Solyndra In Space?

by Rand Simberg on August 27, 2012 · 37 comments

in Features, Space, Stimulus to Nowhere

Post image for Solyndra In Space?

Here we go again.

It’s unfortunate that so many conservatives are opposed to competitive markets in spaceflight, to the point that they are willing to make misleading assertions and come to unjustified conclusions about Obama space policy, one of the very few things that the administration has gotten sort of right. This time, it’s at Big Government from George Landrith. To address all that is wrong with Mr. Landrith’s post unfortunately requires a good old-fashioned fisking (warning: long post to follow):

Despite the news and pictures from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, America’s once great space program is on life support because we no longer have a serious manned space exploration program. We now pay the Russians $65 million per seat to take our astronauts to and from the space station. And the Obama Administration’s unimaginative and amateurish vision for space exploration — even if successful — will not revive the dying program. It merely follows the disturbing pattern of the Solyndra scandal, funneling tax dollars to Obama donors and fundraisers.

Note that the recent winners of the commercial crew competition were the Boeing Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. Note also that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, the current contractors for ISS cargo resupply, won their contracts during the Bush administration. Is Mr. Landrith saying that Boeing is an “Obama donor and fundraiser”? Is he saying that SpaceX and OSC won their contracts during the Bush administration by bundling for Obama? Is he saying that they have received tens of millions in taxpayer-guaranteed loans, as Solyndra did?

If not, what is he saying?

With the recent successful test of SpaceX’s low-Earth-orbit vehicle and the Mars rover sending pictures back to Earth, the space program got some much need positive press, but sadly no results that change the death watch. SpaceX is a long way away — perhaps a decade or more based on the substantial delays to date — from being able to safely carry humans to and from the space station.

NASA says that SpaceX will be delivering crew by 2017. SpaceX says that it can do it by 2015. Boeing is shooting for the same time frame. The notion that its recent successful berthing with ISS didn’t significantly advance the prospects of SpaceX carrying crew is ludicrous. It safely delivered to orbit and returned a pressurized capsule. All it needs for crew is a life support system, already in development (and hardly rocket science, four decades after Apollo), a new docking adapter, scheduled to be delivered by NASA a couple years from now, and a launch abort system (though in an emergency, for an important mission, this could be foregone). There is no reason that all these things can’t be done within three years. Boeing plans abort tests of its capsule, and then a test flight on an existing Atlas V within that same time period. There is no possible source for an estimate of “a decade or more” other than Mr. Landrith’s nethers.

Even if SpaceX can eventually safely carry astronauts to the space station, it will not constitute a serious space exploration program. The space station is in low-Earth orbit and we cannot explore space or even the moon if we cannot travel beyond low-Earth orbit. The challenges of space exploration require a vastly different capability than SpaceX is trying to develop.

SpaceX was formed for the explicit purpose of opening up space to humanity. Its founder, Elon Musk, has stated on multiple occasions that he intends to personally go to Mars. The Dragon capsule has a heat shield sized to enter earth’s atmosphere from earth-escape velocity. That is, it is designed to come back from a lunar, or even deeper-space mission. The Falcon Heavy, planned to be launched within a couple years, will toss over a hundred thousand pounds into low earth orbit. Three of them could easily do a lunar mission. So apparently Mr. Landrith is not aware of what “SpaceX is trying to develop.”

NASA largely abandoned any serious goal to explore space when the White House directed NASA to concentrate on Earth-based projects like researching climate science which simply replicates the research being done by thousands of other institutions, universities and scientists.

This is absurd. While this administration obviously is more concerned about climate change than its predecessor, and the priority has increased, there is no basis to say that NASA is to “concentrate” on it. A brief glance at the NASA 2012 budget summary shows that the total for all of earth science (of which climate change is just a part) is about one and a half billion, or less than ten percent of the total budget of eighteen billion. That seems like a pretty dilute “concentrate” to me.

While NASA has a space exploration program on paper, its vision is unfocused and its funding is raided to support small-idea projects that are not worthy of NASA’s proud tradition.

By “unfocused,” I guess he means that we aren’t going to repeat the mistake of Apollo, and spend billions to rush to a specific planet by a specific date, in such an unaffordable manner that we once again abandon the effort. By “unfocused,” I guess he means that NASA is instead trying to develop the technologies need to make it affordable to get anywhere we want in the solar system. What “small-idea projects” he’s referring to I have no idea, because he doesn’t say. We are just supposed to take his word for it.

