3
$\begingroup$

Spaceflight Now's NASA lays out $28 billion plan to return astronauts to the moon in 2024 quotes NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and includes the following:

Bridenstine acknowledged the challenge of landing astronauts on the moon in four years. Three companies — Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX — are developing human-rated lunar landers for NASA, which plans next year to select one or two of the lander teams to continue work on their spacecraft.

“There’s a number of different risks when you deal with human spaceflight,” Bridenstine said. “NASA is really really good at dealing with the technical risks.”

“The challenge that we have is the political risk — the programs that go too long, that cost too much, and that end up getting cast out later in the development program,” Bridenstine said, adding that programs that develop over longer schedules often end up with higher overall costs. “So to save money, and to reduce political risk, we want to go fast … 2024 is an aggressive timeline. Is it possible? Yes. Does everything have to go right? Yes.”

Question: Are there any demonstrative examples of "programs that go too long, that cost too much... end up getting cast out later in the development program" that can serve as existence proof that this is real?

A big US government science project that comes to mind is the SSC or Superconducting Super Collider. I'm not sure if that's a useful example because in that case politics may have driven the project and science may have cancelled it, and I think Bridenstine is at least trying to argue the opposite applies here, though that doesn't necessarily mean we have to accept their argument prima facie.

I wonder sometimes if SSC is not so unanalagous to Artemis, whether or not the outcomes are the same.

There are certainly examples to the contrary e.g. JWST arguably grew from \$1 bn to \$10 bn and Hubble by a factor of four and these don't seem to have suffered substantially from political attack, though those are purely science missions whereas Artemis' mandate for boots on the ground "by 2024 or bust" has business-stimulus and political overtones (both domestic and geopolitical).

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The Constellation program comes to mind, or am I misinterpreting the question? $\endgroup$ – Ludo Sep 23 at 8:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The James Webb Space Telescope has not been cancelled. Looking at that project's massive cost overruns, that perhaps should have happened long ago. But now there are so many sunk costs that nobody in charge wants to forfeit. The JWST will launch, sometime in the future. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 23 at 10:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ With regard to the Superconducting Super Collider, that was a political battle between Illinois and Texas. While Texas lost that battle, all that Illinois got was a Pyrrhic victory. The ultimate winner was CERN. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 23 at 10:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Another Pyrrhic victory was won by Great Britain's space scientists in the late 1960s / early 1970s, who were quite jealous of the large sums of monies (large for Great Britain) that Great Britain was contributing to the US Apollo program. They managed to convince Parliament to ban expenditures on human spaceflight. Shortly thereafter, Great Britain's funding for non-human spaceflight dried up. The brain drain from this "victory" were immense. The "winning" British space scientists had to move to mainland Europe or the US if they wanted to continue their research. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 23 at 10:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The purpose of prototyping is to solve the initial stage of what I call the "debugging the blank sheet of paper" problem. (The blank sheet of paper should have a complete design of X, where X is the end target. But that blank sheet of paper does not contain the desired design; it's blank.) Breaking all of the rules is a great way to get started quickly. But breaking all of the rules is also a great way to build a broken device. At some point, that prototype that broke all of the rules should be tossed. The prototyping did its job. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 23 at 10:44
4
$\begingroup$

The Constellation program is the first that comes to my mind. It was started in 2005 with the ambition of crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. A crewed mission to a near-Earth asteroid was also planned at some point. It was cancelled in 2010, with budget overrun and schedule slip given as primary motivations.

Some parts of the program live on in e.g. the Space Launch System program, but the Constellation program itself was definitely terminated.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Consider the XS-1

An experimental reusable flyback first stage. Boeing collected several grants to build this vehicle from DARPA.

However, in 2020 Boeing announced it was ceasing its role in the program. There were no test flights, and presumably, very little hardware.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XS-1_(spacecraft)

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good info, but not a NASA program, though, so doesn't answer the question that was asked. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 23 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ Fair point. Question says "NASA" but the quote from JB did not. $\endgroup$ – Freddo411 Sep 23 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Upon further consideration, I'd say that the termination of XS-1 program did not come about due to any political risk. I don't think this is a good example of being "cast out later" $\endgroup$ – Freddo411 Sep 23 at 21:04
2
$\begingroup$

The VentureStar SSTO qualifies. It was intentionally set up to develop risky new technologies such as composite liquid hydrogen propellant tanks and aerospike engines, and get them flying in an operational vehicle. The composite tanks of the 1/3-scale suborbital X-33 technology demonstrator failed in testing, and ended up heavier than an aluminum equivalent due to the complicated joints required by the oddly shaped lifting body, and there were other issues with excess weight, stability, and engine performance. NASA dropped the project due to the costs and delays after spending ~\$1B, and Lockheed Martin chose not to pursue it on their own.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Given that the quote is coming from Jim Bridenstine just before the 2020 election, note that he, his agency, and the Artemis program is facing potentially very different leadership with very different priorities. I think that this puts the focus on the "cast out later" due to the political risk of cancelation when new leadership arrives after an election cycle.

Consider:

  • Asteroid redirect mission.

Started in 2013, the mission was canceled by presidential order in 2017 upon arrival of the new administration. (cast out later)

In four years it had not flown any spacecraft, or otherwise demonstrated any hardware (go too long)

It's total cost was projected at low billions of dollars when first conceived, and thus compared poorly to alternative unmanned missions. (cost too much)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_Redirect_Mission

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

The Space Shuttle is the greatest example. The goal was a lowcost reusable spacecraft. But the precision cost of it's upkeep and maintenance and logistics made it notoriously expensive and limited launches to 3-4 a year. It took 20 years for NASA to finally get the Shuttle to do it's intended mission, build/service a space station. But rockets are cheaper and even large ones though disposable can launch more weight. The space shuttle is limited to carrying 20 tons onboard. A Delta IV heavy can carry 31 tons.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.