Why American Spaceflight is losing its space dominance

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DarkenedOne

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We Americans like to think that we are the most advanced space power. This perception is true in a number of respects. We are the undisputed leader in space science, space technology, manned spaceflight, and satellite infrastructure. However we are lacking in one critical field perhaps the most important of all, launchers.

While it is true that our launchers are very reliable they are also very expensive. This fact is critical because launchers are at the base of the pyramid when it comes to space. Everything that you do in space from military to science to manned missions. They all cannot function without being able to get into space. It is the same way the automobile and airline industry rely on the oil industry. Every time the price of oil goes up they suffer.

Most recently this issue has become apparent with NASA. Both NASA and the Russians have the capability to transport both people and supplies to the space station. NASA is able to do this with the Space Shuttle, but it cost us several billion dollars a year. Of course since NASA was not going to get significantly more money from Congress, so it had no choice but to get rid of the Shuttle in order to release funds for other manned vehicles. The Russians on the other hand despite having a small fraction of NASA's budget are able to maintain their ability to transport to and from the station with ease, while at the same time develop its next generation Angara boosters. The reason of course is that it costs the Russians a factor of ten less to maintain the Soyuz as it costs NASA to maintain and operate the Shuttle. Thus we are left in this fairly odd situation in which a far wealthier and technology advanced space agency is dependent on a significantly less technologically advanced and poorer space agency for perhaps the most fundamental capability in manned spaceflight.

Fact of the matter is that the US will lose its space industry without reasonably priced launch capacity. The US use to have a significant faction of the market of space launches. Today we see that market declining. Practically everyone who is allowed to launch on foreign rockets do launch on foreign rockets. The only ones left are the government launches that are strictly US only. In fact only one non-government launch was made on the Atlas V and the Delta IV. By comparison Europe's rocket the Ariane 5 launched 10 non-government payloads.

Even US scientists are very worried that they will not have rockets that are cheap enough to launch their science payloads in the future.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... -on-spacex

This problem is even more apparent by the fact that China, a new space power, has already surpassed us in the number of launches they made this year. I counted up all the launches so far by all of the US rockets and found that they totaled 10 while China has just recently launched its 12th rocket into space.

Yet these issues largely go ignore. People can sense that we are losing ground, but they focus on the wrong things like NASA and heavy lift vehicles, which I believe is why things have gotten so far. In reality manned spaceflight only accounts for a small fraction of the space industry at the moment, and manned spaceflight beyond LEO occupies no place at all. Yet you hear people talk about how the US will lose its space dominance if we do not spend a hundred billion on new heavy lift vehicles to take humans beyond LEO. In reality historically such vehicles have been a complete waste of time and a huge waste of money not just in this country, but in every country. Every country that has constructed a heavy-lift rocket has gotten rid of them after less than 20 launches. If actually care about maintaining our lead in spaceflight in general we need to focus on the launchers that actually matter.

Fact of the matter is that if America loses the space race, it will not be because our competitor nations have better satellites or more advanced technology. It will be because we cannot even get our stuff into space at a reasonable cost, and without that our superiority in every other field will be lost with time. We need to stop talking about NASA and these stupid heavy lift vehicles.
 
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flyer456654

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Economics. SpaceX is developing their rockets for one reason, profit. The market will not only come back to the US but it will come back in dramatic style. If SpaceX didn't think they would have a much cheaper launch per kg, then they wouldn't even bother developing the rockets. Some estimates say that SpaceX, given time, will reduce the price of a launch to $1000 a KG. Find someone that can even compete with that low cost.
 
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DarkenedOne

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flyer456654":3e88im89 said:
Economics. SpaceX is developing their rockets for one reason, profit. The market will not only come back to the US but it will come back in dramatic style. If SpaceX didn't think they would have a much cheaper launch per kg, then they wouldn't even bother developing the rockets. Some estimates say that SpaceX, given time, will reduce the price of a launch to $1000 a KG. Find someone that can even compete with that low cost.
True, but it is still very difficult. The falcon 9 is an new system, thus they have to offer their rocket at an even lower cost in order to lure consumers away from the proven systems on the market and accept higher insurance premiums. On the other hand they do have the advantage of not having to compete with foreign rockets for government payloads.

