First SpaceX Crew Launch Slips to May 2018, More Likely Late 2018 Says NASA OIG Report

File photo, SpaceX launch of their Cargo Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. The company is developing a crew version of their Dragon too, but in comments this week confirmed they won't be launching anyone on one for NASA until at least May 2018. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
File photo, SpaceX launch of their Cargo Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. The company is developing a crew version of their Dragon too, but in comments this week confirmed they won’t be launching anyone on one for NASA until at least May 2018. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

It has been seven months since Boeing announced the first crewed launch of their CST-100 Starliner capsule for NASA had slipped to 2018, and now, not surprisingly, SpaceX has followed suit. In a report published by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Dec. 13, Elon Musk’s Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services company confirmed they are pushing the first crew launch on their Falcon-9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft back; according to NASA to at least May 2018.

The company currently has a $2.6 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA to stimulate development of privately built and operated American-made space vehicles to fly astronauts to and from the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS). America has been forced to buy seats to and from the orbiting outpost from Russia since the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, at a cost of now $82 million per seat, and will have no choice but to keep doing so until a new American vehicle is ready.

A SpaceX cargo Dragon is seen here while delivering supplies to the ISS for NASA / mission CRS-8. Photo Credit: NASA
A SpaceX cargo Dragon is seen here while delivering supplies to the ISS for NASA / mission CRS-8. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA has already extended its contract with Roscosmos for astronaut transportation through 2018 too, at an additional cost of $490 million for six more seats. In addition, the space agency has already ordered two crew missions from SpaceX, awarding them the maximum number of “guaranteed” missions for Crew Dragon, with the possibility that up to four others may follow.

As of July 2016, SpaceX was fabricating four Crew Dragon vehicles, of which two will be utilized for qualification tests and the others for later flights.

The delay confirmation from SpaceX comes three months after a Sept. 1 explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., which occurred while fueling for a test and took out their Falcon-9 rocket, launch complex, and their customer’s AMOS-6 satellite.

Though the investigation into the AMOS-6 accident remains ongoing, SpaceX is confident it was related to flight preparation, not an engineering design issue with the vehicle itself. The investigation has focused heavily on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen tank, with special attention narrowed to “one of the three composite over wrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank,” noted SpaceX in a recent update.

That said, the company is currently aiming to return their Falcon-9s to launch next month with a mission to deliver 10 satellites to orbit for Iridium from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The mission, Iridium-1, was scheduled to fly Dec. 16, but then slipped to January to “allow for additional time to close-out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch,” said SpaceX.

However, SpaceX wants to fuel their rockets with astronauts already onboard too, not just for unmanned satellite launches, and in the wake of the AMOS-6 accident serious questions have been raised about the safety in doing so, regardless of the Dragon’s ability to quickly abort crew safely away from a failing rocket.

“We are carefully assessing our designs, systems and processes” to incorporate lessons learned and take corrective actions in the wake of the September explosion. The schedule change “reflects the additional time needed for this assessment and implementation,” said SpaceX in an email Dec. 12 to WSJ reporter Andy Pasztor.

“As needed, additional controls will be put in place to ensure crew safety,” added SpaceX.

SpaceX conducted a very successful Dragon Pad Abort Test in May 2015 with a 21,000-lb prototype capsule, demonstrating its capability to quickly abort crew from a bad situation on the launch pad. The company will conduct one more abort test, an In-Flight Abort atop a Falcon-9 rocket launch, using the same Crew Dragon prototype capsule, at some point in 2017 (hopefully).

View inside a Crew Dragon mock-up. Photo Credits: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace / SpaceX
View inside a Crew Dragon mock-up. Photo Credits: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace / SpaceX

NASA originally wanted the first crewed flights to and from the ISS happening in 2015. A Sept. 1, 2016, report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General on the Commercial Crew Program’s progress notes further delays expected too, with the first crewed flights slipping to late 2018—more than three years after NASA’s original 2015 goal.

“While past funding shortfalls have contributed to the delay, technical challenges with the contractors’ spacecraft designs are now driving the schedule slippages,” noted the report, which you can read in full HERE.

“NASA Program officials anticipate SpaceX will encounter additional delays on the path to certification,” the report states. “For example, in January 2015, the tunnel that provides a passageway for astronauts and cargo between the Dragon and the ISS was reported to have cracked during the heat treatment phase of the manufacturing process. As a result, SpaceX delayed qualification testing by approximately one year to better align the tests as SpaceX moves toward certification. SpaceX has also experienced ongoing issues with stress fractures in turbopumps. Additionally, SpaceX has not yet completed parachute system level testing which may reveal issues that would require redesign that could further delay the test flights.”

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  1. “NASA has already extended its contract with Roscosmos for astronaut transportation through 2018 too, at an additional cost of $490 million for six more seats.”

    Few people realize just how bad the finances are for the Russian government and the reality is Russia really needs this $500M in 2018 and I think that this is what really is driving “delays in Crew craft development in the US”.

