NASA – The New Course

Monday we will know for sure.

In February 2009, Popular Mechanics published “Frustrated Engineers Battle with NASA over the Future of Spaceflight“. The Rebel Alliance and their plan to kill Ares I and bring down the Evil Emperor had a peculiar beginning back in 2006. According to PM:

Tierney wondered whether the Ares I is really the best way to keep the U.S. in the spaceflight business. What if, instead of building a largely new rocket, NASA created a new configuration of proven space shuttle components and placed a crew capsule on top? Sitting on his living room couch, hunched over a laptop computer, he posted the question to the chat room. A dozen replies came back supporting the idea. “I was shocked,” Tierney recalls. “Here I was, just a nobody enthusiast asking a dumb question, and a bunch of NASA engineers are telling me I was absolutely right. They said they’d been pushing the same thing for years and that they’d been threatened with their jobs if they kept talking about it.”

It was crazy in 2006. Is it crazy now? DIRECT advocates the resurrection of the National Launch System (NLS). You can play their animation showing the transition from Shuttle Parts to Jupiter Parts.

The NLS proposed to use the shuttle External Tank (ET), the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) as a cargo rocket with three times the capacity of the Shuttle itself, but was abandoned by Congress because the cost to operate two rocket systems was too high. Following the loss of Columbia, and the determination that the aging Shuttle fleet should be retired, NASA set about planning for the future. NASA engineers resurrected the NLS concept of reusing the existing Shuttle components, but were overruled by then Administrator Griffin. Instead, NASA was set on a course to develop two brand new rockets: Ares I and Ares V.

Now, Popular Mechanics may well have scooped the “regurgitation media”, the ghosts of investigative journalism of long past years, who now only copy each others rumors about bad news, hoping to sell advertising. On Friday, 29 January 2010, Popular Mechanics published “Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space“.

The sub-title is:

Moonlighting engineers get their say at a secret NASA meeting—and dish hints of what NASA’s future rockets might look like after the massive shake-up of manned spaceflight programs.

Popular Mechanics reports that NASA administrator Charles Bolden ordered NASA human spaceflight boss Bill Gerstenmaier and other NASA directors to meet with the DIRECT Team, which took place on 19 January 2010. This is confirmed by the meeting participants at the on going Forum conversation at NASASpaceFlight. The NASA participants are:

  • William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
  • Douglas R. Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
  • Phil Sumrall, Exploration Launch Projects Advanced Planning Manager, MSFC
  • Geoff Yoder, Director, Constellation Systems Division, NASA HQ

That is a lot of firepower to be meeting with a group of people dismissed by the “regurgitation media” as “PowerPoint Rocketeers”.

Further, Popular Mechanics confirms much about what has been written recently about the coming changes here and here at NSS Phoenix. Finally, Chris Bergin just published “MAF provide positive ET hardware overview for early SD HLV test flight” at

NASA press release concerning Monday’s press conference by Gen. Charles Bolden at 1:00 PM Phoenix time (3:00 PM EST) and the budget (which will be available at 10:30 AM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST).

NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

It seems pretty clear that sometime in February (watch for the release of the 2011 Budget), the Obama Administration will task NASA with the Flexible Path architecture (see Flexible Path 5D from The Augustine Commission Wrapped Up post). This is likely to involve taking aim at Phobos in a series of increasingly difficult tasks.

In the past several days, it has become increasing clear that a political compromise is being crafted concerning NASA’s rocket program. It has become obvious that NASA’s budget is not likely to increase very much, and therefore, the development of two brand new rockets is impossible (The Ares I, underpowered and over budget, and Ares V, a paper rocket that is so large we would need to rebuild half the Kennedy Space Center infrastructure). On the other hand, a true Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) using the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), The External Tank (ET), and the ATK Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) would be affordable (40% of a rocket development is engine design, and we skip that step), and ready to launch large payloads to re-supply the aging International; Space Station (ISS) by 2014.

If one looks at throw weight from the Summary Report of the Augustine Commission: the Ares I + Ares V can put 185 mt into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while two (2) SDLV vehicles can put 200 – 220mt into LEO. Its no contest.

All this is from the technical point of view. To craft a solution, one must factor in the politics of the pork. A lot of jobs are at stake. And apparently Senator Shelby has joined the compromise (see Ross Tierney’s comments). Further, Alliance Technology (ATK), which has a contract to develop a five (5) segment version of the Shuttle SRB for the Ares I rocket, is willing to settle for the 5 segment over the 4 segment SRB, and has joined the compromise.

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle Capable of Diverse Missions

Image Credit:

So what does the most likely SDLV look like? As discussed here, and reviewed at NSS Phoenix, the rocket will use four (4) SSMEs, a stretched External Tank to increase the fuel load to accommodate the four engines, and two (2) five segment SRBs.

And where can we go from here? A video of Manned NEO Mission concept from the Constellation program gives some idea of what to expect (ignore the launch vehicles).

And what are the missions along the “Flexible Path”? A preliminary list is given below from one of the threads on the Forum at

The List

  1. First launch of SDLV (2014):
    • the biggest launch vehicle in the world (by far)
    • the vehicle that will take mankind to the moon, Mars and beyond
    • the dawn of the next space age
  2. First crewed launch of Orion (2015):
    • the rebirth of American human spaceflight
    • the first flight of the spacecraft that will take us out into deep space
    • the beginning of a new era of exploration for all of mankind
  3. First circumlunar flight (2018):
    • returning to the moon for the first time in half a century
    • shake-down flight of the spacecraft that will take us into the solar system
  4. First visit to EML2 (2020):
    • the farthest out into space that any human being has ever gone
    • going beyond the moon for the first time
    • visiting the staging ground for all future deep-space missions
  5. First L2 base (2022):
    • building humanity’s first deep-space outpost
    • the first step in man’s expansion into the solar system
    • the gateway to the moon, the asteroids and the planets
  6. First NEO mission (2024):
    • first human visit to an asteroid
    • first trip out into the solar system
    • farthest into space that any human being has ever gone (by far)
    • longest deep-space mission ever
    • preparation for future trips to the moons of Mars
    • learning more about possible future threats to human civilization
    • developing techniques to prevent future disasters
  7. Lunar landing mission (2028):
    • mankind’s triumphant return to the moon
    • studying how to live on the moon so we can move on to Mars
    • finding ways of using the moon’s resources for future missions
  8. Phobos visit (2032):
    • first mission to Mars
    • first landing on the moon of another world
    • preparation for an eventual human landing on Mars

You can disagree over the timetable, you can quibble about the missions, you can wince at Bernie Roehl’s hyperbole, but it is an exciting list of missions that increasingly build infrastructure for the exploration of the Solar System.

NASA – The Rumor Mill

Following on the Tuesday meeting at NASA headquarters concerning revamping the governance structure, and Wednesday’s meeting between NASA administrator Charles Bolden and President Barack Obama, the rumor mill has been if full fury.

Wayne Hale offered this tweet: “Wondering if reports on Obama-Bolden meeting are accurate or just blather. No hard news has appeared.” To which Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy assistant administrator of Public Affairs responded: “Inaccurate. The meeting was informational, not decisional…”. Of course, that’s NASA’s spokesperson. Amy Klamper at thinks “New Direction for NASA Could Wait Until February.”

