NASA – Deciding What the Budget Will Buy

Jupiter 130
DIRECT Jupiter 130
Image Credit: DIRECT Launcher

An article in Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel hints that two years after saying that the DIRECT project’s Jupiter 130 rocket “defied the laws of physics”, NASA engineers are putting the finishing touches on their nearly identical design: four space shuttle engines underneath the external fuel tank, two four segment solid rocket motors just like the shuttle stack, and the crew and cargo on top.

The design made sense in 1992, 2004, 2008 and it still makes sense now.

“It turns out Direct was right,” said one NASA engineer working on the project but not authorized to speak publicly.

Many of the engineers working on the shuttle-derived rocket favor building a new rocket with new technology and propulsion systems but said that they recognize that Congress is unlikely to give them the money or the time they need to do that. Under the constraints NASA faces, the Direct-like approach is probably the best way forward, they said.

[Edit 9/16/2010]

And now comes a scathing commentary by Mike Thomas in Wednesday’s Orlando Sentinel: “NASA incompetent — or just lying to us?”

Obama wants to dump Ares and turn much of the space program over to the competitive world of private enterprise.

He sees the future in companies such as SpaceX, a start-up venture in California that is developing rockets at a fraction the previous cost.

Nelson and the anti-government Republicans in Texas and Alabama want no part of this.

They want big-government inefficiency and all the wasted billions that brings their states. They are joined by the aerospace giants, which see their guaranteed profits and $100,000 shuttle tool belts threatened.

So here we sit. Ares won’t fly. Congress won’t give it up. Obama won’t fund it. NASA is devoid of a strong leader to break the logjam.

And this takes us back to Direct’s Jupiter.

The rocket that NASA once said was not physically capable of flight has now become a NASA option.

“It turns out Direct was right,” a NASA engineer working on the project told the Orlando Sentinel this week.

Now they tell us? This means that NASA either is completely incompetent, has been lying for four years or is praying its last Hail Mary.

Yikes

For previous commentary here, see the following:

Fail

Ever since I met Wayne Hale last Summer at the Augustine Commission hearings in Cocoa Beach, Florida, I have been a fan.

NSS Phoenix lists his blog among our favorite sites to visit for in depth statements about what is true in the extremely dangerous world of space exploration.

So what is it about STS-77 that so impressed Wayne Hale, his first mission as Lead Flight Director, in charge of the planning and development for the flight as well as the actual execution? It was, as he later learned to his own surprise, the possibility of failure:

Try something. Be bold, revolutionary, even game changing. Just don’t be surprised if you have to pick yourself up off the ground and dust off your pants from time to time. It’s the American way.

One experiment consisted of a small cylindrical sub satellite, which included a couple of permanent magnets. The entire experiment consisted of using those magnets to align the satellite with the earth’s magnetic field; a very passive way to provide attitude control for small satellites. The plan was to kick the satellite out, with a lot of wobble – clearly out of control, fly away for a day, come back, and observe how stable the satellite had become.

Well, the shuttle came back, and the wobble was a bit better. Another day, another dollar, and a bit less wobble. In the end, the experiment was judged a failure. Fail. But, we learned something. Science is a success whether the answer is yes or no.

Did I tell you that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous operations of any space flight? The crew got really good at those procedures.

Then next test was the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE). Pop it into space, push the button and instantly you would have a huge antenna. It created a stable shape, but tumbled end over end, which could not be controlled. Further, the “lens” was fluttering, unable to “see” anything. Fail.

Did I mention that STS-77 still holds the record for the most number of rendezvous executed by any single space mission?

So kudos to Space-X today. They, like all of us, have had their share of failure. Which means they learned something. An inaugural flight by a two stage rocket that achieves an Earth orbit is remarkable. The Atlas missile in the 1950’s, waited until launch #13 to achieve its first completely successful flight.

Clearly failure leads to success.

NASA – The New Course – Charles Bolden at the National Press Club

The National Press Club on NASA TV.

John Holdren introduces the implications of the new course based on NASA’s 2011 budget and Charles Bolden.

Bolden is speaking. NASA’s way forward. Thanks the teams that have worked Constellation for many years.

NASA will now be on a sustainable course.

We want to increase our understanding of the Earth and the Solar System.

A new path for exploring and living in space. $6 Billion in new funds for technology and research.

We have experienced a slow erosion of science missions within NASA. Therefore, this administration needs to re-baseline the science and other missions. 30 % increase in science. 60% increase in Earth science research.

Commercial partnerships with industry to produce safe reliable redundant access to low Earth orbit.

NASA’s role is to catalyze commercial operations and markets.

Industry already launches all our military and national security satellites. They also launch the high value commercial and civilian satellites and spacecraft.

