NASA considering privatizing shuttle.
November 7, 2001 7:00 PM   Subscribe

NASA considering privatizing shuttle. I'm prepared to sit in a Taco Bell shuttle once a trip into orbit becomes affordable. Extra sour cream please.
posted by skallas (3 comments total)
 
So many more places our gov't can save money without getting rid of something that doesn't involve destorying things.
posted by geoff. at 7:31 PM on November 7, 2001


Frankly, I don't see how it'd be economical. The Space Shuttle is expensive because it's inefficient, not entirely reusable, complicated, and based on 1970s technology. Sure, a proposal like this might've flown before the Challenger accident, but it especially won't fly today in light of recent events and increasing public skepticism of private involvement in flight.
posted by tiny pea at 8:01 PM on November 7, 2001


Color me jaded. The Bush adm. was leaning hard on NASA to trim the Station budget earlier this year, and for all practical purposes delayed the Hab module and Crew Return Vehicle, which together would have made 6/7 member crews possible. (As it is, with 3 astronauts working 45 hrs/week, there are only 20 hours left over after maintenance activities for science. Research now will only really be accomplished during Soyuz module changeovers and shuttle visits.) This reduces the cost of the Station project by a mere 5-10%, but reduces its utility by around 80%. And this was before 9/11.

NASA's been studying a sell-off of the Orbiter fleet for years, though. In some ways, it would be a definite plus for the science arm of the agency, eliminating a costly albatross that year after year eats up half of the budget, but without major cost reductions being possible. (Flying the shuttles less actually makes each flight more expensive, due to fixed annual costs.) Advocates of human spaceflight have long grated under the NASA approach, which seems focused on keeping spaceflight rare and expensive and under the control of a government agency. There was a late 90s boom in the private space launch business, entirely due to the satellite comm networks that were being launched -- but the effective economic failure of these led to a development crash that took with it the venture money that had been financing advanced launch technology research such as Rotary Rocket. (If you haven't seen them, you must download the launch test video there.) There are a lot of great engineers and visionaries who thought that private space launch business could revolutionize access to low orbit, bringing costs per pound down as much as 90%.

Meanwhile the United Space Alliance, a joint Boeing-Lockheed holding company, has been managing the ground operations of the shuttle rather effectively. The idea is that they would buy the shuttles and the search for profit in running them would lead them to seek out customers beyond NASA. It's not clear who they would be or what they would launch, though, given that unmanned rockets can generally put a satellite in orbit for a fraction of the cost of a shuttle flight.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, all is not lost for the idea of human astronauts. Rumsfeld himself spent part of the last few years on the Space Council, and they put together a rreport that recommended new militarization of space, with suborbital and hypersonic bombers our next generation weapons systems. Rummy has already gotten transferred to the USAF several NASA X-projects -- projects that NASA really was only half-interested in anyway, because they would all mean capital financing of a new shuttle successor or other major launch system, which everyone knew Congress wasn't going to go for, rendering the research an expensive game. The USAF, on the other hand, wants its own manned launch system all over again. (Interested observers will note htat part of the Shuttle's problem was USAF/DoD mission constraints that ballooned its own costs; then, post-Challenger, Congress told USAF to quit sharing the shuttle, whcih they were relieved to do.) In other words, we've just taken a time warp back to the sixties.
posted by dhartung at 12:35 AM on November 8, 2001


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