The reality, in fact, is that it is the technology projects (not to mention the Commercial Crew program needed to end our dependence on the Russians, which he earlier bewails) that are being raided to fund a rocket to nowhere, that has no mission, no funding for payloads for it, and no other purpose than to provide jobs in the states and districts of the Senators and congresspeople who designed it. And that wasn’t Obama’s plan — it was invented by Congress, on both sides of the aisle.

There has been a lot of baseless talk that SpaceX’s contract is a great example of a market based approach to space and a lot of even sillier talk that it will save taxpayers money. But the SpaceX deal is no more a free market approach to space exploration than the subsidized loans to Solyndra were a free market approach to green energy. And there may be no savings to the taxpayer. (Solyndra was, of course, a solar panel company that received about $500 million in taxpayer subsidized loans despite the fact that it was headed for bankruptcy. Even more troubling, Solyndra insiders were big-time Obama donors.)

I guess, despite all the falsehoods and distortions we’ve seen so far, we’re supposed to just take Mr. Landrith’s word that the SpaceX contract being a market-based approach is “baseless,” and that the notion that competition will save taxpayers’ money is “silly.”

There is no basis to compare SpaceX (and the other commercial crew contractors, which critics like this always ignore) to Solyndra, except as a demonstration of how unalike they are. Solyndra got a guaranteed loan from the taxpayers, for a business plan that anyone with a lick of business sense could have (and did) predict would fail, with a sweetheart deal putting the investors (who yes, were big-time Obama donors) ahead of the taxpayers in the event of failure.

The commercial crew contractors, in contrast, receive no taxpayer funds until they deliver on pre-negotiated fixed-price milestones (for example, SpaceX got a total of ten million dollars for its historic flight three months ago, a pittance compared to what traditional cost-plus contractors would have been paid for a similar feat). The amount being given to Boeing, or SpaceX to develop competitive domestic commercial crew capability is about the same amount that it will cost to pay the Russians for flights for just one year, and in the future, SpaceX is offering prices of less than one third of the Russians’. But to Mr. Landrith, it’s “silly” to think that this will save the taxpayers money.

He continues:

…with only two trips per year to the space station scheduled over the next decade, it is unclear how these companies can profitably “compete.” This is what will likely happen — the taxpayer will provide massive funding to several companies to build the same thing and in the end there will not be enough work for the companies to compete over.

We already know how much money is being provided. It is a trivial amount compared to (say) the unneeded Senate Launch System, which is getting two billion a year. And it is not for “several companies to build the same thing.” Ultimately, it will be only two. And if SpaceX brings down the price, NASA will not only be able to afford more than two flights a year, but the Dragon or Boeing’s CST space capsule’s ability to serve as a lifeboat for seven instead of the Russian’s three will allow the expansion of ISS crew size, allowing much more utilization of the facility. In addition, Bob Bigelow is simply waiting for the crew capability to come along, at which point he will start launching his own private space facilities for his sovereign clients, providing much more market for both companies (and any others who want to jump into the game).

There is nothing free market about SpaceX’s contract. If it were a free market agreement, SpaceX would spend its own money to develop its product and then compete with other providers to sell its product. But SpaceX’s research and development is largely funded by taxpayers.

More ignorance. Most of the R&D that SpaceX has performed has been funded internally, either with private investment, or revenues. The company was founded in 2002, and didn’t get any government funding until several years later, when NASA expressed a need for ISS cargo support. Since this mission required capabilities unneeded for its commercial customers, it makes perfect sense that NASA would have to pay extra for SpaceX to develop those capabilities. And SpaceX has been competing with other providers to sell its product — a few months ago it landed a contract with Intelsat to launch its satellites, the first American company to do so in years, against foreign competition. And the Air Force is seriously looking at the company now to launch some of its satellites, instead of its preferred contractor, United Launch Alliance. Mr. Landrith would know all this if he’s simply done a little research, but I guess that would have disturbed the anti-competition narrative.

The real kicker is that if, and when, SpaceX’s development is complete, NASA will not own the technology, SpaceX will own it. What exactly is NASA buying?

NASA is buying lower costs for services it needs, benefiting the taxpayer, while creating a new industry that will generate rather than consume tax revenue.