    Until the Private space market is big enough to operate outside of Geo Politics Financial requirements, we will continue to have “delays” in space technology development.

    • I get that Russian finances may not be doing great, but how does that drive delays in crew Craft development in the US?

      Roscosmos MAY have enough leverage to affect NASA policy to some extent, but the only time NASA has instructed the contractors (Boeing and SpaceX) to halt work is due to Sierra Nevada protesting the contract award.

      Are you suggesting NASA is secretly telling it’s contractors to intensionally delay completion so that:
      a. NASA can pay more money to Roscosmos for seats on Soyuz
      b. the contracts may have to pay penalties for late delivery (if they are in the contracts)

      It is not in the companies best interest to delay delivery on the CCtCap contract. The sooner the companies complete the development phase, the sooner they can start bringing in revenue from flights. Also the first to fly to the station gets to bring home the flag left there.

      • Ben,
        Russia has recently curtailed the number of ISS participants…I think that with recent events and blunders in dealing with Russia by the Obama administration, Space is one area the US and Russia are cooperating on. In that regard anything that NASA can do to keep Russian participation in ISS and other future partnerships the better for continued support in the US and Capitol Hill for BIG space projects… Or maybe just look at it as trying to help out a partner in a business transaction.

        • Even if it might possibly be better for NASA/the US government to maintain good relationships with Russion with respect to the ISS and space in general, how does that translate into Boeing and SpaceX having delays in their contracts.

          Unless you’re proposing that NASA is secretly telling the companies, more or less, to “fail to meet your announced schedule if you want to stay on our good side”, I don’t see how NASA is supposedly causing delay’s to keep a good relationship with Roscosmos.

          If NASA tried to cause delays by intentionally dragging their feet, I would expect SpaceX to give that as part of the reason for their delays (as it would mean the delays are NOT SpaceX’s fault)

          To me at least, the most likely reason for the delays (on both Boeing and SpaceX’s part), is that the contracted task is a challenging task with many unknowns (especially for SpaceX who have never been involved manned space vehicle development or production)

          (as an engineer, I can tell you, it’s ALWAYS harder than it looks)

          • Ben,
            We really are talking about people here and its like there is ONE client and you have 3 suppliers of service to the one client as it relates to Crewed launch. Now the client only has so much money and one of the suppliers happens to be a Partner who you know is having financial trouble but also the current exclusive provider. So I say to the other providers I’d really like to give my current provider some more work to help them out. So even if you complete the Crewed spacecraft I am not going to use you for another year….Why would any supplier complain ? Especially SpaceX?

            • In essence, because time is money. The sooner SpaceX (or Boeing) completes their milestones, the sooner they get paid. And possibly more importantly the sooner resources can be moved off of that project and onto another. Reducing the allocated resources adds inefficiency especially if those resources have to be put back on the project when NASA says to speed work back up.

              Keep in mind these are not cost plus contracts. They are Fixed-Price Contracts. The supplier (Boeing or SpaceX) has to pay for any additional costs caused by delays out of their own pocket.

              If they were Cost-Plus contracts, the suppliers would be glad to take as long as requested as that would simply be more money for the suppliers.

              on a related note:
              It seems like you believe the REAL reason for delays is helping Roscosmos. Why do you think that is more plausible than the technical challenges of the contracts themselves?

              The reasons you’ve stated (assuming I didn’t miss any) for it being helping the Russians:
              – Roscosmos needs financial help
              – Roscosmos is a current (BIG) partner on the ISS
              – Roscosmos has leverage due currently being only crew launch supplier

              The reasons (that I can think of) for other causes of the delays:
              – The tasks are technically complex
              – The tasks are not frequently done by either company
              – SpaceX has NEVER developed or built a manned spacecraft.

              Furthermore, I can think of reasons NASA may want to prevent delays:
              – Roscosmos has been increasing the price/seat to the ISS ever since the last Shuttle flight. There is no reason to believe they are going to stop doing so.
              – Ukraine. Concerns about future availability and/or cooperation. (a strong driver to remove dependence)
              – NASA is set to save ~$10million per seat at current Roscosmos prices. Possibly more.
              – Concerns about reliability of Russian space vehicles (what with the recent failure) (of course, SpaceX isn’t in too good of shape on this point either, but at least they have the excuse of being relatively new to the game.)

              I just don’t see how “helping out the Russians” is the most plausible explanation for the delays.

  2. Ben,

    “I just don’t see how “helping out the Russians” is the most plausible explanation for the delays.”

    In the past 8 years we have had an administration run by people with no business experience of any real accomplishments. Obama came to the presidency without any executive experience in either government or the private sector. To suggest that Google executives as advisors or George Soros as an advisor can make up for Obamas lack of experience does not help him understand the number one rule of true success which is WIN-WIN negotiations.

