The Augustine Commission – Postmortem – SPI Symposium

The Space Policy Institute at George Washington University hosted a half day symposium “Assessing The Options Of The Augustine Commission For Human Spaceflight” on 28 September 2009, and has now released the Notes and presentations.

Some of the participants in the Symposium (and their presentations) were:

Dr. Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute, began the proceedings by outlining the nine goals set for in the 2004 Presidential directives to NASA. Some have been, or will be, achieved:

  • Complete the International Space Station
  • Safely fly the Space Shuttle until 2010
  • No later than 2008, begin a series of robotic missions to Moon

Some are in danger:

  • Develop supporting innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures
  • Promote international and commercial participation in exploration

And some will not be met:

  • Develop and fly the Crew Exploration Vehicle no later 2014
  • Return to Moon with goal of 2015 and no later than 2020
  • Aggressive in-situ resource program and robust precursor program
  • Sustained human presence on Moon for national preeminence, scientific and
    economic purposes, leading to Mars and other places

Dr. Pace reviewed the steadily declining budget provided NASA over the past five years (see the Sally Ride Slides – especially this). These cuts total approximately $42 Billion through 2020 versus the original ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study) program, which topped out at $10 Billion per year in 2016 and is now expected to be only $6.5 Billion.

A critical observation was that “Budget Proposals are Policy”. Irrespective of what is said and written about America’s space policy, the budget dictates what can and cannot be done.”

Finally, Pace asked “Are there economically useful activities in space that can sustain human communities in space? Citing examples in the chart below, he concluded that we just do not know if there is anything in the upper right hand box.

Chart 1

The first panel of speakers was led by Gen. Lester Lyles (ret), a member of the Augustine Committee. His comments (see the Notes), centered around the task of the Commission. The Commission was tasked with assessing the following:

  • Present human spaceflight program
  • Future of Space Shuttle and ISS
  • The necessity of heavy lift
  • Crew access to low earth orbit and alternatives
  • Strategies and alternatives beyond low earth orbit

Major themes to be kept in mind included: safety, reliability, innovation, affordability, and sustainability.

Finally, Lyles summed up the key findings of the Commission:

  • NASA needs the right mission with the right size
  • Without an adequate budget there is no way that NASA can take on the great things it is asked to and maintain a viable program for space exploration
  • International partnerships should be addressed in greater detail than they are currently – there is lots of opportunities for greater partnerships and activities
  • Shuttle program should be extended, whether it be for a few flights or longer, it makes sense to consider any way to minimize gap
  • “Great nations do great things” – human spaceflight is a task worthy of a great nation
  • Extending ISS a “no brainer”– bottom line is we are just now completing space station and the U.S. and its international partners have only just begun to utilize scientific capabilities – Could be extended to 2025
  • NASA needs heavy lift capability – Looked at Ares 1, Ares V, and Ares V Light, but did not recommend one or the other; rather it depends on your objectives in space
  • Committee views COTS program favorably; it should be continued – Strong potential for commercial space sector to service ISS
  • A non-mission specific, basic space technology program should be established to support exploration
  • There are human spaceflight pathways to Mars – Mars is the ultimate destination, but may not be the first
  • Committee laid out alternatives for Moon and Mars and defined risks as best as they could

Tom Young, former CEO of Martin-Marietta, spoke next. One of his major themes was that the current situation was being driven by budget, and that the decisions made today will influence the course of space exploration for the rest of the century. He hoped that following the great adventure of the twentieth century – landing on the Moon and returning – the twenty-first century would not be remembered for “we saved $3 Billion dollars”.

Quoting from the analysis by Dwayne Day at The Space Review:

Young also warned that in order for NASA to be a smart buyer and to ensure success, the agency needed in-house systems engineering talent. Echoing Scott Pace’s earlier comments, he said that during the 1990s the United States engaged in a number of “acquisition reforms,” including the Air Force’s reduction of oversight of contractor operation of launch vehicles like the Titan IV as well as some of the aspects of NASA’s “faster, better, cheaper” program. (Author’s note: Young was clear that he was not criticizing faster, better, cheaper in its entirety.) “We just fired all of the experienced people,” Young said, and adopted a policy that “government would sit in the back of the room” and let the contractors run the show. “That was a horrible mistake. The net result of that experiment was $11.2 billion in failures. We tried that experiment, it was a horrible failure.”

Young finished by echoing previous speakers that human space flight was a policy issue, not a budget issue. He would quote Lyles: “Great Nations do Great Things”.

Next up was Dr. Doug Stanley, who has worked at NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation, and is currently from Georgia Tech. One of the items he discussed was the idea that the assumptions made by NASA have driven the designs. For example, if the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) had not been required to go to the ISS, then the Moon mission would have been best accomplished with a dual launch of two identical rockets and an EOR-LOR strategy (Earth Orbit Rendezvous – Lunar Orbit Rendezvous). A single Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle would be the most cost effective solution for the heavy lift requirements. But it would not be cost effective for ISS purposes.

On the other hand, if the focus had been solely on servicing the ISS, then commercial Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV – Delta IV) would have been selected. It would have been cheaper and quicker to operational status than building a new rocket.

