Space Access Update #98  3/8/01 
                Copyright 2001 by Space Access Society 

Every time we think we're getting caught up, something new comes 
along.  This time, it's the Bush Administration's first major moves at 
NASA, about which more in a moment... 

Oops, and now it's leaked info on who NASA SLI is negotiating 
contracts with, with a couple of surprises.  Boeing, OSC/Northrop-
Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin getting offers was predictable, Kistler 
and USL getting offers was not, and Kelly getting no offer (if true) 
is quite a surprise.  See Brian Berger's Space News piece at: 

Meanwhile, as usual, we're running just-barely-in-time putting 
together this year's Space Access '01 conference, but be assured it 
will again be an interesting mix of the usual suspects and some 
unusual new additions, once again providing an intensive informal 
snapshot of where the nascent cheap space access industry is this 
spring of 2001.  The schedule is intro sessions Thursday evening April 
26th then main sessions all day and evening Friday the 27th and 
Saturday the 28th, the hotel is again the Holiday Inn Old Town in the 
heart of downtown Scottsdale Arizona, and the reservation number is 
480 994-9203 - book soon and mention "space access" to get our $72 
rate.  Conference registration is $100 in advance, $120 at the door, 
mail checks to: SAS, 4855 E Warner Rd #24-150, Phoenix AZ 85044. 

contents this issue: 

 - ProSpace's "March Storm" Starts This Weekend 

 - Changes At NASA: Tidying Up Or The Start Of Real Reform? 
   - X-33, X-34 Won't Get SLI Funds 
   - SLI Growth Rate Cut Back, But No Fundamental Reforms Yet 

 - Essay: Competition Is The Answer 


             ProSpace's "March Storm" Starts This Weekend 
Our colleagues at the Space Frontier Foundation's lobbying branch, 
ProSpace, begin their annual "March Storm" amateur-volunteer lobbying 
expedition to Washington this coming Sunday March 11th; we recommend 
it as a worthy effort.  (See for details.) 

Unfortunately, ProSpace's website still doesn't list the planned March 
Storm lobbying agenda.  However, the emailed agenda outline we've seen 
does include support for radical reform of NASA's Space Launch 
Initiative, a goal we share.  Alas, details of ProSpace's approach are 
still lacking.  It happens we believe fixing SLI is one of the more 
useful and doable thing activists can push for this year.  Here's what 
we think Congress needs to hear on that subject in the coming days: 

 - Build and fly more X-vehicles.  

(Modestly-sized practical ones, not grandiosely misconceived 
boondoggles like the late unlamented X-33.) 

 - Do so competitively, involving both new agencies within the 
government and new companies as contractors.  

(NASA's RLV monopoly has failed, expensively.  Spread out slices of 
SLI's planned budget to multiple new outfits - DARPA, AFRL, NRL, NSF, 
DOT are a few possibilities - and may the best agency win.  Meanwhile, 
giving ambitious startup companies a real chance to prove themselves 
couldn't possibly produce worse results than what we've seen from the 
complacent post-consolidation aerospace majors recently.) 

Space launch is a high-leverage economic enabler - recent government 
estimates are that space puts over $60 billion a year into the US 
economy, leveraged off less than $2 billion worth of high-cost space 
launch.  How much more would space add to the economy if we had 
reliable low-cost launch?  "A lot" is a pretty safe bet. 

We've seen in recent years that the current space launch market is too 
small to readily support commercial development of low-cost launch.  
But the potential economic (and national security) leverage of low-
cost space launch makes effective government development support a 
highly attractive national investment.  

Note, though, we said "effective" - NASA has badly mismanaged their 
seven-year monopoly on reusable launch R&D, spending close to two 
billion dollars on little more than a couple hangars full of ill-
assorted hi-tech aerospace parts.  NASA's new Space Launch Initiative 
as planned to date will be more of the same - we need to dramatically 
change course. 


             Changes At NASA: Tidying Up, Or Real Reform? 

The Bush Administration last week did some house cleaning at NASA. 
They removed George Abbey as boss of the tail that wags the NASA dog, 
the Houston JSC-based "Human Space Flight" division (HSF runs Shuttle 
and Station, half of NASA's overall budget once you add in personnel 
and overhead.)  They killed several Station-related projects to make 
up for massive Station overruns.  They also cancelled NASA Marshall's 
troubled X-33 and X-34.  It's a start, but at least in the space-
launch R&D area we specialize in, there are still major problems. 

