Monday, June 30, 2008

The Emperor's New Math (con't)

The Emperor told the assembled masses recently that only 3,000-4,000 contractor jobs will be lost on the southern right coast after the shuttle retires in 2010, about half of the worst-case scenario of cuts previously envisioned. Famous for multiplying whole objects by 1/2 (i.e., launches, SRB segments, costs, risks, etc.), we are not surprised by these latest calculations coming from the Dear Leader With the Six Degrees.

Basing the lower figure on the greater level of vehicle assembly and manufacturing that supposedly will take place at KSC as compared to the shuttle era, the Emperor declared victory using an old ploy. First, he put out the really bad news, and then he followed up with the not so bad news to make everyone feel better. Even Sen. Nelson took the bait.

It's still 3000-4000 people who won't be working Christmas Day 2015.

2015? What about 2010?

That's the real kicker. Both numbers are correct. For you see, if you don't REALLY have any of that assembly work to do in 2010, because you are still designing bladder cushions for the rocket riders, you really don't need all those people at KSC for awhile. So, 7000 gone in 2010, hire back maybe 4000 in 2015. We're not sure what the other 3000 will do in the interim, but if you ignore the time interval then the Emperor's new math holds in the net sum.

Of course, there is one gotcha. Factor in Viceroy Gilbrech's proclamation for the new Operability Czar that he cut operations costs in half, to $1.5B a year, and most people would correctly assume that roughly half the people have to go...and stay gone. KSC employs 14,000 contractors today. You do the math.

Hasta la vista, baby.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sent To the Showers

Preliminary Design Reviews, or PDRs, are the time when design feasibility is assessed and engineers start to get the warm fuzzies about their new creations. With a little elbow grease, midnight oil, and cad work you start to see the way forward to the next milestone of Critical Design Review.

Or NOT, as in the case of the ARES 1 first stage.

Recently, an attempt at a PDR by ATK was called up short by the minions. Not even a goatee could make you feel warm and fuzzy that day. Having failed in their quest to show some level of design maturity, ATK was not even allowed to finish their presentations and were sent back to the showers to try again. And, oh, by the way, none of the ARES 1 designs at PDR, including the upper stage, include any of the modifications that will be required to turn the bladder basher into a real human space transportation system. That will come later. Makes one wonder why the PDR was scheduled if the design is that immature and missing pieces, don't it?

Like leaky seals in space shuttle boosters, this failure to perform required some "fixing up" back home in Utah. The organizational repercussions were quite visible as our old friend Ron D. had to step sideways to make room for man without portfolio, Carl M. Suffice to say, Mr. M will likely make his mark on the group quickly.

We will just offer him one piece of advice from our knothole in the world. Don't waste a lot of time working the PDR problem. Instead, go figure out how to satisfy the shareholders after ARES-1 is cancelled.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lost in Alabama

Take one external tank, add a couple/three RS-68s, plus two four-segment shuttle SRBs, place one steroidally large capsule on top, and you have a Jupiter 120. The Jupiter is the latest heart throb on the "save my job in Florida" circuit. Presumably carrying out 118 iterations past the Robinson's Jupiter 2, the subversive minions at MSFC have been hiding (but getting paid for) their efforts under the ARES 5 advanced technologies development budget (Mr. Emperor, RandS told you where to look several months ago) and just about everyone in Alabama knows about it except our favorite soon-to-be Italian waiter and the man with deficient wardrobe.

And yet, like every other half-baked idea, the Jupiter concept is yet another answer to the wrong question.

So why are our eyes turning red over Jupiter? Since it's the political season, we'll twist a popular quote and just say, "It's the capsule, stupid." Just as the pony-tailed engineered ESAS architecture started from false premises, this shuttle spin-off is designed to carry a 5m capsule and Broom Hilda's trappings. For what should be a less than six hour flight to/from the space station, just why do you need to carry all that weight and volume along for on the short rides?

(And isn't COTS taking care of that mission anyway, snicker snicker.)

Well, we're also going to the moon, you say? Ok, well, we didn't need quite that much space per person on Apollo to get back and forth, now did we? And, what about using some of that space in the lunar lander to provide habitability for the three day ride. You're going to have to live in that space for maybe nine days anyway on the moon. So, why, oh, why, do we need to carry the big beast up and down through the atmosphere?

Our friends, the Russians and the Chinese, have it figured out. Use a small capsule to get up and down through the atmosphere, attaching some nearby, throw away, volume for more homey accommodations. This approach minimizes the size, weight, and complexity of all of the other things that affect safety going up and coming down through the atmosphere (e.g., abort system, parachutes, airbags, etc.). And that's where this whole started, wasn't it? "Soon, simple, SAFE."

