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Open Lines, Tuesday, 3-4-14 March 5, 2014

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Open Lines, Tuesday, 3-4-14


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Guest:  Open Lines with Dr. David Livingston.  Topics:  Launch costs, spy satellites, launch reliability, & much more.  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. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.   For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

Welcome to our primary March Open Lines discussion.  During the first segment of this two hour program, we followed up from Monday with Tony talking about electric cars, SpaceX, Elon Musk, solar power, PGE electricity rates and more.  He also mentioned that Facebook bought out Titan Aerospace, a company that makes a solar airplane. Later in the program, Tony emailed the news that former Skylab astronaut & Korean War Vet William (Bill) Pogue passed away.  Bill was twice a guest on TSS & a friend. He will missed and we dedicated tonight’s program to his memory.  After the initial call with Tony, Jerry called from Florida to talk about the Ukraine & the space connection, the 2015 NASA budget, and possible Antares problems due to the Ukrainian connection.  Next, Dwayne called to talk about what it takes to launch sensitive and very expensive USAF spy satellites.  He talked about launch reliability as being more important than the launch costs. He associated this with the high costs of ULA launches and then we talked about what it would take for SpaceX to compete in that market.  It does appear that SpaceX is ready to compete per some of the articles that were sent me during the discussion.  Dwayne pointed out the series of Titan failures in the mid to late 90’s, & how this led to more oversight and quality control to make sure the satellites got to orbit.

In the second segment, Tim from N. California called and talked about computer power today making it possible to a SimNASA type venture to refine the NASA budget process, even the overall government budget.  He mentioned a project decades ago, World Games by Buckminster Fuller but back then the computer power was not what is today.   Here we also talked about Big Data.  Dwayne called back, I asked him for news on the Chinese lunar rover and we talked about the Atlas Russian engine, the RD-180.  Dwayne attended hearings last week on Inspiration Mars and reported to us on those hearings.  Doug emailed in wanting to know the number of ULA engine flights as compared to SpaceX engine flights.

Please post comments/questions on TSS blog above.  You can reach any of the participants in tonight’s show through me.



1. rocketscirick - March 11, 2014

One initiative I was sorry to see go away during 2013 was the DARPA System F6 fractionated satellite program. This had the potential to distribute the functions of a large expensive satellite among several smaller, lower cost satellites flying in a formation and communicating together by high speed wireless link. It would then be possible to upgrade or repair components of the formation by launching smaller replacement parts. This also would have reduced the max launch mass requirements and potentially break the unending spiral of an ultra-reliable expensive satellite requiring an ultra-reliable expensive rocket.

I don’t have information on why the program was canceled. It seemed conceptually sound and was not pushing hard on technology frontiers.

2. Dwayne - March 7, 2014

And here’s another factor:


“WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is halving the number of space launches to be competitively awarded from 2015 to 2017 due in part to anticipated production slowdowns in satellite programs, primarily the GPS 3 navigation system.”

“But the planned slowdown in procurement of GPS 3 satellites, first disclosed March 4 as part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget request to Congress, would push the award of five of the associated launch contracts beyond 2017, said Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, director of space programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.”

So, while SpaceX might be able to launch a few DoD satellites in the next three years, the next opportunity to win a substantial launch contract will not be until 2017. Assume that SpaceX wins those launches, they probably won’t start kicking in until a couple of years later. Bottom line is that even if everything goes their way, SpaceX won’t be launching substantial numbers of DoD satellites until 2019 or so.

Remember the old adage concerning space: everything always takes longer and costs more than people predict.

Dwayne - March 22, 2014

I misinterpreted that article. There are seven USAF launches that will be competitively awarded between 2015 and 2017. What that means is that the first competition could happen starting in FY15, or Oct 1 of this year (of course, that assumes that the Pentagon’s budget will be passed by Oct 1–any bets on when that is going to happen? They will be operating on a continuous resolution for some time and I’m not sure how that will affect contract awards.). Now when the launches will take place, that’s harder to guess. Based upon Gwynne Shotwell’s answer on the Friday show, she seemed to indicate that the first launch would be in FY17, which implies a 2-year build time from awarding the contract to launching the rocket. So if the contract is awarded Jan 1, 2015, assume that the earliest the launch would be is Jan 1, 2017 and so on.

It’s a little more complicated than that, however. Falcon 9 cannot launch all DoD payloads, so the first contract award may not be for a payload that Falcon 9 can actually launch (although it probably will be–GPS should fit). In addition, this also depends upon SpaceX starting to clear their backlog. They have 15 launches scheduled for 2014 and 15 scheduled for 2015. Will DoD sign a contract with them if they have a substantial backlog that they are not meeting? (Then again, if DoD signs a contract for launches, presumably it will include penalties for not making the launch date. NASA’s contracts include clauses like that.)

So, my guess is that the earliest we’ll see national security payloads flying on Falcon will be about three years from now, with the uncertainties being DoD budgets and SpaceX clearing its backlog.

3. Dwayne - March 5, 2014

“It does appear that SpaceX is ready to compete per some of the articles that were sent me during the discussion.”

They don’t say that. They say that they’ve passed _one_ of the certification requirements, and may be able to pass others. But I’d note that even once they have passed those requirements that does not mean that they will automatically get contracts in the near future. USAF already has a bunch of ULA rockets on order, and satellites last longer all the time. When will USAF need to sign another contract for more rockets? It could be several years at least.

Just because something may happen in the future does not mean that it is happening right now.

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