Therefore, NASA is not putting its trust in unproven companies.

Commercial access to space and our international partners. This will let NASA focus on its key role of research on cutting edge technology.

Today, we will have SpaceX and Orbital discuss their roles with NASA. We will also introduce the five companies to whom we just awarded contracts for development:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. Robert Millman. Pusher Escape System. Composite Pressure Vessel.
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas. Brewster Shaw. Partnership with Bigelow. System of cargo and crew transportation for commercial and NASA.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. Jane Poynter. Developing turnkey system for use on any spacecraft.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. Mark Sirangelo. Concept based on the HL20.
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado. Mike Gass. Emergency protection system for Atlas and Delta rockets.
  • Orbital Systems. David Thompson. Private cargo systems within the next year.
  • Space X. Ken Bowersox. Cargo to ISS
Seven Commercial Partners
Credit: NASA TV
The Seven Commercial Partners

Q & A.

1. Goals? What is the timetable and the architecture?

More than a couple weeks but less than years to create the plans. The Moon, Mars, Asteroids are the logical destinations.

2. In orbit fueling? Primary or from Earth?

Being able to launch with a lighter vehicle. The problem is getting out of the gravity well. However, game changing technology: ion engines, VASIMR. Facilitate public discussion on goals and methods.

3. We are abandoning human space flight to the Chinese and others?

We are still the nation with whom everyone wants to partner. We are not abandoning human space flight. We will likely get there quicker than most people think.

4. Columbia accident board. NASA was stretched to thin? Lack of a National mandate?

Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. Continuing reminders. Take advantage of technology for destinations as it becomes available.

5. How to keep on budget?

Be a realistic dreamer. But plan to the budget, not try and budget for the plan. We have sufficient funds for what we want to do.

6. Astronauts on commercial vehicles? 60% of astronauts against commercial?

Stick with us if you can. If its not exciting enough, we will help you find your passion. And bear with them.

7. Involvement of Russian companies in partnerships?

Conversation yesterday with Anatoliy Permanov head of the Russian Space Agency Russia will remain a firm partner. Soyuz is excellent. But we will be without redundancy. Retirement of shuttle is the correct thing to do.

8. Job creation in commercial industry?

The more money our new partners receive, the more jobs. But there will be jobs lost and jobs gained. $6 Billion in new funds will translate to jobs.

END.

NASA – The New Course – Liveblog Gen. Charles Bolden (ret.) Press Conference

The Budget

The complete 2011 Federal Budget was released at 8:00 AM Phoenix (10:00 AM EST), including the NASA budget. Highlights from the NASA section:

  • Adds $6 billion to NASA’s budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration.
  • Initiates flagship exploration technology development and demonstration programs of “gamechanging” technologies that will increase the reach and reduce the costs of future human space exploration as well as other NASA, government, and commercial space activities.
  • Embraces the commercial space industry and the thousands of new jobs that it can create by contracting with American companies to provide astronaut transportation to the Space Station—thus reducing the risk of relying exclusively on foreign crew transport capabilities.
  • Ends NASA’s Constellation program, which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program’s triumphs. An independent panel found that Constellation was years behind schedule and would require large budget increases to land even a handful of astronauts back on the Moon before 2030. Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration.
  • Extends the International Space Station and enhances its utilization, bringing nations together in a common pursuit of knowledge and excellence in space.
  • Enhances the Nation’s global climate change research and monitoring system, including reflight of a satellite that will help identify global carbon sources and sinks.
  • Provides for a robust program of robotic solar system exploration and new astronomical observatories, including a probe that will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and an expanded effort to detect potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • Revitalizes and realigns NASA to put in place the right workforce and facilities to function as an efficient 21st Century research and development agency.

The NASA Overview (pdf) specifically states that:

Research and development to support future heavy-lift rocket systems that will increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems—potentially taking us farther and faster into space.

In the full budget, under Terminations, Reductions and Savings (p. 18):

The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation Systems program intended to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and replaces it with a bold new approach that embraces the commercial space industry, forges international partnerships, and develops the game-changing technologies needed to set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program and embark on a 21st Century program of space exploration.

Now the question is how this actually translates into programs. Does the HLV quote mean a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle ready to give American astronauts access to the ISS by 2014/2015? Or, does the “set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program” quote mean that Human Space Flight by America has been kicked down the road for a decade while Research and Development figure out if we can do it?

In reports from other sources:

  • The Business Standard of India quotes Obama’s budget chief Peter Orszag as telling reporters “We are cancelling the program, not delaying it”, with regard to the Constellation program and a return to the Moon. The report states that “the administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, a senior US official said.”

