I got confused. Necessary for what then?

  5. anom, we certainly don’t know if SpaceX is going to get COTS-D yet.

    Technically, NASA could be funding it right now, but they choose not to.

  6. Galtish bus driver says:

    I’m doing my part to help reduce NASA funding.

    I formerly paid huge taxes. I’ve moved in the (intentionally) “downwardly mobile” direction — so no more. I’m now helping the government get to the fiscal crises that may be the only hope for the republic.

  7. A_M_Swallow says:

    The CCDev capsules Boeing’s CST-100 or Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser could fly to LEO.

    For beyond LEO missions Bigelow’s Sundancer pushed by an Aft Propulsion System (APS) from Aerojet will take people to lunar orbit or a Lagrange point. If the fuel tanks are too small a propulsion unit from a different company could be used. If NASA is not careful it could find itself getting lapped in 2016.

  8. Doug says:

    I agree so far this new plan sounds as vague as the Flex Path, moon is not given mention, Mars 2030 something….. The only driver is to build an HLV beyond that what………..looks like another boondoggle. NASA is going nowhere with this program. The only upside is hopefully programs like CRuSR are given some funding crumbs. And NASA survives somewhat intact but woefully lacking any real vision or leadership forward.
    ISS flies on and on and on and on….. gee I’m getting sleeply just thinking about it…yawn.

    This is a porker victory. Pork rules hopefully new space learns a lessen. Deal in the pork shrewdly upfront in the planning phase and define the plan accordingly to limit wiggle room later. Don’t let congress pork your plans.

  9. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    asdasd: HLV isn’t necessary. Not with an Earth-orbit rendezvous (EOR) architecture. Or propellant depots (which is probably EOR).

  10. Rcat5 says:


    The draft bill was pretty clearly designed to roadblock the CST-100 (and Dream Chaser?) by requiring a crew rescue capability. The HLV and Orion can only be a “backup” if Commercial is delayed as long as possible, so they also threw in the one year restriction to try and slow SpaceX down.

  11. This plan would give NASA an HLV and an crew exploratory vehicle by before 2017. That’s a major improvement relative to the Ares I/V architecture and the Obama plan where an HLV wasn’t planned to be operational until the end of the decade or beyond.

    Once we have an HLV then it will be a lot easier to fund the development of some sort of an Altair vehicle for lunar landings and lunar base missions by a President who actually sees the value of utilizing lunar resources to reduce the cost of space travel and to permanently expand the human presence beyond the Earth.

  12. Marcel,
    That’s only an improvement if you really think an HLV is necessary. I don’t. It doesn’t have a mission, and we’ll have to pay its carrying costs for several years while we fund developing hardware to actually use it. To me having an HLV and CEV without a mission that now sucks up a third of NASA’s budget without doing anything is a waste. The A-com suggested ways of getting out of that mess, but apparently, not being able to do much in space isn’t considered a bug by all of us.


  13. Michael Kent says:

    I agree with you, Jon. I’ve had enough discussions on this subject to conclude that, regardless of their stated objections, most of the FY11 opponents just want an HLV. Why? Because it’s a Big Freakin’ Rocket! I swear that for 80% of them, we could launch the HLV only twice a year with an empty payload fairing, and they would applaud, as long as it’s a Big Freakin’ Rocket!

    But maybe I’m just cynical.


  14. Brad says:

    If Congress mandates an HLV project that begins in 2011, why is anyone shocked? Did anyone expect the Obama administration to object to that since they themselves endorsed HLV, albeit at a slightly later time?

    Opponents of HLV should have admitted the battle against HLV was lost when the Obama plan first came out. How anyone could reconcile their opposition to HLV while loudly endorsing the Obama plan at the same time, is an excellent example of double-think.

  15. Neil H. says:

    > If Congress mandates an HLV project that begins in 2011, why is anyone shocked? Did anyone expect the Obama administration to object to that since they themselves endorsed HLV, albeit at a slightly later time?

    Yes, because developing an HLV that early goes against pretty much everything the Augustine Committee said on the topic of HLVs.

