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The Artemis Program

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Zakalwe:
Well, in a sort of way I was correct. A Starship prototype completed a 150m test hop yesterday.


https://youtube.com/watch?v=s1HA9LlFNM0

 :P ;D ;D ;D :D

Zakalwe:
It's bad taste to quote oneself, but I was correct that SLS wouldn't fly in 2020 and that Starship would fly long before it.

Based on yesterday's hotfire acceptance test I'm going long and saying now that SLS won't fly in 2021 either. What happens nest is anyone's guess. It might be possible to swap Engine 4 out on the test stand and re-run the test. If they have to ship it back to Michoud then who knows how long that will take? Given that this was supposed to be the last test before shipping the core to KSC this has got to be seen as nothing more than a major embarrassment for NASA and Boeing. They've also started to stack the SRBs in the VAB. The SRBs have a 12 month lifespan so that clock is ticking away. Of course, delays mean more taxpayers dollars for Boeing....
Boeing appear to have moved from an aerospace company into a company who's best ability seems to be gobbling government money. They cocked up big style with regards to the 737 Max. They cocked up the Starliner abort test (loss of the parachute) and they cocked up the orbital test.

Is it now time to can this boondoggle and spend the money elsewhere?

JayUtah:

--- Quote from: Zakalwe on January 17, 2021, 10:37:04 AM ---Boeing appear to have moved from an aerospace company into a company who's best ability seems to be gobbling government money. They cocked up big style with regards to the 737 Max. They cocked up the Starliner abort test (loss of the parachute) and they cocked up the orbital test.
--- End quote ---

It's not so much the source of the money.  Boeing, like many foundational American companies, has transformed from the thing it used to be good at to a company organized mostly around funneling as much money as possible to certain one-percenty types.  This started at the merger with McDonnell Douglas and has gone steadily downhill since.  All the examples you cite, and more, are a direct result of Boeing being a fairly typical American late-stage capitalist corporation -- a piggy bank for the wealthy upper class.  Basically you have the rising financial class cashing in on the reputations of established companies with no plan for the long-term sustenance.  They're just raiding Boeing for short-term profits, and they don't seem to care whether there's anything left of it when they're done.

There are still many good engineers at Boeing.  And they still have many good ideas.  But as you might imagine, they aren't being listened to.  And those people are still very concerned with safety and quality, but they're being overruled by business concerns.  Safety used to be a religion at Boeing.  Now it's just one of the things that goes into the cost-benefit analysis.  The billions in fines over the 737 MAX issue is probably not enough to urge them to change course.


--- Quote ---Is it now time to can this boondoggle and spend the money elsewhere?
--- End quote ---

Perhaps.  In the mid 2000s NASA examined its space development funding model in light of the general shift in the aerospace industry from government (politically-driven) funding to private (market-driven) funding. They decided that investing in SpaceX and other new companies was probably a good idea.  But they were too leery to throw out the government-funded side, because they knew those dynamics and could work with them.  Market-driven space exploration was an unknown, and at best unpredictable.  The plan was to fund both (of course) and see which model ended up working well for which kinds of projects.  We're still in the middle of that process.

The static testing experiences this month illustrate so many of the differences between the two development models that are associated with the funding models.  No, Boeing isn't privately saying, "Hey, if we fail the test, we get more free money from the government to fix it."  Often there are contract penalties involved with such test failures.  And only a fraction of Boeing's overall revenue comes from exotic space development projects like SLS.  Boeing makes most of its money from commercial airframe products.  And if you slice it by funding source, by far most of the money Boeing makes from the taxpayers is in defense contracts, on which Boeing still executes quite well.  Boeing could not build the SLS and suffer only a slight loss of profit.

The pacing problem is that Boeing isn't free to follow the same practical paths as SpaceX.  Starship 9 had similar problems with its static tests earlier in the month.  But what they did to fix it is an example of what you would do if you were a private company using private money to do engineering development.  In that case you take the shortest, cheapest path to understanding the failure, which might mean just re-running the test right away, or parts of the test, or changing the test regime on a whim to drive down quickly to the evident points of failure.  I recall they did a bunch of rapid start-stop tests, which were probably directly aimed at following a hunch and gathering data quickly to test that hunch.

