And my real point

This is the great argument against state or similar control of technological experimentation. Not that the state or similar body will be more or less efficient at producing an output. But that it will constrict the paths taken, and thus leave us poorer. Political direction leaves every maniac with a grudge the power to prohibit. While the market, on the other hand, lets the maniacs get on with seeing what works.

15 comments on “And my real point

  1. One of the biggest governmental successes at innovation has on page 1 – how do we avoid screwing up the incentives of our staff.

    https://www.darpa.mil/attachments/DARPA_Innovation_2016.pdf

    Limited tenure and the urgency it promotes
    • A sense of mission
    • Trust and autonomy
    • Risk-taking and tolerance of failure

    The only government body I know of which has that self-awareness when it comes to design of the organisation

  2. Timmy,

    I must protest your suggestion that ISS is crowding out commercial stations. There simply isn’t private sector demand to support an LEO station yet. US government funding would be spent on SLS/Orion/DSG if ISS didn’t exist.

    There is one key word in the preceding paragraph which suggests why ISS can be the key to developing a profitable commercial station industry, yet. Beginning in 2011 ISS resources were made available to private industry. After a rocky start CASIS, NASA’s ISS management arm, non-NASA research utilization rates have increased from lows near 30% to an average of 70% over the last two years. This has already led to the first product that can only be made in micro-gravity and sold to customers on Earth for a profit, micro-gravity-drawn ZBLAN, reaching terrestrial markets. Based on current prices for inferior top-end terrestrial made fiber optic cable, a Dragon full of micro-gravity-drawn ZBLAN has an estimated street value in excess of $1.5 billion. I am aware of seventeen other potentially profitable products that could become available to consumers on Earth by CASIS’s ten year anniversary in 2021. Privately funded ISS utilization has increased from 0% in 2011 to 42% in 2017. Without the highly subsidized access to ISS research facilities, these private research efforts would have been unaffordable. Like it or not, ISS is currently creating the private sector demand necessary to support commercial stations and there is no other non-Chinese option.

    Now that I’ve briefly touched on demand, it is time to look at the supply side. There are currently two commercial proposals we can use to judge how long it will take before commercial stations could potentially come online, Bigelow and AxiomSpace.

    Bigelow’s B-330 module is currently scheduled to begin a free flying 18-36 month testing phase following a 2020 launch. Target revenues are $450 million per module per year. Three B-330’s can fully replicate ISS’s habitable volume. Bigelow’s factory is capable of producing two B-330’s per year. Unfortunately a single module design does not make a fully functional station. Until plans for multiport modules, high use rate airlocks, a large robotic arm, external mounting points, as well as power and thermal management systems are announced, there is no way to project when a Bigelow station can support the needs of the current customer base.

    Axiom does have a design that includes all of the pieces necessary to support current commercial ISS users. The basic plan is to build a tin-can expandable station core which can replace America’s portion of ISS completely. The initial core has two free berthing ports which can be used for ESA, JAXA, or commercial modules. Construction is to be done using ISS as an orbit shipyard starting in 2022 with a projected construction phase of four years. I’m not sure how Axiom plans on completing their station core in 2026 if ISS is shut down in 2025.

    The biggest threat to both Bigelow and Axiom is running out of capital before their stations are operational. Both stations require multi-billion dollar investments. Investors require more that the 100 meters of ZBLAN Made In Space has produced to date before they will gamble on LEO manufacturing. The projected tipping point when tourism is expected to be viable is when trip costs fall below the $10 million mark. This will only happen with increase launch cadence and so we can consider space tourism to be a secondary industry in the 2020’s. A NASA commercial station program funded at $1 billion per year with a commitment of ten years would satisfy investor concerns, but the plan is to put all of NASA’s money into SLS/Orion/DSG. Due to current uncertainty about commercial station revenue streams, Axiom’s available in 2026 date is an optimistic projection.

    My preferred way to decrease revenue uncertainty is to simply wait and let private industry develop enough profitable products that investing in LEO stations becomes a no-brainer. The problem is that the current directive to NASA is to shut down ISS by 2025. Based on operational knowledge gained on ISS we know that it takes between five and ten years to transition from basic research to production prototypes. With the projected LEO gap of at least one year private industry has begun putting holds on new research programs. This drop was recently used in a pro-SLS/Orion/DSG NASA OIG report to provide justification for cancelling ISS in 2025. The direct effect of this report has been the postponement of one project that I am aware of. A further risk that is currently depressing commercial LEO station investment is the risk that companies with business model dependent on means of production in LEO will go out of business in the gap between ISS retirement and commercial stations coming online.