Now comes Science magazine’s (AAAS) Insider report concerning the outcome of the meeting:

President Barack Obama will ask Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars, ScienceInsider has learned. The president chose the new direction for the U.S. human space flight program Wednesday at a White House meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to officials familiar with the discussion. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

The major elements include:

  • Elimination of the Ares I rocket
  • Recommend Commercial development of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch capability for cargo and then crew.
  • Development of a smaller heavy lift rocket along the lines proposed by the old NLS (National Launch System) NASA investigated in the early 1990′s and revived by the Direct Team between 2005 and today.
  • Addition of $1 Billion to the Budget for NASA
  • European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base.
  • Focus on being able to perform a variety of missions including Near Earth Objects, Lagrange points, the Moon, the moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos). See Option “5D”
  • Additional probes to the Moon, Mars and and the moons of Mars.

Immediate blow back is expected from Senator Richard Shelby, who has asked the Inspector General at NASA to investigate “corruption” within the Augustine Commission. Shelby stated that several Augustine panel members were registered lobbyists who took “direct advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission to further their personal business.” This has been interpreted as a shot across the bow in the fight over Ares I and the jobs it creates at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby’s state of Alabama. Whose bow it was aimed at is in question, and it looks like an act of desperation.

However, as noted in our Wrap Up report on the Augustine Commission, time is of the essence with regard to jobs and the retention of skills associated with building the 8.4 meter External Tank used by the space shuttle and the proposed heavy launch vehicle derived from the shuttle. If the politicians resist the change that’s coming to NASA, they may lose everything.

Denials to the Science Insider article came immediately from NASA and the White House. NASA spokesman Morrie Goodman said the article was “speculation.” White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro echoed that characterization.

NASA – Change Is Coming

Considering the conclusions of the Final Report of the Augustine Commission (see our Wrap Up), change at NASA is inevitable. Can NASA change? Will NASA change?

Two items of interest.

First, Obama will be meeting with Gen. Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, today. The President’s schedule has the following entry:

3:05PM THE PRESIDENT meets with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
Oval Office
Closed Press

Second, Keith Cowling at NASAWatch, reports that on Tuesday, 15 December:

All of NASA’s field center directors met today in a closed door session in one of the Administrator’s Conference Rooms on the 9th floor of NASA HQ. In addition to all of the center directors who were seated around the table, a dozen or so staffers stood around the periphery of the room. Their collective task was to work out and then agree upon a new governance structure for the agency – one that would best implement the new (revised) direction that the White House is providing to NASA. There are apparently 5 or so specific areas that the agency will be re-organizing itself to implement. As such, there may be a recasting of the “directorate” model in favor of “divisions”. All of the participants were sworn to secrecy and were not going to be leaving the room until a new governance model was agreed to.

What did they decide upon? Stay tuned.

100 Best Open Science Courses on the Web

NSS member Neal Rudin offers us his selection of the 100 Best Open Science Courses on the Web.

It’s never too late or too early to start expanding your knowledge of science. With the wealth of free courses available on the web, that goal is easier than ever to achieve and can often be done without even leaving the house. The courses listed here will help you get started, offering resources on a wide variety of scientific fields from those that delve into the laws of the universe to those that explain the chemical reactions taking place in your own kitchen.

Use these courses to learn about both the basics and some of the more advanced topics in physics.

1. Fundamentals of Physics: In this course Professor Ramamurti Shankar will teach you about the basic principles of physics. [Yale]
2. Physics for Humanists: If you’ve always had more of a fondness for the social sciences rather than the natural sciences, this physics course is for you, examining physics issues from a more philosophical viewpoint. [Tufts]
3. Classical Mechanics: Check out this course to learn about physics fundamentals from Newtonian Mechanics to Kinetic Gas Theory. [MIT]
4. Electricity and Magnetism: Those who have a fascination with these subjects will get a chance to learn about everything from lightning to pacemakers in this course. [MIT]
5. Vibrations and Waves: This course will teach you the basics of vibrations and waves with additional lessons in topics like musical instruments to keep things interesting. [MIT]
6. Relativity: Get a better idea of what Einstein was really talking about in this course on special relativity. [MIT]
7. Quantum Physics: Quantum mechanics may sounds daunting, but this course will attempt to explain everything in a way you can understand. [MIT]
8. Particle Physics: Take physics studies to the high energy level in this course that looks at the activities of some of the smallest known particles. [MIT]
9. String Theory for Undergraduates: This entry level course will attempt to break string theory down, though some background in relativity or quantum mechanics is helpful for understanding it all. [MIT]
10. Atomic and Optical Physics: Try out this course to learn some of the principles of light and optics central to modern research projects. [MIT]
11. Introduction to Plasma Physics: Many people don’t know that matter has a fourth state: plasma. In this course you can learn what that is and what it means in physics terms. [MIT]
12. Introduction to Applied Nuclear Physics: While many people around the world rely on nuclear facilities to get power into their homes, few actually know much about how radiation functions. This course will help solve that and offers a range of knowledge on nuclear topics. [MIT]

Give these chemistry courses a try to get a handle on many aspects of the subject.

13. Freshman Organic Chemistry: Use the lessons in this course to teach yourself about the theories and principles of organic chemistry. [Yale]
14. Principles of Inorganic Chemistry: Once you’ve learned about organic chemistry, why not give the inorganic stuff a try with this course? [MIT]
15. Advanced Organic Chemistry: Those who have taken a more basic course in organic chemistry may want to try out the more advanced lessons found here. [MIT]
16. Physical Chemistry: In this course, students will learn about everything from quantum mechanics to chemical bonding. [MIT]
17. Kinetics of Chemical Reactions: Take this course to get some insights into the finer points of the energy produced when substances react with one another. [MIT]
18. Kitchen Chemistry: Chemistry doesn’t just happen in this classroom, as this course on kitchen chemistry proves. [MIT]
19. Principles of Chemical Science: This course is a great introduction to the basic principles of chemistry in both organic, inorganic and biological molecules. [MIT]
20. Organometallic Chemistry: Those who are looking for a challenge can take this course on organometallic transitions. [MIT]
21. Chemistry Laboratory Techniques: If you want to learn how to stay safe and create your own experiments in the chemistry lab, give the helpful video lessons in this course a try. [MIT]
22. Organic Structure Determination: This course will explain how modern chemists unravel the structure of organic molecules. [MIT]
23. Thermodynamics & Kinetics: Check out this course to learn more about equilibrium in systems as well as the impact of chemical reactions. [MIT]

Study cells, systems, plants and more through these free courses.

24. Introductory Biology: Those who want a good overview of the basics of biology will be well served with the material presented in this course. [MIT]
25. Microbiology: Take your study of biology down to the microbial level with this course on infection-causing bacteria and germs. [Tufts]
26. Molecular and Cell Biology: In this course you can learn more about how organic molecules function and get all the info you need on cellular structure and organization. [Berkeley]
27. Developmental Biology: This course will give you the tools you need to learn about how organisms develop, covering both vertebrate and invertebrate systems. [MIT]
28. Photosynthesis: Life from Light: Take a closer look at the process that keeps plants going and keeps them supplying us with oxygen in this course. [MIT]
29. The Fountain of Life: From Dolly to Customized Embryonic Stem Cells: This course will introduce some of the more basic and advanced concepts of genetic engineering and cloning to you. [MIT]
30. Introduction to Bioengineering: Learn both the fundamentals and the research applications of bioengineering through this course. [MIT]
31. Systems Biology: In this course, students can get a more mathematical and analytical way of looking at some of the big questions in modern biology. [MIT]
32. Biological Chemistry: You can mix both chemistry and biology in this course that explains the chemical processes inherent in many forms of life. [MIT]
33. Cellular Neurobiology: Take this course to learn more about the structure and function of the nervous system. [MIT]
34. Topics in Experimental Biology: Learn how to design and evaluate your own biological experiments in this course. [MIT]
35. Sophisticated Survival Skills of Simple Microorganisms: Microorganisms may be small, but they can also be tough, as this course explains by examining their defense mechanisms for stressors in a variety of natural settings. [MIT]

Take a closer look at some of the things going on in the space outside of our planet through these courses.

36. Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics: Professor Charles Bailyn explains some intriguing areas of astrophysics including extra-solar planets, black holes and dark matter in this course. [Yale]
37. Elementary Astronomy: Start with the basics in this introductory astronomy course. [Eastern Utah]
38. Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity & Astrophysics: Ever wonder what a black hole looks like? This course will teach you this and more as you explore many of the mysteries and myths surrounding these phenomena. [MIT]
39. Introduction to Astronomy: In this course you’ll get a chance to learn about the physics of the solar system and the universe beyond. [MIT]
40. Modern Astrophysics: Gain a better understanding of why objects in space do what they do with this course on all aspects of astrophysics. [MIT]
41. The Early Universe: This course will begin with how the universe began–with the big bang theory–and continue explaining theories of cosmology up to the present day. [MIT]
42. Cosmology: From radiation to red shifts, this course will explain many phenomena of the known universe. [MIT]
43. Astrophysics: This course is a more advanced take on astrophysics, tackling topics like dark matter and star structures. [MIT]
44. Particle Physics of the Early Universe: If you’ve already taken the other course on the Early Universe, expand your knowledge further with this course on some of the ways that modern particle physics explains things. [MIT]
45. The Solar System: Stay close to home with this course that examines the planets and happenings of our own solar system. [MIT]
46. Extrasolar Planets: Physics and Detection Techniques: This course offers you the chance to learn about new methods of seeking out and identifying planets well beyond the reach of our own solar system. [MIT]

Computer Science
These courses will help you embrace your inner techie.

47. Introduction to Computer Science and Programming: Even if you’ve never been a big programming geek, you can learn some handy fundamentals in this course. [MIT]
48. Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs: In this course you’ll learn some of the basics of how computers and programming work. [MIT]
49. Artificial Intelligence: Try out this course to learn how artificial intelligence is developed and some of the theories behind how it works. [MIT]
50. Mathematics for Computer Science: Like many other branches of science, computer science is largely based on mathematics, and this course will show you the ropes. [MIT]
51. Great Ideas in Theoretical Computer Science: Take a look at some of the more theoretical, though not always practical, ideas in computer science in this course. [MIT]
52. Micro/Nano Processing Technology: Technology is always getting smaller and smaller, and this course explains how it’s even being taken to the nano level. [MIT]
53. Dynamic Systems & Control: Learn how computer systems are built, managed and controlled in this course. [MIT]
54. Theory of Computation: This course will touch on issues in computability theory, language theory and more. [MIT]
55. Computer Graphics: Give this course a try to learn how computer graphics are developed, programmed and implemented. [MIT]
56. Game Theory and Mechanism Design: Here you can see how game theory can be applied to systems like wireless communications networks. [MIT]
57. Ultrafast Optics: Learn how optics are working at literally the speed of light in this course. [MIT]
58. Advanced Topics in Cryptography: Learn what it takes to keep a computer network secure through this course. [MIT]

In these courses you can learn about the processes that shape Earth’s surface.

59. Introduction to Geology: Get an introduction to studying the physical features of the earth in this course. [Eastern Utah]
60. Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Dynamics: Learn about the physics that determine how the oceans and atmosphere circulate in this course. [MIT]
61. Applications of Continuum Mechanics to Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences: This course will give you some practical, real-life situations in which the continuum theory can be applied. [MIT]
62. The Environment of the Earth’s Surface: In this class, you’ll learn about the basic processes that govern changes in Earth’s surface. [MIT]
63. An Introduction to Fluid Motions, Sediment Transport, and Current-generated Sedimentary Structures: Take this course to learn more about fluid dynamics and how those principles can be applied to erosion, sedimentation and more. [MIT]
64. Basics of Impact Cratering & Geological, Geophysical, Geochemical, Environmental Studies of Some Impact Craters of the Earth: It might not seem like it, but Earth has been bombarded by objects from space and has the impact craters to prove it. This course will take a closer look at those craters. [MIT]
65. Structure of Earth Materials: Diamonds may be beautiful, but have you ever considered where they come from? This course will examine crystal structure and theory more closely. [MIT]
66. Sedimentary Geology: Learn about the process of sedimentation and what can be learned from it in this course. [MIT]
67. Essentials of Geophysics: This course will cover topics like gravity, geomagnetism, seismology, and geodynamics among others to give a more complete picture of geophysics. [MIT]
68. Past and Present Climate: Here you’ll find an introductory course on climate studies, offering a look back in time to see how climates have changed over the centuries as well. [MIT]
69. Surface Processes and Landscape Evolution: Get a better idea of how climate, tectonics and processes like erosion have shaped Earth’s surface in this course. [MIT]
70. Introduction to Seismology: Take this class to find out more about earthquakes and how seismic waves can tell us more about Earth’s interior. [MIT]

Environmental Science
Take one of these courses to learn about the science behind ecology, sustainability and other environmentally focused topics.

71. Fundamentals of Ecology: Learn how an ecosystem functions as a single unit and as individual entities in this course. [MIT]
72. Seminar in Environmental Science: Through this course you can become more knowledgeable about recent research in environmental science. [MIT]
73. Modeling Environmental Complexity: Here you’ll see how some of the more complex phenomena on earth are modeled and understood. [MIT]
74. Environmental Earth Science: Take this course to learn how the environment changes alongside some of the big changes that have happened with Earth’s surface. [MIT]
75. Complexity in Ecology: Here you can learn about issues in the complexity of ecology, looking at past models and coming up with new ways of organizing and obtaining data. [MIT]
76. Ecological Theory: This course requires some intense reading on both past and present theories of ecology. [MIT]
77. Chemicals in the Environment: Toxicology and Public Health: Learn how chemicals released into the environment can have a pretty negative impact on human health from this course. [MIT]
78. Water Quality Control: Here, you’ll learn how to model the distribution of substances into a water supply and the importance of maintaining quality water. [MIT]
79. Planning for Sustainable Development: Through this course you can see new ways that more sustainable communities are being developed. [MIT]
80. Environmental Microbiology: Microorganisms may be small but this course will show you what a big role they play in natural ecosystems. [MIT]
81. Strange Bedfellows: Science and Environmental Policy: Learn how scientific discoveries have pushed environmental policy making forward in this course. [MIT]

Health Science
In these courses you can learn about a wide range of medical issues.

82. Histology: Try out this course to learn about the structures and functions of human tissues and cells. [Tufts]
83. Genetics: Learn how genetic diseases are diagnosed and treated in this course. [Tufts]
84. Nutrition and Medicine: Here you can learn more about the big impact proper nutrition has on the health and well being of individuals. [Tufts]
85. Human Growth and Development: In this course you can learn how humans go from embryo to adult. [Tufts]
86. Principles of Human Disease: From contagious diseases to genetic ones, this course explains the modern understanding of diseases. [MIT]
87. Cancer Biology: From Basic Research to the Clinic: Learn what progress has been made in the fight against cancer in this course. [MIT]
88. Human Reproductive Biology: This course will teach you more than just how babies are made, focusing on the structure, function and even diseases of the reproductive system. [MIT]
89. Gastroenterology: Learn about the chemistry and biology of the digestive system in this course. [MIT]
90. Principles of Pharmacology: Most of us take medicines that are prescribed without giving much thought to how they came to be. This course will teach you how pharmacological agents are developed. [MIT]
91. Introduction to Neuroscience: Take this course to learn about some of the amazing and sometimes surprising ways the brain works. [MIT]
: Learn how artificial intelligence is being used in medical care and diagnosis here. [MIT]
93. Brain Mechanisms for Hearing and Speech: In this course you can learn how your brain takes in information from auditory sources and formulates its own responses through vocal utterances. [MIT]

This assortment of courses covers things like evolution, meteorology and science writing.

94. Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior: Professor Charles Bailyn explains some of the central issues to evolution and why we are the way we are in this course. [Yale]
95. Tropical Ecology and Conservation: This course focuses on methods that can be used to increase conservation efforts in the rainforests of the world. [Tufts]
96. Holographic Imaging: Holography might seem more science fiction than science, but this course will explain some of the fundamentals behind it and show you how it could be used. [MIT]
97. Geobiology: In this course you will investigate the way that life and the Earth itself have evolved side-by-side. [MIT]
98. Building Earth-like Planets: From Nebular Gas to Ocean Worlds: Do you know how planets are formed? This course will explains some of the best theories out there on how the planets came to be. [MIT]
99. Tropical Meteorology: Learn how weather works in some of the wettest places on Earth in this course. [MIT]
100. The Science Essay: Learn how best to write about science for the general public in this course touching on both English and science issues. [MIT]

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Wrapped Up

“The Augustine Commission for Dummies”

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

Given the intent of the politicians to fight for the funding their districts currently receive from the Constellation Program (CxP – the current program developing the Ares I and Ares V rockets) as well as go begging for more, and given the budget constraints the NASA faces, it is instructive to see where this course will end up. In the Senate, Richard Shelby has announced his intention to fight for Constellation and will try to increase funding to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is fighting for Kennedy Space Center and all the jobs and funding there. In the House, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Pete Olson of Texas have dug in their heels and reiterated their backing of the Constellation program (See Space News, 21 November 2009).

All this is taking place against the backdrop of the Augustine Commission’s Final Report, which has made it clear that Ares I is over budget and underpowered. As Jeff Greason said at the Committee deliberations, if Santa Clause gave us Ares I and Ares V tomorrow, we would have to scrap them immediately because they would be too expensive to operate.

The Forum at NasaSpaceFlight has been for many years the authoritative site for information on all things NASA. It has been home to the rebel alliance of NASA and industry engineers that have advocated the in-line shuttle derived launch vehicle for the past four years.

The source of this concern was former Administrator Michael Griffin’s decision in 2005 to replace the dual-launch, in-line shuttle derived architecture recommended by NASA engineers, with his personal choice of a small Ares I and a very large Ares V. Instead of building one rocket using existing shuttle components as Congress had directed, he would build two brand new rockets. This decision came just two weeks before the scheduled release of the NASA document on the Constellation program.

Now, four years later in 2009, when the in-line shuttle derived launch vehicle should have been making its first flight, we are five or six years away from Ares I making its first flight. The Shuttle is scheduled for retirement next year and America will have to buy seats on the Russian Soyuz to get to the International Space Station. And the International Space Station is scheduled for de-commissioning in 2015 and would be de-orbited into the Pacific Ocean.

This reality gave birth to the Augustine Commission and its Final Report. We have covered in detail the findings of the Committee. Now we look to consider the possible outcomes.

Philip Metschan (writing as ‘Phoegh’), a long time contributor to the Forum at NasaSpaceFlight, has produced a marvelous interactive series of graphics available at that illustrate the options identified by the Augustine Commission.

The Budget and Time Line for these options are given in the following table. Included are destinations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and the impact of each option on the existing workforce.

Option Extra $ / Yr Through 2020 Through 2030 Moon NEO Depot Workforce
Option 1 $0 $99 B $205 B ? ? ? 50% Loss
Option 2 $0 $105 B $200 B ? ? ? 60% Loss
Option 3 $3 B $127 B $275 B 2025 ? ? 53% Loss
Option 4 $3 B $121 B $264 B 2030 ? ? 70% Loss
Option 4B $3 B $118 B $255 B 2029 ? 2026 25% Loss
Option 5A $3 B $128 B $272 B ? ? ? 75% Loss
Option 5B $3 B $123 B $268 B 2029 2026 2024 90% Loss
Option 5C $3 B $120 B $256 B 2030 2027 2025 30% Loss
Option 5D $1 B $116 B $239 B 2019 2022 2028 15% Loss

We can draw the following conclusions, which are illustrated in the Graphics mentioned earlier and shown below. We start with Option 1, the Program of Record (POR – Constellation) and the funding level provided in FY 2010:

  • Option 1 – Ares I crew vehicle is ready a year after the ISS is de-orbited (2015) and Ares V is completed in 2028 with no funds to conduct exploration. There is no Moon in the picture.
  • Option 2 – Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Ares V is completed in 2028 with no funds to conduct exploration. There is no Moon in the picture.
  • Option 3 – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Ares I crew vehicle is ready a year after the ISS is de-orbited (2015) and Ares V is completed in 2019. The Moon is reached in 2025, but no other destinations beyond LEO can be funded.
  • Option 4 – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Ares V is completed in 2023. The Moon is reached in 2030, but no other destinations beyond LEO can be funded.
  • Option 4B – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Extend the Shuttle to 2015. Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Ares V is completed in 2023. Develop the Propellant Depot by 2026. The Moon is reached in 2030.
  • Option 5A – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Scrap Ares V in favor of a smaller Ares V Lite, which is completed in 2023. Visit EML-1 or EML-2 in 2026. Visit a Near Earth Object (NEO) Sometime in the Future.
  • Option 5B – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Scrap Ares V in favor of a commercial heavy launch capability, which is completed in 2021. Develop the Propellant Depot by 2024. Visit a Near Earth Object (NEO) in 2026 and Phobos in 2028. Return to the Moon in 2029.
  • Option 5C – Add $3 Billion per year to the existing program. Scrap Ares I and substitute Commercial Crew Access to LEO. The money saved is used to keep the ISS operating until 2020. Scrap Ares V in favor of a the Direct Team’s Jupiter 241, which is completed in 2022. Visit EML-1 or EML-2 in 2023. Develop the Propellant Depot by 2024. Visit a Near Earth Object (NEO) in 2027 and Phobos in 2029. Return to the Moon in 2030.

Those are the options explored by the Augustine Commission in their Final Report.

Notice, however, that there is one more slide, Option 5D. This is the architecture that was presented to the Augustine Commission during their first public session on 17 June 2009 by the Direct Team. It provides for:

  • Add $1 Billion per year to the existing program.
  • Extend Shuttle until 2012.
  • Scrap Ares I and develop the Jupiter Core (Jupiter 130) for carrying crew on Orion to LEO and ISS by 2014.
  • Develop Commercial Crew Access to LEO to replace the Jupiter 130 by 2015. Use Jupiter 130 for ferrying the few large payloads needed by ISS.
  • Continue ISS operations until 2020.
  • Scrap Ares V in favor of the Upper Stage for the Jupiter Core (Jupiter 241 or Jupiter 246), which is completed in 2017.
  • Visit EML-1 or EML-2 in 2018.
  • Orbit the Moon in 2019.
  • Visit a Near Earth Object (NEO) in 2022.
  • Visit Phobos in 2025.
  • Develop the Propellant Depot by 2028.