Instead, NASA had to satisfy both objectives. And therefore, chose to develop two new rockets (new engines, new tanks, new solid rocket motors). This was the riskiest and most expensive course.

Young concludes with two sets of recommendations:

White House should immediately decide on:

  • ISS extension through 2020
  • Shuttle extension into 2011 and/or beyond 2011
  • Beyond-LEO human mission destination(s) and time-frame
  • Out-year available budget
  • General policy towards commercial and international ISS crew transport

NASA should be allowed to then define design reference mission(s) and requirements and perform ESAS-like architecture study to:

  • Perform apples-to-apples cost/safety/risk comparison of Augustine-defined options and selected other combinations of options
  • Re-visit EELV/SDV trades – including side-mount
  • Perform detailed definition and economic analysis of propellant depots
  • Determine true cost/risk of “commercial” crew transport
  • Examine workforce impacts of options
  • Define more detailed budgets to support 2011 budget cycle

[Ed: One has to look back at Young's comment above about NASA thinking that a SDLV "...would not be cost effective for ISS purposes" and wonder why they did not realize that the SDLV would only need to be used for a year or so until EELV could come on line for ISS and other LEO missions. The implication is that EELV would have been cheaper than Ares I, and SDLV would have been cheaper than Ares V.]

The second panel discussion, on science and international relations, was begun by Paul Spudis from the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Dr. Spudis fundamentally disagrees with the “Four Canons” of the Space Program, enshrined in the Summary Report of the Augustine Commission:

  • Mars is the ultimate destination
  • Heavy-lift is a requirement
  • It is necessary to get the public excited
  • There is no problem at NASA that money cannot fix

He contrasts the Current Template with the Desired Template:

Current Template:

  • Custom-built, self-contained, mission specific spacecraft
  • Launch on expendable vehicles
  • Operate for set lifetime
  • Abandon after use
  • Repeat

Desired Template:

  • Incremental, extensible building blocks
  • Extract material and energy resources of space to use in space
  • Launch only what cannot be fabricated or built in space
  • Build and operate flexible, modular, extensible in-space systems
  • Maintain, expand and use indefinitely

Obviously, Dr. Spudis takes the Long View: “My objective is to move humanity into outer space. How do you do that? By living off the land.” He wants to find opportunities in the upper right corner of Pace’s matrix.

Next up was Tom Jones, with the Association of Space Explorers and a former astronaut. His comments are summed up nicely in the abstract to the paper he presented:

By conducting a series of piloted Near-Earth Object (NEO) missions beginning about 2020, the U.S. will reinforce the scientific, economic, programmatic, operations, planetary defense, and public outreach elements of its human exploration program. Astronauts exploring a NEO would provide synergistic scientific return from a new “planetary” surface, substantially different in origin, age, and composition from those of the Moon or Mars. Explorers would assay NEO resources vital to future U.S. economic activity in space, and demonstrate extraction and utilization techniques for water, volatiles, and valuable metals. Piloted missions will also provide structural and civil engineering data needed for future deflection of hazardous NEOs. Impact prevention is a common sense, “know your enemy” mission for human explorers; the public will support space-based efforts to better understand and prevent a damaging NEO collision with Earth. Astronaut expeditions to NEOs offer dramatic, high-profile opportunities to engage the public in ground-breaking exploration more than a million miles from Earth. Finally, in the event U.S. plans for a lunar return are delayed, NEOs offer a challenging suite of alternative destinations. Easier to reach than the Moon’s surface, NEOs will nevertheless broaden U.S. space capabilities, demonstrate a firm commitment to ambitious human space activities, and increase momentum toward the eventual exploration of Mars.

Dr. John Logsdon lead of his comments on the International Space Station and International cooperation by quoting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 16 July 2009:

“Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be. It does not make sense to adapt a 19th-century concert of powers or a 20th-century balance-of-power strategy. We cannot go back to Cold War containment or to unilateralism. . . . We will lead by inducing greater cooperation among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multi-polar world and toward a multi-partner world.”

Dr. Logsdon advocated including India and China in multi-lateralization of space. The question in his mind was whether there would be Presidential leadership.

For the international perspective, Dr. Alain Dupas, Director of Strategic Studies at the Paris-based College de Polytechnique, presented his views on the Augustine Committee’s recent report. Europe, he said, has been under the impression that the United States had made a firm decision regarding it’s exploration program. Now, there are serious concerns about America changing its mind. Fortunately, he noted, the ISS would be supported at least through 2020. This bodes well for the discussions about the Global Exploration Strategy. Dupais noted that the Flexible Path option offered “interesting opportunities for Europe”.

Mr. Brett Alexander, from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, led the third panel of the morning on security and commerce. One of the main points he made was that the Augustine Commission had fallen into a false dichotomy: having to choose between Ares I and commercial EELV access to space. The real issue is choosing Ares I or the International Space Station. NASA does not have the budget for both.

