Archive for the ‘Ares I’ Category

Ares Needs a Death Panel

Posted: August 20, 2009 in Ares I, Ares V, NASA, The Clash

(Cue Death Star music–not Death Is A Star)
What can I say? They’re right.

NASA is underfunded. They need an extra $50 billion or so across the next ten years to do what they’re supposed to do.

Given the anticipated national-level direction and funding trend for this sort of discretionary endeavor, NASA should expect to be riding on a man-rated version of the Delta IV and cancel their Ares programs.

There will be little Congressional consensus towards plussing NASA up to perform their “program of record.”

And let’s consider the ISS as a point of comparison. As Taylor Dinerman reports, the ISS went from an $8 billion program estimate in 1984 to an actual program costing about $100 billion as we speak. So that $50 billion estimate the Augustine panel has come up might well end up being much more than they’ve anticipated.

The Air Force thinks the crew escape capsule for the shuttle replacement, known as the Ares I, will not allow the crew to escape if a low-altitude disaster were to occur. Given the capsule’s nylon parachutes might well have to fly through a massive debris-field of flaming chunks of solid rocket motor, that seems reasonable.

Historically, the crew escape module is analogous to a very expensive good luck charm–it really is not up to getting the job done and is rather a kind of tool to ease the astronaut’s cognitive dissonance about a near-ground (in this scenario, about 30 to 60 seconds into the flight profile) mishap. What does the shuttle have, you ask? Nothing. Remember? It was engineered to fail only once every 10,000 missions.

NASA says the Air Force’s sample size in coming to this conclusion–one mishap involving a Titan IV in 1998–is too small.

A lesson is when you man-rate anything, the costs go through the roof. Likewise, there is no reasonable way to plan for every contingency.