Fed Up

I’m quite that just right now. It will pass. Perhaps.

There’s been some discussion in various places about both NASA and potential future launch vehicles. Everything’s just so static in a large sense. Completely hopeless. I’ll throw in the towel for now.

Almost nobody has the required long attention span or patience to make any useful progress on the space front, and certainly not society itself.

The Players

USA is the only instance that is putting any significant money into doing anything new. And that’s wasted on the Ares rockets. ESA consists of a bunch of bickering countries, they’ve achieved some nice things but most of the people in the parttaking countries don’t even know they exist. No significant money spent on doing anything new, and what is done in Europe, is very often just me-too copying of American approaches. (Take Hermes as an example.) India is running with some crazy hypersonic stuff. China is doing intermittent Soyuz copy PR flights. Japan is doing something overcomplicated and abortive like they have always seemed to.

What are we left with? A bunch of US newspace companies with so little funding they won’t reach much in the next decade (Euro real newspace like SPL has zero funding at the moment). Scaled’s Spaceshiptwo is a dead end propulsion wise with the hybrids, and the air launching provides some scalability problems too. Maybe XCOR’s Lynx will fly some tourists to some altitude, and maybe there might be some X-racers. It won’t change stuff radically. The X-15 lessons were tossed to the trashbin too, to make way for the farces of NASP and X-33. Armadillo might fly something newish. So what? They don’t have enough money to even put turbopumps on the vehicle, resulting in ridiculous performance for orbital missions.

SpaceX? Forget it. It’s a rerun of Orbital Sciences Corporation, at best (and at the moment it looks much worse). No revolution, and evolution only very slightly.

COTS? Maybe something will actually fly, as it seems it has to try to pick up the mess that NASA put itself in with Ares and Orion. I’m not so well versed into the coming phases and how the politics will go. Both Lockmart and Boeing are in Ares/Orion so they don’t have such strong incentives to replace it with their own COTS solution flying on EELV on the short term. Depending how tightly they can keep their own ULA/EELV guys on a leash, and that has been shown to be ugly, people having gotten into trouble for what they have said on some web forums. NASA’s logical short term COTS alternative, a capsule on an EELV is thus self-censored.

But all this, even when happening in a good way, won’t change price to orbit significantly or enable real spacefaring.

What You’d Need

You’d need a refuel and go again reusable launch vehicle (RAGA RLV) that has turbopumps. No newspace company has money for that (and they are wisely using their little money on something else anyway). Besides, you’d in any case need multiple X-vehicles to develop the techniques like TPS or launch infrastructure and procedures to maturity so they could be operated with reasonable crew size and consistency. A launcher could be depended upon.

Human societies don’t seem to have capability to demand long term commitment to that technology development.

Environment Analogy

Same with the environment. If oil prices stay above 100 dollars, coal based petroleum will come soon and the synthesis already will produce massive amounts of CO2. New coal plants will be built too to produce cheap electricity to consumers who want it. Earth will change significantly with the resulting temperature rise.

No significant new energy producing or saving technology or international pacts will be seriously considered, never mind put into effect in the next ten years.

P.S. This post was written with the new Firefox 3. Hope it doesn’t muck up during publishing. Happy Midsummer. Looks to be rainy here.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Demotivation, ESA, ISRU, Motivation, NASA, RLV:s, Suborbital and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Fed Up

  1. I don’t blame you for being frustrated. You’re right that only a handful of firms are making any progress at all, and most of them are badly undercapitalized. I used to think there were easy solutions to some of these problems, but the truth is, there are no solutions that don’t take a lot of time and a lot of hard work. I’m just hoping that if some of us firms in the US can make enough of a success of what we’re trying to do, that maybe that can spark other groups in other countries to start following suit. But momentum is hard to overcome.

    Heh. I’m not sure I actually said a single new thing in that whole paragraph.

    ~Jon

  2. Yeah, it’s frustrating. I saw the writing on the wall and gave up on NASA over 20 years ago (I guess I could insert a comment here about the ISS, but anyway…).

