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The Real Cost of a Red Dragon Mission to Mars

By Keith Cowing on May 1, 2016 8:34 PM.

Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.

My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.

As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

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SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars

By Keith Cowing on May 1, 2016 1:56 PM.

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."

With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool

"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."

Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post

"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."

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Why SLS Has Always Been About Maintaining Jobs

By Keith Cowing on April 30, 2016 8:53 PM.

Why NASA Is Building An $18 Billion Rocket To Nowhere, Buzzfeed

"It is more the politics of pork than the politics of progress," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told BuzzFeed News. "There's a long-time pattern at NASA where money aimed at science and research ends up with builders and contractors instead." ... "The point is to spend money and create jobs the way the Soviet Union did on its rocket design bureaus," Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. The SLS "a rocket to nowhere," as Cowing put it fits this pattern neatly because it provides thousands of jobs in space states. No one knows where it will go. Maybe to an asteroid (the Obama administration's unloved notion), or to circle the moon, or boost astronauts on their way to Mars."

NASA, We Have A (Funding) Problem, op ed, Mary Davis (staffer in Rep. Babib's Office), Houston Chronicle

"The SLS and Orion are strategic national assets and have to be sufficiently funded to lead the race back to the Moon and to Mars. As Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, Congressman Babin is leading this fight for adequate funding of these programs. This will have a direct effect on his district in terms of lowering unemployment rates, inspiring young children, and increases economic competitiveness. It would also affect the entire nation by expanding international relations and advances national security interests."

Public Law 111-267 - NASA Authorization Act of 2010

"SEC. 304. UTILIZATION OF EXISTING WORKFORCE AND ASSETS IN DEVELOPMENT OF SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM AND MULTI- PURPOSE CREW VEHICLE. (a) IN GENERAL.In developing the Space Launch System pursuant to section 302 and the multi-purpose crew vehicle pursu- ant to section 303, the Administrator shall, to the extent practicable utilize (1) existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects, including ... (B) Space Shuttle-derived components and Ares 1 components that use existing United States propulsion systems, including liquid fuel engines, external tank or tank-related capability, and solid rocket motor engines; and (2) associated testing facilities, either in being or under construction as of the date of enactment of this Act."

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NASA Is Now Censoring Its Videos. So Is Boeing

By Keith Cowing on April 30, 2016 12:28 AM.

Keith's note: These are the pictures with the blurred display (lower right of astronaut) 1 and 2. Yet this NASA image is not blurred. But wait Boeing blurs part of another screen that NASA does not blur. What are they hiding - and why are some things
"blurable" by NASA and others by Boeing? Newsflash: Space.com has unblurred photos of the control panels. The Washington Post photo is not blurred. Neither is the photo in the Christian Science Monitor. Quick: throw these scoundrels in jail.

But wait: If you go to this NASA KSC Flickr image you can see it is not blurred on the simulator or the instructor's screen. There many other photos on the Flickr page that have not been blurred. So why blur it in a Youtube video, NASA/Boeing?

If there are reasons to blur something (proprietary/security) then fine. But shouldn't the things that are blurred/not blurred be handled the same way in all images not one way or another - or yet another - depending on which image you are looking at? If there is something that should not be made public then clearly not everyone is on the same page as to what it is. What is really funny is that you cannot read the words on the unblurred screens - the ones with diagrams which are much more revealing. The screen that is blurred is simply lines of text. Go figure.

(sigh) This is what the inside of the CST-100 really looks like. Not sure why NASA and Boeing are afraid to show people. Lots of blinking lights, etc.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/modcst.2.m.jpg
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NASA Hypes Its Imaginary Plan for the #JourneyToMars

By Keith Cowing on April 29, 2016 12:00 AM.

NASA's Role in International Affairs, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 26 April 2016 (Video)

"42:20: Q: When are we going to get to Mars? What is the time line?

Bolden: "2030s. As I said before the was no plan. And some people today contest our plan - but we have one. And a plan needs to at least have a definite date in which you're gonna do something. Because the President said so, for one thing."

Keith's note: OK Charlie. You have a plan to send humans to Mars? Post your plan online. Oh wait: you can't - because there is no plan.

NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth." This is just back peddling NASA PR mumbo jumbo designed to try and make it seem that Lightfoot said something other than what he actually said."

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Changing The Way We Explore Space

By Keith Cowing on April 28, 2016 10:28 PM.

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.

Continue reading: Changing The Way We Explore Space.

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ULA Struggles With Old Engines and New Business Realities

By Keith Cowing on April 28, 2016 12:02 PM.

House panel doubles authorized purchase of Russian rocket engines, The Hill

"The House Armed Services Committee voted Thursday morning to double the allowed purchase of Russian-made rocket engines from nine to 18, despite a desire to develop an American-made alternative. The committee adopted the amendment, by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), by voice vote, after vigorous debate that did not fall along party lines. The Air Force relies on United Launch Alliance -- a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture -- for its sensitive national security space launches, which uses a launch vehicle reliant on the RD-180 engines."