Instead, SpaceX collects tax dollars so that it can learn how to build and develop something that other companies were doing a generation ago.

Actually, SpaceX is doing something that no one else has ever done — it is making space affordable.

It is curious that SpaceX is now receiving so much taxpayer cash given its stunningly thin record of success in space.

Again with this “so much taxpayer cash.” It is less than half a billion dollars total, while ATK and others are getting billions per year to build a rocket that isn’t scheduled to do a serious mission for a decade from now (if it ever gets funded) and will likely never fly. And Boeing is getting about the same amount as SpaceX. Do they too have a “stunningly thin record of success in space”? Beyond that, SpaceX has had five straight successful missions since its first three failures, when it was just getting started. That doesn’t seem like a “thin record” to me.

And it is even more troubling given that SpaceX’s founder and CEO is a big-time Obama donor. This is starting to sound like another Solyndra where friends of the administration get unsustainable sweetheart deals at taxpayer expense.

Again with the spurious comparisons with Solyndra. Where is the evidence that Elon Musk, who has held fundraisers for (Republican) Dana Rohrabacher at his facilities, is a big-time Obama donor? I keep hearing this, but I’ve never seen anyone back it up. And to repeat, is the head of Boeing also a “big-time Obama donor”? Is the head of Sierra Nevada a less “big-time Obama donor,” because his company only got half as much as Boeing and SpaceX?

Or is it just possible that the companies were granted contracts after having competed for them, on merit?

However, the problem with how the Obama Administration is pursuing its uninspiring and unimaginative space program goals goes well beyond picking donors to receive favorable contracts and guaranteed government cash with little accountability. Even if SpaceX accomplishes everything asked of it, it will not get us beyond low-Earth orbit. Simply stated, the Obama administration’s vision for space exploration is essentially to replace the hauling capability of the shuttle — something that was developed more than 30 years ago. Beyond that, real space exploration is not a serious priority.

Again, this is false. There is no plan to replace the capabilities of the Shuttle, and there shouldn’t be, because it never made sense for any single vehicle to do all the things that the Shuttle did — that was why it was so expensive, and ultimately, why it was canceled.

The administration’s vision of space exploration was to turn over to private industry activities that have become routine after half a century of spaceflight, such as simply getting into orbit, to save taxpayer money and create new industries (just as the government did for aviation with the NACA and airmail in the 1920s and ’30s), and have NASA focus on what was necessary to affordably get beyond earth orbit.

Unfortunately, Congress had a different vision — to build a rocket for which there is no need, in order to preserve the Shuttle workforce, regardless of whether or not it produced anything useful.

Sadly, NASA is transitioning from being a highly respected nonpartisan space exploration agency to just another arm of Obama’s political operation — wasting tax dollars on friends, diminishing America’s global leadership in space exploration, and ensuring that if we continue down this path, we will fall behind China, Russia, India, and others.

Would that be the same China that said that it didn’t know how it could compete with SpaceX on price? That China?

Look, no one likes anti-Obama rants more than I do (I’ve certainly done my own share), but when they’re so ill-informed, and so illogical as this one, it just buttresses the notion that some people just reflexively hate whatever the president does, just because the president did it. And when they’re used to ignorantly bash one of the few good policies the administration has come up with, it makes one despair of either sane politics, or ever getting off the planet.

ken anthony August 27, 2012 at 10:39 am

The solution for all imagined crony sweetheart deals with the Obama Administration is to get rid of the Obama Admin. I hear that could happen in November?

Denver August 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

“sort of right”.

Indeed.

Shuttle was a disaster compared to anything that came before. It’s primary function appeared to be, spending $1 to $2 billion dollars a year, keeping 20,000 scientists and engineers employed, whether the damn thing flew, or not.

Robert August 27, 2012 at 11:53 am

I agree that a competitive approach to space exploration is best. But I can’t help wondering why Obama’s administration is followng it, especially as it’s so totally out of line with their approach in all other initiatives.

My tentative conclusion is that they value space exploration very little. And they hope that this approach will cause widespread failure, so the program can be shut down and the money can go to Democrat party rent-seekers who are, ipso facto, more deserving.

In short, because of all the damage The Community Organizer and his gang have done to this country, I’m simply not going to give them the benefit of the doubt on anything — ever.