    Not that NASA isn’t doing some neat stuff, they are. Quite a bit, actually. But the bigger the project, the more it seems to suffer from bureaucracy and politics, and of course manned spacecraft development has the biggest projects of all.

    Anyone building a spacefaring fleet, whether government or other, will have to be at it consistently for many years, as you note. More than that, they’re going to have to constantly work to make the most out of what they’ve already got, reusing pieces as much as possible rather than starting from scratch every time.

    I wrote about that a couple of years ago:

    Energia’s ISS Stance Points Out Key Flaw in NASA Strategy

    The basic point is that space stuff is so expensive to develop, we need to make sure we get the most out of it once we do, which also raises production quantities and so lowering unit costs.

    There’s also some more in that article about what I think would be a proper space development strategy. We need to start being strategic. Without that, even spending huge amounts of money & time ($100 billion/24+ years for ISS, for example) doesn’t get you very far.

  3. Afonso says:

    Mostly agree with your remarks, but I think there IS a good cause for long-term optimism: the Space Elevator concept.
    Even buraucrats and politicians have understood that sooner or latter it will be build. The usual problem tough: being a long term project the *glory* of making it happen will have to be shared over many *generations* of politicians, something they don’t seem to be able to cope with…

  4. K. Luojus says:

    Well, I see a lot of possibilities still ahead of us. Bigelow is putting up the “destination”. AA and XCOR might get enough funding and at least a whole lot of important experience out of RRL. And looking at AA they really haven’t been funding constrained in the past…

    You are counting out Scaled, based on their choice of hybrid propulsion. I see them as the firm that opens up the field for space tourism and that will definitely help the funding situation for the other NewSpace players (Space Adventures fly people too infrequently to make a real market, and Scaled/Virgin will probable make a real market…).

    There are also other things in the horizon that can turn out for the better. SpaceX might just live up to the expectations, and when Bigelow puts up the destination, the situation will definitely change. I see the ULA bunch leaping on to the capsule/EELV road once there is a destination and paying customers lining up.

  5. truthwalker says:

    Just so you know the Air Force released its official ‘White Paper’ recently on the future of air power in the US. One of the statements made (and remember this is an official government paper) If we don’t start investing heavily in our aerospace companies now, we will completely lose domestic aerospace capacity within ten to fifteen years. Pretty scary stuff.

    To bad we are the only ones reading it.

  6. Bob Steinke says:

    “You’d need a refuel and go again reusable launch vehicle (RAGA RLV) that has turbopumps.”

    I’d like to find out more about why you feel turbopumps specifically are a necessary part of a solution. I’ve heard convincing arguments that pressure fed systems could be inexpensive launch vehicles. Their GLOW to payload ratio would be large, but the important metric is cost, and simpler systems can cost less per pound. If you think pumps are necessary, why wouldn’t piston pumps or pistonless pumps work? Even if turboumps are the best solution, why do you think the other solutions are useless dead ends and not just suboptimal?

    You’ve done a lot of great quantitative analysis for some of your other posts. I’d like to see you dissect the tradeoff between turbopump and non-turbopump vehicles. This isn’t flamebait. I genuinely want to see the reasoning and analysis behind the ideas when I hear conflicting opinions.

  7. gravityloss says:

    Thanks for the comments!
    I hope I can take a more formal take on such matters in the future.

    I definitely think the newspace movement is doing a lot of valuable progress, turbopumps or not. First solve as many practical problems as you can with cheap simple low performance vehicles, then take more steps.

  8. Habitat Hermit says:

    I second the wish for your thoughts on turbopumps vs. pressure fed. I guess that would easily also turn into a discussion on chamber pressures which would be interesting as well.

    Anyway I hope you enjoy your holiday to the fullest and since this is my first comment here I’d like to thank you for all your previous posts.

    Cheers from Norway ^_^

  9. Pingback: Babysteps Are Good « Gravity Loss

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