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A Placeholder Manned Space Program  
User currently offlineCloudy From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (6 years 7 months 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 1728 times:

Suppose the US was satisfied with just 4-5 CEV flights a year. They would go to the ISS, or maybe just sit up in orbit doing little stuff. Or they could dock with one of the Bigelow stations and do stuff there, if they ever get built. Or we could build a minimalist, temporarily manned station to do stuff if ISS becomes unserviceable. No Ares, No missions beyond Earth orbit. Nothing beyond the CEV and the ISS or a new, minimalist station. Just good old fashioned shuttle style research would be left after the ISS wears out or is slowly bought out by private interests and/or other nations.

Yep, this would waste all of designed capacity of the CEV to support more ambitious missions. And a lot of the fixed cost of maintaining ANY manned program would remain. The scientific return per dollar would probably be lower than more ambitious missions...although, lets face it, the scientific return PER DOLLAR of manned space flight is ridiculously low anyway. If I had to bet, I would bet that this is true even considering "spinoffs" and engineering experience retained. More science could be done by allocating the money saved to unmanned missions or other science programs. And unmanned missions give spinoffs as well.

A case could be made for such a program. Nothing new would be learned. But we would not have to start from scratch if the money for more ambitious missions ever turned up. We would keep the capacity for manned space flight if it was ever needed for economic or military purposes. However, If manned space turns out to be just a waste of money for a very long time, we would have wasted as little money on it as possible. So to some it may seem a good way to hedge our bets - though I have my doubts.

Lets face it, unless someone other than NASA seriously threatens to do something big beyond earth orbit before us, this is the kind of space program we are going to get, so it makes sense to think about it, depressing as it may be.

Anyway......

1. How much would such a program cost compared to the full constellation program, or no program at all? There are so many fixed cost to having ANY manned program that the savings are probably smaller than one might expect.

2. Would it be better to abandon all government sponsored manned spaceflight rather than have a minimalist program?

3. Suppose manned space truly is not worth the cost but must be maintained for political and "bet hedging" purposes. would this kind of program be the best option? I suspect that the majority of the public takes this viewpoint toward the government sponsored manned space program.....

4 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineRwessel From United States of America, joined Jan 2007, 2238 posts, RR: 2
Reply 1, posted (6 years 7 months 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 1711 times:
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If you're not going to have at least an Ares I, what are you going to launch your Orion (nee CEV) with? Sure an Atlas 5, Delta 4 or Ariane 5 could do it, but you'd have to man rate them first. Which is not an unreasonable scenario, especially if the number of launches will be limited, although it's not likely to be that much cheaper than just doing an Ares I.

Anyway, I have serious reservations about the manned space program. It's stunning lack of achievement despite the vast investment (usually to the detriment of "real" science). So we spent what on ISS and related frou-frou? $100B? And it does what exactly? It's going to do what? Sure it's cool, but unless you start taking the funding from the vainglory budget rather than the science budget, it's got to be more than cool. NASA may actually have some capacity to do some work on ISS in a couple of years, but nobody's interested, even with NASA more-or-less offering to eat the launch costs. And oh yes, it's scheduled to be dumped in the Pacific in 2017. So we're going to fly an underpowered Ares I there for two or three years? And if someone actually wanted to do some work up there in the mean time you'll have to squeeze it into an ultracramped Soyuz or a not-much-bigger Progress? At least the ATV will be a bit bigger if it doesn't slip some more.

That being said, it's probably not a bad idea to keep some manned capability, just in case, but NASA's not planning on doing that either. The schedule has at least a four year gap on it right now. Maybe we should just buy and stockpile a bunch of Soyuz from the Russians. It sure as heck would be cheaper.

So unless we go the Soyuz route (hardly likely), we're stuck with Orion/Ares unless you want the gap to run until 2020.


