Saturday, February 9, 2008

Space, and the private sector

Following the inaugural flight of Spaceship One, in which Branson's rocket plane officially won the Ansari X-Prize, congress went to work placing restrictions on the public exploration of space. The government controls were touted as public safety measures... because we don't want a crazy astronaut Farmer incident taking place now do we?

But recent events have taken place that cause me to wonder if congress wants a private sector in human space flight, or if the government's idea of human space flight is a series of non-exploration high cost missions. I am left wondering if the government entities that be do not wish for human kind to become a space faring civilization.

One example of this comes from one man's obsession with creating a new and useless lifting vehicle, with little to no advantage over the current lifting technologies. That man is Mike Griffin, head of NASA. His obsession is with the ARES launch vehicles. The development costs are astronomical (pun intended), and the program time for a new complex launch vehicle is on the order of a decade. So why the obsession?

Griffin is a self-proclaimed visionary... He often comes up with his own solutions to problems, and insists that his engineers make them work. A great example outside of the ARES vehicles is the last minute change in the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle's Launch Abort System (LAS). The LAS was having some minor engineering design issues, and instead of counting on the council of his highly skilled NASA engineers, Griffin took out a piece of scratch paper, drew some new design and said "Do this". It has been a hit to cost and schedule... but the army marches forward to his drum.

The Ares launch vehicle Ares I is a 5 segment solid rocket booster, with a small segment of liquid propellant and the Orion CEV aboard it. It is the first of two launch vehicles being designed for the over budget and behind schedule Moon Program. The problem: solid rocket motors vibrate at such an extreme frequency that without damping, Humans cannot survive, let alone the space vehicle riding on top. Once these vibrations were apparent in analysis, it was suggested that the costly ARES program be abandoned for a less costly and already existent Atlas V, from United Launch Alliance (a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint effort). Little work would be needed to convert the once human rated launch vehicle back to a human launch vehicle... alas, Griffin has refused... opting instead to push forward with his legacy building candlestick.

Focus now on the private sector, where Bigelow Aerospace is planning on all but putting NASA out of business. Bigelow is listening to the reports on the Atlas V, and intend on using the launch vehicle to build their space hotel, and use the vehicle to shuttle space tourists to and from the inflatable space dwelling. Bigelow has survived, in spite of the increased rules and regulation from the US government when it comes to Space and the private sector. Other companies have not been so lucky... see Kistler Aerospace's issues with the K-1, and how they had to make a deal with Australia to launch as the US would not allow them to cost effectively launch in the US.

I give much respect to private space businesses. They are the explorers who are forging humanity onward into the next great frontier, much to the hesitation of the government.

Overregulation has done much to undermine the private sector in everything from plumbing to medicine... and now, before the industry has an opportunity to boom, the government is attempting to regulate the sector to death.

As good conservatives, we should all work together to end overregulation of private business by the government. We should support private space exploration, and demand that the government allow the start-up operations to research, develop, test, and fly without costly intervention by the bureaucracy of Washington. Without a private sector in the space exploration industry, we are left catering to the whims of whomever may be the visionary of NASA on any given day.

No comments:

Post a Comment