Posts Tagged ‘New Space’

We all know there’s really only one sure way to make money in, to, through, or from space: sell space-related goods and services to the government.

Now, if $7.3 billion in proposed cuts to “commercial imagery contracts” hit GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, what will be the effect on the rest of the space industry? How much would the cuts in space services cascade over into satellite and booster builds and shared overhead, to especially include “new” space?

While Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman likely have sufficient capitalization, lines of credit, product diversity, and flex in their workload (to of course include layoffs), what about, in particular, SpaceX as well as some of the other less well-knowns?

Sea Launch was a recent example of operating on (or beyond) a shoestring and when they suffered a launch failure, their house of space cards collapsed. While Sea Launch has since come out of bankruptcy in a several-year-long re-org, are the situations analogous?

Given what appears to be a world-wide glut of launch capacity (India, China, and Russia, as well as SpaceX and all the traditional players), it will be interesting to see how things pan out. Of course, then there are possible cuts of great significance to NASA and mil space as well.

 

bah icaWhen you look at the BAH-prepared Executive [Cost] Summary of the NASA way-ahead for the Space Launch System (SLS), Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and 21st Century Ground System (21CGS) Programs, here’s what to remember:

All three Program estimates assume large, unsubstantiated, future cost efficiencies leading to the impression that they are optimistic.  A scenario-based risk assessment, which excludes cost estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks (historically major sources of cost and schedule growth), reveals all three Programs’ reserves are insufficient.

Decoded, this means once the programs get past today’s three to five years budget horizon, they are likely to cost much more than is being publicly discussed (and actual numbers aren’t even being discussed at all).  More succinctly, these are all success-assumed programs.

So what to do?  How about giving new space a chance?  Otherwise, it’s a simple case of keep doing what you’re doing, keeping what you got.  Still, a new space “solution” presumes that manned spaceflight adds value-added to Americans’ lives, so consider this from the comments at Space Politics:

The problem with SLS and with MPCV is more fundamental than the cost overruns. It is unclear that they provide any benefits that the taxpayers, or other customers, would consider worth even the original cost.

epic failAn argument for uninventing NASA and government space in general comes from George Will, who himself is quoting "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America" by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch.  The quote below is regarding the broad topic of “existence bias,” the human predisposition to believe things will keep on largely as they exist (and how our dissatisfaction with existent organizations may be overcome by information and market choices).

"Think of any customer experience that has made you wince or kick the cat. What jumps to mind? Waiting in multiple lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Observing the bureaucratic sloth and lowest-common-denominator performance of public schools, especially in big cities. Getting ritually humiliated going through airport security. Trying desperately to understand your doctor bills. Navigating the permitting process at your local city hall. Wasting a day at home while the gas man fails to show up. Whatever you come up with, chances are good that the culprit is either a direct government monopoly (as in the providers of K-12 education) or a heavily regulated industry or utility where the government is the largest player (as in health care)."

Now regarding space, does it seem that government is the biggest player?  That it holds within it large bureaucracies (military services, intelligence community, NASA, and others)?  That government regulates the space industrial base via what it chooses to fund and at what levels?  And that new space is a threat to such activities?

Just askin’…

nasa self destructThe Washington Post addresses the last shuttle flight as a sort of metaphor for NASA itself.

Shuttle jobs?  All they are is dust in the wind.  The infrastructure?  Abandon in place. The future…

So what is the way ahead for U.S. manned spaceflight?  It appears to be all hat and no cattle (and the hat costs so much that it precludes buying some cattle).

If so, why does China want to push round mounds of renminbi into their manned space program?  It’s all for the prestige (analogous to looking good in the shower) and providing dual-use make-work for their armies of engineers, technocrats, and the China Great Wall Industrial Corporation. 

Ah, but back to NASA and the WaPo article:

Here’s Bob Crippen, who was the pilot of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, back in 1981: “I’ve never seen NASA so screwed up as it is right now. . . . They don’t know where they’re going.”

It gets worse.

“We’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington, D.C. — both at the NASA level and the executive branch of the government,” [shuttle Launch Director Mike] Leinbach said recently at a news conference here. He said he was “embarrassed” about the lack of guidance.

What to do?  Quick, blame someone else (either the previous administration or alternatively, Congress, who is responsible for funding NASA) and maybe no one will notice anything.

“We have brought the program back from the brink,” [NASA Deputy Administrator Lori] Garver said. “We inherited a program that was in disarray.”

So the current NASA crew snatched space victory from the jaws of defeat?  How so?

Obama zeroed out Constellation in the president’s 2011 budget request. Under the NASA authorization act passed by Congress, Constellation is officially dead, though some major elements are still lurking, rebranded.

Brought back by defunding Constellation (in order to pursue commercial space)?  I’m good with the decision but I wouldn’t call that bringing NASA back from the brink.  So now, NASA is no longer in disarray, but is in…array?  How about other voices on the Constellation cancellation and shuttle retirement?

“What they did was abandon a plan for no plan,” [former NASA Administrator Mike] Griffin said. “We are retiring the shuttle in favor of nothing.”

Of course, Griffin has his legacy in play, so his position is pretty predictable, but still, what hath the shuttle program—including this last one—all wrought?

In retrospect, that [the shuttle] was arguably too much spaceship for most of what was needed for missions in low-Earth orbit. NASA wants to get away from using a single vehicle to carry humans and cargo. It’s safer and cheaper to send cargo separately.

After Challenger, the military utility of having a reasonably diverse set of ways to get to space became obvious.  Now, it appears, NASA sees it too.  But the shuttle program still lumbered along all those years.

Perhaps the real lesson is this: if the plan is just to spend money, Constellation was great for “old space.”  If the plan now is just to spend money, commercial (that is, “new space”) space will do the job as well.  But if the vision is for NASA to use a manned space capability to make life better for people on earth, the shuttle’s legacy has been an epic and expensive failure. And the way ahead, even sans shuttle, looks much the same.

Without a space vision, the space people perish.

Regulatory capture challenges every benefit new space stands to bring forward.

Read more about regulatory capture and commercial space here.

If you like government space, you may also enjoy government cheese.