Senate bill to go to Mars

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Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby FaxModem1 » 2016-09-24 03:22pm

Futurism

It’s Official: We’re Going to Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech
IN BRIEF

A bipartisan bill was passed by the U.S. Senate committee that oversees NASA space projects. The bill would allocate $19.5 billion in funds to NASA in 2017, but it has a critical mission for the space agency: send men to Mars.
FUNDS ARE ON THE WAY

It looks like Republican and Democratic senators alike are keen on safeguarding America’s space programs. With the potential chaos of a new president on the horizon, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a bipartisan bill giving NASA $19.5 billion to continue working on a mission to Mars. It also includes support for the continuation of the program to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil no later than 2018.

“We have seen in the past the importance of stability and predictability in NASA and space exploration – that whenever one has a change in administration, we have seen the chaos that can be caused by the cancellation of major programs,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz, lead sponsor of the bill, commented. “The impact in terms of jobs lost, the impact in terms of money wasted has been significant.”

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 includes an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017, but it still needs to be passed by the Senate as a whole, of course. The budget allotted is the same as what was approved by House appropriators and a bit more than the version released by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Obama administration, likewise, proposed $19 billion in funding for NASA.

Credits: NASA
Credits: NASA
MAKING IT RAIN, NASA-STYLE

The Senate is not giving NASA money just for the sake of exploration. It is also a challenge, a mandate, actually. The bill requires that NASA make it an official goal to send crewed missions to Mars in the next 25 years.

The bill allocates funds for different components: $4.5 billion on exploration, nearly $5 billion for space operations, and $5.4 billion for science. It also does not scrap NASA’s controversial plans to send men on asteroids and collect samples by 2021. It does, however, require the space agency to regularly send progress reports to Congress, justifying its $1.4 billion cost.

“Fifty-five years after President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, the Senate is challenging NASA to put humans on Mars. The priorities that we’ve laid out for NASA in this bill mark the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight,” said an optimistic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, senior Democrat on the Commerce panel.

The bipartisan support behind the new bill shows that space exploration is an issue that all parties can agree is vital to our growth as a nation and a species. Now we just have to wait to see if it passes the Senate.


Well, for those in the know, just how much is that, in NASA research and development money?
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby General Zod » 2016-09-24 05:21pm

NASA spent about $18.4 billion in 2011, and they were spending about $22 billion a year in the 90s. This is barely a cost of living adjustment.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-24 05:23pm

Yeah.

Basically, no one in charge seems to grasp that NASA's existing budget is already being spent and is capable of, at most, gradually developing next-generation manned vehicles over a period of a decade or two. If you want them to do something ambitious they're not already in the process of doing (e.g. "get your ass to Mars"), they're going to need significantly more money than they've been receiving lately.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby General Zod » 2016-09-24 05:30pm

Meanwhile, we happily spend a trillion dollars on a next-gen fighter plane that barely works.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-09-24 05:42pm

The 1 trillion dollar estimate for F-35, which is completely wrong, was for 55 years of service, R&D and producing 1,700 of them. At 18 billion x 55 years NASA gets 990 billion. Your point is what?
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-24 05:55pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Yeah.

Basically, no one in charge seems to grasp that NASA's existing budget is already being spent and is capable of, at most, gradually developing next-generation manned vehicles over a period of a decade or two. If you want them to do something ambitious they're not already in the process of doing (e.g. "get your ass to Mars"), they're going to need significantly more money than they've been receiving lately.


It might just be a COLA, but I will give credit where credit is due. Ted Cruz managed to not want to slash their budget.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby General Zod » 2016-09-24 07:50pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:The 1 trillion dollar estimate for F-35, which is completely wrong, was for 55 years of service, R&D and producing 1,700 of them. At 18 billion x 55 years NASA gets 990 billion. Your point is what?


That we're more than happy to throw a bunch of money into machines for killing people regardless of whether they work or not. NASA's 18 billion a year isn't anything special, it just barely lets them maintain the status quo. While the F-35 is a fraction of total military spending.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2016-09-25 02:41am

While I certainly agree about the problems of NASA's budget woes, what evidence do you have that the F-35 does not work?

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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby General Zod » 2016-09-25 03:11am

Adam Reynolds wrote:While I certainly agree about the problems of NASA's budget woes, what evidence do you have that the F-35 does not work?


