The future for Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour

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najab

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It's partially #2, but mainly #4.<p>Before the Great Forgetting, I had researched the cost of the Shuttle program to find an answer to this same question. What I found was that more than half of the Shuttle operating budget was spent on mission planning and crew training. This is hardly suprising considering that every Shuttle mission is unique with many complex tasks. It may take a year or more to design the mission and just as long or longer can be spent training the crew to perform it.<p>For those who like to "divide the budget by the number of missions" this means that the actual cost of each flight (the act of launching and landing the Shuttle, as opposed to the mission performed in space) is under $300 million. If we were to limit the Shuttle to 'simple' satellite deploy missions we could easily halve the annual budget, since there would be minimal mission-specific crew training required.<p>When you then look specifically at Shuttle operations you find that a large proportion of the processing costs are due to the need to deconfigure/reconfigure the payload bay for each mission. This expense figures into the mission cost, not the flight costs - if we didn't have to reconfigure the payload bay between flights then we would cut at least 1/3 of the operations budget - which would bring the 'dtbbtnof' per-flight cost down to around $100 million. If a drop in 'payload bay liner' was developed (which would allow multiple payloads to be processed in parallel) the Orbiter turnaround time could again be halved, resulting in a doubling of the flight rate. That brings the costs down again to somewhere in the region of $50 million. Note that we haven't cut any infrastucture or maintanance costs, just spread them out over a more reasonable flight rate.<p>Before you say that doubling the flight rate (to 12 missions/year) is unreasonable, remember that NASA has done 9 missions a year with 3 Orbiters in the past <i>without</i> the streamlined payload bay ops.</p></p></p></p>
 
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CalliArcale

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<blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr /><p>Well, assuming they could get past the technology export regime, I suppose not.<p><hr /></p></p></blockquote><br /><br />I don't think an orbiter has a chance in hell of making it past the "technology export regime" (also known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR). Parts of the Orbiter are actually classified, because they interface with classified payloads, and those would have to be either declassified (an arduous process) or removed. Either way, there would have to be exhaustive assurances. After that would come concerns about the buyer and what kind of technology we're giving them. Granted, much of the Orbiter is not particularily new, but its technology is applicable to many other things (such as supersonic flight, which has major heat loading issues), and the engines are quite probably the most sophisticated liquid-fueled engines ever built. The computers might reveal something to a foreign power, even if they were sanitized first ("sanitized" meaning completely erased to where you cannot retrieve any of the data at all), such as how to access the TDRS network and whatever specialized stuff was installed for DoD missions. All in all, given that Boeing got a major rap on the knuckles just for giving advice about payload fairings to the Chinese, I seriously doubt anything less than an Act of Congress would allow a Shuttle to be exported. I suspect it was difficult enough to get the relevant powers to agree to permit the concept of a TAL, which essentially amounts to an export of the Orbiter. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p> </p><p><font color="#666699"><em>"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly . . . timey wimey . . . stuff."</em>  -- The Tenth Doctor, "Blink"</font></p> </div>
 
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mikejz

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Just wondering, seeing that this is a gov’t operation, is a deprecation expense recognized on the shuttle each time it flies (since they are rated for 100 flights)?<br /><br />I guess the simple way to categorize the shuttle is a vehicle with very high fixed overhead and low variable costs. The question is how much of this overhead represents deprecation on existing hardware, and therefore is a sunk cost that should not be considered. <br />
 
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spaceiscool

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Can't we send up Sats on Deltas etcs? Instead of those rust buckets with tiles on? serious question although i'm no fan of the shuttle. was good in the early 80s, but so was buck rogers, enough said.
 
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mikejz

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Its not a question of if there are alternative to the shuttle—it’s a question of seeing that a tremendous amount of resources have been put into the shuttle over the past 30 years, if there is a way to cost effectively find a purpose for the shuttle hardware after its primary mission is completed. That could mean shuttle-c or other variants, or the use of it as an unmanned vehicle, or some other idea. The real question is not was the shuttle a money pit, but how do we maximize what we already have.
 
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shuttle_rtf

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>Rust buckets with tiles on<<br /><br />I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
 
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mrmorris

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<font color="yellow">"I disagree. The post I was responding to stated that the cost of a Shuttle launch was $500 million. I was pointing out that the direct charging to a specific flight and the consumables is about 1/100th of that figure. I do not see that as "bad accounting" one just must be specific. "</font><br /><br />SG -- that's not being specific -- that's using semantics. If you prefer:<br /><br />Cost of a shuttle launch: 5 million (using your 1/100th figure)<br />Costs involved in launching a shuttle: $500 million (assuming 6 flights/year)<br /><br />The original post was referring to the unlikelyhood of a foreign nation being able to (or at least wanting to) use the Shuttle fleet as their launch vehicle at that price per launch. It's impossible to dissociate many/most of the shuttle infrastructure costs from the shuttle launch costs. Ergo -- the second of the two figures is the critical number.<br /><br />The first number is bad accounting. Only Enron and certain large accounting firms which shall remain nameless use math like that.<br />
 