The key here is that the goal of expansion of human civilization into the Solar System is better served, is accomplished sooner, and costs less. Indeed, even without the additional $1 Billion per year, only the extension of the Shuttle operation need be eliminated.

Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Option 4
Option 4B
Option 5A
Option 5B
Option 5C
Option 5D

Final Conclusions

  • Options 1, 2 and 3, which are favored by the politicians with space flight facilities, get us nowhere and cost far too much.
  • Options 4 and 4B get us to the Moon, but neither builds infrastructure for support of future exploration.
  • Options 5A, 5B and 5C builds the skills and infrastructure for space exploration, but leave us a crew to LEO gap of five to six years.
  • Option 5D builds the skills and infrastructure for space exploration, reduces the crew to LEO gap to one or two years, and gives the international community the ability to descend to the surface of the Moon and Mars.

Time is of the Essence

Finally, this note about the political realities. First, if a decision is delayed for four to six months while the politicians fight for every last bit of funding they want, the infrastructure on which the Jupiter program builds will be dismantled and Options 4B, 5C and 5D will be eliminated.

Second, Congress will likely decide that the Constellation program as currently envisioned is too costly for what will be developed and not worth throwing more money down the drain. Options 1, 2, 3, 4B and 5A will be eliminated.

Thus, only commercial crew and cargo capabilities will be funded. NASA will be reduced to research and contracting for services. The Marshall Space Flight Facility will have little purpose. And the politicians will lose most of the jobs and funding that their districts currently enjoy.

Special thanks are in order to Philip Metschan for permission to use screen shots of his presentation.

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Part 5

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

In Part 1, we looked at the pieces strewn about our living room floor. In Part 2, we examined the Goals and Destinations in Chapter 3.0. And in Part 3, the three current Human Space Flight programs were reviewed (International Space Station, the Space Shuttle and the Constellation Program). In Part 4, we looked at the launch vehicles examined by The Augustine Commission.

Chapter 6 of the Augustine Commission Final Report deals with Program Options and Evaluation. This is one of the many contentious issues commentators have with the Commission. While they did select five possible exploration programs (Chapter 6), and while they did evaluate various launch vehicles (Chapter 5), the Committee seems to have ignored the possibility that different launch vehicles have greater or lesser ability to cover the five exploration programs. This failure may in the end, prove to be disastrous for human space exploration. As we write, the Space Shuttle infrastructure is being actively dismantled. The end result of failing to evaluate the physical infrastructure and the human infrastructure capable of supporting a Shuttle derived architecture may be that the United States is left with no heavy lift human space flight capability for at least the next several decades. We may have surrendered our space faring capability to Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan.

6.1 Evaluation Criteria

As noted by the Commission:

The Committee did not intend that the evaluation would generate a single numerical score; rather, it would provide a basis for comparison across options, highlighting the opportunities and challenges associated with each. Assigning weights to individual figures of merit is within the purview of the ultimate decision-makers.

Three primary evaluation dimensions were identified:

  • Benefits to Stakeholders
  • Risk
  • Budget Realities

These three dimensions were expanded into 12 criteria for comparing the options.

  • Exploration Preparation
  • Technology Innovation
  • Science Knowledge
  • Expanding and Protecting Human Civilization
  • Economic Expansion
  • Global Partnerships
  • Public Engagement
  • Schedule and Programmatic Risk
  • Mission Safety Challenges
  • Workforce Impact
  • Programmatic Sustainability
  • Life-Cycle Cost

6.2 Key Decisions and Integrated Options

6.2.1 Key Decisions

1. What should be the future of the Space Shuttle?
2. What should be the future of the International Space Station (ISS)?
3. On what should the next heavy-lift launch vehicle be based?
4. How should crews be carried to low-Earth orbit?
5. What is the most practicable strategy for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit?

6.2.2 Integrated Options

The Committee identified five basic options: One based on the Program of Record (POR – Constellation – Ares I and V, Orion and Altair), and four alternatives. Options 2 and 3 were budget compatable alternatives to the POR. Option 4 was a Moon First program (with two variations), and Option 5 was the Flexible Path (avoiding the gravity well of the Moon).

6.2.3 Methodology for Analyzing the Integrated Options

Two budgets were used. The “Constrained Budget” used the FY 2010 budget, while the “Less Constrained Budget” allowed for an increase by 2014 of $3 Billion per year higher than FY 2010.

6.2.4 Reference Cases of the Entirely Unconstrained Program of Record

The Program of Record was evaluated and found to be a total of $45 Billion over the FY 2010 budget by 2020, wherein it is $5 Billion a year over FY 2010 in 2016 and $7 Billion per year over FY 2010 in 2019.

6.3 Integrated Options Constrained to the FY 2010 Budget

6.3.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 1 and 2

Option 1 was found to allow for rocket development, but lacked funds for exploration. Option 2 extends the lifetime of the ISS, delays rocket development, and has no funds for exploration.

6.3.2 Examination of alternate budget guidance

The Committee found no alternatives to Options 1 or 2 that were viable under the FY 2010 budget. This conclusion has been disputed.

6.4 Moon First Integrated Options Fit to the Less-Constrained Budget

6.4.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 3 and 4

Option 3 was to execute the POR under a less constrained budget. The ISS is de-orbited in 2010, and the Shuttle flies the remaining missions into 2011. Human lunar return occurs in the mid 2020s and the lunar base becomes operation late in the decade. An alternate extending ISS to 2020 was found to push these dates out by three to four more years.

Option 4 uses the less constrained budget, scraps Ares I and substitutes commercial crew services by 2016 It extends the ISS to 2020. Ares V is scrapped in favor of a dual-launch Ares V Lite vehicle for lunar missions.

Option 4A retires the Shuttle in 2011, while Option 4B extends the Shuttle to 2015 and develops a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift vehicle in place of Ares V Lite.

6.4.2 Examination of the key decision on the ISS extension

Given the International Partnerships that have been developed, and the fact that the extension to 2020 would only delay the lunar return by a few years, the Committee found that the extension provides greater value than ending the ISS mission.

6.4.3 Examination of the key decision on Ares V vs. Ares V Lite dual launch

Baseline Ares V has more launch capability than the Saturn V, but current NASA studies show that when used in combination with Ares I, it does not have enough launch capability to robustly deliver the currently planned landing and surface systems to the Moon.

The Committee concluded that Ares V Lite represents less development risk, likely will reduce costs and provides more substantial margin for the lunar mission.

6.4.4 Examination of the key decision on the provision of crew transport to low-Earth orbit

Commercial crew services, based on a high-reliability rocket with a capsule and launch escape system could significantly reduce development costs, as well as lower operating costs.

6.4.5 Examination of the key question on Shuttle extension

The Committee favored early retirement of the Shuttle (2010 or 2011), although they noted several advantages to Shuttle extension to 2015, including up-mass and down-mass capability and workforce retention.

6.5 Flexible Path Integrated Options Fit to the Less-Constrained Budget

6.5.1 Evaluation of Integrated Option 5

Option 5 operates the Shuttle into 2011 and extends the International Space Station mission until 2020. A variety of destinations beyond low earth orbit are possible. The Committee developed three variants of this option.

  • Option 5A develops the Ares V Lite, visits the Lagrange points, near Earth objects, on-orbit refueling and achieves a lunar return by the end of the 2020s.
  • Option 5B develops commercial heavy lift capability, restructures NASA, and follows a similar mission profile as 5A, but on a slower time line.
  • Option 5C scraps Ares V Lite and develops a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift vehicle. 5C follows a similar mission profile as 5A, but on a slower time line.