    Over the last eight years Russia has lost tremendous amounts of revenue due to reduced fossil fuel prices brought on by technological advancements in finding fuel reserves within the US. The Climate Change mantra which calls for the end of Fossil Fuels, the number one export of Russia was Obama’s number one leadership success by his own declaration does nothing for Russia’s economy. Their rocket launch services having been reduced by competition and new reusable technologies will further erode their market share which has caused them to take and make desperate actions. Russia is run like the MOB. They would nuke the world rather than give up the direct head on confrontation. I believe that the top people in the Pentagon know this all to well. At the end of the day the Pentagon controls all space activity in the US. The people who are building the crewed ships have strong and high levels of experience who know how to do the engineering.

    Considering the bad relations with Russia on so many fronts..Throwing them the bone of $500M for crewed launch plus delaying the delivery of private helps pull us back from a nuke confrontation with Russia and allows Trump time to change the negotiation program by embracing a closer relationship with Russia into a WIN-WIN structure. Tillerson as Secretary of State is a big factor in that.

    • Tracy the Troll and Ben and –

      “I just don’t see how ‘helping out the Russians’ is the most plausible explanation for the delays.”

      Geopolitics trumps technical excuse delay issues. It is clearly in America’s best geopolitical interest to always keep the Russians happy and with us at the ISS. It would also be useful if China was at the International Space Station.


      If my memory is correct, the USSR had manned military space stations in about the same orbit as the ISS during the Cold War. And in 2008, Russia apparently made use of its portion of the ISS to do relevant and useful military Earth observations during a short war.

      The ISS is a backup option for dealing with a possible crisis event of severe satellite limitations when all else in space is quickly mysteriously ‘failing’ and ‘becoming hazardous pieces of space junk’.

      If the 4,000 to 5,000 potentially dual purpose ‘cheap’ Internet or general commercial communications satellites that are going to be put in orbit by SpaceX start getting a disabling virus or otherwise have some odd failure issues during a military crisis, who in their right mind would also want to destroy the ISS with the most powerful nations on the planet, along with some other key players, having their people permanently living there and live witnesses to whatever technique is used to destroy their international home in LEO?

      Killing or disabling robotic American and international observation/spy/weather and communication satellites is one thing, killing or trying to force the evacuation of an international crew on the ISS is probably a whole different ballgame.

      Big military satellites in high orbits can be disabled and are relatively few in number. Dual Purpose American and international Commercial/Military Earth Observation and Communication satellites currently in LEO tend to be somewhat fragile.

      But the ISS is a much bigger and tougher political nut that a hostile force cannot quickly crack without triggering a nasty response by the toughest militaries on the planet along with severe reactions from other unhappy space partner folks.

      Clearly, the ISS could be used for limited communication purposes as well as having a limited but still useful Earth observation role during a major military crisis situation if most other satellites are no longer functional.

      And the ISS is also capable of launching small cubesats which may also have useful military roles. Basically, the ISS offers a diversity of options and risks that complicates any plan to attack and eliminate American and international satellites.

      It would appear that since around 2001, which coincides roughly with 9/11 and the founding of SpaceX, the militarization of space has started rolling along faster and faster.

      Most likely the five Super Heavy Launchers that we are currently reading about have as their main task not getting folks to the Moon or Mars to do ISRU and build colonies, but instead are focused on being capable of quickly launching heavy, armored, and propellant enhanced robotic spy satellites or the pieces of such robust and hardened satellites that could dock together automatically and form formidable observation and communication ‘Mini Battle Star’ platforms.


      “The September 11 attacks of 2001, in addition to being a unique act of terrorism, constituted a media event on a scale not seen since the advent of civilian global satellite links, round-the-clock television news organizations and the instant worldwide reaction and debate made possible by the Internet. As a result, most of the events listed below were known by a large portion of the planet’s population as they occurred.”

      From: ‘Timeline for the day of the September 11 attacks’ at: Wikipedia

      And of course oddly enough, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were used to justify and increase to pervasive levels the spying on Americans by their own government.

      Besides a possible alternative military communications role, SpaceX’s ‘cheap’ 4,000 or 5,000 huge network of relatively low orbit world-wide quick communication satellites may also have other options built into their operating systems to allow the NSA and CIA folks to spy on both Americans and whoever else makes use of the ‘cheap’ satellites. What a great ‘cheap’ and fast communication ‘deal’ for everyone, right? Such is modern life.

      Could the Super Heavy launched ‘Mini Battle Star’ spy and communication satellites be destroyed?Of course they could, but nonetheless they could use evasive maneuvers and have active defenses. They could be much tougher cookies than our currently relatively fragile spy satellites.

      Multiple military tanker spacecraft sent into orbit by one launcher is another useful military option offered by the world’s five Super Heavy Launchers.

      And of course such Super Heavy Launchers could also quickly place into orbit huge swarms of small spy sats and decoys.

      Oh what risky and stupidly not so secret ‘war and spy tools’ we build these days. Such costly ‘war and spy tools’ probably often remind older folks of the Cold War.

      If we are given a choice of ‘Cold and Hot Wars Forever’ or everyone going to the Moon to tap its natural resources and use those plentiful resources and the capabilities of an industrialized Moon to build Green Space Based Solar Power satellites and large Orion nuclear pulse spaceships that can take us anywhere in the Solar System, it seems logical that most folks on our Home Planet would prefer that second and much more peaceful and useful choice.

