Reader Ivan Kirkpatrick is correct in that NASA costs were all but out of sight, but he is wrong on two counts.
1) Both Shuttle failures were the direct consequences of human failure. The Challenger accident was the lack of management concern for a well established O-ring problem that was identified on a number of prior flights, and then a request to redesign the joint was turned down by NASA Hq. On top of that, NASA insisted on flying that day when the ambient temperature's were clearly below the established design limits and the [now] ATK representative said "No, don't fly."
The Columbia accident was the direct result of human complacency. The flight managers didn't delve in to the risks involved with the change of thermal insulation on the External Tank nor did they follow up on the concerns of their own people
These comments are clearly documented in the NASA accident reports.
2) The 35K payload limit was the limit of what the system could transport to the ISS at its relatively high inclination angle. On a due East launch, it could carry, and land, a 50,000 lb payload (down from the original 65,000 lb design target).
Thus, the Shuttle system performed admirably well in its own right. Remember, it was the first of its kind. Hopefully, the next one will reflect the lesson learned from this fantastic experience.
NASA's record on successful flights is not exactly stellar. Correct me if I am wrong but out of 135 flights total, 2 were total failures with complete loss of vehicle and crew.
NASA could never get costs inline with estimates and that were possible to reduce. The vehicle performance regarding payload was restrained to something like half the orginal design goal. This was due to a mission abort landing requirement with a load that had to be limited to about 35K lbs.
And all this for a 100 ton vehicle getting into orbit, then bringing the whole 100 tons back. It just never really made sense from an economic and system analysis point of view.
I might not have the exact figures right but this is my understanding of the design of the STS. Would anyone care to correct me on any of these points?
I think the reuse part is aimed at getting more than one run form the most expensive components, the engines and turbopumps. Landing that ona seagoing platform will be tough but I imagine if they can get it working before they run out of money it will be pretty valuable. The patent seems to be general enough that it will prevent anyone else from using that approach and thus become a revenue tream for the company.
I like the idea of commercial companies trying to get into the space business. It is an expensive area but NASA did not have the same interests in making it profitable.
The dreamchaser spaceplane is a good fit for this idea in that it is pretty much a crew only transport that is launched on a booster and eventually returns to a landing strip like the shuttle. If the booster was pretty much reusable it fits very nicely into a system concept.
NASA's latest heavy lifter would be great for carrying cargo only and would not have to man-rated if the dreamchaser were part of the system. Recover the booster from that one and its, how many, seven main engines and turbo pumps, and you have saved a lot of money. the main engines on the new heavy lifter are shuttle derived which were designed for 100 flights.
Commercial companies are good at innovation and reducing costs. And yes, there are failures and heavy investments to be made before any profits are generated.
Are there other soultions to this problem of lowering costs? NASA has no track record on that front. Time for the entrepreneurs to have a go at it.
As a long-time consltant to NASA, I'm highly skeptical. My take is that you have this really rich guy sitting around with the guys and gals he's funding. He says, "Since I was so good at seling books, I have this brilliant idea for a reusable space craft." His people, who are collecting nice paychecks, say," That's genius!" (I once was a partner with Warren Avis of Avis Rent-a-Car fame. I saw it happen over and over again with businesses Warren was funding that had nothing to do with renting cars. He had crazy, unworkable ideas that his employees thought were "genius" as long as he was writing checks.)
Vertically landing a space craft on a platform in a pitching sea is a feat that is going to require a lot more than a patent with some stick drawings. Get back to me when Blue Origin patents the anti-gravity device necessary for success.
Another thing that really worries me is that commercial operators are always looking to make a buck, and cut corners oops I I mean cost where ever they can. it's a part of a lot of commercial airline accidents, and given the risk envelope on space travel... well you get what I mean.
Applying a variation of an old joke - "How do you make a millionaire?" Answer - "Get a billionaire to invest in space travel."
Building unmanned spacecraft is spectacularly hard. Building a manned spacecraft is even harder. While NASA has its issues, it is the only proven builder of manned spacecraft. The entreprenurial companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, bring a fresh approach and non-traditional ideas about going into space. However, they may run afoul of what they don't know. Earth's gravity well is an exacting taskmaster.
I don't have a lot of confidence in the space tourist model. The New Mexico spaceport looks more like a pipe dream with government money than a commercial enterprise.
This seems to be straight out of the pages of The Right Stuff: Failures of early prototypes; the "quick and dirty" space travel solution; booster rockets; ocean recovery (albeit slightly different from the Project Mercury recoveries). The question is whether they will find participants, as Project Mercury did, willing to serve as "spam in the can."
Any one have a take on the reuse angle of the patents and why that is such a compelling and potentially secretive part of this spacecraft design? Does the reuse element differentiate Blue Origin from other commercial space projects currently underway by Richard Branson and others?
The super rich may be accomplishing what the U.S. government has given up on -- keeping manned space adventures alive. There is also a spaceport in New Mexico, the Spaceport America: http://www.spaceportamerica.com/
Richard Branson of Virgin Records was part of this grand plan that was launched while Bill Richardson was governor of New Mexico.
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