User currently offlineThorny From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (6 years 7 months 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 1671 times:

Quoting Cloudy (Thread starter):
The scientific return per dollar would probably be lower than more ambitious missions...although, lets face it, the scientific return PER DOLLAR of manned space flight is ridiculously low anyway.

Manned spaceflight has never been about the science. That's always been just a fig-leaf. Science has never been the driver of manned spaceflight. Even in Apollo, it was an afterthought added to appease critics. Only one true scientist flew in space on Apollo. Complaining that science hasn't justified manned spaceflight completely misses the point.

That's not to say there hasn't been great science done by the manned space program. Apollo was vastly more expensive than unmanned lunar exploration, but also vastly more productive. Pretty much everything we know about the moon, we know because of Apollo. A great many scientists have flown on the Shuttle, generally in life sciences. We are now (again) hearing complaints from particle physicists that ISS is a waste... that's hardly surprising, since ISS wasn't built to do particle physics research. Scientists love the thrill of discovery... almost as much as they love complaining about what those other scientists in the next building over are doing with their budget. Life scientists and materials scientists are much more interested in ISS, but they generally don't win Nobels and don't get quoted in the New York Times.

Quoting Cloudy (Thread starter):
More science could be done by allocating the money saved to unmanned missions or other science programs.

That's very much debatable. Some things lend themselves to unmanned operations. Others are extremely difficult. Steve Squyers, the Mars Rover science team leader, has said that an astronaut could have done in one day what Spirit or Opportunity have done in their entire time on Mars. A human wouldn't have gotten stuck in a sandpit for a month like Opportunity did. A human could have gone out and pried loose the stuck High Gain Antenna that crippled Galileo. An astronaut could have restarted the landing engines that were mistakenly shut down at altitude, dooming Mars Polar Lander.

Quoting Cloudy (Thread starter):
2. Would it be better to abandon all government sponsored manned spaceflight rather than have a minimalist program?

It would be best to get the federal government out of the job of doing things that private enterprise can do. We now, or very soon will not need NASA to put humans in low earth orbit. We don't need NASA to build a brand-new launch vehicle (Ares I) that is more or less in the same payload class as the existing, underutilized EELVs (Atlas 5 and Delta IV.) Why are we, as a nation, allowing NASA to do this? We could save billions. BILLIONS of dollars by abandoning Ares and funding the minor upgrades needed to allow Atlas or Delta to launch Orion.

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 1):
So we spent what on ISS and related frou-frou? $100B?

Around $25 billion. The oft-repeated "$100 billion" was the forecast for the entire program from startup in 1984 until retirement in 2015, including all Space Shuttle flights. But scale-backs and now early Shuttle retirement means ISS will never come close to costing $100 billion. Clinton capped ISS spending at $21 billion in 1994 and forced NASA into bed with the Russians to make up the rest (the original plan was $25-30 billion). He later increased that to around $24 billion due to overruns caused by having to redesign Freedom to work with Russia's Mir 2 hardware, and then Russia failing to deliver Zvezda until 2000. Bush cuts some things when the costs started to grow out of control again in 2001, but was in the process of reinstating them when Columbia was lost in 2003.

To put this in perspective, Boston's "Big Dig" has cost over $14 billion since 1985 (original budget: $5B) and still isn't finished, either. The Airbus A380 program is now thought to have cost around $12 billion USD and is unlikely to ever see a profit.

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 1):
So unless we go the Soyuz route (hardly likely), we're stuck with Orion/Ares unless you want the gap to run until 2020.

Actually, NASA does have agreements to pay Russia for, I think, six astronauts to ISS per year (half of the total annual crew) on Soyuz after Shuttle retirement. Right now, the agreement is only through 2012, but that will almost certainly be extended until Orion or COTS become available. That's what the recently-announced astronaut candidate request is about... ISS astronauts, no pilots required.