      Time will tell.

      See: ‘A Trump Administration path to advance commercial space solar power’
      By Mike Snead December 12, 2016

      • The ISS is likely easier to hack than the military satellites built with security in mind.

        And if a disabling virus takes out the ISS (likely kill all on board) it wouldn’t nessisarally be easy to know who did it.

        The cheap SpaceX satellites may not have earth-observation camera’s at all (for optical spying) and the NSA/CIA etc doesn’t need SpaceX’s cooperation (or modifications to the operating systems) to collect all the traffic to/from those satellites. Since the data left the USA, the NSA can collect it freely. (if my understanding of the laws are correct).
        Might there be OS modifications to make it easier, sure, but all the other ISP’s likely have similar deals already. I don’t see how this changes matters.

        And saying the heavy launchers have “their main task… being capable of quickly launching heavy, armored, and propellant enhanced robotic spy satellites”

        Firstly armor is largely irrelevant in space, at least as far as protecting from anti-satellite weapons goes. It is almost trivial to get impact velocities of multiple km/s on nearly any orbiting object. Maneuvering to avoid impacts is also non-trivial, especially against a maneuvering weapon, and adding significant armor would make it vastly more difficult to maneuver due to increased mass. Active defenses would have to be able to detect and destroy nearly invisible objects closing at ridiculous speeds. Is it possible, sure. Feasible/worth it, well that’s for someone else to decide.

        It might simply be cheaper to launch smaller, lower orbiting, unarmored/undefended satellites that cost less than the weapons used to destroy them. And simply re-launch them as needed. (no heavy launch vehicle required). Or just launch them in batches. Mass production is a wonderful thing when it comes to reducing cost.

        For all that there are certainly military uses for all space launch vehicles, it again seems very far-fetched to assume that those military uses are the primary reason the vehicles are being developed. If it were, I would expect them to be developed under military contracts. (See SALVO/ALASA F-15 air-launched orbital launcher DARPA programs) or (SPARK, aka Super Strypi, funded by the DoD via the LEONIDAS program)

        I just don’t see these commercial rockets being used primarily for military missions. Will some of their launches be military? of course. But you make it sound like as soon as these heavy launchers are ready there will a huge military demand for their services. I just don’t see it.

        If the military really wanted super heavy launchers they would have pushed for the SLS facilities to be able to build the SLS’s at higher rates and there would be military placeholder missions already to go on the SLS. As it stands, I haven’t heard a whisper of any indication the military is at all interested in using the SLS. (maybe I missed the announcement)

        I think your reading too much into all this. I suspect the CCtCap missions are actually delayed for cost/schedule/technical reasons as has been claimed. I suspect the military is quite pleased that more options will soon be available for launching vehicles of whatever size. But I don’t think the launchers are being developed FOR the military (with the exceptions of the one’s funded by the military, of course) (speaking about US launch companies, I don’t know about the Russian/Other’s launchers)

        • Ben –

          “As it stands, I haven’t heard a whisper of any indication the military is at all interested in using the SLS. (maybe I missed the announcement)”

          During the time when the Direct Team was active there were interested ‘government defense/national security folks’ quietly interested in the Team’s proposed large launchers. And the current SLS is the Super Heavy version of the design favored by the Direct Team. Which NASA employee secretly led the NASA employees? You may know. And I think I do, too.

          SLS production increases are subject to demand. If the demand is there, the SLS will be produced at whatever rate is needed. The hard part was getting from a paper design to real metal being bent.

          Perhaps the military/intelligence folks were assuming that SpaceX and Blue Origin were going to build the Super Heavy Launchers they would need, but American politics seems to be throwing a Monkey Wrench in that expectation. And lately, General Charles Bolden has suggested that he doesn’t believe that private companies should build such Super Heavy Launchers. In any case, having three Super Heavy Launchers to be built in America does offer up various options.

          As to damaging or destroying the ISS, or even the robust “Mini Battle Star spy sats”, the issue isn’t ‘Can it be done?’, but is instead that it gets more complicated to successfully and quickly do it. Larger satellites can have more redundant systems built in to them and may survive even a direct ‘hit’ with some continued functionality.

          An incoming likely ‘hit’ might just cause the launch of a large number of small sats out of the ‘Mini Battle Star’. Uncertainty drives the high risk ‘fog of war’.

          “But I don’t think the launchers are being developed FOR the military (with the exceptions of the one’s funded by the military, of course) (speaking about US launch companies, I don’t know about the Russian/Other’s launchers)”

          In the case of SpaceX, I cannot believe anything it does is done for any other reason than the interests of the military and intelligence communities.

          • Ok. A good bit of that is either reasonable or not too large of stretch.

            But, what makes you believe “I cannot believe anything it does is done for any other reason than the interests of the military and intelligence communities.”

