Because I can't really understand - how we can have a rocket fully built and launched successfully for far less bucks than NASA spends? How is it possible - after years of spending billions of dollars we have a single stage flight (incomplete first stage) and a second stage mockup? And meanwhile, spending just several hundred millions of dollars produces a cheap rocket capable of delivering astronauts in orbit?
That's the difference between a commercial company operating on the profit motive verses a government agency that relies on contractors on cost-plus contracts. Reportedly, NASA spent $400+ million for the Ares I-X. Also reportedly, SpaceX has spent about $400 million to date developing the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 (including all of the engines and related systems) as well as the Dragon capsule. Oh, and don't forget the cost of the support infrastructure at the Cape and Kwajelein. While the Dragon is a long way from being ready to carry people (Musk says 3 years from when they receive the contract), that is an astounding accomplishment. One of the ways they kept their costs under control was to do almost all of the work in-house. About the only system they out-sourced was the Flight Termination System. SpaceX has done all of this while keeping the number of employees as low as possible. I've read that Lockheed-Martin has 1000 engineers working on the Orion capsule alone up in Denver. SpaceX has fewer than 1000 employees, total.
This achievement exposes just how incredibly huge the bloat inherent in using a combination of cost + contracting and design by committee. the Ares program got to inherit all of the huge bloat from the shuttle as well. Ares had to start to pay for facilities it will only need when it is operational before it passed PDR.
SpaceX used a procure as needed approach to the buildup of infrastructure. something that has saved them hundreds of millions of dollars in upkeep during the development cycle.
Ah, we got some congressional reaction:
Sen. HutchisonSen. Shelby:Make no mistake, even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well.Belated progress for one so-called commercial provider must not be confused with progress for our nation’s human space flight program
I like how they complain it's a year late when according to the Augustine commission the Ares I is 6-8 years behind schedule.
They have no other choice. They are responsible for their districts and the fact Falcon 9 is maybe a faster way to send people into space doesn't change the fact there will be job loses.
We're talking about jobs. We're not talking about whether Falcon 9 is better or not. In the end, even the ISS was (is) just a jobs program.
Musk said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called him Friday afternoon to congratulate SpaceX on the successful launch."SpaceX joins an elite group of companies who have successfully developed launch vehicles with such a great capability," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. "But the fact that SpaceX was able to accomplish this in such a short time with such a small budget changes the paradigm of spaceflight."
Rohrabacher is one of very few Republican members of Congress enthusiastically supporting President Obama's decision on NASA.
"The ambitious flight test with four major targets for first stage, stage separation, second stage, and orbit insertion showed how capable our nation's commercial space launch providers are," Rohrabacher said in a statement. "The fact that the Falcon 9 system aborted the first attempt, and SpaceX was able to recycle and launch within two hours shows that industry is ready to take the lead in our routine orbital space missions."
We wouldn't of course. IMO Nelson words should be taken more seriously, because he didn't support the new plan in the beginning.
Elon Musk also had some informative comments about how they were able to keep costs down at SpaceX by keeping overhead low:
The Rocketeers. How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots is Boldly Privatizing Space.
by Micael Belfiore
The Rocketeers, p. 175.Musk had identified five major drivers of launch vehicle costs and had set about bringing each one of those down. The first, and perhaps the biggest, was overhead. Looking around the Main Building I could see for myself that Musk ran a tight ship. He had fewer than a hundred employees, including all the engineers, machinists and associated support staff like the receptionists, administrative assistants, and a public relations officer."We are an extremely low-overhead company," said Musk. "If we simply handed our blueprints to a Boeing or Lockheed, I think the price would at least double if not more."
"There was the rocket itself, with three major components contributing to its cost: engines, structures (the actual body of the rocket as well as fuel and oxidizer tanks), and avionics - the sophisticated computers and software that controlled the other components to guide the rocket through the air to space and into orbit.
"And then there was the launch operation. Musk laughed as he told me how a Lockheed Martin representative boasted to him of his company's "lean" launch crew: only three hundred people. "Now what are those people doing? I can't tell you." Falcon 1's launch crew? Twelve to fifteen people sitting in a custom-made trailer at the launch site."
Last edited by RGClark; 2010-Jun-06 at 01:44 PM. Reason: added link to book
Is It Safe?
The first company with a plan—and a rocket—to send humans to orbit answers the existential question.
* By Michael Milstein
* Air & Space Magazine, May 01, 2009
"For SpaceX, the only upgrades required for Dragon to carry people are the Apollo-style abort-and-escape system, seats, and a full life support system. It will cost about $300 million to go from transporting cargo to transporting people, most of it for the escape system and the test flights the human-rating rules require. SpaceX has already negotiated the finances of this step with NASA."