I don't want to hijack the thread any more than I have, but see for yourself.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-25 07:59am

General Zod wrote:
Sea Skimmer wrote:The 1 trillion dollar estimate for F-35, which is completely wrong, was for 55 years of service, R&D and producing 1,700 of them. At 18 billion x 55 years NASA gets 990 billion. Your point is what?
That we're more than happy to throw a bunch of money into machines for killing people regardless of whether they work or not. NASA's 18 billion a year isn't anything special, it just barely lets them maintain the status quo. While the F-35 is a fraction of total military spending.
The F-35 program's trillion-dollar figures are also averaging out to something in that neighborhood... and bluntly, the F-35 is specifically intended to "maintain the status quo" for the US military. All our current aircraft, with the sole exception of the less than two hundred F-22s, are refitted versions of Cold War designs. They're about as good as any aircraft available today, but that won't be true in twenty or thirty years. If we don't design a new plane that (by 2015 standards) is cutting-edge, then by 2045 we won't have planes that are even minimally adequate.

And, as Skimmer notes, the trillion-dollar figures being thrown around are based on costs that are intended to be averaged over fifty years.

Now, personally I think NASA's entire budget should be worth more than the ongoing, time-averaged costs of keeping the US Air Force at the top of the charts. But the fact that at the moment these two things are on the same level... I regard that as a sign of misaligned priorities, but understandable ones.

Adam Reynolds wrote:While I certainly agree about the problems of NASA's budget woes, what evidence do you have that the F-35 does not work?
General Zod wrote:I don't want to hijack the thread any more than I have, but see for yourself.
Basically, the F-35 was released into mass production before they were done with beta testing. As a result, a lot of the bugs that for most aircraft get worked out in testing, were not worked out yet.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-09-25 11:12am

General Zod wrote:
That we're more than happy to throw a bunch of money into machines for killing people regardless of whether they work or not. NASA's 18 billion a year isn't anything special, it just barely lets them maintain the status quo. While the F-35 is a fraction of total military spending.


You know NASA helped develop that plane and a whole lot of other aerospace tech too right? Oh right your blatantly one of the people who forgets all about that side of NASA existing. Without the F-35 NASA would have an even smaller budget, not a bigger one. NASA is FUBAR right now because it wasted billions of dollars in the 1990s ignoring its own engineers to try to build the damn X-33 Venture Star, another Lockheed product, and promising the sky to congress. At least the F-35 will work at some point, and does things like actually fly, while the damn X-33 was physically impossible to build.

General Zod wrote:I don't want to hijack the thread any more than I have, but see for yourself.


In other words nothing that can't or won't be fixed, or indeed in this article none of their headline problems are even ones that stop it from killing people. Much better then the X-33 situation where the entire program failed the moment the composite fuel tank predictably blewup. The problem with NASA is that they overpromised too many times over too many decades, while never really being able to show any real value to manned space flight except 'weh ave it'. The military budget is ass irrelevant. The technology just isn't there yet to make space exploration with humans a cost rational thing.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-25 11:25am

I'd argue that it's a hell of a lot more rational than many other things the US government has chosen to spend money on, and that the best way to make it more practical is to keep working on it.

This does not, however, invalidate the critique that NASA has gotten into a difficult financial position. They do a great deal of very real, significant, and valuable work, both in terms of advanced aircraft and in terms of space exploration and space science, with their current budget. However, if we ever want them to do more than they do now, we're going to have to spend significantly more money on them than we are today.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Starglider » 2016-09-25 11:40am

If you're complaining about military procurement, the LCS seems like a better target than F-35; no actual need / convincing role for it vs cranking out more conventional destroyers. Although logistics inefficiencies and misplanning probably waste a lot more money, they're just less visible.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-09-25 02:42pm

The problem with LCS is that it has too many roles to fill, not that it has none, and that congress keeps dithering on actually funding the mission modules. Also early ships started getting deployed, rather then remaining state side to complete mission module R&D (kinda need a ship for this!) which has now been reversed, finally, by designating the first four hulls for operational development roles.

As is the money for 1 x Flight III Burke now will buy four or five LCS, when LCS was launched as a program the cost disparity was more like 3:1. A US surface fleet built around nothing but 2.5 billion dollar destroyers would be far too small to be effective. All the more so since were stuck with Burke building for at least another decade. That ship..it's approaching submarine like design cramping at this point. You know you're on track to victory when you have to build the CIC and other key spaces upside down to get all the wiring runs into the ceiling.