6.5.2 Examination of the key question on Ares V family vs. Shuttle-derived heavy launcher

While the Shuttle derived in-line launch vehicle (SDLV) with two four-segment solid rocket motors (SRM) and the 8.4 meter external tank (ET) was the 2005 ESAS candidate for the cargo vehicle, it was forced to evolve into the Ares V due to the problems encountered with the underpowered Ares I. For some reason, the Committee decided that in order to match the capabilities of the Ares V, or the Ares V Lite dual-launch mission, that there had to be three SDLV launches. Therefore, operations would be more costly.

This is a clear Committee miss, as the current planned lunar return missions can be accomplished with good margin by a dual-launch SDLV program, thus costing less than the Ares V Lite. There is no need for the enhanced capabilities of the dual-launch Ares V Lite.

6.5.3 Examination of the key question on NASA heritage vs. EELV-heritage super-heavy vehicles

The Committee considers the EELV-heritage super-heavy vehicle to be a way to significantly reduce the operating cost of the heavy lifter to NASA in the long run. It would be a less-capable vehicle, but probably sufficiently capable for the mission. Reaping the long-term cost benefits would require substantial disruption in NASA, and force the agency to adopt a new way of doing business.

6.6 Comparisons Across Integrated Options

6.6.1 Cross-option comparisons

The Flexible Path program (Option 5A) scores more highly than the Baseline (Option 3) on 9 of the 12 criteria outlined in section 6.1 ( See figure 6.6.1-1). The higher rankings include:

  • Exploration Preparation (due to much more capable launch system)
  • Technology (due to investment in technology)
  • Science (because of more places visited)
  • Human Civilization (due to the ISS extension)
  • Economic Expansion (because of commercial involvement in space elements and crew transport)
  • Global Partnerships (gained by extending the ISS)
  • Public Engagement (by visiting more new locations, and doing so each year)
  • Schedule (exploring beyond low-Earth orbit sooner)
  • Life-Cycle Costs (due to commercial crew services)

6.6.2 Examination of the key question on exploration strategy

Three exploration strategies were examined in Chapter 3. The choice of Mars First was found not to be viable due to technological problems. Two strategies remained:

  • Moon First on the Way to Mars, with surface exploration focused on developing capability for Mars.
  • Flexible Path to Mars via the inner solar system objects and locations, with no immediate plan for surface exploration, then followed by exploration of the lunar and/or Martian surface.

The Moon first is favorable to lunar science and exploration (although much can be done robotically). The Flexible Path missions explore more of the Solar System, while initially doing less on the Moon. Flexible Path has the advantage of developing infrastructure for deep space exploration, including the moons of Mars and Mars itself. The Committe notes that:

Considering that we have visited and obtained samples from the Moon, but not near-Earth objects or Mars, and also that the Flexible Path develops the ability to service space observatories, the Science Knowledge criterion slightly favors the Flexible Path. Broadly, the more complex the environment, the more astronaut explorers are favored over robotic exploration. In practice, this means that astronauts will offer their greatest value-added in the exploration of the surface of Mars.

Final Scoring

Although the Augustine Commission did not publish a final tally of the scores (for reasons they made clear), the following table does compare and tabulate the scores.

Option Description Science Safety Cost Schedule NASA / Industry Jobs US Skills Retention Exploration Capability Technology Space Colony Potential Commercial Benefit Public Engagement international Cooperation Sustainability Total
1 The Status Quo 0 0 0 -2 -1 -1 -2 -2 -2 -1 -1 -2 -1 -15
2 ISS Extension plus Moon 0 0 1 -2 -1 -1 -2 1 -1 1 -1 0 0 -5
3 Status quo + $3 B 1 -1 0 0 0 -1 0 0 0 0 0 -2 0 -3
4 Shuttle + Moon 1 -1 1 0 0 -1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 4
4B Shuttle 2015 + Moon 1 -1 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 5
5A Flexible Path + Ares Lite 2 -1 1 1 0 -1 2 1 1 2 1 0 0 9
5B Flexible Path + Commercial 2 -2 2 1 0 -1 1 2 1 2 1 0 -1 8
5C Flexible Path + Jupiter 241 2 -2 0 1 0 -1 1 1 1 2 1 0 1 7

Option 5D: We will have more to say about this proposal in our final segment: “Wrapped Up” or “The Augustine Commission for Dummies”.

Option Description Science Safety Cost Schedule NASA / Industry Jobs US Skills Retention Exploration Capability Technology Space Colony Potential Commercial Benefit Public Engagement international Cooperation Sustainability Total
5D Flexible Path + Direct 2 -2 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 13

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Part 4

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

In Part 1, we looked at the pieces strewn about our living room floor. In Part 2, we examined the Goals and Destinations in Chapter 3.0. And in Part 3, the three current Human Space Flight programs were reviewed (International Space Station, the Space Shuttle and the Constellation Program).

Chapter 5.0 Launch to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

In this section, The Augustine Commission examines launch vehicles. We begin with the opening statement, with which we agree:

Launch to low-Earth orbit is the most energy-intensive and dynamic step in human space exploration. No other single propulsive maneuver, including descent to and ascent from the surfaces of the Moon or Mars, demands higher thrust or more energy or has the high aerodynamic pressure forces than a launch from Earth. Launch is a critical area for spaceflight, and two of the five key questions that guide the future plans for U.S. human spaceflight focus on launch to low-Earth orbit: the delivery of heavy masses to low-Earth orbit and beyond; and the delivery of crew to low-Earth orbit.

5.1 Evaluation methodologies for Launch Vehicles

The Commission used “cost, performance and schedule parameters, as well as safety, operability, maturity, human rating, workforce implications, development of commercial space, the consequences to national security space, and the impact on exploration and science missions”. They note that some of these are quantitative and some are qualitative measures. Evaluations of the claim for each launcher was made and adjusted, and the uncertainty was assessed. Historical bounds were employed where appropriate. Some 70 lower-level metrics were used to construct 13 top level metrics.

5.2 Heavy Lift to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

The Commission began by reiterating the Constellation plan to loft about 600 metric tons (mt) per year to low Earth orbit (LEO). By comparison, NASA launched 250 mt per year during Apollo and the International Space Station (ISS) has a mass of about 350 mt.

Figure 5.2-1 listed the five candidates and their lift to LEO (see Launch Vehicles for visuals) and Figure 5.2.1-1 gave Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) with no refueling and with in-space refueling:

Launch Vehicle LEO TLI no refueling TLI in-space refueling
EELV Super Heavy 75 mt 26 mt 55 mt
Directly Shuttle Derived 100-110 mt 35 mt 75 mt
Ares V Lite 140 mt 55 mt 120 mt
Ares V 160 mt 63 mt 130 mt
Ares V plus Ares I 185 mt 71 mt 150 mt

Notice that the Commission has brought the potential of in-space refueling front and center, either as propellant transfer from one spacecraft to another (as in a dual launch Ares V Lite or Jupiter 246), or from a true propellant depot, which would be supplied by commercial contract. However, “the Committee found both of these concepts feasible with current technology, but in need of significant further engineering development and in-space demonstration before they could be included in a baseline design”. Thus, the initial set of evaluations would need to examine the mass that an Earth Departure Stage (EDS) could push through TLI without refueling.

