NASA, White House

That long-awaited Constellation review

It appears that a review of NASA’s Constellation program that had been anticipated by many for weeks, if not months, will finally be moving forward. The Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday afternoon that the White house will officially order that review later this week, perhaps when the detailed NASA budget request for FY2010 is released on Thursday. The review could start later this month and be done in 60 to 90 days. According to Florida Today, the likely chair of the review panel will be Norm Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin (and neither Lori Garver nor Pete Worden, contrary to previous reports). The White House declined to comment on the upcoming review, telling Florida Today only that “the administration believes it is extremely important to ensure that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space.”

Such a review would not seem to bode well for the Ares 1 in particular, but at least one supporter remained confident about its prospects despite the impending review. “The Ares 1 and 5 vehicles have been through several studies and reviews and I am confident that any additional study will show that the Ares program is our best option to take our astronauts safely to the space station and beyond,” Congressman Parker Griffith (D-AL) told the Huntsville Times.

31 comments to That long-awaited Constellation review

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Norm Augustine has done this sort of thing before, as everyone knows. It will be interesting to see what Augustine II comes up with (if anything.) One theory is that this exercise is designed to put an end to the sniping over Ares rather than out an end to Ares.

    If it’s the latter, though, one ca just imagine how Congress might react. But Augustine is a sober, institutional kind of guy who is not likely to propose anything too crazy.

  • The last time Augustine made recommendations for NASA, they were ignored.

  • Doug Lassiter

    One can always dig down and find details that were ignored, but my recollection of the Augustine Report of 1990 is that the principal recommendations were largely followed.

    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/augustin.html

    The recommended phase-out of shuttle and transfer of cargo payloads to an unmanned heavy-lift vehicle wasn’t done, but is part of the Constellation strategy. It is of some use to review this report, as I suspect it would inform his approach to Constellation.

  • Augustine is probably a good choice (surprisingly good even to this Obama supporter). I expect he’ll do a technical review (will Ares-1 work?), and a financial review (are there cheaper alternatives, at this point in time, that will really do the job?), and try to minimize outside influence from those pushing particular alternative strategies. The result will be interesting to say the least. But, what will be really interesting to me is whether he addresses the question of whether we should build a lunar base, or touch the moon on the way to Mars. Commercial space advocates should push hard for the base as a market for new services (a “lunar COTS”), much as the Space Station has provided the political and financial market for COTS.

    There is good news in this, too. If Mr. Obama intended to use the review as an excuse to back off from expansive human spaceflight, Augustine probably would not have been a good choice to lead the review.

    — Donald

  • Doug Lassiter

    I agree that Augustine is a good choice. He has excellent credibility on the Hill. What gives me some concern is that a technical review is going to have to be predicated on the goals. So the question what our approach to human space exploration should be (role for ISS, lunar outpost, sorties, NEOs, Mars?), which is thus far largely missing from this administration, has to be answered before one can assess options for the space transportation architecture. Unless it’s just business-as-usual with VSE (minus the semi-arbitrary timeline that was imposed on it by OSTP and the agency). Will be very interesting to see how this review is chartered.

  • Donald Johnson

    NSF may have gotten the chairs names wrong or was too early for confirmed chairs, which is 2 percent of the article, but the 98 percent of the “contray to reports” article is them breaking the story about constellation review and with a lot of detail. Maybe you should given NSF credit for that Jeff?

  • Augustine also recommended an annual 10% increase in the NASA budget.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “Augustine also recommended an annual 10% increase in the NASA budget.”

    To use the cliche phrase, that was then this is now. Congress viewed Bush the Elder’s SEI with undisguised hostility. Twenty years later, going back to the Moon has been accepted by Presidents and Congresses of both parties. Unless someone does something underhanded, the only questions left are how, how soon, and how much,

  • Jim Muncy

    Mark,

    the point is that there will NOT be a continuous 10% annual real increase in the NASA budget. As Mike Griffin himself pointed out, George W. Bush decreased NASA spending on exploration in the outyears by some $12 billion from the original forecast. Given the reality necessity of an affordable/sustainable approach to exploration, it would seem that Ares 1’s days are numbered.