    I see that I’ve already gone on for far to long over just one quibble and I have only scratched the surface of the current state of commercial LEO activities. Hopefully the information I’ve already provided is enough to give you real insight. Yes, ISS was once a boondoggle designed to spread pork and throw a bone to the Russians. It hasn’t been that since 2015. Today, it is a government program that is actually working. Cancelling ISS in 2025 so that roughly $2 billion American tax dollars can be shifted to buy a second SLS/Orion flight per year beginning in 2026 is the stupidest move we could possible make. Instead we should be reviewing the potential issues with extending ISS until 2032. The purpose of this review is to establish a station condition report for use when auctioning off American ISS assets after commercial stations come online. Potential buyers will want to know what they are getting and we’d rather not have the government give an unfair advantage to someone that didn’t bother to do the hard work.

    I also must take umbrage with your claim that ISS has held back the development of rocketry. SpaceX was days away from bankruptcy when they won the CRS-1 contract in 2008. SpaceX operates the most advanced rocket with the maximum total lift capability available in the world today. More importantly, we can afford to fly them. Blue Origin is receiving funding to develop their BE-4 engine for use in ULA’s Atlas/Delta replacement, Vulcan. Atlas has been used to launch Orbital ATK’s Cygnus supply capsule to ISS under a CRS-1 contract, and is scheduled to launch Dream Chaser beginning in 2020 under a CRS-2 contract. Sierra Nevada, makers of Dream Chaser, was on the fast track toward going the way of the dodo before the CRS-2 contract was awarded. ISS has directly lead to rocketry advances by allowing flights of multiple smaller rockets.

    What has held rocketry back for decades is the attempt to have one rocket to rule them all. This mindset was a direct response to NASA budget cuts which began in 1968. In order to maintain human spaceflight capabilities the decision was made to only use a single primary liquid fuel type. Hydrogen was chosen due it’s high ISP. The belief was that hydrogen storage costs would come down and reusable engines on a space plane would lead to lower cost operations. While hydrogen is a great fuel from a technical perspective in orbit, it’s low density means that it’s crap for first stages. In order to remedy this problem, NASA took advantage of the cheap solid rocket motors primarily used in ICBMs to provide the thrust needed to get off the pad. Based on the available information in 1971, it appeared that this was the best path forward. NASA left the production capabilities of other options to rot and embarked on a gloriously designed five-year plan.

    Unfortunately this glorious plan actually worked as well as one can expect. Hydrogen costs never dropped. Weapons treaties were signed eliminating the cost advantages of SRMs formally shared with the military. Mission creep made the orbiter too heavy. Now the problems with the Shuttle were well know within NASA in the mid 1970’s. The thing is, people tend to like having a job and NASA employed hydrolox engineers. Cancelling the Shuttle would have led to job losses similar to those seen when Saturn V was cancelled. With no useful non-hydrolox rockets in the pipeline, and no money to develop them, few at NASA would publicly suggest a change. Congress was no help either. Shuttle jobs supported large portions of the local economy in key districts scattered across the country. In the Apollo aftermath, the decision was made to ensure that every Senator would lose votes if they tried to cancel the Shuttle. Had the plan worked, this would have ensured a successful program continued. Unfortunately it also made cancelling the plan virtually impossible. It took the loss of Columbia to force a change.

    That change wasn’t much of a change though. NASA stuck with hydrolox and SRBs to maintain jobs. Between Ares, SLS, and Orion, NASA has spent nearly $40 billion since 2005 to maintain the capability that has seen a total of zero non-test flights. The insistence on one rocket to rule them all has held us back, not ISS.

    Here is the most detailed collection of American manned spaceflight history available. A large potion of the millions of posts are written by the people who lived the history. Enjoy.

    https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/

  3. Timmy,

    I must protest your suggestion that ISS is crowding out commercial stations. There simply isn’t private sector demand to support an LEO station yet. US government funding would be spent on SLS/Orion/DSG if ISS didn’t exist.

    There is one key word in the preceding paragraph which suggests why ISS can be the key to developing a profitable commercial station industry, yet. Beginning in 2011 ISS resources were made available to private industry. After a rocky start CASIS, NASA’s ISS management arm, non-NASA research utilization rates have increased from lows near 30% to an average of 70% over the last two years. This has already led to the first product that can only be made in micro-gravity and sold to customers on Earth for a profit, micro-gravity-drawn ZBLAN, reaching terrestrial markets. Based on current prices for inferior top-end terrestrial made fiber optic cable, a Dragon full of micro-gravity-drawn ZBLAN has an estimated street value in excess of $1.5 billion. I am aware of seventeen other potentially profitable products that could become available to consumers on Earth by CASIS’s ten year anniversary in 2021. Privately funded ISS utilization has increased from 0% in 2011 to 42% in 2017. Without the highly subsidized access to ISS research facilities, these private research efforts would have been unaffordable. Like it or not, ISS is currently creating the private sector demand necessary to support commercial stations and there is no other non-Chinese option.