My problem is that should be a national priority.
 
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docm

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IMO important to lowering costs is modularity: think in terms of an ISO for space systems. The recent move towards a standard docking adapter is a good start, but it needs to go much further. If the auto industry can do it with SAE etc. If the US wants to be a/the leader it needs to develop most of the intellectual property with KISS being paramount.
 
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JonClarke

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If the US loses space dominance because everyone else catches up and even surpasses the US, then that is a good thing.

If it is because the US gives up on spaceflight then that is a bad thing.

It does not matter who is in front so long as humanity advances.
 
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BenS1985

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America won't lose in spaceflight.

Why? Because we are going to do it cheaper than anyone else, thanks to private industry. Say what you will, but NASA cannot do it affordable. Like any other governmental agency, they are filled with bloat and red tape that makes the costs of launching payload a very expensive exercise.

Here's the current costs of various missions by Russia, SpaceX and NASA:

Russian Proton V Rocket: 20,700kg to LEO @ $110m USD (as per: http://www.spacenews.com/launch/100115- ... lileo.html). Cost per KG to LEO: $5,314 USD

NASA Atlas V Rocket: 13,605kg to LEO @ $130m USD (as per: http://www.spaceandtech.com/spacedata/e ... pecs.shtml). Cost per KG to LEO: $9,555 USD

SpaceX Projected Falcon 9 Heavy: 32,000kg to LEO @ $95m USD (as per: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9). Cost per KG to LEO: $3,275


Now, you tell me: if SpaceX can offer flights for about 3/5ths that of Russia's Proton rockets...Why would the US start losing out? I would venture to argue that in order to copy the design, it will be no small feat. Ultimately, private companies will win out due to better efficiencies. The best we can hope for in America is that the US federal government ensures that companies like SpaceX can do their jobs without major interference from the government. Better yet, get contracts to launch payload, therefore putting money into their system, reducing costs for launches. SpaceX has the best interests of making the most money from space in mind, which will invariably lead to cost cuts in launching, making it more affordable. I think its a great thing for America's future in space fight.
 
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rockett

Guest
BenS1985":2du5976g said:
America won't lose in spaceflight.

Why? Because we are going to do it cheaper than anyone else, thanks to private industry. Say what you will, but NASA cannot do it affordable. Like any other governmental agency, they are filled with bloat and red tape that makes the costs of launching payload a very expensive exercise.

Here's the current costs of various missions by Russia, SpaceX and NASA:

Russian Proton V Rocket: 20,700kg to LEO @ $110m USD (as per: http://www.spacenews.com/launch/100115- ... lileo.html). Cost per KG to LEO: $5,314 USD

NASA Atlas V Rocket: 13,605kg to LEO @ $130m USD (as per: http://www.spaceandtech.com/spacedata/e ... pecs.shtml). Cost per KG to LEO: $9,555 USD

SpaceX Projected Falcon 9 Heavy: 32,000kg to LEO @ $95m USD (as per: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9). Cost per KG to LEO: $3,275


Now, you tell me: if SpaceX can offer flights for about 3/5ths that of Russia's Proton rockets...Why would the US start losing out? I would venture to argue that in order to copy the design, it will be no small feat. Ultimately, private companies will win out due to better efficiencies. The best we can hope for in America is that the US federal government ensures that companies like SpaceX can do their jobs without major interference from the government. Better yet, get contracts to launch payload, therefore putting money into their system, reducing costs for launches. SpaceX has the best interests of making the most money from space in mind, which will invariably lead to cost cuts in launching, making it more affordable. I think its a great thing for America's future in space fight.
Provided that the government doesn't wrap them up in red tape as well. It is already working on new regulations, which require paperwork, inspections, milestones, etc, etc. Here's one example (the title is a little deceptive): http://www.space.com/news/faa-commercial-space-center-101002.html
That kind of over regulation is what eventually drove a number of private aircraft companies out of business...
 
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