Mr. Benigno Muniz Jr., Chief Technical Officer of CSI, whose owner is a member of the Space Frontier Foundation's board, has penned a lengthy but thoughtful comment to my rant about the SFF and private enterprise space efforts in general. His post deserves a response, and I'm going to give it my best effort, but before I do, you might want to take a moment and read Mr. Muniz's comments in full.
Done? Okay, here goes.
Mr. Muniz quotes my comment about the group wanting a law passed to force NASA to buy services from private companies and offers a statement that this has been done in the past, including a law that prohibited NASA from launching commercial satellites. From his link, we get the following quote:
“So, why aren't we all flying in space today, as a result of this work? The immediate answer is that markets take time to impact the supply chain, and with the enormous investment required to build new space launchers, the full effects of market forces will not be seen for some time. Still,the progress since 1990 has been considerable. At least one should think about the reality that - without the Launch Services Purchase Act - that NASA may have elected to *manage* the X-Prize."Mr. Muniz, we're talking 16 years of minimal progress. The so-called “considerable” progress involves the use of technology Robert Goddard would recognize. The idea was for NASA to work on the new and innovative while letting private enterprise use the government-provided technologies to do the routine work.
As it turns out, neither private enterprise nor NASA have been particularly innovative.
He next refers to Energia, which is, of course, a spinoff of the former Soviet space program (it traces it's history back to 1948; Stalin was not a big proponent of private enterprise). It's been such a rousing success that MIR had to be decommissioned because Energia could not support both ISS and MIR. In fact, Energia cannot supply a fully crewed ISS, as witnessed by the reduction of crew from three to two while the shuttle was grounded.
The most successful and consistent launch vehicles out there are the Arianne rockets, run by the European Space Agency, which (and I may be mistaken here) is not private enterprise. My point that I make over and over (but evidently not clearly) is that privately funded space efforts do not involve innovation or improved methods. NASA has been guilty of this as well, but taking funding away from research to give it to private groups, few of whom are actually doing anything that will prove to be useful to humanity in the long or short run, isn't going to promote innovation.
Mr. Muniz takes exception to my remarks about “under-engineered” private efforts. His argument revolves around a)the use of old technology (in other words, we're using stuff that government money engineered) and b) CSI and others used to be government contractors who used our tax dollars to do their engineering. His only statement of current engineering efforts is “ Subsequently, CSI's designs have undergone further privately-funded development to a greater level of detail.” He then lists his COTS team, notes that CSI has all sorts of former aerospace people, and asks me to explain “what we under engineered.”
Well, I didn't specifically cite CSI as a source of under-engineering because I don't know of any case where the term would be applied to them. But, how's this for examples about others? Ares, the launch vehicle for the CEV, is going to be covered by – are you ready for this? -- the same foam that comes off the shuttle tank in chunks. Under-engineering? I call that no engineering. And please don't tell me that it's okay because all the junk will fall behind the CEV. I'd suggest that very little engineering effort has gone into determining what the effects of using this failed methodology are going to be.
Mr. Muniz lists a laundry list of good ole methods that commercial space flight is hanging its hat on, including Delta rockets (46 years old) and Soyuz technology (35 years old). I hear the Chinese were big in rocketry a few thousand years ago. Should we be using gunpowder to launch our space ships? Of course not, but then why should we be using 30+ year old methods. Because they're proven? When automobiles first appeared there were many arguments against such progress, insisting on staying with the "proven technology" of the horse-and-buggy.
Mr. Muniz says, “Your subsequent discussion [about private sector space flight] does not cover either the commercial launch or satellite industry, and so is very incomplete.” A valid statement on his part, since commercial satellite launches have been going on, using government-funded technologies, for some years. My thoughts were about manned efforts, but I didn't make that clear. I did mention a couple of rather poor commercial efforts launching satellites, but that was mixing topics on my part.
He chides my comments about Bigelow's space hotel. I'm sorry, Mr. Muniz, I've yet to read anything about it that indicates that it marks any major step forward from the Echo launches to which you refer. Yes, Echo had no internal structures or subsystems. As far as I know, neither does Bigelow's balloon. There was some mention of a camera system, but I have yet to see any pictures. Beyond that, there are apparently no major internal operating systems.
There is more to Mr. Muniz's post, and I want to answer it as well as I can, so part 2 will appear on Thursday. And, thanks to continued interest in the topic from both Mr. Muniz and Dr. Alfred Differ, a part 3 will follow on Saturday.
Boy, two against one. And I'll bet they're twenty years younger than I am, too.