The Press Conference

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson will brief reporters about the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget during a teleconference at 10:30 PM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST), which will carried in audio only at http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/newsaudio/index.html.

If it is as carefully scripted as the Budget, we may know little more than what is apparent so far. We will see if there are questions from reporters, and if so, whether any of the questions are meaningful.

Bolden has begun speaking. His first significant note is that over the next five (5) years the NASA budget will be increased by $6 Billion.

The ISS will continue to 2020 and beyond in cooperation with our International Partners.

Collaboration with our partners to build the technology for missions to Mars that takes weeks, rather than months.

Commitment to green aeronautical research.

The Constellation program would not get us back to the Moon. So this budget cancels Ares I, Ares V and Orion. We were neglecting investments in key tech to get beyond moon.

The Augustine Commission has given us significant goals which this administration seeks to achieve.

Through an open competition, NASA has awarded Space Act Agreements for the development of crew concepts, technology demonstrations, and investigations for future commercial support of human spaceflight to:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado

We will be discussing these awards in more detail, and introducing you to the space pioneers behind them tomorrow at our event at the National Press Club.

We intend to make full use of the International Space Station. There is so much to know before we move out of Low Earth Orbit.

NASA will fly out the remaining five flights of the Shuttle. NASA will have funds for 2011 if the shuttle schedule slips.

Lori Garver is now speaking.

Heavy Lift Vehicle R&D budget is very robust. It is not for a restacking of existing technologies. Constellation provided no real development funding for HLV until 2016, only research until that time. Now, beyond LEO with HLV on a timetable faster than Ares V.

Looking at flagship missions, that they are going to design over the next couple of months. Don’t want to relive the mistakes of the past.

Commercial competition will see industry define the vehicles and time lines for crew and cargo. They will tell us what they can provide. Expects bids on previous investments. Orion may come back as part of a commercial bid. Propellant Depots are in the mix.

[Ed] Reading between the lines, it may well be that Boeing / ULA or others will bid a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle using existing Shuttle Assets. In any case, the budget goes to Congress, and there will be much blood on the sand before this is over.[/Ed].

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 NASAspaceflight.com.

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 – ISS Science Success – Part I

Part I, Part II, Part III

ISS
International Space Station. Credit: NASA Image

It now appears likely that the mission of the International Space Station (ISS) will be continued through 2020 (See the Augustine Scenarios). And following NASA’s announcement in September of the release of the report on “International Space Station Science Research Accomplishments During the Assembly Years: An Analysis of Results from 2000-2008”, now would be a good time to look back on the scientific accomplishments so far, and to look ahead. Because NASA’s report is 250 pages in length, we will digest it in small pieces.

The major areas of research include:

  • Technology Development for Exploration
  • Physical Sciences in Microgravity
  • Biological Sciences in Microgravity
  • Human Research Program
  • Observing the Earth and Educational Activities
  • Science from International Space Station Observations

Following launch of the Russian Zarya module in 1998, and before human occupation began in 2000, several experiments were conducted:

  • Protein Crystal Growth – Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen Dewar (PCG-EGN)
  • Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus: Kidney Cell Gene Expression (CGBA-KCGE) and Synaptogenesis in Microgravity (CGBA-SM)
  • Incidence of Latent Virus Shedding During Space Flight (Latent Virus)
  • International Space Station Acoustics Measurement Program (ISS Acoustics)

One of the most exciting results reported from ISS research is the confirmation that common pathogens change and become more virulent during space flight, performed in September 2006. This has important implications for extended human missions. It is also a target for additional research.

During the time covered by this report, steady growth in publications associated with ISS research has occurred, as shown in the graph to the right.

What have been the major research results in each of the six areas discussed in the report?

Technology Development for Exploration

One of the most important concerns of any space based operation has to be air quality. Therefore, the experiments with the “Analyzing Interferometer for Ambient Air” (ANITA) instrument will prove crucial to future explorers. “ANITA was calibrated to simultaneously monitor 32 gaseous contaminants (including formaldehyde, ammonia, and carbon monoxide (CO)) at low as parts per million levels in the ISS atmosphere. The hardware design—a quasi on-line, fast-time resolution gas analyzer—allowed air quality to be analyzed in near real time.”

Cumulative ISS Publications
Credit: NASA Image

As an example of the importance of these capabilities, the report notes that “ANITA was used in mid 2008 to detect a Freon leak (Khladon 218) from the Russian air conditioner, and to monitor the timeline of Freon concentrations with CDRA operations and shuttle docking. The ANITA data helped to determine that the zeolite bed in the CDRA was not effective in scrubbing the Freon leak, but that diluting the ISS air after the docking with the shuttle substantially reduced the level of Freon” (p18).