DH August 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

“My tentative conclusion is that they value space exploration very little.”

I think this is exactly right. Anything they regard as important, they want to control: health care, manufacturing, banking. The ongoing semi-privatization of space is a beneficent side-effect of their disinterest in the subject.

Vladislaw August 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm

President Obama proposed NASA increases, in the stimulus, in seperate legislative attempts, for an additional space shuttle flight, for getting the AMS experiment to the space station and the space station was extended for 5 years, plus increases in budget proposals.

How is that an illustration of space exploration has little value?

Did you actually read the 2010 budget request for NASA before congress got a hold of it?

Robert August 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

Well, I look at the administration’s most recent budget proposal that gutted planetary exploration and I do not think it comes from people who support space exploration.

But of course those budgets (and his previous ones) have all been just proposals, not anything that’s actually debated and voted on and passed into law.

Four years are enough. Time for a change. But let’s hang onto the idea of market competition in space — that is a good idea.

Vladislaw August 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

Were the house republicans going to approve a different budget request? The past two years it was the house doing the chopping… I guess the President got the message and proposed was might get passed, not what he wanted funded. I look to the 2010 budget for where the President wanted to move America. From that base line .. look at what actually got through the house in each budget request.

Michael Puttre August 27, 2012 at 11:56 am

That’ll leave a mark.
Exploration typically begins with government sponsorship. Likely territories are handed over to quasi-governmental entities, which eventually give way to private enterprise and competition. It happened with the East Indies, the Americas, and now maybe it will happen with space exploration. It’s good to see private companies investing their own resources in spaceflight.

PaulS August 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

Rand is right.
It’s not easy to admit, but de-emphasizing NASA’s role in earth-orbit manned spaceflight makes sense. The free market can, with minimal help, step into that realm. NASA should focus on the things markets have no interest in doing. Like sending rovers to Mars, exploratory craft to outer planets, and ramming asteroids, all of which is great science, and, what’s more, really cool.
On the other hand, NASA should NOT be focused on cultural outreach, a la Obama’s NASA.

Rand Simberg August 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Despite Bolden’s stupid comments on Al Jazeera, NASA is not “focused on cultural outreach,” any more than it is “concentrating on climate change.”

matt August 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

NASA has lost its way. While the ISS is a nice experiment, it is still highly limited in it’s ability to deliver new science. We have learned much of the long term space exposure lessons necessary to taking next steps but that’s about it. Hubble is telling us a lot more than we ever thought it might.

We should be sending rovers to Mars and any other planet that makes sense to collect as much data as we can in order to understand fundamental similarities and differences.

NASA was created to coordinate the space program and as such was the nexus of space exploration. They did what the private sector could not do. NASA also ensured that the risks were manageable by underwriting the cost of the risk analysis and the development of safer systems. In the 1960′s the miracle was that more astronauts did not die. Simplicity was the best solution.

Now, NASA no longer looks to explore the stars with human beings, but with sensors and yet no clear mission has been articulated. When a government puts together a massive team, it has to have a clear direction. This no longer applies.

There is little out of the box thinking these days. Launch vehicles are very similar and if you only have to go 150-250 miles up you don’t need much more. But if we want to go to the planets we will need a lot more.

Apollo was necessary as a first step. It was a clear goal and our first effort to explore space. We used primitive tools and still know little of the core of the Moon, which is a start in understanding our neighboring planets. Are there new elements out there? What can they do? How will they affect what we know now? That has always been the purpose of science.

There is a lack of seriousness in leadership that is deplorable and a lack of a clearly defined mission.

Rand Simberg August 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

One of the fundamental mistakes in space policy is to think that it is about science.

Vladislaw August 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

“the ISS is a nice experiment, it is still highly limited in it’s ability to deliver new science”

I can build a 10,000 sq ft mansion or an outhouse with the same 10 dollar hammer.

Just because the tool is being underutilized, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the ability to do great things.

The ISS is in no way, shape, or form being utilized to it’s max potential. Unless you can have a transportation system in place that at least does monthly turnaround times for critical research and experiment results it is would be unjust to label it highly limited. It’s the transportation system that is highly limited, not the facility. It has to be more like a remote site like the south pole, transportation might be limiting, but it is there.

More routine flights with an increase of crew size to seven and we will double the output.