United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and all those companies still funded by the old model have all kinds of strings attached to the development process, the testing process, and the failure analysis process.  It's tedious, because you have to document everything.  It's slow, because you can't rewrite the process and you can't move on to the next step until the previous step is completed satisfactorily according to the laid-down criteria.  It's expensive because the plan (as originally devised) was to spend a bit more money on the premise that doing so would result in a greater chance of ultimate success.

And all that happens because the taxpayers demand to know how their money is being spent, and demand that it be spent according to someone's idea of safe, predictable, sound practices.  They basically say, "No, we're not going to give you a hundred billion dollars and let you go off and spend it however you want.  We're going to watch you every step of the way and make sure you don't do anything that's too risky."  No matter how badly the remaining good engineers at Boeing want to do it differently, the public-funding model dictates that following hunches is not accountable enough.  You follow the dictates laid out by the contracting agency, which is often a bureaucratic mess of methods and requirements.  Yes, on some contracts I literally have the failure analysis process that I have to follow spelled out for me, even when I could do a one-day experiment for cheaper and have a good chance of finding the problem.  But no, I have to spend two weeks and $100,000 "doing it right."  And this is all because of accountability.

I share your pain, Zakalwe.  I feel it.  But because I'm in the middle of it, I have a different perspective on how it came to be and what's actually wrong and how to fix it.  But I'll see your prophecy and give you one of my own:  Artemis will probably never fly.

This is because we get a new set of priorities every two years, a new direction, new budgets, new schedules, and new priorities.  This dynamic has hobbled our national space policy since the early 1970s.  NASA screwed up the space shuttle for political reasons.  It has screwed up everything else for those reasons.  This is not NASA's fault so much as Congress' fault.  NASA would love to have a budget free from political meddling.  But that will likely never happen.  Boeing and the rest of us would like to have more freedom in the development process.  But that's not what our customers want from us.

I expected the SLS static test to fail.  And yes, instead of engineers going into a huddle to figure out what tests they can cobble together based on the data they have, they're going to have to sit in review board meetings, and their bosses will have to sit in Congressional oversight meetings, and there will have to be draft after draft of corrective action plans and meanwhile everything sits waiting while the methodical plodding mandated by the taxpayers (via their representatives) runs its course.  That's the paradox of public funding.  It's not free money.  It's money given to us to spend exactly the way the people who gave it to us say.

Paradoxically the economic and business-management conditions that have led to the decline of Boeing and others have given rise to the mega-billionaire class who can literally fund their own private space development programs, should they choose to do so.  So yes, if you have a hundred billion dollars of your own laying around and you are interested in space, you can literally have the means to develop your own fleet of launch vehicles and spacecraft.  And you can build them any way you want.  The legacy companies are publicly owned.  If Northrop Grumman decided they wanted to develop their own version of Starship, with the company's money -- not public funding -- then you have to convince the shareholders that it's a wise use of their money.  They'll want to know who the customer is, what the business model for success is, and so forth.  And they can vote no on it.

The market-style funding of exotic development, where private money is spent to develop the technology and then NASA can decide whether or not to use it, will come with a different model for accountability.  It's not clear yet what that will look like, but the Falcon 9 flights to the ISS are getting us there.  We may shift over to a model that's more in line with commercial airframe development:  the functional acceptance criteria are set, and however a manufacturer chooses to meet them is its business.  What, if anything, NASA should be funding along these lines remains up in the air (pun intended).  It's not as if the legacy companies will go out of business just because NASA shuts down funding for developing specialized technology.  But you can't look at development pace alone as a comparison of effectiveness.  What NASA thinks it's buying via the older model is still something they think is important.  Time will tell, because we may be able to do with a whole lot less oversight.  And that rising tide will raise all boats.

Zakalwe:
Thanks for the detailed response JayUtah



--- Quote from: JayUtah on January 17, 2021, 01:27:49 PM ---

--- Quote ---Is it now time to can this boondoggle and spend the money elsewhere?
--- End quote ---

Perhaps.  In the mid 2000s NASA examined its space development funding model in light of the general shift in the aerospace industry from government (politically-driven) funding to private (market-driven) funding. They decided that investing in SpaceX and other new companies was probably a good idea.  But they were too leery to throw out the government-funded side, because they knew those dynamics and could work with them.  Market-driven space exploration was an unknown, and at best unpredictable.  The plan was to fund both (of course) and see which model ended up working well for which kinds of projects.  We're still in the middle of that process.