Finally, with regard to safety, Alexander noted that Astronauts will not fly on unproven commercial vehicles, and notes ironically that:

  • The Atlas V has a long and proven track record, and the team that puts it together and launches has a demonstrated track that goes beyond the vehicle itself.
  • Falcon 9 and Taurus II will have conducted multiple cargo flights to ISS under COTS prior to being permitted to ferry human crew to LEO
  • Contrast this with the fact that Ares 1X/1 will have completed only two test flights prior to being permitted to carry crew to LEO

Eric Sterner spoke next. He is a former Republican House Armed Services Committee staffer and currently a fellow at the Marshall Institute. He made several points concerning international cooperation as a policy decision. First, that “International cooperation is useful but policy makers should be aware international partnerships have risks. You inherit or import into your program all their bureaucracy, all the budget woes. ISS proves you can do it, but it took us 25 years.” And second, considering China. “How would the U.S. deal with human rights issues if China were a partner in space exploration? It matters what values you take into space. How do you deal with proliferation issues? The Clinton administration threatened to cut off space-related payments to the Russia for its proliferation behavior with Iran”.

Next to last was Robert Read from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense. His remarks addressed the implications of NASA and space exploration for the Solid Rocket Motor industry. Historically, the Department of Defense (DoD) has relied on solid rocket motors for land base Minuteman III ICBM and sea launched Trident II D-5, as well as many other weapon systems. He notes that DoD is concerned that shutting down the Shuttle and SDLV programs will so shrink the market that the program might collapse. He points out that:

  • One Shuttle stack is equivalent to 10 Trident II D-5 and 17 Minuteman III missiles in terms of solid propellant weight
  • The DoD is concerned over the potential loss of SRM suppliers once the Shuttle is retired
  • The DoD will be studying the issue further, given the national security implications of further decline of the SRM industrial base.

From The Space Review article, Read’s comments concerning how delicate the industry is at the moment:

He recounted how a few years ago a small company was going to move its operations from Texas overseas. The company’s motivation was that 95% of its business was commercial and the government accounted for only 5% of its business. But moving its manufacturing overseas would have required the government to recertify all of the company’s components, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the DoD, and ultimately the American taxpayers.

Finally, John Karas of Lockheed Martin addressed the workforce issues. A major concern is the loss of talent. 35% of the workforce is eligible for retirement right now. Industry needs to see NASA with a realistic goal and adequate funding in order to attract new, young talent to learn from the old guard before they retire. America’s heavy lift capability is unmatched elsewhere, and will remain so. But it can, and is currently, slipping away with the confusion and disarray of the space policy and budget problems.

So what do we garner from this long discussion? The debate is a tug of war in many dimensions: practical, political, monetary and technical.

I would like commercial crew launch to Low Earth Orbit and the ISS, a single Shuttle Derived Heavy lift vehicle and propellant depots. But that’s just my opinion.

Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap

Mind the Gap

The following scenario is from Ross Tierney of the Direct Team. Costs and timetable have been confirmed by the Aerospace Corp under contract with the Augustine Commission to make independent assessments of all proposals:

Assuming we started fairly soon (Green Light by December 2009), we can get three Jupiter test flights off the ground before the first attempt at a Crewed launch. Two would be Jupiter-130 CLV configuration, the third would be a Jupiter-246 configuration flying with a dummy Upper Stage, simply to test the 4-engine Core.

  • Shuttle Retires in September 2012

    DIRECT assumes that we stretch the current 6-flight Shuttle manifest out by an extra 18-24 months in order to help close the gap from that direction. We don’t want additional flights because of the increased risks, and we believe it is a waste of money to extend the program all the way to 2015 when the Jupiter-130 makes that unnecessary. But a “stretch” of 2 years, instead of the currently expected 1 year stretch, has a number of merits.

  • Jupiter-130-X — December 2012

    36 months from Green Light.

    That vehicle would consist of a regular pair of Shuttle SRB’s, 3 used SSME’s (17 of which will be available at the end of the Shuttle Program), a Core Stage made from the currently existing parts of External Tank #139/140/141 modified for the purpose, along with new parts built for this flight.

    Considering that the SRB’s and SSME’s are “known quantities”, the real test here is the Avionics, modified Tanking and the Integration effort. By using reliable and fully-proven Main Propulsion Systems throughout the vehicle this should help to make this flight much lower risk than otherwise.

    Depending upon the maturity of the PLF development effort it would either have a dummy PLF or the first attempt at a fully-functional unit (which would enable some rather interesting, if high-risk, secondary payload options as described below). The vehicle would have an avionics package which we suggest is based on either a modified Atlas pack, somewhat similar to that being used for the Ares-I-X flight or alternatively a set derived from Shuttle avionics — whichever can be implemented the quickest. And this vehicle would fly from Shuttle MLP-3, modified for the purpose. LC-39B’s FSS & RSS would remain in place and a new Crew Access Arm would be needed.

    If the PLF is operational in time, we suggest a useful payload is flown on this test flight. The current leading suggestion within our team is to fly a Delta-IV Upper Stage inside the PLF, along with an Orion Crew Module. Gathering flight data for the launcher is the primary objective for the missions, but assuming the launcher works successfully, the secondary objective for this mission would be to send the Orion’s CM around the moon (a milestone in and of itself) and return it at Lunar re-entry speeds to provide real-world test data about the Orion avionics and heat shield as early as possible.

