Obama Transition Recommendations (Updated)

I’m busy on a writing project, but Ferris Valyn and I submitted two papers to the Obama transition team over the past week, and Ferris just posted the first one on his DailyKos site.  The change.gov site seems to be fairly backed up at the moment, so I don’t know how soon it will show up there, but you can read what we came up with over on Ferris Valyn’s site.  I’ll post a link when he has the second paper put up as well.

[Update: And here’s the second paper of the two.]

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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.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

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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14 Responses to Obama Transition Recommendations (Updated)

  1. Bill White says:

    Jon –

    Here is a link to Obama’s August 2008 space platform.

    http://www.fladems.com/page/-/Obama_Space.pdf

    In your opinion, where do you and Aaron most diverge from this document? It seems to me that there is significant congruence between your document and this one. Is that correct, or not?

  2. Bill,
    Sorry if this is a bit incoherent. I’ve seen a few too many 3AM’s this week.

    I like a good portion of the policy. Some thoughts.

    -I like the NASC suggestion
    -I like the focus beyond NASA
    -I don’t like extra flights for the shuttle
    -Nor talk about developing a “shuttle successor” (though that’s somewhat made up for by the next part about commercial space)
    -I also think it’s going to be hard to get a lot of commercially useful research out of ISS when deliveries only happen 2-4 times per year, and crew rotations rarely. It’s just not a way to run a research shop…though you can at least get long-duration human in microgravity information.
    -I really like his goal of setting aside 10% of exploration explicitly for R&T work. That’s really good. Actually I’m a fan of all three bullet points in that category. I think though the key to doing international collaboration right is by having a much more flexible and open architecture than what we have with constellation.
    -not sure I agree with everything, but his public/private partnerships section is pretty good.
    -the “educating the public” section seemed a bit weak though.

    All told there’s a surprising amount of really good stuff in there, and a surprisingly small amount of really bad stuff in there.

    ~Jon

  3. Bill White says:

    Thanks, Jon.

    I believe we are talking about ONE extra flight of the orbiter to deliver the Alpha Mass Spectrometer to ISS, a multi-billion dollar physics experiment professors and graduate students have spent decades preparing for. Not flying AMS to ISS would generate significant bad blood with the “Big Science” physics community (all around the world) and therefore that one mission is more than justified on a “make no unnecessary enemies” rationale.

    More enlightened folks might understand ISS sunk cost arguments — don’t chase sunk costs — however numerous foreign space programs have been gearing up to support ISS and work with ISS.

    Whether or not ISS makes any sense in a stand alone sense, I would assert that the United States of America benefits terrestrially by not pulling the plug on various ISS science endeavors other nations have been working on, also for decades. There certainly are some “Emperor’s New Clothes” aspects to this, but welcome to the world of international diplomacy.

    Without a shuttle successor, Obama would need to perform a radical overhaul of NASA and that would require political capital and might fail. Quietly sliding in a number of good proposals may be more effective at accomplishing change, in a political sense by minimizing open confrontation with Legacy NASA defenders.

    Sometimes you bulldoze through your opponents and sometimes you smile and pretend to be friendly and go around them.

  4. Richard L says:

    1. It does seem that Obama is restricting talk of extra shuttle flights to the extra AMS deployment flight – which already has initial congressional approval. Given the potential hard science payoff – more than anything else on the ISS put together – and the investment to date in it alluded to by Bill – it seems to be justifiable in terms of risk and extra cost.

    On the other hand, one gets the sense that almost everything is on the table right now. But while the gap in manned space flight is undesirable, it doesn’t seem worth the cost or risk to add more shuttle flights . LOM and LOC risks just mount up with every additional flight. I’d be surprised if Obama plumps for anything more.

    2. The gap can be best narrowed if Obama decides on a more viable Constellation launch architecture than Ares, i.e., Direct or even Atlas/Delta, and making do with COTS and (sigh) Soyuz in the mean time. Even so it will be a real push to increase the frequency of ISS resupply/crew flights more than 2-4 times per year in the 2010-2013 timeframe. I’m not sure there is much that can be done about it. This is the fix that NASA got itself into.