LCS gets so much shit because 1) The early ones had problems linked to being built by shipyards that never did military work before, which was actually the point and 2) its the first warship ever designed as part of an integrated warfighting network, and not purely on it's own merits. Which really is actually deeply linked in technological terms, as is the systems integration nightmare on F-35, to making the highly automated high reliability tech we need for crap like a manned Mars mission that doesn't have a 50% probability of loss.

It isn't for nothing that all these programs tend to get bogged down in systems integration problems. Or that NASA has no ability to cost estimate its major high tech programs either, see Webb.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Guardsman Bass » 2016-09-27 03:35am

This isn't enough funding for NASA to go anywhere. They're still putting their eggs in the SLS basket, despite it being so expensive that it's going to devour the budget space available for hardware development for the next 10+ years just to get four launches between now and 2026. After that, it's supposedly going to cost $500 million/launch, which given NASA is probably a low-ball estimate (and an old one from 2011). You have to squeeze hardware development for an upper stage and a deep space habitation module out of what's left after that if you want to do anything other than two week orbital missions in orbit around the Moon and Earth.

Meanwhile, the upgraded Delta IV heavy launcher, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, and that new one that Blue Origin is pushing are all projected to cost muchless than that, and be ready sooner . . . at least as proposed (Musk has been pushing the deadlines back on Falcon Heavy since 2012). Launching with them would save a lot more budget space for actually building the hardware you'd need once you're in space, but that wouldn't fulfill the political role of keeping politically connected contractors in business (especially solid rocket contractors).

I think NASA will go through yet another review of space policy in 5 years or so, and then decide that maybe this Mars program isn't going to work out after all. They'll be especially inclined to do so if there are international partners willing to put up funding and assistance for a successor space station to ISS, or a Moon Base. The Luna-first crowd is certainly always pushing for Moon missions first, ostensibly as a "gateway" to Mars (which is nonsense), but more smartly as a successor project to ISS.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-27 06:18am

A big point in favor of moon missions is that the sheer complexity of a Mars mission is likely to be higher, it takes much longer to get anything out there, and more of the plans (e.g. Mars Direct) rely heavily on untested things like in situ propellant production. If it turns out that for some odd reason you can't successfully fly a Mars lander to the red planet and have it manufacture enough fuel for the trip home, then your entire mission profile breaks down, and you may not even know this until (from a budget point of view) you've already committed to a series of Mars missions. Any accident is even more likely to be fatal, because while it may be possible to jury-rig a spacecraft long enough to get home from the moon (Apollo 13), it's almost certainly not going to be possible to do so coming back from Mars.

Mars represents a higher difficulty level in a lot of respects.

It's not that these aren't problems we can deal with, but the refusal to provide truly significant funding and resources for new development means there is a LOT of incentive for NASA to move incrementally (e.g. asteroid sample return, e.g. new space stations, e.g. the moon).
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Guardsman Bass » 2016-09-27 12:22pm

It's unlikely to me that you'd get that far before hitting a snag that can't be fixed. With the ISRU, for example, you'd fly out a smaller robotic lander and have it test out smaller-scale version of the fuel production and storage before you ever decide on going with a full-scale model for a crewed mission. You're going to be doing a lot of incremental tests in any Mars crewed mission of all the systems.

It is definitely more difficult than a Moon mission. We're unlikely to get many international partners on a Mars mission, but we could get partners on a space station or lunar mission (especially if we could rope in China). Of course, then you have to ask whether it's cost-effective to actually have a crewed base on the Moon. The Moon isn't that far away in space terms, and with better relays and improvements to the Deep Space Network we could control robots on the lunar surface with delays only in the seconds' worth of time. If all you're doing is research, there's no point sending up humans for far greater expense. You'd be just doing it to have a crewed space program that isn't ISS.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby J Ryan » 2016-09-27 03:23pm

Coincidentally this is Elon Musk's plan to get to Mars.



Just got to invent a Single Stage to Orbit launcher that's capable of turn around landing on the launch pad and then relaunch (3-5 times apparently according to his live stream). Somehow I don't think this'll be done within our lifetime.

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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby MKSheppard » 2016-09-27 03:59pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:Much better then the X-33 situation where the entire program failed the moment the composite fuel tank predictably blewup.