  • Jupiter-130-Y — September 2013

    45 months from Green Light.

    Again, using a standard set of Shuttle SRB’s (the same set as -X?), 3 more existing SSME’s, a much more refined version of the Core Stage (though deliberately overbuilt for additional margins) and a fully operational PLF. The first fully-qualified avionics set would be intended to fly on this vehicle and so too would the first fully-qualified Orion CM and SM.

    This flight would be intended to be as close as possible to a 100% “dress rehearsal” for the IOC Crewed flight approximately 9 months later.

    Again, a secondary payload option would be to fly another Delta-IV Upper Stage, intended once again to perform a TLI for the Orion, though this time as a precursor mission to the “Apollo 8″ crewed mission which we hope to fly early in the program.

  • Jupiter-246-X — March 2014

    51 months from Green Light.

    This test flight is intended to demonstrate the 4-engine Core vehicle configuration and the staging system for the Upper Stage and gather early data for the upgrade program. The Upper Stage itself would be a dummy and there would be no payload. The flight would ultimately be sub-orbital and would end-up in the drink somewhere mid-Atlantic.

  • Jupiter-130-1/Orion-1 IOC — June 2014

    54 months from Green Light.

    Initial Operational Capability. 2 Test Flight Crew to Orbit. Test launch, plus basic capabilities of the Orion in terms of Rendezvous and Docking to ISS. Secondary Payload TBD — considered “high risk”.

  • Jupiter-130-2/Orion-2 — December 2014

    IOC Validation flight. Repeat of the previous flight to ensure everything works, or to fix any problems encountered on prior mission. Secondary payload TBD, although testing of SSPDM and any ISS resupply hardware is a logical option for this flight.

  • Jupiter-130-3/Orion-3 — June 2015

    Full Operational Capability. Crew Rotation and Supply mission to ISS, delivering any urgently required equipment to station which was considered too important to “risk” on either previous flight.

Three more launches are planned in 2015 including the “Apollo 8″ flyby and the second Jupiter-246-Y test flight, which would include an active Upper Stage.

Jupiter-246-1 IOC would occur in December 2017, with FOC following a year later.

For a complete discussion of this timeline, follow the link back to NasaSpaceFlight Forum.

Prior NSSPhoenix entry on Direct 3.1.

The Augustine Commission – Letter to My Sister

My sister, who is following the blog entries about the Augustine Commission here on NSS Phoenix, wrote me and asked the following:

“OK OK since this is the other worthy human endeavor, clearly we must write our congress persons. Is it sufficient to simply tell them to LISTEN to the AUGUSTINE COMMISSION!!!!! ?”

My reply was that yes, we should tell our members of Congress to listen to the Augustine Commission. In addition, I told her that I would also advocate the exploration architecture put forward by the Direct team, which has the advantage of providing a real exploration program within the existing NASA budget. My email to her was the following:

The message is that the Augustine Commission identified the incompatibility of the Goals and the Budget.

Griffin’s Constellation program wanted the smallest crew launch vehicle (Ares I) and the largest cargo vehicle (Ares V).

Griffin wanted to be known as the biggest, baddest rocket builder ever.

Unfortunately, the Ares I is underpowered and technically challenged (see my Kansas comments in “Bad Day At Black Rock” on the NSS Phoenix blog). And the Ares V is so big that it cannot be used economically.

Neither Ares rocket is a “shuttle derived vehicle”. Each component may look like a shuttle component, but each component is brand new and needs to be rated on its own merit, which will require time and money that NASA does not have.

The Direct team recognizes both the technological and the political imperatives, and advocates a single shuttle derived vehicle that can send crew and cargo to the ISS, as well as go to Solar System destinations with the implementation of a Centaur derived upper stage and propellant depots.

When commercial crew launch and propellant launch capabilities arrive, Direct wants NASA to focus on expanding human civilization into the Solar System.

NASA has the talent and ability to do the exploration mission. We do not want to handicap NASA with the mundane operational tasks that commercial enterprises are so good at doing.

That is the message of “Bad Day At Black Rock”.

The Augustine Commission – Bad Day at Black Rock – And a Reprieve

The House Committee on Science and Technology

Norm Augustine, Michael Griffin and Vice Admiral Joe Dyer USN (Ret.) testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology. And walked into a hornets nest of unenlightened criticism. Typical was the whining from Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of AZ, who released a statement. She wanted the Commission to do a detailed evaluation of the Constellation program, but added “We have a glancing attention to Constellation, even mentioning it in past tense.”

The chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon from Tennessee, as reported by the New York Times, employed the fallacious “sunk costs” argument to defend Ares I:

“I think that good public policy argues for setting the bar pretty high against making significant changes in direction at this point,” said Representative Bart Gordon, Democrat of Tennessee, who is chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology. “There would need to be a compelling reason to scrap what we’ve invested our time and money in over these past four years.”