        • Tracy the Troll –

          A Long Summary

          As far as I can see all the major Internet Services companies have been in cahoots with the NSA and CIA even before 9/11/2001. After that date they became more intense partners in spying on money transfers/electronic payments, personal data of all sorts, email, telephone calls, and general communication of all types world-wide.

          Now today, some of the major Internet/Computer/Cellphone/Software/Electronic Payment companies, and yes that probably includes good old Paypal and similar electronic payment companies, are finally perhaps getting a little nervous about being partners with the CIA/NSA in spying on individual customers and various commercial and government entities across the world. Nonetheless, it is probably not easy to argue with the CIA/NSA.

          For some real fun read:

          ‘PayPal Mafia’ Wikipedia

          And current spy and communication satellites of various sorts, including Internet serving sats, are essential parts of America’s military and critical economic systems, yet they are in fact quite vulnerable to laser and various types of missile attacks and are difficult to protect.

          The CIA/NSA/NRO/Defense Department/DARPA could have turned to well-known and very experienced American launcher companies to deal with the real issues of quickly and cheaply replacing satellites or satellite networks that are lost during a crisis or simply get old or run out of propellant.

          However those companies are publicly owned and subject to laws that require a level of transparency to their stockholders that is perhaps an uncomfortable and technical hindrance to folks who prefer to not have a lot of public attention and yet need the products of a huge government supported ‘Skunk Works’ capable company. So maybe, “surprise, surprise surprise,” the privately held and secretive SpaceX was ‘created’ or ‘magically appeared’ to fill that sensitive and secretive “fast response” launcher need.

          The 2008 President elect wanted to cancel human spaceflight. His eventual backup plan was to at least limit NASA to the ISS in LEO in order to try to grab NASA’s beyond LEO human space exploration budget, that was beginning to get focused on bipartisan Congressionally supported human Lunar missions, and spend it instead on his education and partisan social issues.

          The President clearly needed a military launcher so that costs could be shared between the military and NASA programs and thus hopefully reduce overall space mission costs.

          And of course, there again was Elon Musk and SpaceX popping up out of almost nowhere to ‘fill’ his military launcher requirements and provide a ‘cheap’ way to get astronauts to the ISS. They were also the ‘perfect’ ‘Martian’ tool to help eviscerate NASA’s plans to put astronauts on the Moon. What a great ‘political friend’ for the President!

          The President initially planned to and tried to cancel the Orion spacecraft, Altair Lunar Lander, Ares I, and Ares V launchers and NASA’s Lunar plans and substitute instead a bogus, unfunded, nonscientific, poorly planned, and Congressionally unsupported vague asteroid visit and then to Mars ‘plan’. It has been described correctly as the ‘Lost in Space’ plan, which fit the President’s limited technical vision and general distaste for human space missions.

          Congress replied we’re going to the Moon first. Why? Maybe because there was already a quiet group of NASA employees and a few private citizens called the Direct Team already working on cheap ways for NASA to get astronauts to the Moon by using minimally modified Space Shuttle technology elements. The Direct Team had inside access to Congress and a clear bipartisan majority of Congressional folks bought into their Lunar mission capable launchers and plans.

          “The project name ‘DIRECT’ referred to a philosophy of maximizing the re-use of hardware and facilities already in place for the Space Shuttle program (STS), hence a ‘direct’ transition. The DIRECT Team asserted that using this approach to develop and operate a family of high-commonality rockets would reduce costs and the gap between retirement of the Space Shuttle and the first launch of Orion, shorten schedules, and simplify technical requirements for future US human space efforts.”

          And, “With the October 11th signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729) by President Obama mandating work on the Space Launch System Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, the DIRECT Team declared their effort a success and disbanded.”

          And, “DIRECT calculated that the two Jupiter-246s will be able to send 80.7 t of mass through trans-lunar injection.[8] This compared favorably with an Ares I / Ares V dual launch, as of September 2008, projected to be capable of 71.1 t.”

          From: ‘DIRECT’ at Wikipedia

          Of course, with our President apparently quite annoyed that he couldn’t cancel the Orion and SLS Lunar mission capable system and spend the money on his partisan ‘political friends’, he threw a hissy fit and ‘gave away’ Launchpad 39A, which was a critical resourse for low cost dual SLS launches of missions to the Moon, to his good ‘political friend’ Elon Musk and his SpaceX Falcon Heavy launcher with 27 rocket engines on the first stages.

          Yep, sabotaging the Lunar mission capable SLS and Orion by underfunding them didn’t work, so he ‘gave away’ the SLS dual launch needed Lunar Mission Launchpad 39A.

          Read the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729), and know that the President intensely disliked or hated the law he signed and he proceeded to try to slow roll its implementation and break it in any way he could. Aparently laws don’t exist for the President. He and his former Secretary of State are maybe not bound by the laws of America and perhaps not even by common sense.

          And his ‘political friend’ Elon Musk did his best to help the President destroy the human Lunar mission focused NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729) by continually and loudly feeding huge amounts of nonscientific ‘Mars Soon and Cheaply Too’ nonsense to the public.