Justin Kugler August 28, 2012 at 9:03 am

Agreed. Crewtime and reliable flight schedules are the two greatest limiting factors to ISS utilization.

Warlord August 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

The clear direction the Obumma administration has directed is for NASA to provide
the muslims with outreach and inclusion in any space ventures. There is no space policy other than that.

Flyfish August 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Is it possible to both be supportive of private space initiatives and still think that Obama’s space policy sucks?

Rand Simberg August 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

Obama’s space policy could be improved (though probably not by Obama), but it’s the best space policy we’ve had in decades.

Edward Ellegood August 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Andrew Breitbart? Justifiably revered? That was sarcasm, right?

Rand Simberg August 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

Sorry, no. He was a great man.

Ken Royall August 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I don’t thing Conservatives have a problem with the private sector contributing to the space industry. You spent alot of time refuting something that really isn’t an issue. Don’t assume one columnist speaks for all Conservatives.

Rand Simberg August 28, 2012 at 10:05 am

I wish that it were only one columnist. I’ve been battling this kind of nonsense for years now, including from Charles Krauthammer.

ve August 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

One might cynically suspect that republicans and democrats flip-flop their “ideology” on space policy because the incumbent space firms (like Pratt Whitney, Lockheed and Boeing) are defense contractors who generally give to republicans.

Vladislaw August 29, 2012 at 7:49 am

They honestly do not care what party they give to. They give to the individuals on those committees that have influence over the votes on whether they are going to get the contract or not.

Vladislaw August 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

Actually the space states were mostly conservative democratic until people like Richard Shelby, a democrat, flipped to the republican party. when skip jackson and that whole crew jumped to the republicans many of the space states flipped from blue to red. The usual suspects wanting their space pork do not care about R or D ….. they care about pork in their state and district.

You are making the mistake of thinking the polititians give a flying #$%@#$ about space, space science, or space exploration. They are only interested in how many jobs it creates in their district, how much tax revenue it brings in and how much campaign funding can they wring out for giving pork contracts.

kjackman August 27, 2012 at 5:12 pm

This attitude, that all missions should center on “the science,” is actually detrimental to science interests in space. Every “science” mission is re-designed from scratch, and this approach has kept access to space prohibitively expensive.

Privatize space, make access cheap, bring mining and other “non-science” goals within reach and make them profitable, and private industry will build a whole infrastructure to facilitate it. Launching on the cheaper infrastructure, science missions that are unthinkably expensive today, will suddenly become trivial.

For example, if LEO access is made cheap enough, and (simultaneously) NEO mining becomes feasible, it may become profitable to create a business in LEO that refines raw materials mined in space, fabricates parts, builds spacecraft, and launches them from LEO using mined volatiles (or ion engines or who knows what else), completely bypassing the expense of reusable launch vehicles, emergency escape, heat shields, the risk of a failed multi-stage launch, etc. This business (and the capabilities it brings) would come into being and develop as a natural outgrowth of the market, not because the NASA director pleaded with some congressional commission to include those capabilities as part of an ever-shifting, never-quite-pinned-down “mission”. Cheap LEO access, LEO fabrication, and deep-space launch from LEO would exist and be affordable because they would be a necessary part of conducting any profitable space business.

With that stuff as routine as air travel is today, your “science” mission to send a rover to Titan would be trivial. It could as simple as sending plans for the rover to the LEO factory and paying them to build and launch it. Your ground team would take it from there. Heck, the Planetary Society could launch science missions using Kickstarter projects. You’d have more “science” mission possibilities than you’d know what to do with.

I just don’t see why anyone thinks “science” and “human exploration” and “business” interests are in competition here. Privatize space, and all that stuff comes within reach simultaneously.

srp August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

The root of the problem with our space policy is the primacy given to the ISS. Evacuating it and blowing it out of the sky would do more to advance NASA’s mission of exploration than anything else. It’s a shame that the entrepreneurial flair of SpaceX has been diverted into ISS mission profiles, although it’s encouraging that Musk appears to be thinking ahead and building in more-advanced capabilities.

Dan Hanson August 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Nice takedown, Rand. I can’t believe that article was published without apparently even looking at SpaceX’s web site, because if Mr. Landrith had done that, he would have seen the plans for Falcon Heavy, and read about the design parameters for the Dragon capsule that make it much more than just a crew carrier for ISS.