ULA rival SpaceX awarded its 1st Air Force satellite launch contract, Bizjournals.com

"ULA has since tried to lower its launch costs, shedding workers and re-engineering its processes to be able offer launches below $100 million. The 3,700-employee company is offering early retirement and employee buyouts this year and in 2017 in an effort to trim down to about 3,000 employees at its five locations nationwide."

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Putin Wants To Jail Spaceport Employees

By Keith Cowing on April 27, 2016 10:19 PM.

Humiliated Putin warns Russia's botched spaceport officials they will be JAILED, Daily Mail

"Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned workers at the country's botched spaceport they will be jailed after he flew thousands of miles to watch the inaugural rocket launch for it to be cancelled at the last minute."

After failed launch, Putin demands answers on billion-dollar spaceport negligence, Russia Today

"Russia's President Vladimir Putin says those responsible for crimes during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome won't escape responsibility if their guilt is proven, and will swap house arrest for prison bunks. "Six criminal cases had to be launched, in which four people were arrested. Two of them, however, are under house arrest, while the other two are in pre-trial detention," Putin is cited as saying by Interfax."

- Previous Russia news items



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SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018

By Keith Cowing on April 27, 2016 11:56 AM.

SpaceX Will Start Going to Mars in 2018

"SpaceX announced today that it is going to start sending specially modified Dragon spacecraft aka "Red Dragon" to Mars as early as 2018. The purpose of these missions is to demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016. With this announcement SpaceX has upped the ante for the human exploration of Mars by beginning technology pathfinder missions a decade or more before NASA plans to do so."

Dava Newman: Exploring Together, NASA

"When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to "accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere." This is exactly what's happening and it's one of the reasons that we're closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Oddly, just yesterday, NASA Administrator Bolden referred to Falcon 9 as "old technology" when asked why NASA was building SLS. Well, SLS, using decades-old technology, was created to send humans on NASA's #JourneyToMars. Yet those NASA missions won't start sending hardware to Mars until the late 2020s / early 2030s. Meanwhile SpaceX, with its "old technology" will beat NASA by a decade or more when it starts landing Red Dragons on Mars.

- Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days, earlier post

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Some - But Not All - Politics Are Good For NASA

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 9:26 PM.

Transition Fever, Lori Garver, Op Ed, SpaceNews

"The bottom line is that we in the space community can't have it both ways. We can't take the public's money, but then not allow the leaders they elect to have any say about NASA's direction. While the multi-year process of getting both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to agree on NASA programs and budgets may be frustrating, that is the "price" we pay for spending public tax dollars. These inherent challenges are part of why I believe we should do everything possible to incentivize the private sector to do more. ... If we follow the path many have suggested and limit the influence of future presidents over NASA and its leadership, we are likely to see less support for the agency, not more. It would also embolden those who want less of a sustainable strategic space program in favor of parochial pet projects. NASA stands to benefit greatly from the energy of a new presidency and should be preparing to welcome the transition team with open arms and open books."

Keith's note: In this Op Ed Garver talks about her transition Team experiences in 2008 and how NASA was less than forthcoming with information about the status Constellation - specifically Ares V. I wonder what will await the next transition team when it comes time for them to hear the SLS briefing. Sticker shock? Buyer's remorse? Another large rocket termination? Yet another blue ribbon panel?

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Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 1:02 PM.

Keith's note: I am not sure what to make of this comment by Charlie Bolden. Either he is very confused or someone is giving him really stupid talking points. Let's see, where do I start: how "old" is SLS technology? The Solid Rocket Boosters SLS uses are stretched and improved versions of the same design that Space Shuttles flew beginning in 1981 - but were designed in the 1970s (source). Oh, and SLS uses re-flown Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) which were also designed in the 1970s (source). And, FWIW Bolden flew these vehicles multiple times in the 80s.

SpaceX vehicles and engines were designed in the 21st century, use advanced manufacturing technology and require an ever-shrinking number of people to launch. Instead of re-using the reusable SSMEs on SLS, NASA will throw them away whereas SpaceX can use their first stages over and over and over again - after they wash the soot off the rocket, that is.

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Vector Launch Systems Enters Microsat Launch Business

By Marc Boucher on April 26, 2016 8:52 AM.