A detailed study of launch reliability of multi-launch missions commissioned by the Committee concluded that at most three critical launches be used. Reasonable chances for success required 90+ days of on-orbit life for an EDS or propellant depots.

Subsequent to Shuttle retirement, the need for NASA to launch 400 to 600 mt to LEO each year would consume much if not all of the existing and planned excess EELV capacity. Further, it would be expensive.

Finally, the Commission notes that heavy lift vehicles “would allow large scientific observatories to be launched, potentially enabling them to have optics larger than the current five-meter fairing sizes will allow. More capable deep-space science missions could be mounted, allowing faster or more extensive exploration of the outer solar system”.

All the foregoing was seen as justification for the development of Heavy Lift vehicles. The Commission then reviewed the choices in the chart above.

Ares V: This is the most capable of the proposed rockets. Together with the Ares I, it can launch 185 mt to LEO, 71 mt through TLI and land 14 tons of cargo only on the lunar surface, or 2 mt of cargo plus crew. Ares V requires expansion of the External Tank (ET) to 10 meters, the development of new 5.5 segment solid rocket motors (SRM), development of a regenerative version of the RS-68 engine and the development of the J2-X second stage engine (modified from the Saturn J2 engine).

Ares V Lite: Ares V Lite is a derivative of the Ares V, but with an LEO payload of 140 mt. This rocket would require the completion of the 5 segment SRM under development for Ares I. The remaining new Ares V components would still require development. For lunar missions, the Ares V Lite would be human-rated and used in the “dual mode”. In single launch it can place 14 mt of cargo on the lunar surface, and with a larger Lander than Ares V, it can land 5 mt of cargo plus crew.

SDLV Side-Mount: The side-mount and the in-line SDLV both use the existing Space Shuttle ET, the 4 segment SRM and the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME). The side-mount replaces the Shuttle with a cargo pod. The Committee combined the side-mount with the in-line variants for purposes of evaluation. They did note, however, that “the side-mount variant is considered an inherently less safe arrangement if crew are to be carried, and is more limited in its growth potential”.

SDLV In-Line The in-line variants are represented by the Jupiter family of rockets, as proposed by the Direct team. The Committee assumed that three Jupiter 241 vehicles would be used for a lunar mission, and that 5 mt of cargo could be landed with crew. No figure was given for a cargo only dual-launch mission, but the report states that more than 20 mt of cargo can be landed by a single Jupiter 241 using in-space refueling. Now, the three launch scenario is peculiar. Perhaps the Commission was trying to replicate the LEO loft mass of a dual Ares V Lite mission (2 x 140 mt). However, that much fuel, lander and crew far exceeds the Constellation Program (CxP) requirements. Furthermore, Ross Tierney, from Direct, has stated that “the right 2-launch Jupiter architecture is actually capable of landing 19mT of useful payload mass on the lunar surface every crew mission…Given that the Ascent Module only consists of about 6.4mT of that, this architecture is actually capable of landing almost the same 14.5mT* cargo modules as CxP are currently planning to land using cargo-only missions”. So we are left with unanswered questions concerning the assumptions and evaluations made by the Commission, not only about SDLV, but the Ares mission architectures.

EELV Super Heavy The Extended Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) is represented by the Atlas 5 Phase 2 Heavy, which consists of the core rocket plus two boosters of the same basic design along with an upgraded common upper stage (to be used by both Atlas and Delta). The common upper stage would use four RL-10 rocket engines, which have a long history of successful flights aboard Titan, Delta and Atlas among others. This configuration is capable of lofting a maximum of 75 mt to LEO. A dual launch configuration with in-space refueling is capable of conducting Flexible Path missions.

Summary of Findings

  • Heavy Lift capability is beneficial to human exploration as well as national security and the scientific community.
  • In-Space refueling represents a significant benefit to space transportation systems beyond low Earth orbit. It requires development and would not be on the critical path. A prudent approach is to develop Heavy Lift capable of early missions and phase in in-space refueling when it becomes available.
  • A new emphasis of sustainable operations is needed. “NASA’s design culture emphasizes maximizing performance at minimum development cost, repeatedly resulting in high operational and lifecycle costs. A shift in NASA design culture toward design for minimum discounted life-cycle cost, accompanied by robustness and adequate margins, will allow NASA programs to be more sustainable”.
  • In-Space Propulsion for missions beyond LEO that last for weeks or months require stages using efficient engines with high-reliability restart capabilities.

The Lunar Surface Capabilities of the various systems are compared in the following table:

Launch Vehicle LEO Cargo Only Cargo and Crew
EELV Super Heavy 75 mt NA mt NA mt
Directly Shuttle Derived 100-110 mt 14 mt* 5 mt*
Ares V Lite 140 mt 14 mt 5 mt
Ares V plus Ares I 185 mt 14 mt 2 mt

5.3 Crew Launch to Low-Earth Orbit

Crew safety is an overriding issue in human space flight. The safe delivery of crew to LEO and their return is critical. This is the fourth key question (see Part 1) that the Committee examined. The assumed that Orion would be the crew vehicle, and that the launch vehicle would either be government provided and operated, or a commercial service.

Ares I was selected in 2005 as part of the ESAS study, and was expected to be operational in 2012. The Constellation program now projects initial operational capability (IOC) in 2015, and the Committee thinks this will slip further. Both budgetary and design problems have been encountered.

International Transportation was deemed acceptable by the Committee. However, sustained U. S. leadership in space requires domestic crew launch capability.

A human rated EELV was considered by the Commission. An independent study found that the launch of Orion on the Delta IV Heavy was technically feasible, but the long term development and carrying costs offset any savings versus Ares I.

Commercial Transport of crew to LEO is a hot topic. The Committee asked “can a simple capsule with a launch escape system, operating on a high-reliability liquid booster, be made safer than the Shuttle, and comparably as safe as Ares I plus Orion”? A number of factors were considered:

  • A strong role for NASA oversight of the development would be required.
  • The cost to NASA of underwriting design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E).
  • The potential non-NASA uses of LEO crew transport

The Committee made several estimates of total costs, and arrived at a preliminary estimate of $5 Billion dollars. Assuming a “less-constrained” NASA budget, a commercial LEO crew transport service could be available by 2016.

Finally, the Committee assessed the risks to the human space flight program associated with commercial crew transport. Such development could distract from the near-term goal of developing commercial cargo capability. The commercial community might fail to deliver a crew transportation system. The fall-back position for NASA would be human rating the Heavy Lift Vehicle. The Committee assumes that the first stage of the HLV will be developed as quickly as possible. We leave the implications of this statement as an exercise for the reader.

5.4 Additional Issues in Launcher Selection

Launch Vehicle Performance and Costing The factors in this section include:

  • Evaluation of the claimed cost, schedule and performance of the various launch vehicles.
  • The advantage of shifting to commercial purchase of space transportation systems.
  • The loss of the workforce and expertise built up within NASA from shifting to commercial sources.
  • The health and viability of the solid rocket motor industry from all-liquid fuel launch vehicles.

Launcher Reliability The Committee reviewed the historical reliability of the Shuttle, Saturn, Titan, Delta and Atlas programs. Launchers derived from existing systems have shown greater reliability in early stages of development than newly developed systems.

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Part 3

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

In Part 1, we looked at the pieces strewn about our living room floor. In Part 2, we examined the Goals and Destinations in Chapter 3.0.

Chapter 4.0 Current Human Spaceflight Programs

The current U.S. human spaceflight programs are the operational Space Shuttle Program and the U.S. portion of the International Space Station (ISS). The next human spaceflight effort, the Constellation Program, is in development.