    3. I like the emphasis on private initiative in Ferris’s essay – I would love to see more of the policy details spelled out.

  5. A bit OT (my apologies), but I was wondering if you folks had seen this:

    An article about SpaceX and Elon Musk and future plans:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/01/musk-ambition-spacex-aim-for-fully-reusable-falcon-9/

    Excerpts:

    “We’re hoping for a summer launch of the Falcon 9, though I predict that is pending (based on) the development of its payload.”

    “However, the goal for Falcon 9 is that it ends up being the first fully-reusable launch vehicle.”

    Again, sorry for the interruption!

  6. Vladislaw says:

    Great paper Jon,

    I was talking about in-space tugs with Farris, he said you might beable to answer a question.

    How robust will the vehicle be in moving into a lower orbit. My thoughts were running to could a space based vehicle move to or near the suborbital level to grab a package or will it stay in a lot higher orbit.

  7. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Vladislaw,
    Good question. I discussed it a bit in comments on a post a few years back:
    https://selenianboondocks.com/2006/10/apogee-tugs-and-cryo-transfer/

    Basically, while it may be feasible, it’s tricky. Getting a rendezvous to work at high speeds like that is a non-trivial problem. But so long as the stage actually puts the payload into a low parking orbit, the tug can bring it up the rest of the way.

    ~Jon

  8. Karl Hallowell says:

    Do you have a “plan B”, if this president doesn’t want to take such an active role in developing a spacefaring society? Because honestly, I think that’s likely.

  9. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Karl,
    Of course. I also agree it’s unlikely that they’ll make all the changes we suggested. I just figured that when given the chance and requested by a member of the transition team to say something, that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have the right to complain when things don’t go the way I wanted them to….

    More seriously, yeah I’ve always figured that NASA proactively doing the right thing with propellant depots of their own accord was unlikely, and have been trying to find ways to go about it commercially. The commercial path is much longer, but what can you do?

    ~Jon

  10. I thought the Obama paper was fairly good on commercialization.

    I also read what I found to be an intriguing item under the category dealing with military space (Protecting America’s Space Assets). The language here vaguely implies (to me) support for quick-response launches and related capabilities. Tell me if you see the same thing:

    “””Obama will work to protect our assets in space by pursuing new technologies and capabilities that allow us to avoid attacks and recover
    from them quickly. The Operationally Responsive Space program, which uses smaller, more nimble space assets to make US systems more robust and less vulnerable is a way to invest in this capability.””””

    Am I reading too much into that?

  11. I read the position paper at the Kos site, and agree to the main points and the thrust of it. Am still digesting it, but have a quick preliminary comment:
    The section on “High Flight Rate Reusable Launch Vehicles” brings to mind the X-37, which is scheduled for an orbital launch Summer, 2009. Wouldn’t specific support and mention of this project be useful as a frame of reference for the new administration?

  12. Roderick,
    I guess I’m just really skeptical that the X-37 is going to have much impact on the development of reusable launch vehicles. If there were a clear-cut program that I was confident in, I probably would have mentioned it.

    As for the ORS stuff, yeah quick launches, as well as other related concepts. However this isn’t new. ORS has been around for years. The DARPA FALCON SLV program (SpaceX and AirLaunch) was part of the whole push for ORS.

    ~Jon

  13. Jon, thanks for the reply.

    I’m familiar with that Falcon program. I worked with a Col. (then Maj.) Thongchua at the Pentagon before he moved on to California and the program you mention above.

    I mentioned the X-37 becuase right now, it’s the only spaceplane-type RLV development program that I know of that’s actually flying, and that’s intended to be orbited for testing. Couldn’t it be the basis for a “clear-cut program?”

  14. Phillip says:

    I read the paper and I thought it was very good. I do not know what was giving to Transistion Team. What I felt that may have helped was a table that listed, what was short, medium, longer term, cost –in times and materials, and priority and impact statements.

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