I’m at the Space Access ’07 conference in Phoenix, a meeting popular with the entrepreneurial (aka NewSpace) space transportation community. One person who stood out was someone who is at the other end of the spectrum: Steve Cook, director of the Exploration Launch Projects Office at NASA Marshall, who talked about the status of the development of the Ares 1 and Ares 5 vehicles. Early in his presentation he said the following about the overall space community:
You are all here because you are all space advocates. We’re all space advocates or we wouldn’t be in this business. Space, in the grand scheme of things, is a small community, relatively speaking. We all need to work together if we’re all going to be successful… This is such a small, but such an enthusiastic community. If we’re going to be successful, this is really a watershed time for all of us.
Cook said this in the context of various government and commercial space access efforts in progress at the moment, but some got the impression that he was talking about some of the criticism of the Ares program from within the community in recent months. Part of that criticism has been that NASA should have instead selected a human-rated EELV derivative for at least the Ares 1. Cook said that during the ESAS study effort the Defense Department “had a lot of interest” in using the EELV, but after looking at the idea for a couple months, “that they came to the same conclusion that we did, that that did not make sense from a cost, safety, or reliability perspective.” In response to a question later in the presentation, he said they didn’t pick an EELV because “it wasn’t intended to be a human-rated launch vehicle.” (Ironic, since Lockheed Martin is currently studying human rating an Atlas 5, although they are looking at the smallest version, the 401, and Cook said they were looking at much larger versions given the size of the CEV.) Cook also said that the marginal cost of the Ares 1, excluding the Orion spacecraft (as well as all the sunk development and infrastructure costs) will be $100 million, which led to a lot of discussion of what the real price of each launch would be, which Cook said he wouldn’t have a good handle on until the preliminary design review.
Much of Cook’s talk focused on technical issues with the Ares development, including some of the changes they made after settling on the initial Ares 1/Ares 5 design (like use of RS-68 and J-2X engines in place of the SSME). But what about the Ares 4 concept that leaked out early this year? We’re “not doing anything right now” with the idea, but he has a small advanced concepts team looking at various ways to “mix and match” Ares stages.