4.1 The Space Shuttle

The Commission reviewed long history of the Space Shuttle, its two fatal accidents, and the increasing complexity of missions, especially those since the return to flight in 2005. Early missions were 4 to 7 days and rarely involved a space walk. Current missions are 13 to 14 days and have involved as many as 5 space walks. The Hubble repair mission is typical.

The Shuttle was scheduled for retirement in 2010, and the replacement vehicle was scheduled to arrive in 2012. After four years of development, the Constellation Program does not expect this replacement vehicle to arrive before 2016, at the earliest. Currently, the time between Shuttle missions is averaging 100 days. With six missions remaining, the schedule calls for completion in 2010, an average of only 64 days between flights. The schedule would extend into the middle of 2011 if current prudent safety practices are maintained.

The Committee explored three scenarios for the Shuttle:

  • Scenario 1: Prudent Shuttle Fly-Out. As noted, the current Shuttle schedule has little or no margin remaining. Scenario 1 is a likely reflection of reality. It restores margin to the schedule, at a flight rate in line with recent experience, and allocates funds in FY 2011 to support Shuttle operations into that fiscal year. Based on historical data, the Committee believes it is likely that the remaining six flights on the manifest will stretch into the second quarter of 2011, and it is prudent to plan for that occurrence and explicitly include the associated costs in the FY 2011 budget.
  • Scenario 2: Short-Term Support for the ISS. Space Shuttle retirement will have an impact on the ISS (described more fully in a subsequent section). Scenario 2 would add one additional Shuttle flight to provide some additional support for the ISS and ease the transition to commercial and international cargo flights. It could enhance early utilization of the ISS, offer an opportunity for providing more spare parts, and enable scientific experiments to be brought back to Earth. This additional Shuttle flight would not replace any of the planned international or commercial resupply flights.
  • Scenario 3: Extend Shuttle to 2015 at Minimum Flight Rate. This scenario would extend the Shuttle at a minimum safe flight rate (nominally two flights per year) into FY 2015. Once the Shuttle is retired, the U.S. itself will no longer have the ability to launch astronauts into space, and will have to rely on the Russian Soyuz vehicle. That gap will persist until a new vehicle becomes available to transport crew to low-Earth orbit. Under the current program, the resulting gap is expected to be seven years or more. This scenario, if combined with a new crew launch capability that will be available by the middle of the 2010s, significantly reduces that gap, and retains U.S. ability to deliver astronauts to the ISS.

While the Commission strongly leans toward scenario 1, it acknowledges good reasons for scenario 3, since American access to the International Space Station (ISS) and material support of the ISS are very important.

4.2 The International Space Station

Construction of the International Space Station was begun in 1998 and was scheduled to be completed with an aggressive Shuttle schedule. The Columbia accident suspended construction, and Russia kept the ISS alive until the Shuttle returned in 2005. Construction was slowed by the prudent flight rate and the ISS was completed this year. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2015, and splashed into the Pacific Ocean.

It is now acknowledged that such a course would shred the current International Partnership involving the ISS. Further, retirement of the Shuttle puts the ISS on fragile footing with regard to supply and maintenance.

The Commission entertained three scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: End U.S. Participation in the ISS at the end of 2015.
  • Scenario 2: Continue ISS Operations at the Present Level to 2020.
  • Scenario 3: Enrich the ISS Program and Extend through 2020.

Scenario 1 was rejected. Scenario 2 keeps the ISS alive for use by the international community, but does “not allow the ISS to achieve its full potential as a National Laboratory or as a technology testbed. The majority of the funding is devoted to sustaining basic operations and providing transportation”.

With Scenario 3, the Commission provides discussion and insight into the importance of additional funding associated with the extension of the ISS mission. Two quotes illustrate this:

The National Research Council Space Studies Board has recently initiated a decadal survey of life and microgravity science that will identify key scientific issues and strategies for addressing them. This is the first decadal survey in this area, and it will bring the most modern scientific understanding to bear on what questions may be answered in the decade through 2020

The Committee believes that the Space Station can be a valuable testbed for the life support, environmental, and advanced propulsion technologies, among others, that will be needed to send humans on missions farther into space. It also has the potential to help develop operational techniques important to exploration.

Having examined two active human space flight programs, the Committee waded into the thorny world of the Briar Patch.

4.3 The Constellation Program

The Constellation Program consists of the Orion crew exploration vehicle (CEV), the Ares I crew launch rocket, the Ares V cargo launch rocket and the Altair Lunar surface access module (LSAM).

The Orion was originally designed to field a crew of six for missions as long as six months, with a service module and launch abort system (LAS). Due to reduced capabilities anticipated for the Ares I, the Orion is facing continuing design changes, reducing its capacity to four crew, and requiring other design compromises. The report concludes that:

When compared to historical programs, the most likely delay to the Orion availability approaches 18 months. Additional critical paths exist through ground test and flight test.

At this point, the report examines the historical record and the mismatch between program contend and funding (see Figure 4.3.2-1. Constellation Program Funding Profiles. Source: NASA, p. 59):

  • ESAS original funding was scheduled to rise from $4.5 Billion in 2009 to $10.0 Billion in 2017.
  • Fiscal Year 2009 budget was to rise from $3.3 Billion to $8.3 Billion by 2017.
  • Fiscal Year 2010 budget rises from $2.9 Billion to $6.8 Billion in 2017.

These cuts have severely hampered the Constellation Program. This is a 45% reduction in budget in 2009 from the ESAS budget voted by Congress to the actual appropriated amount, and a 32% reduction by 2017. Congress and the previous administration are to blame for failing to fulfill their promises (what’s new?), and NASA is to blame for believing the unfunded promises of the politicians. Plenty of rope to hang everybody.

The next target of the Commission is the Ares V (about which much will be said later). To quote the report, “The Ares V, still in conceptual design, promises to be an extremely capable rocket—able to lift 160 metric tons of cargo into low-Earth orbit”. Now this classification of Ares V is interesting, because as we have previously noted, the Program of Record (PoR – Constellation; see CxP 70000 Constellation Architecture Requirements Document (CARD) Rev 3 Change 001, March 2009), requires that 71.1 mt of cargo be sent to the Moon (“the lander must mass no more than 45,000kg, Orion mass 20,185kg, ASE mass 890kg and there is 5,000kg of Manager’s Margin included for safety. That’s a grand total of 71,075kg or 71.1mT of total spacecraft mass being pushed thru TLI”). This is one of the “Misses” that the Commission makes. Instead of scoring proposed architectures by the requirements of the program proposed to justify the architecture, scoring seems to have been done against an architecture, absent the program. One wonders why Ares V needs to be so big.

Altair is by-passed in this chapter with a reference back to chapter 3.0. Subsequent to the release of the Commission’s report, development of Altair has been suspended, pending decisions by the current administration.

Finally, the Committee deals gingerly with Ares I:

The Ares I is currently dealing with technical problems of a character not remarkable in the design of a complex system – problems that should be resolvable with commensurate cost and schedule impacts. Its ultimate utility is diminished by schedule delays, which cause a mismatch with the programs it is intended to serve.

We are left, therefore, with hits and misses so far. Hits include the Goal. Also, the value of the Shuttle for up-mass and down-mass in the support of the ISS. Furthermore, the potential value of the ISS for scientific research, international cooperation, space based construction and maintenance, technological testing and human factor research.

Misses focus around the arbitrary choice of hardware capability without regard to Goal or mission.

Part 4 next.

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)