    – Jim

  • Brian Koester

    Moon or Mars?

    The National Institute for Aerospace just had an excellent debate on this March 17/2009. Here is the video link:

    http://www.nianet.org/salectureseries/2009/moon-mars.php

    It is the most cogent and balanced discussion I have heard to date and is a very timely as it reviews the rational for why constellation and Ares were picked as the choice to reach LEO/MOON/MARS. Check it out.

    Here are the debaters/speakers:

    *Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute and Professor of Practices at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs

    *Dr. Paul D. Spudis, Senior Staff Scientist, Lunar and Planetary Institute

    *Dr. G. Scott Hubbard, Professor, Stanford University

    *Dr. Joel S. Levine, Senior Research Scientist, NASA Langley Research Center

    Brian Koester

  • Moon or Mars?

    Wrong question.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Jim, that’s a strawman. No one is proposing a 10 percent continuous increase in NASA’s budget. As for the Ares 1’s days being numbered, that maybe the case or may not be the case. For that to happen someone will have to prove that there is an alternative that is cheaper and better. No one has managed to do that yet. Perhaps Augustine II will settle the question once and for all. I hope so, but I also think that no matter what comes out, some people will be very unhappy.Therefore, the question will be how to implement whatever Augustine II proposes.

  • richardb

    This commission will have a target rich environment for chastising NASA programs. Any project of this scope is bound to have problems no one could have anticipated and plenty of the self inflicted problems. Obama wouldn’t have created this commission unless he had definite ideas on what he wanted to do. The man doesn’t seem to leave much to chance.

    I don’t know what he wants to do but I have observed he’s spent a great deal of money this year and far into the future that the Feds don’t have. Its also obvious that Nasa will need a great deal more money than planned to get Ares 1 off the ground, let alone Ares V, Altair, or even alternatives such as Direct and its derivatives. This commission offers Obama the cover to kill it all and perhaps suggest a taxi to the ISS as the new “vision” in light of the sharply constrained fiscal situation that Obama is creating.

  • gm

    “Direct”…
    —————–
    the “FAST-SLV”-like (but FOUR months LATER) “Direct”
    the “FAST-SLV”-like (but FOUR months LATER) “Direct”
    the “FAST-SLV”-like (but FOUR months LATER) “Direct”
    the “FAST-SLV”-like (but FOUR months LATER) “Direct”

  • Major Tom

    It’s about time that such a review was undertaken.

    “No one is proposing a 10 percent [sic] continuous increase in NASA’s budget. As for the Ares 1’s [sic] days being numbered, that maybe [sic] the case or may not be the case.”

    Come on — no one can be that dense. That’s precisely the point that Mr. Muncy is making. Constellation is tens of billions of dollars out of budget (per NASA’s own estimates and CBO’s), and no one is proposing the large, year-on-year NASA budget increases that would be necessary to keep Ares I/Orion going forward. Therefore, Ares I’s days are numbered.

    “It will be interesting to see what Augustine II comes up with (if anything.)”

    This really isn’t “Augustine II”. The Augustine Report covered the waterfront, setting goals and content for all of NASA’s programs. This new White House panel is focused only on NASA’s human space flight activities, and apparently just the Constellation program. In fact, it may only deal with Constellation content, and may not even revisit the human space flight goals set for Constellation in the VSE.

    “One theory is that this exercise is designed to put an end to the sniping over Ares rather than out an end to Ares.”

    We’re fooling ourselves if we think someone of Augustine’s stature would agree to a chairmanship to merely rubberstamp existing plans (for Constellation or anything else). Someone like Augustine has better things to do with his time.

    “For that to happen someone will have to prove that there is an alternative that is cheaper and better.”