                    X-33, X-34 Won't Get SLI Funds 

Both X-33 and X-34 have already gone well beyond their original 
budgets, both are already years late, and both are more years away 
from flight.  It's now official that neither will get any money from 
NASA's new Space Launch Initiative, effectively ending both projects. 


The NASA Marshall/Lockheed-Martin X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle flight 
demonstrator project is finally dead, after eating six years of our 
time and by our estimate a billion and a half total taxpayer dollars.  
We've been writing about the reasons X-33 was headed nowhere for years 
now - see Updates #71, #84, and #91 for the core we-told-you-so's.  We 
can summarize these for now by saying the project was mis-specified, 
mis-selected, misdesigned, misdeveloped, and mismanaged, and its 
demise is long overdue.  With luck someone will write a book about it, 
because the X-33 program should serve for generations to come as a 
horrible example of everything not to do in developing an advanced 
aerospace vehicle. 

And speaking of overdue demise, we recently came across the NASA 
Advisory Council minutes for their September 12-13, 2000 meeting.  It 
turns out NASA knew last summer that X-33 was going to take 2-3 years 
and another billion dollars to finish.  NAC advised mothballing the 
project; NASA a couple weeks later instead paid out $68 million in 
unearned flight-test progress payments to Lockheed-Martin to keep the 
project alive until March '01 - after the election, we suspect not 
coincidentally. See, click on 
"NAC" at the bottom right of the screen, click on "Meeting Minutes", 
click on "September 12-13".  Read it and weep. 

Orbital Sciences X-34 is also dead, after NASA spent over two hundred 
million dollars.  That project was more of a mixed bag; had NASA not 
saddled it with the never-ready MSFC hobby-shop "Fastrac" engine, had 
NASA not reacted to the consecutive Mars failures by decreeing that 
X-34 systems had to be totally redone to reduce the risk of crashing 
one (despite there being three copies of X-34 precisely to deal with 
the risk of crashing one), X-34 might well have succeeded.  Oh well. 

(Our sympathy, by the way, to all the people who honestly worked their 
tails off trying to make X-33 and X-34 fly.  It may be the nature of 
the industry these days, but it's seldom easy getting laid off and 
finding a new job.  And of course, for those of us who care, working 
our hearts out in a cause that it turns out top management doomed from 
the start just flat out sucks.) 

       SLI Growth Rate Cut Back, But No Fundamental Reforms Yet 

The Bush Administration has dumped some of NASA's more obvious excess 
baggage, but so far NASA SLI's course remains very much on the same 
wrong track that led to X-33's protracted failure.  The project is 
still centrally planned around NASA's space launch needs alone, still 
massively skewed by NASA's deeply ingrained prejudices about how those 
needs ought to be met, still pays no more than lip-service to bidders 
other than the remaining post-consolidation handful of established 
major aerospace contractors, and still has little chance of producing 
any vehicle design with a realistic chance of winning commercial 
development funding. 

NASA's SLI approach is particularly noteworthy for its continuation of 
the single worst aspect of the X-33 project:  A total inability to 
understand or adopt the classic tightly-integrated co-located 
engineering development team approach that produced the vast majority 
of the world's successful advanced aerospace vehicles.  NASA seems 
permanently married to mass-assault contractor-in-every-district 
distributed engineering - totally inappropriate for cheap fast 
development of advanced experimental aerospace testbeds. 

Art Stephenson, director of NASA Marshall, the agency's lead center 
for RLV development, had this to say about the demise of X-33: "..our 
technology has not yet advanced to the point that we can successfully 
develop a new reusable launch vehicle...".  We predicted years ago 
NASA would claim "nobody else could have done it either, so give us 
more money" when X-33 finally collapsed of its own weight.  We've 
rebutted the assertion in considerable detail more than once - see the 
previously mentioned Updates. 

(Though we have to admit that Stephenson does have a point - NASA 
Marshall demonstrably does need more advanced technology, albeit 
mostly to make up for their mediocre management and mass-assault 

The real lesson here is NOT to give NASA massive new funding and 
another five years - that would be pouring money down the same old 
NASA RLV monopoly rathole.  The lesson of X-33 is, next time give the 
job to people actually willing to go at the problem in a manner that 
gives them a chance of solving it with the wide array of advanced 
technology that's already practical and available. 

This means letting multiple other agencies take a crack at the 
problem, in competition with each other, so "it was too hard" after a 
half-assed screwed up effort is no longer a safe excuse.  Multiple 
competing outfits, possibly inside NASA (Ames and Dryden, Glenn, or 
Langley Centers come to mind) but certainly outside (DARPA, AFRL, NRL, 
NSF, and DOT are some possibilities) should now get a chance. 