  16. Brad,
    Part of the point of punting HLVs five years down the road was that that would give depots and commercial crew delivery a chance to prove itself first. If those worked (or if there were any breakthroughs in the propulsion side like say TAN engines), it would change the way you’d want to do an HLV significantly. If it turns out that due to depots you only need a 40mT HLV, it’d be better to know that before you go and build something much bigger than you really need. As it is, the HLV is mostly going to be wasted for the first several years of operations, if it really hits its 2016 target…

    Anyway, I don’t think that’s that hard to grasp.


  17. Brad says:


    So you were fine with the Obama commitment to HLV? Really? Because you expected they would pick a small one? Does it then follow the major problem you should have with the congressional mandated HLV is it’s size? Of course not. But you sound to me like you are rationalizing.

    And as far as the timeline for the HLV there may be some confusion. Many people are assuming the bill mandates a 2016 readiness date for the HLV. While other people are saying the 2016 date only applies to a NASA manned spacecraft and not the HLV. In that case the main difference between the Obama HLV and the Congressional HLV is the start date, 2011 vs. 2015.

    And since the Obama plan contemplates a cis-lunar mission as early as 2021, and an asteroid mission by 2025 (both presumably using the Obama HLV), it’s a lot more realistic to begin work on the HLV earlier than 2015. Or were the Obama dates for those missions as unrealistic as the dates for the POR? Of course they were.

    It seems to me that an awful lot of people were reading more into the Obama plan than was justified by the facts. In other words a lot more Hope going on than Change. And a lot of rationalizing.

    Look. I support depots, I am against HLV, I support new-space, in short I’m pretty much on your side when it comes to these things. But I believe Obama took you for a ride.

  18. Brad says:

    I decided to plow through the Senate bill for myself rather than rely so much on other’s interpretations. It’s sections 302 and 303 which seem to be causing most of the confusion.

    Typical legalese for the most part. In other words, very sloppy.

    But nowhere could I find a requirement that the HLV fly by 2016 (see 302). On the other hand the NASA manned spacecraft did have such a requirement (see 303).

    The requirements for the HLV are so poorly defined, that it would be easy to evade some of them. For example, where it seems to define the “Space Launch System” to require growth potential for 150 tons payload to LEO, that is not the language used!

    “The Space Launch System
    shall incorporate capabilities for evolutionary growth
    to launch objects beyond low-Earth orbit and to
    carry heavier or larger payloads of up to 150 tons.”

    Of course who knows what the final form of the bill will take by the time it completes the entire Congressional sausage grinder.

    It also seems we will have to get used another term of tecno-babble though, the so-called “Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle”, as Congress renames the CEV spacecraft. Same job, different name.

    Well, not quite. Whereas the CEV was intended by NASA as it’s only means for manned access to LEO in the POR, the MPCV is only intended as a backup to commercial services according to the bill language. Commercial crew still remains the primary means of LEO access under this bill.

    And though the SLS is required to be able to launch the MPCV, there is no requirement for the MPCV to be carried only by the SLS. So it seems Congress is open to having this spacecraft launched by many other launch vehicles (perhaps even a Falcon 9!) The Congressional requirements also seem to free the MPCV from the straitjacket the Orion found itself in, such as the Orion’s crew of six, an Apollo moldline RV, 5000 fps delta v of propellant, etc.

  19. Paul says:

    “How anyone could reconcile their opposition to HLV while loudly endorsing the Obama plan at the same time, is an excellent example of double-think.”

    I can only speak for myself, but I assumed the delay-before-decision was to allow the EOR/depot advocates to prove themselves to the doubters. Then the HLV could be cancelled without wasting a dollar (or if needed, simply farmed out to the NewSpace crowd, not as a development contract, but as fee-for-service. In other words, the “decision” I expected to see in 2015 was “hang on, aren’t those guys already developing a low-cost 40t launcher, can’t we just buy launches?”)

    Implicit in both the early start and the 75t requirement is the assumption that this HLV will be an internal NASA program, a la Ares. The delay provided an opportunity to explore another path, now that’s less likely.