    No they don’t. They just have to show that Constellation can’t be executed within budget or technically without taking on great risk. CBO and NASA’s own cost estimates have arguably proven the former. NASA’s inability to close on a PDR for Ares I/Orion after four-plus years has arguably proven the latter.

    “No one has managed to do that yet.”

    A NASA-commissioned, independent report by the Aerospace Corporation on EELV alternatives to Ares I has done just that.

    “no matter what comes out, some people will be very unhappy.”

    Well, duh…

  • common sense

    @Major Tom:

    There is this document (from NASAWatch)http://images.spaceref.com/news/2009/CxP_70057_Ares_Projects_Plan_Rev_B[1][1].pdf in which we can find:

    ——————-
    Page: 77 of 131:

    3.8.7 Termination Review Criteria
    The Ares will be subject to a Termination Review if its schedule projections show that it cannot meet the approved Ares I IOC date or if its cost is projected to exceed the approved run-out (including reserves) by more than 25 percent. The PMC shall make a recommendation to the
    GPMC as to whether a Termination Review should be conducted. The Headquarters GPMC would make this recommendation to the NASA Administrator.

    ——————-

    Any idea about

    1) schedule projections AND the approved Ares I IOC date.
    2) projected cost AND the approved run-out (including reserves)

    Bottom line: Is a termination on order?

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “They just have to show that Constellation can’t be executed within budget or technically without taking on great risk. CBO and NASA’s own cost estimates have arguably proven the former. NASA’s inability to close on a PDR for Ares I/Orion after four-plus years has arguably proven the latter.”

    But which budget? The one NASA was promised or the one NASA got? OIne cannot sash the developmnt budget of a new rocket and then complain when it’s schedule starts to slip with a straight face.

  • Major Tom

    “@Major Tom:

    Any idea about

    1) schedule projections AND the approved Ares I IOC date.”

    The official Ares I/Orion IOC was moved out to March 2015 from 2014 a while back. However, Constellation currently has zero confidence in meeting that date based on content and budget. As a result, the program is currently going through yet another content-cutting exercise to try to buy back some schedule confidence. The recently reported ISS Orion crew reduction from six to four members was one of the first steps in this exercise. Other decisions are due June 1. Starting at “The Constellation Effort”, this article provides the best publicly available details:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/04/refining-constellations-roadmap-2015-hanley-proposes-major-changes/

    “2) projected cost AND the approved run-out (including reserves)”

    You’ll see the runout for Constellation, Ares I, and Orion in tomorrow’s budget release.

    NASA’s own projected costs for Constellation through first lunar landing have risen from $57 billion to $92 billion. Based on past cost growth, CBO estimates that this figure will top $110 billion before it’s all over. See pages 16-17 in this recent report:

    http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/100xx/doc10051/04-15-NASA.pdf

    Regardless of whether Constellation can nickel and dime itself enough to provide some confidence for a March 2015 IOC for Ares I/Orion, there’s no way that enough content can be cut out of Constellation to buy back $35-53 billion worth of cost growth through first lunar landing. A fundamentally new approach will be needed if the lunar goal is adhered to — hence, the Augustine panel.

    “Bottom line: Is a termination on order?”

    In the short-term, it depends on the ongoing, internal review to reduce Constellation content. If NASA can cut enough content out of Constellation such that Ares I/Orion can still make March 2015 with some measure of confidence, then a NASA termination review is technically not called for. But even if that happens, the reduced content and the additional risks taken on to execute the remaining project plans may not be deemed worth the expense, by a new NASA Administrator, Augustine’s panel, or the White House.

    Of course, the IOC could just be moved to the right again, but GAO and CBO put the actual IOC at 2017 based on the J-2X development and prior cost growth. A seven-year gap, recovery of basic LEO transport capabilities only at the end of the Obama Administration (or the first term of the next administration), and deferring lunar or other exploration goals well into the next decade would all be hard to swallow for a new NASA Administrator, Augustine’s panel, or the White House.