Other research topics include:

  • The Active Rack Isolation System (ARIS), which protects equipment by absorbing the shock of motion before it can affect an experiment.
  • The Smoke and Aerosol Measurement Experiment (SAME), which is planned to gather particulate size information on ISS. It is known that fires in microgravity produce smoke particles that are larger than on Earth. Being able to distinguish between smoke and other particles on ISS is important.
  • “The elastic memory composite hinge (EMCH) experiment provided test data on new materials that will further space hardware technology. This technology may eliminate the need for highly complex deployment mechanisms by providing a simpler, lightweight alternative to mechanical hinges. EMCH builds on the previous space shuttle experiment, lightweight flexible solar array hinge (LFSAH) that was flown on STS-93” (p 22).
  • “The In-SPACE Soldering Experiment (ISSI) is another payload that was rapidly developed after the Columbia accident to provide a lowmass experiment using hardware already on board station. It was designed to promote understanding of joining techniques, shape equilibrium, wetting phenomena, and micro-structural development in space” (p 23).

Physical Sciences in Microgravity

While Technological Development is important for space exploration, pure research also has a place on the ISS. Protein crystal growth, fluid physics and materials science are being researched:

  • The Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF) can support three crystal-growth methods: liquid-liquid diffusion, vapor diffusion, and dialysis. In the vapor diffusion method, a crystal forms in a protein solution as a precipitant draws moisture in a surrounding reservoir. In the dialysis method, salt draws moisture away from the protein solution via a membrane separating the two and forming crystals. Initial analysis of the crystals that were returned from station supports the findings of earlier APCF flights: comparative crystallographic analysis indicates that space-grown crystals are superior in every way to control-group crystals that are grown on Earth under identical conditions (p 47).
  • The Binary Colloidal Alloy Test hardware supported “three investigations in which ISS crews photographed samples of colloidal particles (tiny nanoscale spheres suspended in liquid) to document liquid/gas phase changes, growth of binary crystals, and the formation of colloidal crystals that were confined to a surface. Colloids are small enough that in a microgravity environment without sedimentation and convection, they behave much as atoms. By controlling aspects of colloidal mixtures, they can be used to model all sorts of phenomena” (p 49).
  • Protein Crystal Growth-Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen (PCG-EGN) was designed to produce crystals of various biological compunds. Also, some 500 student preparations were made as part of an education program to teach students about crystallization, crystallography methods and the impact of crystallography on medicine and biotechnology. A significant number of crystallization were successful. Indeed, some of the results produced better data than could be obtained in Earth bound efforts (p 69).

Sometimes, “no” is just as important as “yes”.

Researchers have found that it is possible to grow high-quality protein crystals in the weightlessness of LEO, where gravitational forces will not distort or destroy a crystal’s delicate structure.

The goal of the Dynamically Controlled Protein Crystal Growth (DCPCG) experiment was to control and improve the crystallization process by dynamically controlling the elements that influence crystal growth.

DCPCG was the first flight test of an apparatus that was designed to control the crystal growth process by controlling the rate of evaporation. The apparatus worked on orbit, and crystals were grown for the test proteins; however, the investigators determined that the growth could have been better. The same apparatus was used in extensive testing on the ground. Researchers tested a selection of protein solutions, including insulin (a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to regulate the metabolism and use of sugar), serum albumin, and lysozyme (an enzyme that attacks bacteria) and found that a slower evaporation rate yielded better results than a more rapid evaporation rate. While the results of the ground tests were published, the DCPCG experiment investigators did not seek to publish any structures from crystals grown in orbit.

What’s Ahead

In 2008, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Columbus and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo scientific modules joining NASA’s Destiny Laboratory. Further, in 2009, the number of crew members increased from three to six. This means that a lot more time is available for research in the future.

New experiments aboard the ISS include a broad range of science, as follows:

  • Coordinated human research experiments that collaborate with International Partners’ science objectives and activities, including shared baseline data collection and in-flight sampling, with the goal of understanding integrated causes and effects of changes in the human body.
  • Research using new science racks, including the fluids integrated rack (FIR), the combustion integrated rack (CIR), and materials science research rack (MSRR), will enable new experiments exploring combustion, fluid behavior, and heat-dependent crystallization patterns in metal alloys.
  • Exploration Technology Development will build from early experiments on materials exposure, smoke generation, liquid fuel management, and environmental monitoring.
  • The new Window Observation Research Facility (WORF) will provide capabilities to support remote sensing instruments, enabling Earth Science research that will, for example, document crop health and test the utility of blue-green bands for ocean research.

Part I, Part II, Part III

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 Spacenews.com 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.

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 directlauncher.com 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.)