    (Likewise, I assumed that the continued development of the Orion boondoggle was simply a make-work program which would be cancelled once crew-commercial proved itself as a development model.)

    (Edit: Just saw your last message while writing this; things may not be as clear cut as the publicity suggested.)

  20. Brad says:


    I don’t think it was realistic to expect private development of an HLV starting by 2015, even one as small as 40 MT to LEO, there just isn’t any market for such a launcher. Heck, I’ll be pleased as punch if SpaceX manages to get the Falcon 9H flying by 2015!

    Even governments aren’t being very ambitious these days. China is taking tortoise steps toward the Long March 5 which will have close to 14 MT to GEO payload in it’s largest configuration. While Russia wastes effort on recreating Proton capabilities in a new all-Russian vehicle to be launched from Russian-only sites.

    I also don’t think it was realistic to hope the new Obama plan contained some secret master-plan to evade HLV. They aren’t that clever. Just look at how long it took them to finish devising the plan, and how poorly they then presented the plan even internally to NASA. It was if someone was still working on the plans, hidden away under the hood even as they rolled it out. Half-baked.

    And here is some early reaction from the Obama administration to the Senate bill, “The bill contains the critical elements necessary for achieving the President’s vision for NASA, it recognizes that Constellation is no longer the right program for achieving our boldest ambitions, it helps launch a commercial space transportation industry, it embraces the President’s proposal for an additional $6 billion for NASA, it extends the International Space Station and it represents an important first step towards helping us achieve the key goals the President laid out,” said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.

  21. Zach T says:

    I’m really rather upset about the potential defunding of commercial crew which should be item one, but I must confess I’m very much of two minds about this. There is an industrial sustainment issue at play here that has national security ramifications. We need a viable solid rocket industrial base for the next generation SLBMs that will be going in the SSBNs that replace the Ohio class. We need a solid rocket industrial base for when we replace the Minuteman IIIs in the 2020s. (or sooner) The SSME is unique in that it’s a large staged combustion all cryogenic engine, there really isn’t anything else in it’s class. What happens to all that tribal and institutional knowledge post shuttle with nothing after it? Same goes for Michoud.

    I think that a better balance needed to be struck between embracing true commercial contracting and the new space sector and ensuring we don’t loose our industrial base. This bill I fear though has just swung too far in the opposite direction.

  22. Mike Lorrey says:

    They proved here that they don’t give a crap about space, they are only in it for the gold.

  23. Martijn Meijering says:

    I don’t think it was realistic to expect private development of an HLV starting by 2015, even one as small as 40 MT to LEO, there just isn’t any market for such a launcher.

    NASA could have hired ULA to develop EELV Phase 1 which would fit that description. There is no technical justification for SDLV, even if you believe 40-50mT is necessary. And if you wanted 70mT, then you could do that with Atlas Phase 2, even without a new kerolox engine or even with one if politics dictated the need for it. The 150mT number was designed to lock in SDLV.

    There are no two ways about this, this is a deeply corrupt and potentially very harmful decision.

  24. Paul says:

    “I also don’t think it was realistic to hope the new Obama plan contained some secret master-plan to evade HLV. They aren’t that clever. […] It was if someone was still working on the plans, hidden away under the hood even as they rolled it out. Half-baked.”

    No secret master-plan, it was the half-bakery that I read as “we’re not serious about these bits.” Ie, Orion and the HLV seemed out of sync with the rest of the plan. I took that to mean that they were last minute tacked-on tokens to quell post-Ares distress within NASA. (If that makes sense.)

    As you say, I may have been reading too much into it. Something about fuel depots + asteroid missions (+ SpaceX + Bigelow) tapped into that old boys-own-space-adventure thrill(*), whereas Ares/Orion gave me an “oh no, not again” sinking feeling.(**)

    (* I’ve been aching for someone to build a proper spaceship. Assembled in space, reusable, refuelable. ISS with a nuke and a plasma drive, flying around deep space for years at a time… Something about Obama’s plan felt like a fellow fanboi was trying to steer NASA towards that.)

    (** I’m curious if that was also the reaction amongst those who actually bend aerospace metal for a living.)