Former Administrator Michael Griffin defended the Ares program, deflecting Commission concerns about the rocket’s problems with the request for more money. Pay no attention to the rocket behind the curtain. Pay no attention to the thrust oscillation problems that would shake the walls and bring down the curtain. Pay no attention to the underpowered rocket that cannot lift the curtain.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

This was a friendlier and much better informed session. Sen. Nelson from Florida and Sen. Hutchison from Texas started with praise for Augustine.

Augustine then noted that the Commission was tasked with options, not recommendations. This had been repeatedly noted by those that have followed the three month deliberations, but needs repeating. He said the next obvious destination is Mars, but that is not possible for safety and financial reason. Then he observed that the Goals and Funding are out of whack. Keeping them as they are would mean:

“If we continued on the path of the existing program, we would have to launch six shuttles in the next 12 months. One could question if that is a safe thing to do.

“No funds for Space Station and Technology. We’d have to deorbit ISS in five years from now after spending 20 years building it. We’d complete Ares I two years after the Space Station was deorbited.

“The Heavy Lift launch capability would be delayed to the mid to late 2020s – and when we got it there would be no upper stage to put on it or Lunar hardware to launch on it. That would be delayed to the 2030s. That is the path we are on.”

That is the dismal state of affairs of the current program.

The remainder of the session explored the various options, returning again and again to the “Flexible Path” or deep space option, with several variations. The emphasis was on commercial crew transportation to low Earth orbit and a return by NASA to exploration. Near Earth Objects (NEO), the Lagrange points and space observatories, building and deploying propellant depots and Phobos as a destination were all explored, as well as the necessity of avoiding deep gravity wells like the Moon and Mars until experience, technology and funding allow.

Political Reality

Behind the scenes and away from the public reassurances to local constituencies by the Senators on the Committee contained in the “questions” to Mr. Augustine, the political realities that shape the space exploration business are working on the new directions.

The Florida workforce and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), represented by Senator Nelson, will benefit if the Shuttle is extended to 2014 or 2015, as will the Michoud Assembly Facility where the Shuttle External Tank is manufactured. This is the territory of Senator Vitter. And the Johnson Space Center (JSC) will benefit Senator Hutchison.

Senator Shelby from Alabama will ensure continued work for the Marshal Space Flight Center.

ATK (Thiokol) will ensure that solid rocket boosters are used, either with Ares I / V or with the Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV), such as Jupiter.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin (UAL – United Launch Alliance) will press forward with their commercial proposals, and ensuring that the Delta and Atlas rockets are well used.

PWR Rocketdyne will appreciate additional business for its Space Shuttle Main Engine if an SDLV is built. The SDLV is almost a foregone conclusion if the Space Shuttle Program is extended beyond 2011.

While the proponents of Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) such as Space-X and Orbital Sciences make their case to the politicians, other groups are also working on the future NASA direction. One of these groups is the Direct team, which has proposed a complete exploration architecture (also here) that knits together the political considerations discussed above.

Possible Outcomes

Given the political background to the conundrum of the NASA mission and budget, one might foresee one of three possible outcomes:

  • Abandonment of Human Space Flight beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The Space Shuttle would be extended to complete its manifest in 2011. The International Space Station (ISS) would be extended to 2020 (or beyond). Purchase of American astronaut rides to the ISS would be on Russian Soyuz rockets.
  • Endorsement of the Commercialization of Space Flight with a reduction in NASA’s role to a procurer of services on bid and contract, and a modest increase in the budget. This would correspond to the UAL proposal discussed here on NSS Phoenix, where many competitors in addition to UAL would compete for the business NASA has up for bids.
  • A full blown commitment on the part of the United States to maintaining its historical preeminence in space exploration. LEO operations would be contracted from commercial entities. A Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle would be contracted out to UAL / ATK / PWR (who already operate the facilities where the Space Shuttle components are built and assembled), and would close the gap to ISS resupply until commercial vehicles came on line. These SDLVs with a Centaur derived upper stage would be capable of NEO missions, Lagrange point (EML-2 and SEL-1 and SEL-2) space observatory missions, and Phobos and Deimos missions. Certainly enough to gather the requisite space faring skills to begin contemplating permanent stations within the deep gravity wells of the Moon and Mars. This third outcome satisfies practically all of the political forces in play.

Post your thoughts on the outcomes in the comments section.

Post Augustine Commission – ULA Says “Fly Me to The Moon”

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has released a series of papers to be presented at next week’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2009 Conference. The key document from the ULA web site is Affordable Exploration Architecture 2009.

ULA compares its proposed architecture, using common vehicle and engine families, with the current Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), which “…has lead to the demand for not one but two heavy lift boosters, two large upper stages, a large lunar descent vehicle, another unique Orion service module and a lunar ascent vehicle… These machines share minimal commonality and require multiple propellant combinations and four main engine types. Each requires a separate development program with attendant costs approaching $100 billion followed by a profusion of long term support contracts to support just a couple annual flights of each element”.

Orion on Atlas

ULA Image: Core launch vehicle with Orion on ACES 41 second stage.