          Yep, everyone is just waiting for all the world’s airliners to convert to 27 engines, just like the Falcon Heavy first stages, because everyone knows that doing inspections and maintenance on 27 engines is easier than doing inspections and maintenance on two or four engines. The technical wisdom of the genius Elon Musk and our President should never be questioned by anyone.

          Train, ship, and car building companies are all trying to put 27 engines on everything they make!

          It is the politically correct thing to do to put 27 rocket engines on every fast response launcher in the world. Yep, and if members of Congress doesn’t agree they can move to Iceland.

          It is also kind of funny how whenever the government has an ‘itch’ to ‘scratch’, Elon Musk pops out of a mysterious Magician’s Hat to proclaim loudly, ‘I am can do it cheaper and better!’ while the backroom government folks with nearly zero in-depth technical and political oversight or zip need to have an open competition, start shoveling taxpayer money and assets in his direction. It is the same old backroom ‘magic’ routine he has followed right from the founding of SpaceX. But hey, he got his billions that way…

          • First, a summary is “a brief statement or account of the main points of something.”
            oh well.

            with respect to SpaceX secretly being a defense project. I don’t buy it. SpaceX is much too open about their hardware.

            I agree Obama doesn’t seem to care much about the manned space program. He doesn’t like SLS. etc.

            Elon Musk donates money to both party’s. Just like Boeing. It makes business sense.
            He seems to be Trumps ‘political friend’ too. Musk is also popular.

            I cannot speak directly to any other transport industry other than commercial aerospace. But the reason commercial aircraft have 2 engines is as follows.
            – They have to be able to takeoff with an engine out.
            – Thus they must have more than one.
            If an aircraft has 2 engines each engine thus needs to produce 100% of required Takeoff thrust. So normally they have 200% of required thrust.
            If an aircraft has 3 engines each engine thus needs to produce 50% of required Takeoff thrust. So normally they have 150% of required thrust.
            And so on.
            Also since with 2 engines a bigger tail is needed to keep the airplane under control with an engine out. As a result the aircraft have excess control authority as well, which airlines/pilots like.

            Therefore the 2 engine airplanes have more excess thrust in normal operation, which airlines like. Also turbofans are expensive to maintain. Its cheaper to maintain 2 large engines than 3 smaller engines.

            BUT, of course designs with many engines have been evaluated as well. They just aren’t as good IN THIS CASE.

            The arguments for 9 engines I’m sure you’ve heard and don’t believe.
            – The merlin was the engine they already had available when the F9 was developed.
            – with 9 engines, the Falcon 9 has engine out capability. Unlike ULA’s rockets.
            – with 9 engines, a subset can be used for landing burns (although better throttling ability would probably be better)
            – the engines are smaller, which can make them easier to make.
            – 9x as many engines are made, which assists with economies of scale.
            – 9x as much engine flight history is generated by each flight. (For example, the Atlas V has flown 67 times starting in 2002. Each with 1 dual-chambered RD-180. F9 has flown 27 times starting in 2010. Each with 9 SL Merlins. 67 RD-180s have flown. 243 SL merlins have flown.)

            The argument for 27 engines.
            – Allows the use of (close derivatives of) the F9 first stage.
            – The same arguments as above.

            On the flip side, The arguments for a smaller number of engines
            – possibly reduced weight
            – Reduced complexity
            – reduced likelihood of an engine failure.

            The reduced complexity would drive down cost, but so do the economies of scale. This is a trade study for the companies to perform for themselves.

            The likelihood of engine failure is somewhat mitigated by the engine out capability. When combined with the margin reserved for landing, the primary mission may not be affected by an engine out.

            What makes you so convinced that 27 (or 9) engines MUST be a bad idea? The N1?

            “nearly zero in-depth technical and political oversight or zip need to have an open competition”

            hmm, when has SpaceX ever won gov’t money without competition?
            The only case I can think of is the GPS satellite launch ULA claimed they couldn’t bid on. Pretty small potatoes.

            Have you looked at the milestones for CCtCap? There is technical oversight there. What makes you believe its not “in-depth”?

            Also why should SpaceX (or Boeing or Blue Origin) need “political oversight”?

      • James: to follow your logic (logic -I’m being charitable) just about every spacecraft and launch vehicle (100% of the stuff made by SpaceX) has some sort of covert, nefarious military purpose. Yet somehow, in your mind, enormous solar power satellites beaming terawatts of microwave energy to earth and huge Orion spaceships propelled by thousands of nuclear bombs are somehow INHERENTLY “peaceful and useful”.

        • Elon Musk, the designer of a 27 engine first stages liquid propellant pseudo fast response launcher that ‘took over’ Launchpad 39A, claims he wants to go to Mars one moment and then says he is afraid to go to Mars the next moment because he doesn’t want to die and you are worried about my logic?

          Maybe you think having a hundred billion dollar investment in a LEO National Laboratory and International Space Station that can only be accessed by humans flying on one launcher capable of lifting into LEO one type of human carrying spacecraft is also quite logical.