In regards to Shelby, if a certain rocket seems to be the only thing that's going to be carrying astronauts in the next few years, than progress for that commercial provider is closely related to that space program. If the bird had exploded on pad and the subsequent launches were failures than within the US what would that mean for manned spaceflight? People would most likely be more hesitant of commercial rockets and would prefer instead to go with the traditional rocket with various sub-contractors
If Ares continues I don't know whether or not this problem will be fixed. If Ares doesn't continue I still don't think this problem will be fixed, and Obama's mystery HLV and lack of proper funding leaves this same fundamental problem.
"Far less bucks?" Apparently NASA supervisors have other agendas besides successful missions, which add greatly to the cost. This happens often in the private sector also, but sometimes the private CEO has authority, and the will to squelch these private agendas, thus saving big bucks. Neil
Also: do you think that all the Asian countries building ICBMs would be able to afford them if the actual development cost was anything near the NASA prices?
1) They've only received ~40% of the funding they originally stated they would need back in 2004. Bush never allocated 100% of the funding the original cost estimates requested. Not all the money they've received has been spent on Ares I. Some has been spent on Orion redesigns which drove the cost up above original estimates. Even with rising costs they've still never gotten 100% of the 2004 funding estimate they need.NASA has spent billions on Ares I and all they have to show for it is launching a glorified mock up last year. Do you actually think NASA has spent the Constellation budget it has already received well or wisely?
2) They haven't spent some of the money they have received wisely.
The problem is two-pronged in this case. But with Obama's budget I still haven't seen anything that prevents this problem from continuing in the future.
Last edited by Parallax M86; 2010-Jun-07 at 12:06 PM.
I would have more respect for Obama's HLV proposal if they had already created a design for one. But from what I read his proposal was almost as much of a surprise for Bolden and NASA as it was for the public. So NASA may not have known about this mystery HLV. It would probably be cheaper to just use Ares V or something similar as the HLV Obama is looking for. It's a finished design and we can estimate costs with it.
Musk says he has 'ideas' about how to build a pad abort system; but are these even being fleshed out?
Secondly, a full-up Ares first stage has been ground tested. The parachutes have been tested and the capsule is well into the final stages of engineering; including a full capsule sans internal elements - much further along than any Falcon Human-rated system.
Third, most of the delays have been related to delays in the shuttle program - a cargo problem delayed ARES I-X testing by almost six months.
Finally - SpaceX's accomplishment for so little money is truly remarkable. It has been much more expensive than Musk extimated; but still impressivelty fast and cheap and involved lots and lots of uncompensated overtime. A bricklaying firm I know has captured most of the local market. They don't have any employees over the age of thirty-five; they don't pay benefits for more than two-thirds of the hours worked; and they run anyone out-the-door who fails on any of several production metrics - metrics extremely difficult to achieve for anyone over the age of forty.
According to the Planetary Society the new plan is good because NASA will now choose between three competitors - Ares need not apply. Which means at least two times as many efforts will lead to failure as will succeed. It is a good old free market approach - but what do brick layers do between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-seven?
As far as I know Apollo was capable of pad abort too. So is Soyuz, and that system has saved a crew. Maybe there's something I'm missing, but why would that system be so hard and expensive to develop today?
SpaceX will need to develop its own as well. So far they estimate it will cost around $300 million to develop one for the Dragon. At least for now. In the future the price might turn out to be lower than expected or higher than expected. An escape tower for the Dragon could have a more benign flight profile since the Falcon 9 rocket wouldn't blow up as violently as the Ares I.
Last edited by Parallax M86; 2010-Jun-07 at 12:01 PM.
Government verses private industry: What can $500 million buy?
According to Musk, SpaceX has spent about $500-600 million to date. They've developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 boosters including all of the engines, tanks, flight controls, and avionics. They've developed the Dragon capsule to the point that the first COTS test will take place this summer including all of its systems. They've developed all of infrastructure to build, test, assemble, and launch their rockets and capsule including mission control, software development, test stands, integration facilities and launch pads, both at the Cape and at Kwajelin. Their total number of employees just reached 1000 recently.
Total SpaceX expenditures?
- The $350M-$400M mentioned the other day was for Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets.
- Dragon, facilities, pad, etc add up to about another $100M-$150M.
- So total SpaceX expenditures till now adds up to around half a billion dollars.
- Includes money from NASA, private investment, deposits from customers, etc.
For $500 million, NASA conducted a single test flight of the Ares I-X. For another $500 million, they built the Ares I Mobile Service Tower.
Better quality video (not as complete though) that includes video feed of the Falcon 9 second stage in the final seconds of orbital insertion and video of the second stage shutdown and announcement of the Dragon mockup entering orbit:
Awesome! I can just imagine astronauts starting to float inside a Dragon capsule at the end of the video!