The first part of the ULA program is to human rate the Atlas and Delta systems. ULA’s document Human Rating Atlas and Delta IV addresses this issue. ULA states that its Atlas and Delta vehicles should be judged on three categories:

  • Launch Vehicle Reliability
  • Addition of an Emergency Detection System (EDS)
  • Intact Abort Capability

With regard to each of these, they state first that “Probably the single most important factor for human spaceflight is demonstrated reliability. Atlas and Delta have used an evolutionary approach to enhancing the capabilities of the systems, and it is evident in a long history of launching successfully.” Second, “Historically, launch systems have incorporated some level of EDS that would monitor critical systems and issue status, warning and abort commands. For Atlas and Delta, the EDS would be common and scalable, and utilize existing sensors within an architecture that used an independent, fault tolerant failure sensing system. Operational systems such as Atlas and Delta offer the advantage of flying the EDS on all missions, in addition to having flight environments that are well known and well characterized”. And third, “Liquid propulsion systems offer the key advantages of minimal catastrophic failures (compared to solid systems) and thrust termination prior to any abort. The resulting benign environment created will maximize the ability of the crewed vehicle to successfully abort and return the crew safely”.

ULA concludes their extensive review of redundancy, safety and reliability studies as follows:

The Atlas V, with the relatively minor addition of an Emergency Detection System and a dedicated NASA Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) and Mobile Launch Platform (MLP), is ready for commercial human spaceflight and complies with NASA human rating standards. The 3 1/2 year integration span is likely shorter than the development for any new commercial capsule that might fly on it”.

“The Delta IV has ample performance to support the existing Orion vehicle, without Black Zones. The Delta IV can support a mid-2014 Crewed IOC, which is superior to Orion launch alternatives. The proposed 37A pad is a look-alike counterpart to the existing 37B pad with low development risk. Human rating the Delta is a relatively modest activity, with the addition of an Emergency Detection System, an array of relatively small redundancy and safety upgrades, both in the vehicle and the engines that are almost trivial compared to the original development of the Delta IV”.

The Atlas 400 series could support Commercial Crew Vehicles by late 2013, and the Delta IV could support Orion by mid-2014.

Currently, ULA has three cryogenic upper stages used for a variety of NASA, Commercial and Department of Defense (DoD) missions. ULA proposes to replace this family with a single Advance Common Evolved Stage (ACES). This new upper stage would have a capacity of 41 mT of fuel (LOX and LH2) (ACES 41 – shown at right), and would have the ability to be refueled in orbit.

Further, the tank could be stretched for additional capacity. ULA suggests that a 71 mT (ACES 71) capacity would be sufficient to act as both a tanker and one of the building blocks for a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) depot and a depot at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point 2 (EML-2).

The depots and tankers would be launched by a combination of Atlas and Delta systems.


ULA Image: Advance Common Evolved Stage

ACES Depot

ULA Image: Propellant Depot

At left is the ACES based Depot, comprised of an ACES 41 for Liquid Oxygen (LOX) storage, and an ACES 71 tanker fitted with a sun shade for Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) storage.

ULA envisions an ongoing operation of small commercial tankers bringing propellant to the LEO depot, transfer tankers filling up at the LEO depot and transferring propellant to the EML-2 depot.

Prior to a manned Lunar mission, Altair cargo transports would be launched using a Delta IV and an ACES 41 second stage. The second stage would be refueled at the LEO depot and burn to EML-2. It would refueled again, and descend to the lunar surface, depositing cargo.

When both depots have the required propellant stocks, Orion and Altair vehicles would be launched, refueled at LEO, burn to reach EML-2. There, the Altair vehicle would be refueled, the crew would transfer, and the Altair would descend to the lunar surface.

The Altair is capable of delivery more than 40 mT of cargo, vehicles and propellant to the Lunar surface.

The Altair vehicle is comprised of an ACES 41 mated to either a cargo or crew module. At left is the Altair crew module shown as the Ascent Stage begins its return to EML-2 for rendezvous with the Orion spacecraft and return to Earth.

Since cargo is prepositioned on the Moon, ULA notes that “from a safety and reliability standpoint the entire Altair function will have been demonstrated multiple times before a crew flies on one. Confidence in the Altair will be the best that can be attained”.

The proposed Altair design is strikingly different from the current NASA concept, which entails a taller and more narrow lander, reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). However, fans of the TV show Space: 1999 will recognize the vehicle.

Altair Crew Vehicle

ULA Image: Altair Ascent Launch

The ULA presentations ends with the following summary:

The proposed lunar architecture illuminates how the powerful leveraging effects of simple orbital depots can enable small expendable launch vehicles, compatible with existing DoD and commercial payload needs, to establish, support and expand a lunar base with a continuous human presence. The costs and protracted schedule associated with the development of extremely large boosters and multiple in-space stages can be eliminated and the resources applied to the lunar lander, propellant tankers and depots built around a common in-space stage. The simplicity of the architecture enables development that actually fits within projected budgets which is in sharp contrast to the present approach. The door to lunar exploration is presently shut due being simply unaffordable with the present architecture. The proposed architecture reopens that door.