Slice up the SLI budget a half-dozen ways, set a half-dozen agencies 
loose on the problem, encourage them to take chances with streamlined 
procurement and non-traditional vendors, and tell them that every four 
years, the two most successful among them get 50% of the budgets of 
the two least successful.  Then stand back and watch the RLV's fly!  
That would be the ideal. 

Practically speaking, SLI has too much fiscal momentum now to kill 
outright.  The White House budget request does scale back SLI's 
planned rate of growth; its 64% increase over this year's $290 million 
comes to $475 million for FY'02, considerably less than the program's 
baselined FY'02 $610 million.  Projected forward, this would bring 
SLI's total funding down closer to $3 billion than the planned $4.4 
billion, but either way SLI is still a large mass of money that a lot 
of Congressmen are counting on coming to their districts. 

If we were asked for practical advice, we'd say, scale back SLI 
further and formally redirect it towards addressing only NASA's 
internal launch requirements.  There's a real need for some sort of 
bare-bones Shuttle backup launch system to guarantee US ability to 
meet our international space commitments.  The best concept we've seen 
so far is some flavor of EELV launched Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle, 
but leave it up to NASA what best serves their needs - within a 
strictly limited budget, of course.  SLI should also be told to 
revamp the Alternate Access program to provide successful affordable 
near-term on-demand light logistics support for Station. 

SLI's Next Generation Launch Services program, meanwhile, should 
probably migrate over to a more appropriate home such as NSF, closer 
to the intended light science-sat/university-sat customers and farther 
away from NASA's tendency to overcomplicate and overspecify.  NASA has 
managed to make bidding NGLS so paperwork-intensive that we're told it 
has been for all practical purposes no-bid by every last one of the 
startup rocket companies it's intended to help.  If NASA can't fix 
this problem, someone else should be given the job. 

Give NASA Marshall a chance to redeem themselves on meeting NASA's 
internal launch needs - but as far as any further responsibility for 
US commercial and defense launch development goes, the country can no 
longer afford their mismanagement.  Fund that R&D elsewhere. 


                       Competition Is the Answer 

After spending seven years explaining in vain to NASA how to usefully 
pursue radically cheaper space transportation, last fall we decided it 
was time to step back and take a more fundamental look at the problem. 

The problem is, competition.  Or rather, the problem is a lack of 
competition.  In the name of efficiency, in 1994 NASA was named the 
sole agency responsible for developing reusable space transportation.  
The NASA bureaucracy then proceeded to very efficiently burn up nearly 
two billion dollars over the next seven years for few tangible results 
beyond temporarily boosted white-collar employment in a number of 
politically important districts.  

The bureaucracy's response to anyone pointing out the lack of results 
has been "give us more time and money, what you gave us wasn't 
enough."  Implicit in this is, "trust us, nobody else could have done 

Absent competition, there's no way to prove otherwise, no current 
baseline to measure them against.  There's the history of projects 
that have done far more, far quicker, for far less, but the automatic 
response is "but things are different now!"  And absent competition, 
there's no way to prove that things aren't *that* different. 

Absent competition, a bureaucracy has little incentive to give its 
nominal mission higher priority than the universal bureaucratic 
imperatives, organizational continuity and expansion.  

Absent competition, a bureaucracy has every incentive to do its 
nominal mission as slowly and expensively as possible, claiming all 
the while nobody else could do better, lest it work itself out of a 
job and be faced with the uncertainty and stress of trying to find a 
new mission, with defunding likely if it can't come up with one. 

Given competition, given another agency or field center or research 
lab that's encouraged and funded to pursue a similar mission, results 
suddenly become a bureaucratic priority, lest the other outfit succeed 
first and get their funding increased at the less successful 
organization's expense. 

We've spent the last seven years, since the previous Administration 
gave NASA a monopoly on reusable launcher development, talking 
ourselves blue in the face on how they might succeed.  They didn't 

Now we have a new approach that doesn't depend on anyone listening to 
either us or to the Congress for the details.  We're going to push for 
competition, and let the competing organizations that want to win 
figure out the details for themselves.  

There's a reasonable chance such competition can happen, soon, under 
this new Administration.  The new competitors will find that there's 
no lack of information on how to go about developing advanced new 
aerospace capabilities on tight schedule and budget, no lack of 
examples from the past.  Some of the people who've actually done the 
job before are still around to be asked, or even - who knows - hired. 


Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions 
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in 
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. 

 Space Access Society 

 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" 
                                        - Robert A. Heinlein