--- End quote ---

I wonder how the new administration will deal with this? I can't see Biden being as free-flowing with the dollars. Plus his ex-boss canned Constellation. The Alabama senators won't have as much clout as under Trump, I suspect.



--- Quote from: JayUtah on January 17, 2021, 01:27:49 PM ---But I'll see your prophecy and give you one of my own:  Artemis will probably never fly.

--- End quote ---

I've held a similar view for a long while, though my perspective is nowhere near as close to it as yours. If it flies, then I think that it will only fly once to save face.  Even a single flight will be in many ways too much. Too expensive, too complicated and most of all a damn shame to see RS-25s being used for 8 minutes and then dropped into the ocean.

Over a decade of development, countless billions of dollars (and I'm not including the billions spent on GSE and launch towers) and it's a damp squib. Shocking.



--- Quote from: JayUtah on January 17, 2021, 01:27:49 PM ---So yes, if you have a hundred billion dollars of your own laying around and you are interested in space, you can literally have the means to develop your own fleet of launch vehicles and spacecraft.  And you can build them any way you want.  The legacy companies are publicly owned.  If Northrop Grumman decided they wanted to develop their own version of Starship, with the company's money -- not public funding -- then you have to convince the shareholders that it's a wise use of their money.  They'll want to know who the customer is, what the business model for success is, and so forth.  And they can vote no on it.

--- End quote ---

Its why Musk wants to keep SpaceX in private hands as much as possible. There's no way a board of Directors and shareholders would allow him to do what he is currently doing at Boca Chica. He seems very open to spinning off Starlink via an IPO, which might be a very good idea. I winder what clauses that he'll have to build in to ensure that swathes of Starlink revenue will find the Mars missions though?

JayUtah:

--- Quote from: Zakalwe on January 17, 2021, 03:15:19 PM ---I wonder how the new administration will deal with this? I can't see Biden being as free-flowing with the dollars. Plus his ex-boss canned Constellation. The Alabama senators won't have as much clout as under Trump, I suspect.
--- End quote ---

Probably not.  I expect yet another "re-evaluation" and redirection.  I wish I had a handle on all the politics involved.  But you're absolutely right in pointing to this state or the other and saying that the Congressional delegations from these states have some say in earmarking funds and directing contracts.  There's a reason I taught basic engineering physics in the James C. Fletcher Physics Building at university.  And it might have to do with the SRBs being manufactured just up the road.


--- Quote ---I've held a similar view for a long while, though my perspective is nowhere near as close to it as yours. If it flies, then I think that it will only fly once to save face.
--- End quote ---

I could see that happening.  As much as it's getting ripe for cancellation, NASA is under pressure to get something in the air because Congress wants a NASA rocket to fly.  A lot of politics there.


--- Quote ---...and most of all a damn shame to see RS-25s being used for 8 minutes and then dropped into the ocean.
--- End quote ---

Yeah, but their time has come.  I can remember back in the day, in the aforementioned building, talking about advanced manufacturing methods for single-billet two-stage ducted impellers for high-pressure turbopumps.  That's old hat today.  Of course RS-25s have been removed from service previously at end-of-life, ignominiously relegated to engineering labs and scrap heaps, or -- if very lucky -- a museum.  I'd rather see them exit the stage by flying one last mission.  As advanced as the design was in 1980, and despite numerous upgrade programs, it's been superseded.  And so much of the problems in SLS arise from trying to get the RS-25 and its propellant feed system to work in a different rocket with a different set of parameters.  And the RS-25 is not as reusable as advertised.  It's reusable in the same way your car engine would be "reusable" as long as you swapped out the starter motor and the piston rings after each time you started it.

There's a technology transfer argument too.  Generally when you develop some new method or process for a defense contract, you're not allowed to transfer it to civilian projects without permission.  Not so with Apollo, which was a civilian project in which many new techniques were developed.  Ditto the space shuttle.  Public funds were used in a way that created broad new capabilities among the various participating companies.  This translates into lower costs and higher quality for non-classified goods that are allowed to borrow from those techniques.

But on SLS the processes being developed -- while obviously civilian in nature -- have a limited application.  When the influx of cash is to transform a prior specific design or method into a newer-but-similar design or method, only a very little bit of that will have general application.  The technology-transfer argument that worked for Apollo is less attractive for Artemis.

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