By separating out propellant delivery the architecture not only encourages economic production rates for multiple launch suppliers but provides a commodity task that fosters innovation for new launch suppliers, enables contributions from foreign sources and truly effective international cooperation. In many ways it is the functional equivalent of the establishment of airmail as a commodity activity for the fledgling aircraft and airline industries of the early 20th century.

The architecture simulates in nearly every respect what is required for Mars exploration and enables the maturation of key technologies that will be required on Mars. It can directly support all planetary missions and opens the door for the very high mass spacecraft required for serious exploration of the solar system. It effectively builds a road to the sky that will be built upon by coming generations to meet needs that can now only be guessed at.

In short this architecture concept suggests a new path that has a greater utility, lower cost, foreshortened schedule, the best possible safety and reliability and the greatest engagement of industry and government- the ingredients for a successful and permanent lunar presence and ultimately the exploration of our solar

Policy wonks can read an extensive review of ULA’s proposals by Chris Bergen at NasaSpaceFlight


The Augustine Commission – Direct 3.1

Earlier this week, the Direct Team released its latest update to their Jupiter rocket, an architecture designed to fulfill the 2005 ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study) and the goals of the existing Project Constellation program. The architecture was presented to the Augustine Commission on 17 June 2009 at their first public session.

One key element in the Direct architecture is the Jupiter, a true Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV). The design work is being done on an off-hours volunteer basis by some of the same NASA and aerospace industry engineers that are part of the Ares team. This group of around 70 engineers has worked on the Direct architecture for the past four years due to their concern with the performance, cost and safety aspects of the Ares I and Ares V rockets as championed by former NASA administrator, Michael Griffin.

The image at the right shows four configurations of the core Jupiter system. Whereas Ares I and Ares V are different rockets, each with many brand new elements, the core of the Jupiter system uses the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME), the External Tank (ET) and the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SSSRB).

As shown, the engines go on the bottom and the payload goes on top. The payload can be anything from the Orion Crew Excursion Vehicle (CEV) going to the International Space Station (ISS), The Orion plus 30 mT (metric tons) of cargo and supplies to ISS, the Altair lunar lander sending supplies to the Moon, the Orion plus Altair on the the way to the Moon.

The new details involve the configuration with the four SSMEs beneath the ET. Engineering has determined that a change from four engines mounted in a straight line between the two SSSRBs to the four engines mounted in a diamond pattern has certain advantages. First, the thrust structure weighs less. The thrust structure transfers the engine thrust to the external tank. The weight savings could add as much as one ton to the payload capability. Second, the plumbing carrying liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to the engines is simpler than in the straight line version. All this adds up to less the cost.

Looking from lower right to upper left, the four configurations are:

  • Jupiter 130 with Orion (core plus no upper stage plus payload)
  • Jupiter 246 with Altair (core plus six-engine second stage plus payload)
  • Jupiter 246 with Orion (core plus six-engine second stage plus payload)
  • jupiter 246 with cargo (core plus six-engine second stage plus payload)
Direct 3.1 Jupiter

Augustine Commission – Launch Vehicles

Eye Candy.  Here are past, present and future launch vehicles that have been discussed during the Augustine Commission meetings.  Credit belongs to Mike Majeski, whose nom de plume on the forum at is gladiator1332.  Mike compiled the artwork from various posts on the forum. From left to right below:

Launch Vehicles
  • Saturn V
  • Space Shuttle
  • Falcon 9
  • EELVs – Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (Atlas and Delta)
  • Super EELV
  • Sidemount Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicles
  • Direct Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicles – Jupiter 130 and Jupiter 24x
  • Ares V – Lite
  • Ares I
  • Ares V

The Augustine Commission – 12 August 2009 – And the Sparks were Flying

Below, with links, is the schedule for this past Wednesday’s meeting of the Augutine Commission. As noted in the edited title (for those who have checked in previously), this was a fascinating display of strong personalities and brain power being applied to a profoundly difficult problem. When your problem is not enough money, there are no good solutions. Nevertheless, the members have given the problem of options for human space flight a lot of thought and work.

The challenge was to match probable budget, vehicles and destinations versus the existing NASA budget for FY 2010 (down by $3Billion from FY 2009).

The preliminary outcome of the presentations and discussions were seven options, which I quote from one of the posts on the forum at NasaSpaceFlight:

Option 2: ISS to 2015; STS to 2011; Ares I / Ares V; going to the moon; within FY2010 guidance
Assessment: Well, they scored this option, but it’s really just for reference

Option 3b: ISS to 2020; STS to 2011; Ares I / Ares V; going to the Moon; within FY2010 guidance
Assessment: They scored this option for reference only – no chance to do any Exploration with this option

Option 3b$: ISS to 2020; STS to 2011; Ares I / Ares V; going to the Moon; outside of FY2010 guidance
Assessment: Moon is closer, they scored it quite well, but there is no budget assessment yet (budget will probably be considerable above guidance)

