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Nino Pollizzi, Sunday, 2-3-13 February 4, 2013

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Nino Pollizzi, Sunday, 2-3-13


Guest:  Nino Pollizzi.  Topics: Rocket Science Tutors and the DC-X with the upcoming 20th reunion.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information.

     We welcomed Nino Pollizzi back to the program to discuss his STEM outreach educational program, Rocket Science Tutors (www.rocketsciencetutors.com).  Rocket Science Tutors is a program for middle school students, currently in the Santa Ana school district in Orange County, CA, to teach STEM subjects to students after school. During the first part of our program, Nino described Rocket Science Tutors in detail, starting with the all volunteer staff from within the industry and the University of California Irvine (UCI) graduate students.  He described the after school problem, the need for a teacher advisor, parental approval, and the demographic of the kids enrolled in the program.  He said the program has been in place for eight years and they are open to expanding it to other schools and districts around the country.  In fact, he received listener questions about expanding it to St. Louis and Los Angeles.  Nino said the program was ready to be replicated. He has invited interested parties to contact him about this.  We talked about some of the programs and projects taught in their classes including pulleys, basic electrical systems, Ohm’s Law, parabolas, the need for algebra, and more.

      In our second segment of this 1 hour 42 minute program, we talked about the DC-X as Nino worked on that program when he was with McDonnell Douglas.  DC-X is having their 20th reunion this August in New Mexico, an event which Nino talked about during our discussion.  We also talked about the DC-X vehicle, its problems, the plans to scale up the demo to the two more advanced models, and ultimately its cancellation and the NASA selection of the X-33.  Nino also took some questions about the possibility of a single stage to orbit vehicle with a useful payload.

     If you have comments/questions for Nino regarding this program, please post them on The Space Show blog. You can also contact Nino using www.rocketsciencetutors.com/contactus.php or directly by email at nino@rocketsciencetutors.com.


1. Kelly Starks - February 12, 2013

I was listing to a podcast of the Space Show, show from a bit over a week ago, where a ex DC-X program guy was being interviewed – mostly about his current activity promoting STEM education – but the DC-X’s upcoming 20th anniversary (SDIO program from 1991 to 1993. Turned over to NASA from 1994 until 1995). Which got me thinking of those days.

I was working for McDonnell-Douglas at NASA HQ then, and knew someone who was on the DC-X program in St Louis. McDonnell Douglas was very excited about the DC-X, intending to name the full size production version the DC-3 (a near holly number with the Douglas side of the house) since it was expected to do as much to open space as the DC-3 did to open commercial airlines and air fright. It was a revolutionary test bed demonstrating about a 3,000 fold reduction in labor hours per flight, 24 hour turn around between flights – if the flight rate could ever be raised enough to keep them fully utilized, a cost per pound of well under $200 a pound in current $ (perhaps a tenth that for the second gen versions) would be doable. Space could finally be oened up for economic utilization. McD, was projecting about 3 more years and 3 more billion $ (then year dollars) to have a production line turning out FAA certified production DC3s. There was some debate about it working as a pure SSTO or 1+ stage (It was designed for either option.) but the economics and do-ability was pretty much unchallenged.

Then it all collapsed. The SDI system design changed from a fleet of school bus sized laser battle stations, needing up to 60 servicing and refueling flights a year; to tiny “brilliant Pebbles” sats requiring no service flights. With no big program justifying a new launcher program – DOD had to drop the DC-X program. NASA was ordered to pick it up, and its administrator ordered NASA to demonstrate the commercial viability of these new RLVs. NASA however owed its public (i.e. voter) support largely due to its high expenses per flight. A system that could drop launch cost a hundred fold was a HUGE threat, a vibe I certainly felt at NASA HQ. So they instead decided to test all the exotic technologies they deemed necessary before such RLV’s could be built. The DC-X was dropped since it didn’t require and new technology or systems (the DC-3 design had already progressed to the point of listing the catalog numbers for all the parts and materials needed to build them) so the exotic, new tech loaded, Lockheed/Martin “VentureStar” RLV concept was adopted. The contract would pay L/M about $300 million to make a suborbital demonstrator like the DC-X.

Then L/M shocked NASA by offering to wave all development and testing fees, and (out of their pocket) develop the full scale production prototype, FAA certified, VentureStar shuttle, capable of fully replacing the current shuttles, and bellow 1/10th the operating costs. They argued this would be the best test of the ability to build such craft, and that it was well within the levels of technical risk L/M developed cutting edge mil craft in. However, NASA must agree that if L/M does deliver such a production craft – NASA had to buy/least/etc some of them. NASA predictably freaked, refused, and in the end offered L/M a extra billion $ to drop the idea. With no customers showing up for any of these craft (and one of the biggest customers, NASA, paying a billion to make it go away.), they were dropped. NASA successfully used the program to “prove” RLV’s were technologically impossible (ignoring the decades of shuttle reuse) and therefore the vastly more expensive per flight Constellation/SLS craft were proposed (estimated at up to 8 times more expensive per flight then shuttle). McDonnell Douglas debated self financing the DC-X’s since they were confident a market would develop for craft so much cheaper/better – but they couldn’t convince their stockholders the gamble made economic sense.

Now, 20 years later, RLV’s and low cost launch is largely forgotten as a possibility. NASA is using the COTS/CRS contract and its high costs compared to shuttle (and Elon Musk and SpaceX’s performance and claims) to “prove” that commercials can’t be trusted to operate launch craft (ignoring that shuttle and station has always been almost completely built and operated by commercial’s companies and their staffs, who supply virtually all staffing for the programs). Weaves of NewSpace companies have come and gone. The current crop notably weaker than their predecessors. NASA has lost their shuttles, over %80 of their manned space program, and intent to only fly little more than a tenth as many people a year. The unmanned program is similarly being cut. More cuts expected with sequester.

All in all its painful to see how much farther away space seems now, compared to 20 years ago when the DC-X was flying; and how much more cynical even the space supporters are. Industry instead of talking about a huge expansion of space industry in 10-20 years, now openly wonders if the US will even have a aerospace industry by then.



2. Space-for-All at HobbySpace » Rocket Science Tutors and DC-X on The Space Show - February 4, 2013

[…] Nino Pollizzi was interviewed on the Space Show yesterday and talked about the Rocket Science Tutors volunteer education program, which I posted about here recently: Nino Pollizzi, Sunday, 2-3-13 – Thespaceshow’s Blog. […]

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