          Clowns have more logic and put on a better show than our current LEO and beyond LEO human missions Lost in Space policy cooked up by this nonscientific administration and Elon Musk.

          Be real. Elon Musk has spouted tons of Mars Soon and Cheaply Too nonsense and you have swallowed it whole and never even questioned the logic of anything he said.

          Industrializing the Moon and using its resources to improve life here on the Home Planet is much more of a logical, affordable, and useful plan than anything that has ever come of Elon Musk’s mouth or anything you have ever posted.

          “In transitioning from fossil fuels to space-based sustainable energy, 800 locations in the United States will have 2.5 Hoover Dams built serving as energy gateways to the local economy. New, modern, spacious 21st century cities will be built adjacent to these gateways to take advantage of the sustainable power being supplied without the need for long-distance transmission lines. The design of the receiving antenna will be such that farming operations can continue under the elevated antenna because the antenna passes about 85 percent of the sunlight, rather than being opaque like solar arrays. Place the antenna on the roof of greenhouses and industrialized greenhouse food production can be undertaken to supply the adjacent city with locally-grown fresh food year-round regardless of the climate.”

          From: ‘A Trump Administration path to advance commercial space solar power’
          By Mike Snead December 12, 2016

          As far as nuclear pulse Orion Spaceships are concerned, it would seem like an excellent way to permanently get rid of the many tons of plutonium that we really don’t need to have sitting around here on Earth.

          OK, you believe in the wonderful inane logic of loving and keeping unneeded plutonium. What brilliant logic that is.

          Use the plutonium powered Orion nuclear pulse spaceships to transport humans everywhere we want to go in our Solar System.

          Or we could just listen to Elon Musk babble nonsense about Mars for the next fifty years.

          • Of course Elon Musk simply heads a medium sized private company. Letting “Elon Musk bable nonsense about Mars for the next fifty years.” is not mutually exclusive with other ambitions in space.

            If you want another NewSpace example, Blue Origin appears to be more interested in the moon than Mars. Perhaps that will make you happy.

            So were going to build 800 new modern and spacious new cities. hmm. sounds expensive.

          • I note you didn’t actually address se jones’s point.

            Did se jones ever claim having only one launcher/spaceship to access the ISS was logical?

            What difference does it make if Elon Musk says he wants to do something but is worried it is dangerous?

            I agree we should go to the moon first.
            – another armchair engineer.

            Yay Trumps great. Obama sucks.

            There is a difference between pointing out that using plutonium to power spaceships is not inherently peaceful, and “loving keeping unneeded plutonium”.
            Plutonium can be used for more than one purpose. Some are military. But of course a spaceship with high thrust + high ISP has military uses as well.

            I believe politics is the primary reason nuclear power isn’t used in space (for propulsion or otherwise). Even without going to orion drive bomb propulsion. Nuclear thermal rockets are hugely better than H2+LOX. (and probably more politically acceptable)

            • Ben –

              “Yay Trumps great. Obama sucks.”

              Well, I’m not sure about that!

              I am a Democrat and used to be a supporter of our current President.

              However, “I believe politics is the primary reason” we are not headed to the Moon or anywhere else anytime soon.

              In any case, it has been an interesting year!

              Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone!

              • James

                “I believe politics is the primary reason” we are not headed to the Moon or anywhere else anytime soon.”

                The moon does not have an atmosphere. As such more than likely there are things on the moon that have been there for millions of years that would be difficult to explain.

          • se jones –

            “These are, in brief, some of the foundations for a theory of space power, the realities of space flight that you have to take into consideration when you develop policy.

            Space Self-Preservation

            Deter/dissuade harm to assets

            Harden assets against attack

            Hostage some assets

            Hide known assets

            Conceal knowledge of some assets

            Multiply assets

            Erect paper walls (treaties)

            Note: Only one of these options is an overt, traditional ‘military’ activity.”

            From: ‘Toward a Theory of Space Power: Defining Principles for U.S. Space Policy’
            By James Oberg May 20, 2003

        • se jones –

          “huge Orion spaceships propelled by thousands of nuclear bombs are somehow INHERENTLY ‘peaceful and useful'”

          “A preliminary design for a nuclear pulse unit was produced. It proposed the use of a shaped-charge fusion-boosted fission explosive. The explosive was wrapped in a beryllium oxide channel filler, which was surrounded by a uranium radiation mirror. The mirror and channel filler were open ended, and in this open end a flat plate of tungsten propellant was placed. The whole thing was built into a can with a diameter no larger than 6 inches (15 cm) and weighed just over 300 pounds (140 kg) so it could be handled by machinery scaled-up from a soft-drink vending machine, Coca-Cola was consulted on the design.[25]”

          From: ‘Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)’ Wikipedia

          Might not need to be small uranium pulse units (or your “thousands of nuclear bombs”).

          “There are many advantages to applying photofission for nuclear pulsed space propulsion. Photofission has been demonstrated by readily available sources, such as natural uranium isotopes, lead, and thorium [13] [14]. As opposed to a difficult to regulate neutron flux, photofission is controlled based on the activation of the ultra-intense laser, which can also be remote to the propulsion system [2].”

