Courtesy NASA
NASA today unveiled its plans for a monster rocket that would be bigger than any other space vehicle ever built. It is intended for deep space exploration missions, and is slated for its first mission in 2017, at an initial cost estimate of $35 billion.

This is just another example of the country that is supposed to be the bulwark of capitalism and free market enterprises acting more like a Communist country when it comes to space activities.

The article on (redirected from the Daily Beast) quotes NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as saying "This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world." Notice how jobs come first? NASA, however, has a history of cost overruns and failed programs that fall far short of accomplishing the latter goals.

An article on the website SpaceRef points out the make-work nature of this program: "
NASA and the White House had originally planned to put off a decision on a heavy launch capability until 2015 or so - and then fully compete the selection process based on an architecture that would define what was needed and when. But Congress - specifically the Senate, decided to mandate (in the NASA Authorization Act) what the solution would be before the problem or need was defined. The clear intent on the part of Congress was to retain existing workforce and commercial contracts in place from the Space Shuttle and Constellation programs."

The SpaceRef article continues, emphasizing the inherent conflict of interest with the private sector: "This does leave things a little confusing however. This rocket is shown as carrying crew and many members of Congress speaking in press conferences today referred to the rocket as being vital to keeping the ISS running until 2020. Yet simultaneously NASA is pursuing a commercial approach wherein both crew and cargo services will be procured from the private sector. So, at first blush, this would seem like the government is competing with its own initiatives. Those details are still awaiting clarification."

Elon Musk's company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has already successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit, complete with crew capsule which reentered the atmosphere and was recovered as planned. SpaceX has proposed a Falcon Heavy rocket based on that success which could launch 53 metric tons into orbit, as opposed to 70 metric tons for the proposed Space Launch System.

There are two advantages to the SpaceX design: it is built on proven technology, and at even the high end of the estimated cost per launch, $125 million, The U.S. Government could buy 280 launches from a private enterprise, and a lot sooner, for the amount of the initial, low-end estimate of the development cost of the new program. Besides being in keeping with the general free market philosophy of America, that represents an immense cost savings. As a professional with a strategic sourcing company, it is obvious to me that the SpaceX deal is far preferable. Besides the cost, SpaceX has already demonstrated service level requirements that the government is far from ready to deliver. This is a classic "make vs. buy" decision process we see all the time at Source One, and the dynamics in this scenario scream "buy." And SpaceX is just one of several entrepreneurial "NewSpace" companies which are trying to open up the heavens for the rest of us.

NASA has a history of defining requirements for a new system, instead of soliciting the best ideas from the open market, then using the argument that dual development would be too costly, and actively working to kill the private systems. Ever heard of the Industrial Space Facility? Of course you haven't. NASA killed it. Or an even sadder tale is that of Mircorp. Get ahold of the movie Orphans of Apollo, and be ready to shed your preconceived notions of America being business-friendly.

A couple months back Steve Belli and I had a friendly little debate about whether NASA jumped the shark in grounding the shuttle. This, now, is truly NASA's Jump the Shark moment, where it completely capitulates to the big-monied, big lobbied military-industrial complex corporate interests ahead of supporting private enterprise and technological innovation. The Space Launch System should be canceled now, strangled in its crib, before it becomes another NERVA, or NASP, or X-33, or Ares. If you don't know what those are, go do your homework, then write your congressperson to advocate killing yet another bloated NASA program that will never live up to its hype.

It is time for America to live up to its promise and full potential, and open the heavens to the full creative and economic powers of the private space enterprise known as "NewSpace".
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Alex Howerton

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3 comments so far,Add yours

  1. Excellent insight, but I think the article missed the point on the 'flight' purpose. The new SLS is for advanced missions (Asteroids, Mars, etc). SpaceX, Bigelow, Blue Origin, etc will become the new Taxi Cabs to low earth orbit.

    Thus ISS resupply missions are the new space 'business' whereas NASA continues to push the boundaries of turning imagination into reality. :)

    Both Flight systems (NASA + Business) might overlap in the near future, but that will quickly part as the Science community becomes used to Business oriented launches. Why the transition? Because they have no track record of consistent reliability - something we won't know to be true in the short term.

  2. Of course the pretty brochures talk about advanced and deep space missions, but a line from the already-quoted article belies that interpretation: "many members of Congress speaking in press conferences today referred to the rocket as being vital to keeping the ISS running until 2020." This is the beginning of the government working to kill SpaceX a la Industial Space Facility and MirCorp.

    Besides, if advanced and deep space missions are the true goal, Falcon Heavy can evolve to serve that purpose at a fraction of the cost (even if there are egregious overruns in Falcon Heavy development, which is already happening due to the government's indecisiveness).

  3. Unfortunately NASA was successful in eliminating any kind of actual reason when it comes to its funding. (Well done btw)

    Manned space flight is silly and serves no actual purpose.
    As long as we do not have the base science worked out that would allow faster than light travel we will not go anywhere meaningful. How long did that thing need to get to MARS? MARS isn't that just one over? WHOOHOO foreign galaxies here we come.

    The silly experiments we do today can be done by robots faster and better and that would reduce the costs 100 fold.

    But this is all about the emotion of having folks in space.

    Seriously WHO WOULD NOTICE IF NASA GOES AWAY, TOMORROW? How about putting 35B into the universities that might give us the science to do actual real space travel some time.