NASA Does SpaceX represent a new direction for NASA?

russ_watters

Mentor
Re: Mars-One: People living on Mars in 2023

Turn to the public? There would be no SpaceX without NASA. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX#Funding
Funding
As of May 2012, SpaceX has operated on total funding of approximately one billion dollars in its first ten years of operation. Of this, private equity has provided about $200M, with Musk investing approximately$100M and other investors having put in about $100M. The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. NASA has put in about$400-500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts.
About half of the total funding to SpaceX came from NASA, and a good chunk of the rest came from the DoD. Musk would have had a very hard time finding investors had it not been for those government contracts. The development of that Dragon to the ISS was funded almost entirely by NASA. This is something that NASA has very much wanted to happen for a long time, and has been working with industry to make that happen. (Well, some parts of NASA. Other parts of NASA are stuck in the stone age.)
Maybe this is a topic for another thread, but I'm not completely clear on how that makes SpaceX different from, say, Lockheed or North American/Rockwell/Boeing. Is it simply that NASA has less control over the design/construction and mostly just pays for it as opposed to directing (contracting) the design/construction and staffing the launch and control facilities?

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D H

Staff Emeritus
Maybe this is a topic for another thread, but I'm not completely clear on how that makes SpaceX different from, say, Lockheed or North American/Rockwell/Boeing. Is it simply that NASA has less control over the design/construction and mostly just pays for it as opposed to directing (contracting) the design/construction and staffing the launch and control facilities?
It's a new way of doing business. Whether this experiment will work: Don't know yet.

The idea is to tell the suppliers how to outfit their vehicles (docking interfaces, electrical interfaces, data interfaces, etc.) so that the vehicles can dock or berth with the Space Station and to specify rules of the road the vehicles must obey while in the vicinity of / attached to the Space Station. NASA cares a whole lot if a supply vehicle blows up a kilometer from the Station, if it collides with the Station, if it plumes the Station with rocket exhaust, or if while attached the vehicle does something egregious such as shorting out the Station's electrical system or venting poisonous gas. There are lots of dos and don'ts in the supplier agreements whose primary purpose is to protect the Station.

Other than that, it's no holds barred. NASA doesn't care about the design of the vehicle. NASA doesn't care if the supply vehicle blows up so long as it does so far, far away from the Station. That's the supplier's and its insurer's problem, not NASA's. NASA's primary concerns are ISS safety and how much money the supplier will charge NASA.

Some motivating factors:
1. ATV and HTV
NASA and Roscosmos had already established a lot of those dos and don'ts for the European Space Agency's ATV and the Japanese Space Agency's HTV vehicles. Extending those concepts to other suppliers didn't require a lot of effort.

2. Cost
The assumption is that competition amongst vendors will drive launch costs down. The more providers, the merrier, as far as NASA procurement is concerned.

3. United Launch Alliance
The formation of the United Launch Alliance by Lockheed and Boeing threatened to make a monopoly of launch services. This was not perceived as a good direction by many in NASA.

4. Congress
Nobody at NASA will say this explicitly, but Congress can't tweak NASA's designs (e.g., the way Congress has tweaked Apollo, the Shuttle, Constellation, ...) if the designs aren't in NASA's purview.

5. Rocket science is old hat
We've been putting stuff into space for fifty years. Certainly that's more than enough time to turn things over to the private sector. In fact, NASA has already turned a lot over to the private sector. Most of the expertise with regard to launch vehicles is now in private industry's hands rather than NASA's.