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najab

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><i>Costs involved in launching a shuttle: $500 million (assuming 6 flights/year)</i><p>Did you read my post on the topic? The cost of the Shuttle <b>program</b> divided into the number of flights is about $500 million. However less than half of that money is actually spent on the Shuttle and its support infrastructure, most is spent on crew training.</p>
 
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najab

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><i>I don't think an orbiter has a chance in hell of making it past the "technology export regime" (also known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR).</i><p>I know this is a non-trivial problem.</p>
 
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jcdenton

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<font color="yellow">The post I was responding to stated that the cost of a Shuttle launch was $500 million. I was pointing out that the direct charging to a specific flight and the consumables is about 1/100th of that figure. I do not see that as "bad accounting" one just must be specific.</font><br /><br />My bad... Perhaps I should have said cost per shuttle mission, but I stand by what I meant. You could trim some of the costs if the shuttles were just used for satellite retrieval and repair, but you would still have to pay for all the training, infrastructure, maintenance, etc...<br /> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> </div>
 
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mrmorris

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<font color="yellow">"Did you read my post on the topic? The cost of the Shuttle program divided into the number of flights is about $500 million. However less than half of that money is actually spent on the Shuttle and its support infrastructure, most is spent on crew training. "</font><br /><br />Yes I read your post -- and presumably the hypothetical foreign nation could skimp on the training programs for their whatever-nauts. They could also skimp on maintenance. They could also use duct tape to secure their payloads into the cargo bay to save on reconfiguration costs.<br /><br />I'm making an assumption here. That assumption is that the money being spent on the shuttle program is money that *should* be spent on the shuttle program. If that assumption is correct, then even if the program were moved to hypothetical foreign nation 'X', the same needs will largely exist, and variations in costs will largely be dictated by differences in market conditions.<br /><br />If the assumption is *incorrect* and it <b>is</b> possible to dispense with a significant percentage of shuttle infrastructure costs and have the shuttle program continue to perform as expected, then there is a significant problem with the program as it stands. You indicated that just making the missions simple would halve the per-flight shuttle costs to $100 million. I'm not sure if by that you mean $200 million dollars is spent on every mission to design and train for it, or if $1.2 billion is spent annually regardless of the number of missions involved. I would *hope* for the former, because if mission training and planning costs isn't dependent on the number of missions, then something is seriously rotten in Denmark. Assuming $200 million, and six crewmembers per flight, that's over 33 million dollars per person. That's a lot of training -- and you're indicating that even NASA switched to 'cookie-cutter' missions -- there'd be over 16 million per astronaut in training. I could easily
 
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SpaceKiwi

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"When you then look specifically at Shuttle operations you find that a large proportion of the processing costs are due to the need to deconfigure/reconfigure the payload bay for each mission. This expense figures into the mission cost, not the flight costs - if we didn't have to reconfigure the payload bay between flights then we would cut at least 1/3 of the operations budget - which would bring the 'dtbbtnof' per-flight cost down to around $100 million. If a drop in 'payload bay liner' was developed (which would allow multiple payloads to be processed in parallel) the Orbiter turnaround time could again be halved, resulting in a doubling of the flight rate. That brings the costs down again to somewhere in the region of $50 million."<br /><br /><br /><br />Okay, why exactly is there so much expense associated with the payload bay? That seems an incredible amount. Don't most payloads come with their own custom designed "pallets" on which they sit, and which must have a reasonably standardised dimension on the underside for mating with the payload bay floor and/or walls?<br /><br />I have always imagined the payload bay to be a rather simple volume of space (notwithstanding the internals of the Orbiter itself which run inside the walls and floor), with pallet attach points and power sockets remaining standard from mission to mission? Just as you have those standard-sized airline cargo containers, into which you can put item A, B or C. I would have thought the superstructure of the Orbiter wouldn't allow much in the way of reconfiguration anyway, with the weight of most payloads determining that they be attached to "strong" points within the airframe? <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><em><font size="2" color="#ff0000">Who is this superhero?  Henry, the mild-mannered janitor ... could be!</font></em></p><p><em><font size="2">-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------</font></em></p><p><font size="5">Bring Back The Black!</font></p> </div>
 
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mrmorris

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<font color="yellow">"The 5 in C.G. "zone" is a result of fliying a spacecraft with wings. "</font><br /><br />Extending that thought then (and making a WAG) -- since the Shuttle-C 'orbiter-equivalent' is wingless, the C.G. would not need to be nearly as precise. Presumably that in turn would reduce the expense of 'adapting' the payload area to different cargos?
 
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najab

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This gives me an opportunity to seem really knowledgeable and still ask a question. <img src="/images/icons/wink.gif" /> I know that you guy often have to add ballast to the Orbiter to keep the cg within limits, but on average how much mass are we talking about 10's of pounds? A couple hundred?
 