    ((Ps. Thanks for that link to the actual budget language. Looking through it, it’s hard to see any resemblance to anything I saw anticipating it; certainly nothing justifying their “we’re saving teh space program from the Obama-monster!!!1” rants. It actually seems a 95% win for Obama. <Shrug>))

  25. Mike Snyder says:

    “As far as I can tell, the only issues people really cared about were not having to compete for a real job if you were a USA/MSFC/JSC shuttle guy, and making sure we get a big HLV as soon as possible, even though we won’t have anything to do with it once we get it.”

    Wow Jon, very nice. It seems you are without any honor. Sad really.

  26. Richard M says:

    Well, at any rate, the DIRECT guys are fairly happy this week.

    While I bow to Jon’s greater technical expertise in this area, the politics of this should have surprised no one. Indeed, it lays bear the unreality of the last three (well, last five, if you want to get right down to it) presidential administrations’ space plans. Each put forth ambitious plans that not only accepted absurdly low cost projections at face value, but failed to take account of congressional political realities – realities that the Johnson and Nixon administrations more or less have locked us into. VentureStar and Constellation simply tried to do too much at once with too little funding and never secured much congressional protection because there weren’t sufficient vested interests to protect them when the succeeding administration decided to axe them.

    Obama’s proposal put forth no splashy new system, by contrast, but proved just as politically unrealistic. If the Senate bill demands a shuttle derived-HLV without a clear mission, Obama provided neither a launch system or a mission – just a nebulous plan to research for several years (til he’s out of office) and then decide on a launcher. The politics don’t work that way, however; the likely result would be neither a mission nor a launcher, nor even (I would argue, regrettably) sufficient funding for a truly robust COTS private industry. The perfect can’t be the enemy of the good – something Bush should have realized before letting Griffin have his head in abandoning an actual SDLV in favor of the biggest, baddest booster ever built.

    The continued lack of a clear mission is something I put to lack of administration leadership – hoping to get that out of Congress is a lot to hope for. Having said that: While I know just enough to recognize Jon’s point that the 150mt requirement is inflated and unnecessary for most ambitious BEO missions, and I concede that BEO does not absolutely require a HLV, it does make it considerably easier, and preservation of (what remains) of shuttle heritage infrastructure and workforce is simply going to get more congressional support than new, untested policy alternatives, amped-up COTS included. Of course, a lot of STS infrastructure has already been lost; this decision for a (likely DIRECT-ish) SDLV would have made more sense five years ago.

    At the end of the day we’re in this sorry mess because there’s been very little real interest in space by any administration since the 60’s, and what little congressional support has been largely tied to jobs in key constituencies. That’s unlikely to change. Space advocates simply have to recognize this and work with it.

  27. Richard M says:

    One other point, Jon: I do agree that it is remarkable – remarkable – how LBJ’s Marshall Plan for the Sunbelt has ended up making statists out of the most moss-backed southern Republicans.

    They’re all for private industry until it comes to risking the big NASA-plexes in their home states. At that point, suddenly only government knows how to do space launching effectively, notwithstanding any and all evidence (Falcon 9 versus Ares I) to the contrary.

    The long term key may simply be to find a way to build up a sizable private industry workforce that congresscritters will start feeling just as vested in protecting.

  28. Martijn Meijering says:

    While I bow to Jon’s greater technical expertise in this area, the politics of this should have surprised no one.

    Well, I was really surprised Obama chose to do a deal now. I don’t understand what good that does him if there’s going to be a CR. He seemed to be in a very strong position that was getting stronger by the day. SDLV backers needed a compromise fast, Obama not so much, or so it seemed. The real reason probably doesn’t have much to do with space, and I wonder what secret deal was done. It would also be interesting to know what motivated Rockefeller to support the new proposal. What’s in it for him?

  29. Paul says:

    Brad (and Martijn Meijering)…
    Re: My comment (19) about NASA (under the original delayed-decision plan) perhaps deciding in 2015 to just buy 40T launches from NewSpace developers…

    Coincidentally found this story on NextBigFuture, with links.

    Go Elon.

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