When you try to develop something like a strategic exploration architecture in 60 days, you're bound to make mistakes. Every schedule slip and cost overrun since then pays tribute to that.

But, we digress. Back to the Jupiter 120. Given that it avoids the problem at the root of the exploration architecture, what other fall-out can we expect going forward? First, the safety issue. It's a brand new rocket. Kudos to the designers for using off-the-shelf parts, sort of. You would still have to man-rate the RS-68s and integrate the whole thing. But, its first flight will be just that, its FIRST flight. All of those millions of parts working together for the first time. Experienced S&MA folks will want a number of flights (call it 10) to gather the statistics to demonstrate its safety.

But, you say we put two guys in the cockpit of the first space shuttle to lift-off. Given the broken struts, thermal clips, and foam that flew off that vehicle, do you still think that was such a smart decision in retrospect? Spaceflight is a risky business, you say? Negligence should be hard for an engineer to sleep with at night (unless you're the chief engineer of the universe). Only when we can look in the mirror and say to ourselves that we started from first principles and did the very best job we could with the resources we have, should we commit our friends to fate.

Pssst! You-who! We have two rockets over here that are flying already, have a pretty good track record, have a significant amount of previous generations of heritage in them, and, by the way...they are already paid for! We just need a right-sized capsule (or space plane!) to fit on top and we can close the gap for you (and then some) without Ms. Mikulski's $2B. Did we mention closing the gap? That means those jobs in Florida stay put, too.

Finally, the Jupiter 120 is an evolutionary dead end. In its "heavy" form, it tops out around 92 mT. With the lunar surface support studies indicating that a lunar base will require two 140 mT flights a year to keep it stocked with air, water, and food (and those blu-ray disks for those long lunar nights), the price tag for the many measly Jupiter-heavies will sink it in the end.

It should be a crime to appropriate budget resources for such short-sighted ideas, even when the money is being siphoned off from shorter sighted ideas. But when you are friends with the Alabama sheriff you can get away with things. No, at this point we need some enlightenment, we need the everyreadys. We don't need Gene Kranz telling us to stay the course, lighting a candle in a thunderstorm.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bagging It

Pulling her batphone out from under her cape, our favorite two-bagger, Broom Hilda, demanded another last minute change to ORION from the Emperor. "I need to be able to walk away from a landing on hard ground without breaking my broom-stick," she said. And the chief engineer of the universe said, "Make it so."

Since that time, the minions have been trying to shoehorn 1500 lbs of capability into a 300 lb box. Already overweight from carrying broomsticks, lipstick cabinets, gourmet galleys, and a separate powder room, ORION traded away the airbags required to cushion the 5m steroidal behemoth's landing on 30% of the planet's hard earth, opting instead for the alternate wet 70%.

Like the fat big toe of a clown's shoe, ORION will be fitted with an air bag system on just one side of the heat shield. The parachutes will be rigged to leave that forward edge of the capsule touch down first, the impact being attenuated by the mini-bag. In good Rube Goldberg fashion, if the toe of the vehicle is not lined up properly, ORION will fire its jets to swing it around on point, crew feet first. Squire Geyer says, "The landing would be rough, but engineers believe the crew would survive."

Say what? "Believe" the crew would survive? You mean they same way we "believe" a shuttle abort to the launch site would work? Or perhaps the same way we "believe" that a crew bailout of a shuttle would save the crew from a fate worse than being a witch's assistant?

All of that effort, for a very low probability event, and even then, no guarantees. There's some good decision making. Save that one for the textbooks.

But, as usual, the minions can never leave a decision alone, so Guyer says he will use the time that came about from slipping PDR from September (or was it really July?) to November to "evaluate whether the backup landing concept approach can be adapted to make dry-land landing the primary approach, and whether the life-cycle cost savings from keeping the capsule dry offsets any weight penalty."

Let us get this straight. Engineers spent many, many months (and $) looking at the problem and designed a minimalistic 1500 lb airbag system to do the job. That weighed too much, so they jettisoned the air bags and targeted the high seas off the left coast. Now if they happen to go long and end up in San Diego, they "believe" a 300 lb clown's toe can save the day. But, wait, maybe if we look at it again, we can take this "iffy" system and use it for primary, everyday, reliable land landing operations and save a few more bucks in towels.