Option 5: ISS to 2020; STS to 2015; NSC or DIRECT; going to the Moon; outside of FY2010 guidance (no costings yet)
Assessment: Scored very well – *especially* due to the Shuttle program being extended ;) ;)

Option 6$: ISS to 2020; STS to 2011; Ares V Light; Deep Space; outside of FY2010 guidance (3 billion per year above guidance)
Assessment: Scored well, but lower than Option 7$ and 7S$

Option 7$: ISS to 2020; STS to 2011; Hydrocarbon booster; Deep Space; outside of FY2010 guidance (3 billion per year above guidance)
Assessment: Scored better than 6$, less than 5$, probably lower than 7S$

Option 7S$: ISS to 2020; STS to 2011; NSC or DIRECT; Deep Space; outside of FY2010 guidance (3 billion per year above guidance)
Assessment: Scored better than 6$ and 7$, but less or in-line with 5

A note on acronyms: STS – Space Transportation System (The Space Shuttle); NSC – Not Shuttle-C (a side mount shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle); DIRECT (an architecture for space exploration involving a Jupiter rocket (shuttle derived launch vehicle) proposed by a group of NASA and space industry engineers); HSF (Human Space Flight).

The conclusions drawn by observers of the Wednesday session, which ran two and a half hours beyond schedule (an indication of the profoundly difficult nature of the problems addressed), were that extending the Space Shuttle missions tp 2012 or even as far as 2015, along with an obvious commitment to fund the ISS (International Space Station) through 2020, would consume almost all of NASA’s HSF budget (at FY 2010 levels) for the next decade. The result would be no human space flight program until the early 2020’s, no possibility of a Moon mission until after 2028, and no Mars effort for several decades after that.

As can be seen from the seven options listed (mixing and matching architectures, vehicles and destinations), new money and a renewed commitment to American leadership in space will have to be found.

Stay tuned, as the work is not yet done, and there will likely be another “final” public meeting on 24 August 2009, just a week before the final report is due.

Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee
Public Meeting
Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm, local time
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington D.C.
Agenda (Final)
1:00pm – 5:00pm Committee Deliberations.
Discussion of Final Options Dr. Ed Crawley
Affordability Analysis Dr. Sally Ride
Evaluation Measures and Critria Dr. Wanda Austin
Preliminary Options Scoring Dr. Ed Crawley
Discussion of Final Report
Discussion of Close-out Activities

Augustine Commission – 30 July 2009 Session

The 30 July public meeting of the Augustine Commission on The Review of Human Space Flight Plans was fascinating from several points of view.

First, to see some really bright folks working on a really hard problem. Second, to see how individual views had changed since the first public meeting on 17 June.

The session was devoted primarily to the subgroup “Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit” (see the previous NSSPhoenix post here). The chairman of this subgroup is Dr Ed Crawley, first on the left, above.  He introduced the topic.  The charter of the subgroup is to present options for Why we explore, Where and How.  There were a lot of surprises during the two and a half hour presentation.  Of major interest was Crawley’s observation that President Kennedy had changed the American space program from Pay as you Go, to Pay this Decade.  It was to have profound impact on the future of Space Exploration.

Dr Wanda Austin, second from the left above, discussed the Evaluation and Assessment methodology the subgroup would propose for evaluating the options for exploration.  Bo Bejmuk (first from the right) discussed Science at various destinations.  Then things got really interesting.

Jeff Greason (CEO XCOR Aerospace, and second from the right above)) was committed to Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) at the first meeting on 17 June.  At the 30 July session, he spoke on access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond.  To get beyond LEO, you need a large Earth Departure Stage (EDS) and a lot of propellant.  Then we got his first surprise.  The next few minutes were devoted to the concept of Propellant Depots (PD).  As Greason noted, this would allow launch and exploration to be decoupled.  This is similar to the “tanker mode” advocated by Werner von Braun before he consented to the Apollo Luner Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) architecture.  Greason noted that had von Braun been successful in his position, Apollo would not have landed on the Moon in 1969, but we likely would have been on Mars by the 1990’s.  The reason is that you can launch a large empty EDS with payload, and fuel it in orbit.  This Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) architecture requires two launches of smaller and less expensive rockets. The Apollo program was effectively canceled with the elimination of funding for the Saturn V before Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. It was too expensive.

And now, Greason brought forth his second surprise. He suggested there were three classes of launch vehicles in sight: 25 mt (metric tons), 75 mt and 120 mt. The first, 25 mt, is represented by the Delta and Atlas EELV rockets. These he concluded, are “too small”.   The 120 mt class, represented by NASA’s Ares V rocket, is a repetition of the Saturn V problem: it is “too big” and too expensive. The 75 mt class, however, is “just right”. With propellant depots, you could launch an empty EDS with payload weighing 75 mt. Then you would add 375 mt of fuel from the depot. You now have a 450 mt EDS, which would allow you to explore a wide range of destinations in the Solar System. Such a rocket is represented by the Direct Team’s Jupiter Rocket, which was presented to the Augustine Commission at it’s 17 June 2009 meeting.

In future posts, we will discuss the options presented by the subgroup and the summation by Chris Chyba (third from the right): “Destinations are not Goals”.