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rvastro

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I would love to see the equitions used in calculating the CG. Just a sadistic interest of mine <img src="/images/icons/tongue.gif" />
 
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SpaceKiwi

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Although you have inferred it a couple of posts back, can I clarify that the centre of gravity issues are primarily for the contingency of having to bring the payload back to Earth after a failed deployment? (payloads like TransHab or the Ninja Turtle modules notwithstanding)<br /><br />Also, is the ballast simply pure dead weight or are you able to make it somewhat useful in the form of emergency water or fuel or similar?<br /><br />One more question while I'm off on a tangent but does a full payload bay contribute in any significant way to the speed of the Orbiter on re-entry, particularly at the critical time of maximum heating? <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><em><font size="2" color="#ff0000">Who is this superhero?  Henry, the mild-mannered janitor ... could be!</font></em></p><p><em><font size="2">-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------</font></em></p><p><font size="5">Bring Back The Black!</font></p> </div>
 
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drwayne

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Interesting data on the Skylab mission. I have often wondered about the effect of going from a fueled stage to a dry-lab on the structural properties of the vehcile, particularly in off-nominal conditions...<br /><br />Wayne <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p>"1) Give no quarter; 2) Take no prisoners; 3) Sink everything."  Admiral Jackie Fisher</p> </div>
 
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najab

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Of course...since the goal is to balance the cg...you could just get lighter astronauts. Or maybe fill the crew compartment with helium instead of oxygen. <img src="/images/icons/laugh.gif" />
 
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drwayne

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Utterly fascinating! I did not know about the role of the Blackbird. <br /><br />I just wish we had done some wet-lab experiments with the seconds stage...<br /><br />Wayne <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p>"1) Give no quarter; 2) Take no prisoners; 3) Sink everything."  Admiral Jackie Fisher</p> </div>
 
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drwayne

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I ran across this report which is quite interesting (to me) at <br /><br />http://history.nasa.gov/skylabrep/SRsummary.htm<br /><br />NASA Investigation Board Report On The INITIAL FLIGHT ANOMALIES OF SKYLAB 1<br /><br />SUMMARY<br />At approximately 63 seconds into the flight of Skylab 1 on May 14, 1973, an anomaly occurred which resulted in the complete loss of the meteoroid shield around the orbital workshop. This was followed by the loss of one of the two solar array systems on the workshop and a failure of the interstage adapter to separate from the S-II stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle. The investigation reported herein identified the most probable cause of this flight anomaly to be the breakup and loss of the meteoroid shield due to aerodynamic loads that were not accounted for in its design. The breakup of the meteoroid shield, in turn, broke the tie downs that secured one of the solar array systems to the workshop. Complete loss of this solar array system occurred at 593 seconds when the exhaust plume of the S-II stage retro-rockets impacted the partially deployed solar array system. Falling debris from the meteoroid shield also damaged the S-II interstage adapter ordnance system in such a manner as to preclude separation.<br /><br />Of several possible failure modes of the meteoroid shield that were identified, the most probable in this particular flight was internal pressurization of its auxiliary tunnel which acted to force the forward end of the meteoroid shield away from the shell of the workshop and into the supersonic air stream. The pressurization of the auxiliary tunnel was due to the existence of several openings in the aft region of the tunnel. Another possible failure mode was the separation of the leading edge of the meteoroid shield from the shell of the workshop (particularly in the region of the folded ordnance panel) of sufficient extent to admit ram air pressures under <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p>"1) Give no quarter; 2) Take no prisoners; 3) Sink everything."  Admiral Jackie Fisher</p> </div>
 
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drwayne

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I sense that the innovation and skill that saved the Skylab program is under-appreciated by the public at-large.<br /><br />Taking a badly broken space station, and making it work so well should be a full member of the finest moments - in the same ballpark as the Apollo 13 save...<br /><br />Wayne <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p>"1) Give no quarter; 2) Take no prisoners; 3) Sink everything."  Admiral Jackie Fisher</p> </div>
 
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najab

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><i>However the Apollo era NASA saved the day with the help of Pete Conrad and the other crewmen.</i><p>Call me over-optimistic, but I think the 'Apollo era NASA' is still in there. Lost and confused, but still there. If the new direction they've been given is supported by Congress and the Public, get OSHA, OMB and the EPA et al out of the way and great things could happen....</p>
 
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radarredux

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> <i><font color="yellow">Call me over-optimistic, but I think the 'Apollo era NASA' is still in there.</font>/i><br /><br />I had several friends in the Air Force who were very dedicated, hard working, and had a great vision. After years of trying to work their vision within the system they came to the conclusion that the Air Force bureaucracy was a problem. They all left the government, formed their own company, helped create an industry, and their technology is probably in every major company and government organization in the world. Oh, and they all became millionaires.<br /><br />NASA, like the Air Force, has at least two major problems: it is a monopoly and it is a government organization. Not the best organizational environment for fostering a revolution.</i>
 
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lunatic133

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I have faith in NASA however I do not have faith in the government, or in congress's willingness to fund anything worthwhile for years on end. I hate to say it but I find myself becoming more O'neillian every day (yes blacknebula if you're reading this I KNOW what that means ... and I know we still need NASA) but if the government isn't going to get anything done, SOMEONE has got to. However I know that we need the government to fund big projects like a mission to Mars... I think it is less NASA that has the problem and more congress and short sighted politicians. The solution? Take over the world :p
 
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