With Falcon Heavy, SpaceX is positioning itself to have the capability to deploy manned and unmanned missions to other planets or to put large scientific payload in any orbit.

As far as cost containment goes, unless like the traditional cost-plus sweetheart deals traditional contractors have had, Musk is offering fixed-price launch contracts, at a price per kilogram much lower than anything a goverment rocket has ever managed.

SpaceX is probably closer to being able to launch a manned Moon or Mars mission than NASA has been since the Saturn V was retired. The 1/6 cost per kilogram launched that SpaceX is planning for will put launch services for an ambitious mission within the reach of private space interests.

If you want to criticise American space policy, the obvious target is the Senate Launch System, but also the cancellation or scaling back of some of the stuff NASA is actually supposed to be focusing on, such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder and planetary mission budgets. You could also look at the waste and bureaucratic foul-ups in the James Webb Space Telescope program, which is partially responsible for scavenging money from those other programs.

b August 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Doesn’t agree with Rand Simberg == ignorant rant.

Rand Simberg August 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

No, “makes statements without basis in reality” == ignorant rant.

Bob August 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

All these private initiatives began during the Bush administration. Giving Obama credit for ignoring and cutting space science funding is beyond ignorance. It has always been private companies designing and developing space systems under contract to the military and US government. Removing government further from private enterprise should be something the President learns from, but sadly hasn’t.

Vladislaw August 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

Under President Bush the COTS program was intended for both cargo and crew. The COTS program had four parts. The fourth was Capability D … sending crews to the ISS. That part of the program was not funded under President Bush.

When the Obama administration put together the stimulus they were going to kickstart the Commercial Crew program but COTS was already run out so they Renamed the crew part CCDEV. Commercial crew development program. NASA was to get 400 million with 150 million of that going to CCDEV.

Led by Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who was fighting to keep the porktrain called Constellation on the rails, forced the CCDEV funding levels to change. Now CCDEV would only get 50 milllion with the other 100 million going towards Constellation.

President Obama called for 6 billion over 5 years to fully fund CCDEV but the republicans in the house reduced it to a one year funding of 270 million.

Actually the push for privatizing more of NASA has been with every Presidents since Nixon. ALL Presidents have called for it. It was actually President Reagan, in 1984 who started it. By having NASA’s mandate changed to include:

“(c) Commercial Use of Space.–Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.”

The Porkonauts in congress have fought to protect the status quo in manned spaceflight though and have not allowed it. They have fought President Obama on every funding attempt to commercialize human space access.

Dave August 28, 2012 at 11:47 am

Rand,
Thanks for the great article. I’m a libertarian independent and generally find most peoples principles adapt to who is espousing them. Appreciate your consistent view on our NASA strategies. I’m no Obamist, but I do think this is perhaps the one area they have been doing right. The SLS is a rocket to nowhere, with a lot of imaginary plans to leverage its width, but no funding missions and no practical objectives.
If NASA needs a bigger rocket for objectives in the 2020′s, they can contract with private contractors in the later half of this decade to begin planning. In the meantime, we should be expediting a return to human space flight, and developing more cost effective delivery options for our science missions. Standard mission platforms for systems like the Curiosity Rover could reduce development times and costs. Decade long planning for Curiosity means outdated technology is deployed even when we have great successes like the new rover.
My optimal strategy would be to kill the rover and develop a mission to the moon by 2020 with a commercial bidding process for the entire architecture. Use the learning from the lunar program to bid out a Mars program starting after the first lunar touchdown. Do this without sacrificing science and deep space exploration missions. Keep the costs down and keep the future research and business opportunities moving. This will encourage the most rapid innovation cycles and bring new participants to the space industry.

Fact Checker August 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Just google Elon Musk donations and you will see the money he has donated to Obama, Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer. Or are you afraid to do that research Mr. Simberg? Afraid the facts would spoil your narrative by showing SpaceX is just more Solyndra like crony capitalism?

BeanCounterFromDownUnder August 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Fact Checker August 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm

LOL. Unbelievably ignorant. Rand disposed of the Solyndra comparison in short order. You should try living up to you handle. Check the donations from Boeing, ULA, etc, as well. They make SpaceX donations look like lunch monies for some primary school child. Maybe not even that.

BeanCounterFromDownUnder August 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Great response Rand.

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