No, the program failed the moment the program manager said that there was no point in going further without the composite fuel tank...never mind that they'd already developed and engineered a metallic fuel tank that was *LIGHTER* than the composite fuel tank due to no faster spam. What mattered to the program manager was doing things in a very specific way, and not the broader goal of a fast reusable spaceship.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Guardsman Bass » 2016-09-27 04:28pm

J Ryan wrote:Just got to invent a Single Stage to Orbit launcher that's capable of turn around landing on the launch pad and then relaunch (3-5 times apparently according to his live stream). Somehow I don't think this'll be done within our lifetime.


It won't be done for a while at least. Musk will need a lot of outside funding for it (NASA and otherwise), and he's not immune for technology-induced delays - see the Falcon Heavy I mentioned up-thread.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Sky Captain » 2016-09-28 04:53pm

I think problem with SpaceX plan is they are pushing bleeding edge of technology too much, engines with extreme pressures, rockets made entirely from carbon fiber. Bringing it all to flight ready status will cost big money and likely involve difficult to solve engineering problems.

Splitting Mars lander and transit habitat into two separate vehicles may have been good idea and allow to get away with smaller booster stage with smaller number of engines. 42 extremely high performance engines clustered together just ask for explosion.

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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-09-28 04:57pm

Why are people trying to design wholly new engines anyway? Don't we still have the plans for the F-1 in a file somewhere? Even one of those will lift something like 680 tonnes off the ground, why aren't we building single-engine first stages with those?
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-28 05:11pm

Most of the problem with resurrecting older engines, I think, is that we no longer have the machines to make them, and the tooling is nearly as expensive if not more so than the engines...
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby TimothyC » 2016-09-28 09:17pm

Eternal_Freedom wrote:Why are people trying to design wholly new engines anyway?


Because Musk wants to do ISRU on Mars, and that drives a Methlox engine - something that hasn't been done at the scales he's looking at before. Additionally, the best analogy I've come up with for the Raptor is that the Raptor is the result of a force mating of an RS-25 (Space Shuttle Main Engine) and an RD-181 (Single chamber version of the 2 chamber RD-180 Atlas V engine and 4 chamber RD-170 Zenit/Energia Booster engine) with a forced growth hormone regime. Furthermore, the Raptor is planned to push the state of the art further than any of the Soviet high pressure work did in the 60s-80s. It's a major forward movement. Do also remember that prior to SpaceX's work on the Merlin the last new American engine was the RS-68, which came from various programs to develop single use/low cost versions of the SSME. Prior to that the US had the SSME, and prior to that the E-1/F-1/H-1/J-2/M-1 development of the 1960s.

Eternal_Freedom wrote:Don't we still have the plans for the F-1 in a file somewhere?


We do, and we have thousands of hours of interviews with engineers and technicians that built the things. Rocketdyne put a lot of money into preserving the know-how for a hoped-for production restart that hasn't happened yet. Even then, there are thousands of changes that you would want to do - and such things have been detailed for the F-1B (the proposed engine for the SLS Liquid booster upgrade - each booster would have 2 F-1Bs).

Eternal_Freedom wrote:Even one of those will lift something like 680 tonnes off the ground, why aren't we building single-engine first stages with those?


Because you can't deep-throttle an F-1. A single F-1 can only throttle down to around 70% of rated thrust, and as such could not be used for landing the rocket propulsively. Eight of the nine engines on a Falcon 9 are shut down for landing, meaning that the rocket is coming in on about 11% of take off thrust, and it still has a very high TWR at the point of landing. For reference, the engine with the deepest throttle is the RL-10, which can throttle down to ~10-15% of rated thrust, but it's an upper stage engine. The booster engine with the deepest throttle is the RD-191 which can get down around 30% of rated throttle.
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Re: Senate bill to go to Mars

Postby Highlord Laan » 2016-10-03 04:52am

It's barely enough to keep NASA running, let alone do anything amazing. To pull off a 21st century extraterrestrial landing, they'll need a lot more money to play with. That money exists, but good luck breaking it loose.

There's a basic, three-step list to getting NASA well and truly back on its feet:

1. Inform the Air Force that's it's not 1985 anymore.
2. Look in awe at all the zeroes that just showed up in the treasury.
3. Give a quarter of it to NASA.
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