    And regardless, even if Constellation can restore some confidence in the 2015 IOC for Ares I/Orion in the near-term, there’s no way the program can buy back the $35-53 billion worth of cost growth through first lunar landing over the long-term. The program can’t get back to the Moon without a huge infusion of funding or a fundamentally different approach. And that’s what the Augustine panel will have to fix if a lunar goal is adhered to, in addition to whatever charge they’re given about reducing or preventing future slippage in the gap.

    FWIW…

  • Major Tom

    “But which budget? The one NASA was promised or the one NASA got?”

    It doesn’t matter given the magnitude of Constellation cost growth.

    In his Goddard Dinner speech, Griffin claimed that the projected budget runout for Exploration Systems was reduced by a total of $15 billion — $12 billion under Bush II and $3 billion in the Obama FY10 budget being released tomorrow. See:

    http://www.spacepolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/griffin-goddard-speech.pdf

    That $15 billion pales in comparison to the $35-53 billion growth in costs that Constellation has experienced. NASA’s own cost estimate for Constellation through first lunar landing has gone from $57 billion to $92 billion, a $35 billion increase. CBO estimates that Constellation costs through first lunar landing will top $110 billion, a $53 billion increase.

    Those $35-53 billion increases in Constellation costs are more than double to triple the $15 billion that Griffin is claiming has been taken out of the Exploration Systems budget. The bulk of the problem is not budget reductions but skyrocketing costs in Constellation. Forget today’s budget. As they now stand, Constellation’s costs would have outstripped the original VSE budget by a couple to several tens of billions of dollars.

    “OIne [sic] cannot sash [sic] the developmnt [sic] budget of a new rocket and then complain when it’s [sic] schedule starts to slip with a straight face.”

    One cannot blame budget reductions for schedule slippage when the costs of one’s program have increased two to three times faster than the budget has been reduced. Or when the costs of one’s program exceed its original budget by tens of billions of dollars.

    FWIW…

  • common sense

    @Major Tom:

    I do realize that those schedules and dates and what-have-you can be politically altered. However, and I think you stated it well, the problem has become out of control. I do not believe that one can reduce capabilities and yet assume to explore Mars instead of the Moon with the SAME architecture as was suggested elsewhere.

    Predictions if they want to keep some sort of Constellation going and business as usual prevails:

    1) Augustine (and WH) will call for termination.
    2) Congress (LMT, BA and ATK) will fight back.
    3) Congress (LMT, BA and ATK) will be offered to keep Shuttle OR Constellation. Not both.
    4) A new implementation will keep the workforce around, possibly by extending Shuttle until they have all retired or so.
    5) Ares I will be canceled and replaced with EELVs ensuring access to LEO, notwithstanding “COTS-D” success.
    6) The new Constellation will call for Mars. Ares V will go on at slow pace.
    7) If there is no NASC or similar, Constellation will be terminated within 4 to 8 years. Or whenever those eloquent senators retire. Or at the next Shuttle accident if extended.

    I truly hope they will not go for business as usual and try and reform NASA and human space flight. They should put more focus on COTS, as its success will help NASA in the future with the public. They should call for Mars as the requirements are much more stringents than the Moon. Leave the Moon to a “COTS-M” program. Make the plan for the next 20 to 30 years. Revive NASC and get bipartisan consensus. I am not sure how to deal with the current workforce issue, in particular ATK if they cancel Ares I. They still can work on Ares V I suppose.

  • EJM

    After watching over the last 20 years of starting and stopping of post-shuttle plans, I can only look at what is going on through cynical glasses of what is going on. My opinion is that one needs to step back and view the latest news of a major review in the context of some other events over the last few weeks and the future outyears long term national debt. First, the news that Orion is decreasing the number of astronauts that it can carry to ISS. Next, the pretty strong hint that the Moon base is out of the picture. This latter incident ignited strong discussions on the Web between various camps of 1) skip the moon, do directly to Mars, 2) skip the moon, go to a NEO Astroid, 3) keep the moon base option, and 4) probably a camp I missed. Now in my view, ALL these camps have it wrong at what is going to play out. And I think those who in the camp who think that dropping a moon base will lead to a faster trip to Mars will be the most disappointed in what will ultimately happen with Ares and Constellation.

