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.


For previous commentary here, see the following:

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

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

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

NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

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

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

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

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

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle Capable of Diverse Missions

Image Credit:

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

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

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

The List

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

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

NASA – Bolden – Heavy Lift Vehicles

Jupiter 140
J-140 Image Credit:

8:00 AM Phoenix time

In the Fall of 2009, Bolden tasked NASA with evaluating Heavy Lift Vehicles. These included the Ares V, the Sidemount shuttle derived vehicle, inline shuttle derived vehicles similar to DIRECT Jupiter and what appeared to be a Saturn V type vehicle capable of lifting 200 mt to Low Earth Orbit, which surfaced briefly in a NASA white paper on “Flexible Path“.

Reports indicate that Bolden will review this internal report today, Friday, 15 January. The chief contender is a configuration consisting of four (4) Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), a stretched 8.4 meter shuttle External Tank (ET) and two (2) Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) from the Shuttle Program. These SRBs are likely to include a dummy fifth segment (similar to the Ares I-X test rocket), and then migrate to a full five (5) segment SRB. The core configuration is very similar to the Jupiter 140 Stretched Heavy (See Jupiter 140 image to the left).

The upper stage is reported to include between four and six RL10A-4-3 engines, a variant of the RL10B-2 currently flying on the Centaur upper stage of the Delta IV rockets. These very reliable upper stage engines date back to the Saturn V upper stages in the Apollo era.

A clue to the direction likely to be taken comes from yesterday’s meeting of the Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB). A proposal was put forward to delay the disposal of SSME assets, pending “future launch vehicle architecture” decisions. This includes certain operations at the Stennis Space Center and delays in disposing of new production capabilities for space shuttle main engines. The recommendation was to delay a decision until June 2010, in order to protect future shuttle derived launch vehicle architecture. The possible restart of SSME production was given as one to two years.

Of note is the fact that no mention of the Space Shuttle Program beyond current plans was mentioned in the PRCB deliberations.

Observers note that Charles Bolden is not one to rush to judgment. His response to the NASA report is not likely to be known for a while.

4:00 PM Phoenix. reports on the symposium “Human Spaceflight and the Future of Space Science”, sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and The Space Policy Institute at George Washington University (GWU). Senator Jeff Bingham (D-New Mexico) of the Senate Commerce Committee held up a working draft of a proposed bill titled the “Human Spaceflight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act”.

Although the bill has not been introduced in the Senate, Bingham said that the bill should contain language to continue the International Space Station (ISS) until 2020, and continue support of the ISS by the United States until commercial vehicles can fly cargo and crew to the ISS. “There is only one answer,” he said. “It will not surprise you to know that we believe that answer is to keep flying the shuttle.”

Irrespective of the lack of PRCB language about additional shuttle flights, discussed above concerning shuttle engine preservation, it seems there is growing support for a shuttle extension.

It makes sense that if you are going to extend shuttle parts production (engines, tanks and SRBs), then shuttle extension is a logical step. But you need more money to do that. Which seems quite likely, as a number of senators have a lot of jobs wrapped up with the existing shuttle infrastructure. Follow the Money.

Additional details will be added here as they become available.

NASA – The Rumor Mill

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

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

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

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

The major elements include:

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

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

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

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

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

“The Augustine Commission for Dummies”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Conclusions

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

Time is of the Essence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.1 Evaluation Criteria

As noted by the Commission:

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

Three primary evaluation dimensions were identified:

  • Benefits to Stakeholders
  • Risk
  • Budget Realities

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

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

6.2 Key Decisions and Integrated Options

6.2.1 Key Decisions

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

6.2.2 Integrated Options

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

6.2.3 Methodology for Analyzing the Integrated Options

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

6.2.4 Reference Cases of the Entirely Unconstrained Program of Record

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

6.3 Integrated Options Constrained to the FY 2010 Budget

6.3.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 1 and 2

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

6.3.2 Examination of alternate budget guidance

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

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

6.4.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 3 and 4

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

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

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

6.4.2 Examination of the key decision on the ISS extension

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.4.5 Examination of the key question on Shuttle extension

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

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

6.5.1 Evaluation of Integrated Option 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.6 Comparisons Across Integrated Options

6.6.1 Cross-option comparisons

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

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

6.6.2 Examination of the key question on exploration strategy

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

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

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

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

Final Scoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5.0 Launch to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

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

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

5.1 Evaluation methodologies for Launch Vehicles

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

5.2 Heavy Lift to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of Findings

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

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

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

5.3 Crew Launch to Low-Earth Orbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.4 Additional Issues in Launcher Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4.0 Current Human Spaceflight Programs

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

4.1 The Space Shuttle

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

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

The Committee explored three scenarios for the Shuttle:

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

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

4.2 The International Space Station

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

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

The Commission entertained three scenarios:

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.3 The Constellation Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the Committee deals gingerly with Ares I:

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

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

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

Part 4 next.

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