Monday, February 1, 2010

Closing the Post-Shuttle-Gap Faster

SpaceX has a hangar full of rocket at the Cape. The latest rumors are that the new NASA budget from the President [Update: not rumors any more] puts the focus for near-term human space-flight (to LEO / ISS) on COTS-like providers. Based on SpaceX's claims (and their demonstrated commitment to develop, build and fly hardware), if this is true, the gap in US capability post-shuttle will actually be less (or eliminated) than if we continued to fund the Constellation boondoggle.

The latest AIAA news roundup on the topic follows.

Coverage continued on the new NASA plans expected to be announced Monday. Media coverage focused on the shift towards commercial users, but stressed that a fight is expected in Congress. The AP (1/31, Borenstein, Chang) reported that with the Obama Administration's expected proposal Monday that NASA buy launch services from private companies, there is "some concern...from former NASA officials worried about safety and from congressional leaders worried about lost jobs." Commercial companies see this very beneficial to the US, and executives "dismiss" safety concerns raised by various panels, citing the airline industry. According to the article, instead of the "established aerospace giants," it is the "newer space guard that brings some excitement to the field."

        The Washington Post (2/1, A8, Achenbach) notes, "NASA's grand plan to return to the moon, built on President George W. Bush's vision of an ambitious new chapter in space exploration, is about to vanish with hardly a whimper." Even though the upcoming budget will "effectively...kill" NASA's previous plans, "it remains to be seen whether Congress will accede to Obama's change in direction. Industry insiders expect a brutal fight in Congress." Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Nick Shapiro said Sunday the budget will show President Obama's "dedication to NASA. NASA is vital not only to spaceflight, but also for critical scientific and technological advancements."

        The Houston Chronicle (1/31, Powell, Berger) also reported that a "titanic political fight" is expected "as lawmakers from Texas move to protect jobs, astronauts and the Johnson Space Center." Congressmen from states with NASA centers "are drawing their battle lines to try to protect aspects of NASA's existing manned space program that account for jobs, payroll and subcontracts in their states." Scott Pace, head of the Space Policy Institute, said people "should not be surprised that the existing moon program has come to an end. ... Bush's budget decisions stressed the program; Obama's cuts drove it off the cliff."

        Meanwhile, Florida Today (1/30, Halvorson) reported Sen. Bill Nelson "says Obama shouldn't pump all of a $6 billion NASA budget increase into the development of commercial crew transportation services. Some of the increase should be put toward building a new heavy-lift launch vehicle." Nelson is concerned NASA will fall further behind in its development otherwise. "Investing in a super-sized rocket would leverage the $9 billion NASA spent on Project Constellation over the last six years" and "could increase the number of test flights at KSC, a move that would further make up for shuttle job losses

        According to BBC News (2/1, Amos), even though organizations like the Commercial Spaceflight Federation endorse the change, "there are major bi-partisan concerns in Congress about the proposed new path, and the impact it could have on jobs tied up with current Nasa programmes." AFP (1/31, Santini) reported than a White House advisor on Friday said, "Constellation is dead." However, "While Constellation is dead, it does not mean human space exploration is also dead," according to John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute, who points to plans to increase international cooperation.

        Bolden: NASA Will Deal With Non-Traditional Partners. Space News (1/30, subscription required) reported that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, speaking in Israel, "said U.S. President Barack Obama's vision for NASA will elevate the importance of international cooperation." Bolden said NASA will be "vigorously engaged with Israel and other nontraditional partners as we move forward with the new vision."

        New Heavy Launch Vehicle Could Be Based On DIRECT. (1/30, Bergin) reported, "The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) have confirmed they have almost enough External Tank resources to allow for one ET-sized 'In Line' Shuttle Derived Heavy Launch Vehicle (SD HLV) test flight and up to three Block I SD HLVs. The news comes as NASA managers insist the workforce should wait for official news, and not to be distracted by reports on Ares' demise." According to the article, a HLV "will be contracted out...moving to a multi-company effort led by Boeing," with partners like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and United Space Alliance. A plan is progressing "at a healthy pace" towards a test flight "of what is now heavily confirmed as based on the DIRECT team's Jupiter-241 Stretched Heavy Launch Vehicle." The article noted that this plan, contrasted with the "sluggish" Ares V rocket, is reportedly "receiving significant support" from Congress members.

1 comment:

  1. In 1962 we contracted North American to develop the Apollo spacecraft before we had even decided that we would need to do lunar orbit rendezvous. It was another three-plus years before rendezvous was demonstrated in Earth orbit! We boldly moved forward with the assumption that the technology would be there. In contrast, NASA has, for the last two decades, shown that they can burn through hundreds of billions of dollars without flying anything new. The new plan almost guarantees another decade or two of the same behavior.
    -- Burt Rutan on NASA's new budget