And you forgot COTS. SpaceX is still moving forward with Dragon, which it hopes to manrate for both ISS and Bigelow. Rocketplane-Kistler collapsed (again) but there are many who think they weren't the second-best proposal anyway, and now their NASA funding might go to Spacedev or Armadillo. LockMart has been known to be working with Bigelow about support with Atlas 5, but has reportedly been taking heat from NASA for it. That might change under new NASA leadership in 2009 or as the weight of the Ares I mistake bears down more and more heavily on NASA and the hope for future programs (Ares V) and funding evaporates because of it.


User currently offlineRwessel From United States of America, joined Jan 2007, 2238 posts, RR: 2
Reply 3, posted (6 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 10 hours ago) and read 1582 times:
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Quoting Thorny (Reply 2):
Around $25 billion. The oft-repeated "$100 billion" was the forecast for the entire program from startup in 1984 until retirement in 2015, including all Space Shuttle flights.

The ESA estimate from a couple of years back was $100B Euros, of which they claim to have/will spent $8B. That does include finishing it up and running it for a bit.

And yes I am including Shuttle costs, because I find it utterly implausible to omit them. Just that will total up to near $40B by the time construction is complete. NASA's claim to have spent $23.5B to date (a couple years ago) is pretty optimistic, in that it seems to count as little as possible. Even then NASA’s current ISS estimate put completion at about $52-53B. Add the Shuttle costs, and a few billion for work thrown away in several preceding designs, and $100B is right there.

Quoting Thorny (Reply 2):
Actually, NASA does have agreements to pay Russia for, I think, six astronauts to ISS per year (half of the total annual crew) on Soyuz after Shuttle retirement.

I know, I meant buying some Soyuz to preserve an autonomous manned capability.

Quoting Thorny (Reply 2):
And you forgot COTS.

Actually I'm not forgetting the COTS possibility, I'm ignoring it until I see at least one with even a halfway plausible plan for achieving it. I know we disagree on this point, but that’s the way I see it.


User currently offlineThorny From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (6 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day ago) and read 1561 times:

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 3):
The ESA estimate from a couple of years back was $100B Euros,

Sounds like they were parroting the standard "$100 billion" figure. I'd question how ESA would know how much NASA is spending, anyway. $8 Billion for Columbus and ATV? How many ATVs did that include, I wonder?

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 3):
And yes I am including Shuttle costs, because I find it utterly implausible to omit them.

You can only omit them if you think Shuttle would not have flown if Space Station didn't exist. Since Station didn't exist for Shuttle's first 18 years, that's a risky assumption. It is very likely Shuttle would have continued doing what it had done all along... flying Spacelab, doing the myriad independent space research mission, launching the odd science satellite. In other words, cancelling Station would not have saved you Shuttle's annual $3-4 Billion budget. Therefore Station shouldn't be charged Shuttle's costs.

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 3):
NASA's claim to have spent $23.5B to date (a couple years ago) is pretty optimistic, in that it seems to count as little as possible.

It counts actual Space Station design / development and hardware. It doesn't count Shuttle operations, such as Shuttle-Mir. This is reasonable, I think. See above.

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 3):
Add the Shuttle costs, and a few billion for work thrown away in several preceding designs, and $100B is right there.

The preceeding design work (1984-1994 or so) was only in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not "a few billion". It was always future costs that scared off Congress, not money they had actually spent to that point. The program was nickle and dimed to death until production go-ahead was given in 1994.

Quoting Rwessel (Reply 3):
Actually I'm not forgetting the COTS possibility, I'm ignoring it until I see at least one with even a halfway plausible plan for achieving it.

SpaceX definitely has a "halfway plausible plan". They already have the funding they need (Elon Musk's bottomless bank account), several launch contracts to keep the company afloat in the meantime, they've been granted a launch site at Cape Canaveral, they've test launched (unsuccessfully) space hardware, and they are already building the Falcon 9 rocket to launch Dragon. They have a second customer for Dragon in Bigelow, which also has already test flown hardware in space. This is clearly a lot more than just some Powerpoint presentation.


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