Sunday, July 20, 2008

Feeling Roy's Pain

Just when you think the Emperor is changing his stripes, and looks like he really is moving out to support ISS into its adult years, news comes out to refresh our optimistic memories and reassure ourselves that old tigers still like to kill. As the minions auger in on ORION/ARES, many thought the LEO market would finally be relieved from government competition for proving crew and cargo resupply services through 2015-2016, perhaps longer if Viceroy Hanley and Broomhilda continue their pitiful two-step.

And so, with a story too good to be true, a few companies forgot the history of the last 20 years of COTS in space (a. the government always competes, and b. oh yeah, there is no real market anyway). And they compounded the amnesia's affects by proposing investments to grab the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Well, to be accurate, not all of them did. Do you really think J.R. (no, not that one) would bet his company on the Emperor's offers coming to fruition? Heck no, the Taurus II business case closes on DoD payloads alone. If CRS happens, its just gravy.

Nonetheless, as proposals come into the bunker at JSC, the ISS program office did a loop-de-lu, much like the tiger that grabbed Roy's neck, and started the bleeding all over again. With only a week's review of the proposals, Viceroy Gerst determined that he didn't like any of them (and very disappointed that one he expected never came in the door) and decided to take actions into his own hands. Time to start cutting deals with the Japanese for HTVs, the only vehicle capable of carrying large-sized spares to the space station to keep it afloat after the Space Shuttle retires.

Goodbye, CRS. Been nice knowin' ya.

But is that the real story here? Of course, nothing can go forward without the Emperor's blessing, least you end up in Siberia like Viceroy Hale. For the Theater on E Street is the place to go for deception and sleight of hand. So what is really going on?

Read the Emperor's speeches before he assumed the throne and some just after, before he had his mind improved by several of his stakeholders. Do you really believe him when he tells the Europeans, contrary to his professed previous feelings, that he has had a change in heart and sees no end date in sight for the lifetime of ISS?

Let's follow the hand motions in slow motion as the cards are dealt. Lookie there, he proclaims COTS the answer, but provides only $170M for it initially. A system of carriers is what is really needed to move cargo, and later crew, up and down. So turn over the next card, and we see that proposals for new rockets (don't we have a couple that could do the job already?) are selected over carrier proposals. And don't the first bunch of new rockets tend to go astray? Elon already knows something about that.

Starting to look like the Emperor doesn't really want a viable answer doesn't it? But now watch closely as the last cards hit the table. HTV is running late and has numerous problems. CRS proposals get back-handed by putting out orders for HTVs.

And two years after the space shuttle retires, and perhaps before the first HTV ever makes it off the launch pad, a large ORU fails on ISS and the crew abandons ship. Taco Bell floats a giant bulls-eye in the south Pacific and we all get free burritos.

Just as Roy thought the tiger was his friend, the animal turned on him at the last minute. The Emperor has been eyeing his prey for a very long time.

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