[FPSPACE] Speaking of Atlas V

David Portree dsfportree at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 22 01:54:27 EDT 2014


Let me try one more time.
 
Boeing has been in the aerospace business for a long time. Decades. This gives them credibility that newer companies (such as SpaceX) lack. This credibility extends to cost estimation, vehicle design, and many other areas. 
 
I support the CST-100 over its competitors. It seems like a sound, dull, reliable design for the dull task of station crew rotation. The lack of a charismatic Internet mogul doesn't trouble me. I also like the fact that, in theory at least, it can launch on rockets other than the Atlas V. 
 
Cost overruns occur. I would be foolish to dispute that. This does not, however, appear to be relevant to this discussion.  The reason it does not appear to be relevant is, the nature of the commercial crew contract is such that overruns are not tolerated. Please correct me if this interpretation is in some way incorrect.
 
SpaceX is doing interesting things, but it is a new company. It is largely unproven, unless you think that a dozen or so launches, some with anomalies, are enough to place them on a par with an established company - for example, Boeing. 
 
My assumption is that SpaceX has budgeted for failure in its commercial crew program. A failure is not impossible. If they have indeed budgeted for setbacks, then their bid seems very low. It seems low even if they have not budgeted for failure. Given that they lack the deep pockets of an established company such as Boeing, then it seems that they are gambling with taxpayer dollars. Again, if this interpretation seems unsound, I would be glad to be corrected.
 
It is common for SpaceX fans to discount the possibility of failure or even spin it into a good thing when it does occur (and for them not to know when failures occur, but that's another matter). It is also common for them to claim enormous cost savings when in fact we do not know how SpaceX accounting works. Some say money NASA pays SpaceX is used to reduce the cost of SpaceX charges for commercial launches, which, if correct, would mean that US taxpayers subsidize SpaceX launches for third parties. 
 
Be that as it may, the NASA OIG has determined that home-grown commercial crew is and will be more costly than buying seats from the Russians. This is not in keeping with the narrative SpaceX and its fans have created. This discrepancy should not be shrugged off by saying, at least we'll have a homegrown space station ferry.
 
There are two reasons why the "we can pay extra for a homegrown ferry" thing does not impress me much.
 
The first reason - I have long stated that I am not uncomfortable with NASA astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft. Soyuz is reliable and worth paying a little extra given its reliability. I have also stated that no "gap" in US spaceflight exists. If one does exist, then it's a strange sort of gap - Americans have been in space since 2000 without break and we have robots all over the Solar System.
 
Were it not for geopolitical considerations, I would remain wholly committed to these assertions. That being said, I believe that the geopolitical implications for current human spaceflight of events in Ukraine and other places are being purposely exaggerated by people who have for a long time opposed space cooperation with the USSR/Russia. I maintain that, whatever is happening on Earth, in the area of spaceflight Russia remains as dependent on the US as the US is on Russia. 
 
Still, since the situation has become less predictable, a homegrown station ferry could be a prudent thing to build. If so, it should be done in a sensible way.
 
The second reason - If we add in the extra monetary cost of commercial crew over Soyuz seats (that is, if the NASA OIG is to be believed), then it seems natural to wonder whether we should pay two US companies to develop new US ferries -  doing that can't be a cost-saver - and why we don't select the one company with a history, the company that is not prone to crazy claims (a city on Mars), which would be Boeing. 
 
I hope that this clarifies my position on these matters. Really the only part of it that has changed is that I now openly favor one of the commercial crew contractors. 
 
dsfp

David S. F. Portree
author and stuff
 
Email:
dsfportree at hotmail.com
dportree at usgs.gov
 
Profile:
http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/people/david-portree
 
Blogs:
http://www.wired.com/category/beyondapollo/
http://theportreelibrary.blogspot.com/

 
> Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2014 22:41:26 -0400
> From: clj at panix.com
> To: fpspace at friends-partners.org
> Subject: Re: [FPSPACE] Speaking of Atlas V
> 
> On 9/20/2014 9:08 PM, David Portree wrote:
> > Are you reading what I write?
> 
> Yes.
> >                                I ignored what you wrote about historic
> > Boeing cost overruns for the simple reason that those are not allowed to
> > occur in the commercial crew contract. They are not relevant to this
> > situation. Hence, they seem to be Boeing bashing, not anything connected
> > with what I wrote.
> 
> I brought up the point about Boeing cost overruns to argue against your 
> point that Boeing's cost estimates are to be considered accurate due to 
> their greater experience in the field.  That was an argument you made, 
> so I'm sorry I was misled by your bringing it up into thinking it was 
> relevant, but it most assuredly WAS connected with something you wrote 
> (see, I'm reading what you write).
> 
> > Boeing met its milestones
> 
> I'm assuming you mean the PDR and CDR.  If so, that is true.
> 
> >                             and came in with what is probably a realistic
> > bid for the next phase.
> 
> That's TBD.
> 
> ?                              It's more than SpaceX bid, but then 
> Boeing has
> > been in the business longerso presumably has a better idea about how to
> > estimate what it needs to deliver what it has promised.
> 
> The first part is true, the second is TBD, though I was giving examples 
> of why one might reasonably be skeptical.
> 
> > Now you are telling me that cost doesn't matter, and misquoting me when
> > you say I said cost doesn't matter
> 
> WHERE did I say you said cost doesn't matter?  What I SAID (OK, wrote) 
> was that cost wasn't the driving factor in this effort, it was the 
> desire for a home-grown way of getting people into orbit.  I thought I 
> was agreeing with a point you had made; pardon me for misunderstanding 
> you.  It WAS what the contract award gave as the reason for the project.
> 
> >                                         - that it's all about having a
> > home-grown space station ferry capability. That's another disingenuous
> > way of responding to what I write, I guess.
> 
> "Driving force" != "all about".  I feel like I'm being misquoted, you're 
> not reading what I write, and you're being disingenuous, so I guess I 
> can empathize with you.
> 
> 
> 
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