Saturday, September 29, 2012

Here We Go Again...

NASA revealed new agreements with three private spaceflight companies today (Aug. 3) — deals that total $1.1 billion in funding support for new commercial spaceships to launch American astronauts into space.

I could just cry.

NASA, having been critically burned withs its one-contractor approach to the X-37-b and its massive cost overruns, has now decided to go with three - count 'em, three - contractors to  provide us with a "spaceship" to get us back to our space station without paying 60 million dollars a ride to the Russians for our now shelved and mostly useless astronauts.

The X-37-b is still being toyed around with by the Air Force,  a project which has a high potential of becoming another project like the Osprey, America's decades-old multi-billion dollar project in which we are demonstrating you can make a brick fly if you spend enough time and money on it.

The air Force is attempting to salvage the X-37-b project by using military funds rather than NASA funds.  Same bucket, different straw, same shell game.

These three new contracts represent the final round of NASA's Commercial Crew integrated Capability program (CCiCap), which aims to foster the design and development of new private spaceships to fill the current gap in U.S. human spaceflight capabilities.

Damn, that sounds impressive... NASA's Commercial Crew integrated Capability program (CCiCap).

So, whats really happening here?

Well, like I said, NASA wants to get some of our astronauts back into space, something we as a nation can no longer do, so they have hired three companies to build something that can do the job.

Those three companies splitting up the 1.1billion are:

-1) Sierra Nevada, which will receive $212.5 million.

-2) SpaceX, which  will receive $440 million

-3) Boeing, which will receive $460 million.

Here's what the money is going for: Boeing and SpaceX are developing private space capsules, Sierra Nevada developing a winged design they call the "Dream Chaser" space plane.

The capsules being developed by Boeing and SpaceX require disposable boosters and return to earth by parachute to either splash down in the ocean, or plop down on a desert floor somewhere.

Boeing's new capsule being splashdown tested
SpaceX's capsule after splashdown

Hard to tell the difference at first glance from a forty-year-old Apollo capsule in a museum somewhere.

Pretty drawing of Sierra Nevada's lifting body

Boeing and SpaceX have very old and dated concepts, both stopgaps, both  in the long term - a waste of money.

Sierra Nevada's "Dream Chaser"  is essentially a previously developed lifting body design, again boosted into orbit by a disposable rocket, but at least it can return from orbit and land on an airfield without the need for expensive recovery teams and equipment. This makes the most sense for a stopgap design and would give us the most bang for our buck, since it could eventually be mated to a reusable first stage allowing the entire craft to be reusable.

Most folks do not realize that the original shuttle design had a manned first stage that would be 100% reusable and could return to earth and land just like the shuttle, but Congress killed the funds for it, requiring that we use those deadly strap-on boosters and huge external fuel tanks that were the cause behind us losing two shuttles. As a result, we saved no money whatever by cancelling the original manned first stage, and lost a lot of lives to boot.

Grumman Aircraft Original two-stage shuttle concept, both stages manned

So what do we want to spend NASA's limited and dwindling funds on?

SpaceX has a proven  freight-hauling capsule design and is well ahead of Boeing's effort. But SpaceX's capsule is not man-ready and requires a lot of redesigning and retrofitting... expensive and time-consuming.. Boeing's design is a manned capsule but not ready until at least 2016.

Me? I would keep using the SpaceX system for cargo. I would cancel both the SpaceX and Boeing manned capsule designs... both are obsolete designs, short-term solutions and are a waste of money. I would continue developing the Sierra Nevada orbiter, but I would also develop the re-usable booster stage, like the one originally intended for the shuttle.

But what do I know? I'm just an old man that rescues adandoned cats for something to do.


Galt-in-Da-Box said...

"Makes too much sense, fuckin' politicians'd never go for it."
- James Belushi

"Shoot them first."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

texlahoma said...

I'm one of the people that didn't realize "that the original shuttle design had a manned first stage that would be 100% reusable and could return to earth and land just like the shuttle."
But I did always realize what a costly, inefficient way they did launch it. I always thought they should figure out a way to make it take off like a plane. The original way sounds smart.

texlahoma said...

Oh yeah, the capsule really does look a lot like the old Apollo ones that I use to see on TV as a kid.

Bob said...

There are way to many sacred cows in NASA, plans and ideas that never got out of the last century.

And the new engineers can't design their way out of the proverbial paper bag, and can't design anything new. All they can do is fancy up and modify an old design and call it new.

Why? their college educations really REALLY sucked.