  4. Now that I’ve briefly touched on demand, it is time to look at the supply side. There are currently two commercial proposals we can use to judge how long it will take before commercial stations could potentially come online, Bigelow and AxiomSpace.

    Bigelow’s B-330 module is currently scheduled to begin a free flying 18-36 month testing phase following a 2020 launch. Target revenues are $450 million per module per year. Three B-330’s can fully replicate ISS’s habitable volume. Bigelow’s factory is capable of producing two B-330’s per year. Unfortunately a single module design does not make a fully functional station. Until plans for multiport modules, high use rate airlocks, a large robotic arm, external mounting points, as well as power and thermal management systems are announced, there is no way to project when a Bigelow station can support the needs of the current customer base.

    Axiom does have a design that includes all of the pieces necessary to support current commercial ISS users. The basic plan is to build a tin-can expandable station core which can replace America’s portion of ISS completely. The initial core has two free berthing ports which can be used for ESA, JAXA, or commercial modules. Construction is to be done using ISS as an orbit shipyard starting in 2022 with a projected construction phase of four years. I’m not sure how Axiom plans on completing their station core in 2026 if ISS is shut down in 2025.

  5. The biggest threat to both Bigelow and Axiom is running out of capital before their stations are operational. Both stations require multi-billion dollar investments. Investors require more that the 100 meters of ZBLAN Made In Space has produced to date before they will gamble on LEO manufacturing. The projected tipping point when tourism is expected to be viable is when trip costs fall below the $10 million mark. This will only happen with increase launch cadence and so we can consider space tourism to be a secondary industry in the 2020’s. A NASA commercial station program funded at $1 billion per year with a commitment of ten years would satisfy investor concerns, but the plan is to put all of NASA’s money into SLS/Orion/DSG. Due to current uncertainty about commercial station revenue streams, Axiom’s available in 2026 date is an optimistic projection.

    My preferred way to decrease revenue uncertainty is to simply wait and let private industry develop enough profitable products that investing in LEO stations becomes a no-brainer. The problem is that the current directive to NASA is to shut down ISS by 2025. Based on operational knowledge gained on ISS we know that it takes between five and ten years to transition from basic research to production prototypes. With the projected LEO gap of at least one year private industry has begun putting holds on new research programs. This drop was recently used in a pro-SLS/Orion/DSG NASA OIG report to provide justification for cancelling ISS in 2025. The direct effect of this report has been the postponement of one project that I am aware of. A further risk that is currently depressing commercial LEO station investment is the risk that companies with business model dependent on means of production in LEO will go out of business in the gap between ISS retirement and commercial stations coming online.

  6. I also must take umbrage with your claim that ISS has held back the development of rocketry. SpaceX was days away from bankruptcy when they won the CRS-1 contract in 2008. SpaceX operates the most advanced rocket with the maximum total lift capability available in the world today. More importantly, we can afford to fly them. Blue Origin is receiving funding to develop their BE-4 engine for use in ULA’s Atlas/Delta replacement, Vulcan. Atlas has been used to launch Orbital ATK’s Cygnus supply capsule to ISS under a CRS-1 contract, and is scheduled to launch Dream Chaser beginning in 2020 under a CRS-2 contract. Sierra Nevada, makers of Dream Chaser, was on the fast track toward going the way of the dodo before the CRS-2 contract was awarded. ISS has directly lead to rocketry advances by allowing flights of multiple smaller rockets.

    What has held rocketry back for decades is the attempt to have one rocket to rule them all. This mindset was a direct response to NASA budget cuts which began in 1968. In order to maintain human spaceflight capabilities the decision was made to only use a single primary liquid fuel type. Hydrogen was chosen due it’s high ISP. The belief was that hydrogen storage costs would come down and reusable engines on a space plane would lead to lower cost operations. While hydrogen is a great fuel from a technical perspective in orbit, it’s low density means that it’s crap for first stages. In order to remedy this problem, NASA took advantage of the cheap solid rocket motors primarily used in ICBMs to provide the thrust needed to get off the pad. Based on the available information in 1971, it appeared that this was the best path forward. NASA left the production capabilities of other options to rot and embarked on a gloriously designed five-year plan.