          From: ‘Project New Orion: Pulsed Nuclear Space Propulsion Using Photofission Activated by Ultra-Intense Laser’
          By Robert LeMoyne and Timothy Mastroianni

          Yep, the photofission of Lunar “lead’ or “thorium” might power a New Orion nuclear pulse spaceship launched from the Moon. There is lots of “thorium” on the Moon.

          Time will tell.

    • Tracy,

      It can certainly be argued that Obama didn’t have enough leadership experience prior to being elected the first time. But, 4 years as POTUS is one hell of a crash course.

      With respect to Google execs as advisors, if in fact, the “One true rule for success” is WIN-WIN deals, then presumably they are aware of that since Google is quite successful, is it not? And also, presumably in their role as advisors they would, you know, advise him of this fact (and help achieve it). As with most everything, I suspect it’s not so simple…

      With respect to Russia’s economy etc. Don’t forget the sanctions from Ukraine Crisis. They didn’t help matters either. But of course, when Russia’s economy is doing poorly the exchange rate changes to cheapen Russia’s currency. This helps explain why Russia’s rockets are as cheap as they are.

      “The people who are building the crewed ships have strong and high levels of experience who know how to do the engineering.”
      That experience is extremely important (in fact, nearly essential), BUT, that doesn’t mean there will not be large uncertainties in the cost/schedule. These uncertainties are, of course, reduced by having experienced personnel, but only going through a very similar process multiple times can you truly get the uncertainties to be solidly known.

      Yes, I see why you believe Russia needs to be “thrown a bone”. But what makes you think THIS is that bone. Russia is competent enough to know that in the grand scheme of things, + or – $500m doesn’t matter. I just don’t see how NASA secretly intentionally causing delays in CCtCap is going to cause Russia to overlook the Ukraine Sanctions, and the disputes in Syria etc.

      wrt, Trump. I’ll wait and see. It’s difficult to make claims on what he’s going to do as he seems to just say whatever the people he’s talking to want to hear at the moment.

      • “It can certainly be argued that Obama didn’t have enough leadership experience prior to being elected the first time. But, 4 years as POTUS is one hell of a crash course.”

        Four years or eight years has made no difference to Obama’s experience level in understanding anything because he does NOT comprehend Market Economics or the Rule of Unintended Consequences or Consolidate Markets at ones Peril.

        “With respect to Google execs as advisors, if in fact, the “One true rule for success” is WIN-WIN deals, then presumably they are aware of that since Google is quite successful, is it not?”

        Google is great now…But they have an income stream generated by technology that is based on advertising dollars from a code system that has been up to this point unmatched. They are at the moment the 800 pound gorilla who’s desire to not compete in the market but control it. Not a lot of WIN-WIN.

        “Russia is competent enough to know that in the grand scheme of things, + or – $500m doesn’t matter.”

        Ben Russia’s annual budget for their space program is $1.2B so $500M is close to half their budget. Also you have to remember that there are all kinds of secret military satellites in orbit doing all kinds of things that DOD would not want up close photos of that the public is unaware of. I don’t think the DOD is really excited about private tourist crews to LEO on orbit…Yet

        Tillerson at State whose relationship with Putin is close and personal… This is NOT a coincidence. He has been put in place to help ease tensions with Russia and Putin.

        • We all have our own bias.

          You have convinced yourself you are correct.

          I don’t believe any further discussion will be productive or interesting.

          • Ben,
            Your explanation of James points above were very helpful in understanding just how out of touch from reality he is. The current Obama/Trump/Russia/US Intelligence Hacking scenario is perplexing to say the least.

            Thank You for your insights

            Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

            • Appreciated.

              I try to always give people a fair listen.

              Do unto others…. and all that.

              Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well.

            • Tracy the Troll –

              “As such more than likely there are things on the moon that have been there for millions of years that would be difficult to explain.”


              I’ve recently reread some comments by someone who has written a lot about space for many decades.

              “Another elaboration on the first point is that because space is so unpredictable and unearthly, in the literal meaning of the word, things can be invented or done there, developed and deployed there, that catch people by surprise. The Sputnik shock of forty-five years ago is such a thing that many of us remember. It was one of the great surprises of the twentieth century. Other surprises like that could be out there if we lack an adequate space power theory.” Page 3.

              “Situational awareness in space is a key to successful application of space power

              At some time in the future, the physical presence of humans in space will be necessary to provide greater situational awareness

              Technological competence is required to become a space power, and conversely, technological benefits are derived from being a space power

              Control of space is the linchpin upon which a nation’s space power depends

              As with earthbound media, the weaponization of space is inevitable, though the manner and timing are not at all predictable.” Page 15.

              From: ‘Toward a Theory of Space Power: Defining Principles for U.S. Space Policy’
              By James Oberg May 20, 2003

              If you want some ‘food for thought’, reading or rereading that pdf article by James Oberg could be useful.

              Happy New Year!

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