And you wonder why the minion's chairs smell like monkeys?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lonesome Polecat

Poor Squire Guyer. Initially saddled with the job of keeping Viceroy Hanley out of trouble, he drank from the jug and skipped forward from the bench to be next in line to face the CEV bean ball. Now as the Emperor's grand game plan unravels, and the Dogpatch stadium scoreboard displays the result, it fell upon Guyer to carry the bad news to the throne.

Alas, Big Barnsmell's kickapoo joy juice is almost enough to turn a lonesome polecat into Broom Hilda's suitor. But its not enough to deaden the pain caused by her ill-conceived interjections that have resulted in significant CEV design changes. Despite mandatory vacations, cancellation of all but emergency travel, and the elimination of almost all testing normally associated with the qualification of a human rated space transportation system, the CEV contractor is slowly revealing a real stinker.

And so, skunked by these revelations, Guyer travelled north. But he should have told the cabbie to wait for him on E street, because he was thrown out of the Emperor's den almost as soon as the number left his mouth.

And in doing so, he put another nail in the coffin of his former esquire. It won't be long now. Lower Slobbovia will be welcoming home its favorite son soon enough.


Six is a perfect number. Take a six-pack, for instance. Six string guitars entertain us. Six hundred and sixty-six is the sum of all numbers on a roulette wheel. Six geese a-laying. The midpoint of the year, the sixth month, is this very month of June.

But the number six also has a dark side. The number of feet a coffin is buried below ground. Used three times, it is called the mark of the devil. Concealed under pony tails and goatees it has historically said to have been associated with wayward Emperors. Indeed, it does not take a sixth sense to know that the number foretells ill fortunes.

For six is the number of the Beast. And today we are learning that the Beast is being born in our midst. The Beast has a name and it is ARES-5...or should it now be called ARES-6?

Conceived in haste by the Emperor, hell-bent on putting steroids into all that was good, ARES-5 resulted from the still birth of ESAS. Designed to carry the payloads that will build and support a lunar base, it was originally to have been built from hand-me-down shuttle and EELV hardware. Powered by five "almost off-the shelf" RS-68 engines, ARES-5 would inherit its sidekicks from its little brother, the ARES-1 (1+5=6!).

However, like the chair unable to hold up its program manager, ARES-5 cannot get its payload, the overweight lunar lander, off the ground. So a sixth upgraded RS-68 engine must be employed. Using new math first promoted at the time of ESAS, the five segment solid rocket motors strapped on its side will each get an extra half-segment to upgrade performance. But even school kids, counting segments independent of their length, know the real number of solid segments that will be used: six.

Each extra RS-68 will add a minimum of $20M to the already prohibitively expensive design. That is before all of the issues associated with human rating are finally addressed. While significant unanticipated (by some) resources are being expended to change the destructive tone of the five segment stick for ARES-1, perhaps the vibrations added by the pipe organ motor's sixth segment will only be on the order of a major sixth?

Of course, we are not ready to dispense with irony. With all of these changes the ARES-5/6 becomes too heavy to be transported out of the VAB by the existing mobile launch platforms. And after all that, when all risks are accounted for, the bottom line is that it is still unable to meet its lift capability goal. Care to guess by how much? Yep, six mT.

Such is the mark of the Beast. Hidden behind a veil of darkness, the truth continues to be obscured by the Emperor with six degreees and his six evil minions. Even now, years later, our soon to be Italian waiter, Steve Cook, continues to pitch his revisionist history of how he led his minions out of the darkness after "15 months of debate" following the announcement of the Vision for Space Exploration. Just google his charts from the April, 2008 In2:Inthinking Forum and turn to page...wait for it...six!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Been thinking about bidding on some of the Emperor's cathedral work? Did your competitive assessments and you determined that the incumbent had the new contract locked up? Did you decide to hold onto your chips and wait for something that wasn't going to be so hard to break into?

You might want to change your mind.

Almost from the beginning, Constellation element and support contracts have sidestepped the sure bets. Lockheed landed ORION, ATK's ARES-1 stuck it to the EELVs, SGT carpetbagged the Constellation Program Support Contract, Oceaneering made a fashion statement with the spacesuit, and Booze Allen is now drinking in the win on the Constellation Technical Support Services Contract. Indeed, NASA is sidestepping its tried and true development partners for new blood almost every day.

Many of the competitions have been decided on "cost." Cost is in quotes here, because many other "made up" reasons are usually listed in the source selection letter to justify the less-than-justified decisions that have been announced.

Of course, the net result, as has been determined by almost every commission formed to study the subject, is that the investments (that would also be your investments, fellow taxpayers) made by the incumbents in lessons learned, infrastructure, and efficiency are lost in the churn that follows new blood onto the scene. But, of course, who would expect the Emperor to follow a reasoned recommendation anyway?