SpaceX Founding Team Launches Vector Space Systems to Redefine Space Commerce, SpaceRef Business

"I am truly honored and thrilled to be leading a team of industry veterans on such an important and pivotal space startup. We see innovation and value creation being the strongest in the Micro Satellite sector and Vector Space Systems will create a development platform that will foster this innovation and bring the reality of space to a much larger pool of entrepreneurs who don't need to be space experts. I am likewise honored to have such an influential group of seed investors who will bring much needed Silicon Valley DNA to the space business and will deeply influence our business, sales, marketing and product development strategies," said CEO Jim Cantrell

Marc's note: Of note, Vector announced today it has received its first rounding of funding, $1M from angel investors who weren't disclosed. Competition comparisons include Rocket Labs and FireFly, though Vector says their launch vehicle is cheaper starting at $2M with their primary market being under 50kg. There's definitely a need for a dedicated microsatellite launcher. Launch sites they plan to use include Kodiak and Cape Canaveral. Yet another potential customer for KSC.

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NASA Created OpenStack, Dumped It, And Now Re-Embraces It

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 12:56 AM.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab moves to OpenStack cloud platform, Fedscoop

"The NASA lab responsible for building the Mars rovers and robotic probes to scout the solar system has begun using an open-source cloud platform to house its mission-critical data. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab has retooled its existing hardware to support a Red Hat OpenStack cloud platform that will manage new flight projects, centralize research and reduce the need to keep funding legacy systems, according to Red Hat."

Introducing OpenStack (2010), OpenStack Blog

"The good news is that OpenStack is starting with code contributions from two organizations that know how to build and run massively scalable clouds Rackspace and NASA. Rackspace has been in the cloud business for four years and now serves tens of thousands of customers on its cloud platform. Likewise, NASA began building their Nebula cloud platform two years ago to meet the needs of their scientific community."

NASA Drops OpenStack For Amazon Cloud, Information Week (2012)

"NASA's prestige and participation has been a selling point for advocates of the OpenStack open source cloud project, which NASA co-founded with San Antonio infrastructure-as-a-service provider RackSpace. Unfortunately, they'll have to get along without NASA from here on. NASA has withdrawn as an active contributor to OpenStack, saying it doesn't want to be in the business of producing cloud software anymore. Ray O'Brien, acting CIO at NASA Ames, when asked May 30 by InformationWeek about NASA's participation, used diplomatic language to say that NASA still endorsed the project, was proud of its founding role, and might be a user of OpenStack components in the future. "It is very possible that NASA could leverage OpenStack as a customer in the future," he wrote in his email response."

-NASA Praises a Spinoff That It Has Already Dumped, Earlier post
- Paypal Adopts Software That NASA Developed and Then Dumped, Earlier post
- Earlier posts

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America's Hypocritical Fear of Indian Rockets

By Keith Cowing on April 26, 2016 12:09 AM.

Of India and ICBMs: two current concerns for American small-satellite launch, Space Review

"A primary argument of the launch companies is that lifting the ban on the PSLV will enable vehicles subsidized by foreign governments to compete against American industry. The Antrix Corporation is mainly an administrative agent of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India's national space agency. ISRO provides the technical operations supporting Antrix's commercial launches. The PSLV was developed as an ISRO program, and the profits made off commercial launch feeds back into India's space budget. This does constitute government subsidy of the Indian launch market; in contrast, the American companies developing small launch vehicles have done so largely through private investment, with NASA purchasing their services through fixed-price contracts. Of course, those issuing counter-arguments to the preservation of the ban note that the United States does not hold such bans against the use of equivalent and similarly-subsidized Russian, European, or Japanese launch vehicles, such as the Dnepr, Vega, and Epsilon. According to the FAA Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation, the Dnepr is a medium-class vehicle used for multimanifested launches of small satellites at prices of around $29 million. The Epsilon is specifically suited for small payloads at launch prices starting at $39 million. The Vega is a small-class vehicle launching at prices also of $39 million."

- Commercial Launch: All Government Subsidies Are Not Created Equal, earlier post

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The RD-180 Food Fight Just Got Crazier

By Keith Cowing on April 25, 2016 11:16 PM.

Draft House bill would scramble Air Force's rocket engine plan, SpaceNews

"The proposed restrictions essentially would forbid the Air Force from funding several recently announced co-investment deals with Orbital ATK, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance beyond this year. The Air Force doled out $317 million worth of contracts to help fund Orbital ATK's development of a new solid-fueled launcher, SpaceX's development a new upper-stage engine, and ULA's development of Vulcan, a potentially reusable successor to the RD-180 powered Atlas 5 rocket."

Why does the Air Force want to destroy the struggling U.S. space launch business?, Op Ed, Space News

"Dan Gouré is vice president of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va-based think tank that receives money from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ... Let's tally up the Air Force's recent moves. First, it insists it must depend on Russian rocket engines for at least another six years. Then it wants to take the high risk approach of launching important national security payloads aboard either the SpaceX system that has never been tried in such a mode or a new launch vehicle using a novel propulsion system. Finally, it wants to devastate what little remains of the U.S. rocket motor industrial base by selling off its stash of surplus Minuteman boosters."

- McCain Calls B.S. On USAF RD-180 Data, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

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