    Unfortunately this glorious plan actually worked as well as one can expect. Hydrogen costs never dropped. Weapons treaties were signed eliminating the cost advantages of SRMs formally shared with the military. Mission creep made the orbiter too heavy. Now the problems with the Shuttle were well know within NASA in the mid 1970’s. The thing is, people tend to like having a job and NASA employed hydrolox engineers. Cancelling the Shuttle would have led to job losses similar to those seen when Saturn V was cancelled. With no useful non-hydrolox rockets in the pipeline, and no money to develop them, few at NASA would publicly suggest a change. Congress was no help either. Shuttle jobs supported large portions of the local economy in key districts scattered across the country. In the Apollo aftermath, the decision was made to ensure that every Senator would lose votes if they tried to cancel the Shuttle. Had the plan worked, this would have ensured a successful program continued. Unfortunately it also made cancelling the plan virtually impossible. It took the loss of Columbia to force a change.

    That change wasn’t much of a change though. NASA stuck with hydrolox and SRBs to maintain jobs. Between Ares, SLS, and Orion, NASA has spent nearly $40 billion since 2005 to maintain the capability that has seen a total of zero non-test flights. The insistence on one rocket to rule them all has held us back, not ISS.

  7. Liberal Yank:
    “I must protest your suggestion that ISS is crowding out commercial stations.”

    Bowie was singing Starman, not straw man – or can you just not read?

  8. There is no market that the government’s $120 billion station could crowd out. Using the general rule of thumb, had private industry tried to build ISS with private funding, a commercial ISS could have cost in the range of $40 billion.

    Now let’s take a look at demand. Private industry investment in ISS research in FY2017 was $40 million.

    Until we find more ways to make a profit in space, there isn’t a market to crowd out. Up until 2011, the only customer for LEO stations was the government. In 2011, ISS was opened to private industry. It took two years for CASIS, the station management authority, to get it’s head out it’s arse. Since then, private enterprise in space has been growing at approximately 20% per year. So far virtually all of this has been research. In 2018, revenue from production should increase into the millions. The damn thing is finally helping figure out the profit part. Would you rather the government commit to spending billions leasing commercial stations with no other customers?

    Here is the most important overlooked news story of 2017.

    http://spacenews.com/industry-sees-new-opportunities-for-space-manufacturing/

  9. Nice typing, lots of detail, even a couple of links. All entirely missing the point that Tim did not suggest that ISS is crowding out commercial stations.

  10. I should note, my street value estimate for a Dragon full of ZBLAN is based the top prices of the existing fiber optic cable market, ~$430,000/kg. The FOMS $2 million/kg estimate is a first day of econ 101 level mistake.

  11. The laughable example that the author gives of why this would be better? The International Space Station: the most absurd of all of the political boondoggles that have surrounded space exploration. Where there has been crowding out even of taxpayer funding, let alone private money. The absurd expense of the ISS programme has meant that rocket technology has pretty much plateaued for decades. This recent irruption of the private sector by Musk and others is something which should have happened many years ago.

    ISS has been bringing private money into manned space exploration since 2005 when the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program began.

    Here is the most complete collect of NASA related material available outside of NASA’s own archives. Feel free to fact check me.

    https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/

  12. “Feel free to fact check me.”

    I fact checked your first sentence. You protested a suggestion that Tim didn’t make.

  13. So you are suggesting the first sentence needs a slight rewrite.

    I must protest your suggestion that ISS is crowding out (_____).

    I covered how Shuttle, then Ares, now SLS have crowded out rocketry developments in detail. I noted how commercial cargo fund for ISS supply missions was vital to SpaceX’s survival. I could add details about SNC’s Dream Chaser, set to fly ISS cargo in 2020. I touched on how ISS is allowing private industry low cost access to research facilities. Potential commercial station manufacturers are flight testing hardware on ISS. What exactly is ISS crowding out?

    Perhaps Timmy was just complaining about ESA’s ISS activities. Honestly, if you want to dump Columbus in the drink, go for it. I’m sure that one of our six companies who have been developing deep space habitats for NASA’s Next Step program would love to have access to that berthing port to prove some kit. If nothing else we can stick a B-330 there and increase station size, while also adding an extra docking port. Bigelow gets to test his core module with ISS support, more space is available for commercial tenants, and NASA has to deal with one fewer set of barter agreements. I call this a win-win-win-win-win situation. Wait, better add a win. Bigelow can set a much wider tolerance range for docking failures if he is willing to take the risk. This could greatly speed up qualification of the next generation of rockets coming online in the 2020’s.

    I feel like Timmy must have felt like when he went to Bangladesh and saw capitalism working there in person. It just so happens that old handout to Russian rocketry happens to be an acceptable place to learn how space economics works. It turns out, it’s just like on Earth. Also similar to Earth, it seems Continental Europeans seem to have a hard time figuring it out.

    Who could have guessed all private industry needed was a place to figure out how to make a profit? /s

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.