Just ask Doug Cooke how those cost savings on ORION have been working out lately.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Systems Engineering in the Matrix Mall

Are you ready to buy that new CEV yet? Did you go online to the virtual kiosk and research your purchase thoroughly? Or did you first run out to your local mall to look at that new capsule before deciding to buy? Perhaps you stopped by one of the mall's kiosks to get directions to the stores carrying your favorite brand of spacecraft? How'd that work out for you?

The minions have apparently been overwhelmed by the last 50 years of systems engineering experience and are turning to Gen-Y for help in making it through the Constellation review process. Rather than following a process that gave us ICBMs, Nuclear Subs, and Apollo, they have invented a new way of doing business loaded with buzz words and hub bub, and seemingly minimizing value-added steps, all the while bringing new meaning to "MySpace."

Never before in the history of large scale systems engineering have such dubious methods been employed to develop strategic components. Instead of standing up the ORION design team in front of a prestigious review board, diligently walking through the presentations, accepting review item questions, and then working them off as necessary, Orion's PDR is becoming a veritable shopping mall fiasco.

Approach the kiosk and step into the matrix with us.

Reviewers invited to the ORION System Baseline Review will also participate in the following Subsystem Design Reviews. "Virtual kiosks" are being created on-line and are supposed to facilitate the process by offering reviewers an early look at immature products. Can't decide to take the red pill or the blue pill? A PDR "hotline" is also available. Daily PDR activities are managed by a "Pre-Board." The Pre-Board also answers that PDR batphone. And if you don't like the real thing, they maintain a Virtual Pre-Board as well.

Physical kiosks will be available during the official eight day PDR focused on ORION modules. Those kiosks are supposed to facilitate coordination between reviewers, product owners, and leads. Picture bees swarming in the hive, doing their little dance to tell others where the honey is. Miss the dance, miss out on dinner.

The whole thing ends with a Board meeting. This "open, interactive forum" is designed to facilitate a complete end-to-end review of ORION. If you didn't get your action request into one of the kiosks, you have one last chance to request disposition here. Perhaps the Emperor will buzz in via hologram at that time?

Maybe a PDR conducted in this fashion works in Second Life where the consequences are minimal. Forgot that factor of safety? Reboot and start over. Does anyone remember "Human Spaceflight Awareness?" Out here in the real world, real people flying in real machines will some day be putting their real lives on the line again.

The minions who have constructed this PDR video game will soon find out that "there is no spoon."

Star Plumber

Who is flush with success and now has the most famous butt crack in the solar system? Oleg Kononenko, of course.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Echo Echo Echo

Orlando Sentinel, May 31, 2008 - “In the whole discussion of the new civil space policy of the United States people forget, I think, a basic point,” The Emperor said. “The issue was not, and never was, about getting more money for human space flight to do more things. The issue was about spending the existing amount of our human space flight in new directions.”

RocketsandSuch, March 7, 2008 - "...the wrong questions continue to be asked by Congress as well. Sen. Nelson is one of the big offenders. For instance, "How much more budget do you need?" No wonder Florida's delegates aren't being counted!

In reality, we should be asking, "What can you do for what you have?" Asking that one simple question would force the Emperor and his minions to re-visit the ill-conceived Constellation architecture and extract the cost effective and timely solution that was identified long ago."

Bad Summer Vacations

The dog days of the fiscal year aren't even here yet, but you can sense, like a bad launch gone badder, that an ill wind is blowing the Orion CEV back on to land.

All spring long, the contractor has been trying to keep up with change orders, accommodate unlikely failures, and find room for a certain astronaut's broom. Trade studies have been reformulated to figure out how to use unobtanium to provide contingency land landing capabilities. Effort has been expended to keep the CEV crew alive for 36 hours in their suits, with the hatch closed, bobbing like apples in the south Pacific awaiting Broomhilda's reprieve. ARIES can only do so much to reduce its bladder spattering vibration loads, so ORION must sponge up the rest. And resources have also been diverted for an alternate launch abort system, as if the first is not good enough (it probably isn't) to get the job done (Think Andy Rooney here: shouldn't the minions get their money back from the contractor if things don't work as advertised in the original proposal?).

All of that work does not come for free...and so the contractor is now getting ready to ask the Emperor to cover the first $80M overrun (or as the managers call it, "new business") this year. The same folks will ask their employees (who have already put in lots of unpaid overtime while their bosses take home the bonuses) to also take a mandatory two week summer vacation to off-load the budget.

That is, of course, if they can get the outstanding work done before they go AWOL.