    My prediction is that there will indeed be no moon base option. However, I also think that ultimately there will be no NEO mission, or Mars mission. The new commission will probably end up justifying a continued scaleback of the objectives of Constellation. What will be left is just LEO capability, just as we have had since the Shuttle started flying. Cynically, I believe the dangling of “skip the moon, go straight to Mars talk” is a way for the budget masters to push buy time to slowly reduce the budget and capabilities of Ares, unmanned alternatives, and anything else those of use who would like to see something happen beyond LEO.

  • What will be left is just LEO capability, just as we have had since the Shuttle started flying.

    That would be great, as long as it’s not Constellation or Orion. It’s a feature, not a bug. I am considerably more optimistic. I believe Mr. Obama and company will realize just how optimistic and realistic LEO transportation becomes with the cancellation of Constellation, Ares, Orion and the moon.

    The planets can wait, they’re not going anywhere. But commercial and advanced reusable EELV and COTS derived launch vehicles certainly are.

    Throw a dozen SSMEs into the mix, and it’s fantastic, in my humble opinion. This could well sort itself out in remarkably non-intuitive ways, and he’d leave the next administration well prepared for whatever follows in 2016.

  • Jim Muncy

    Mark,

    While I 100% support Major Tom’s devastating points — 3X cost overruns SWAMP any impact of 1X budget cuts — the fact is that the budget cuts are not news. Much of the $12B in Bush43 cuts to outyear exploration funding were made in 2005-6, not 7-8. In other words,
    They were made EARLY ENOUGH for Griffin to correct the fundamental inaffordability and unsustainabilty of his architecture. He chose not to do that.

    You ask “which budget”. There’s only one budget: the real one, including the vaguaries of continuing resolutions, etc…

    The real budget doesn’t support Ares 1. It arguably never did. That reality has caught up to NASA. It’s not pretty, and it definitely doesn’t make me happy, but if you want to get out of a deep hole… the first step is to STOP DIGGING.

    – Jim

  • David Davenport

    20 or 30 years = Project Never.

  • TANSTAAFL

    MUNCY: The real budget doesn’t support Ares 1. It arguably never did. That reality has caught up to NASA. It’s not pretty, and it definitely doesn’t make me happy, but if you want to get out of a deep hole… the first step is to STOP DIGGING.

    Actually, there is a critical prior step, which is to acknowledge reality.

    The fact that somebody seriously posed a question about “which budget?”, suggests a serious disconnect with reality. The budget is not disputable. It is not a matter of interpretation. It is hard numbers on paper.

    We can’t have a productive conversation where one person is talking about a “wish for budget” or “the budget we could have had if only ____” or “the budget we were promised in 2004″, and the other person is focused on the hard facts of the *PRESENT* actual budget.

    FWIW,

    – TANSTAAFL

  • common sense

    @TANSTAAFL:

    Ah. %^)
    Yep, well just goes to say about our space community, doesn’ t it?

    But who can blame them/us? Haven’t we (our US society) borrowed as far as the eyes can see? And I am not talking stimulus, just in case…

    Reality check on order and it’s going to hurt.

    On a scale from 1 to 10 where do you put human space flight to the Moon or Mars in our current mess? If you guessed “-1″ you’re probably right.

  • commission will most likely complete its 60 – 90 day report precisely during the week preceding the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 launch.

    The administration is taking the political pulse measuring the grassroots support for aggressive and bold initiative. Their assessment is likely to be that the public will react enthusiastically to a bold initiative for American leadership. [fwiw — watch the box office data for Star Trek]

    Worden and Garver will not be leading dueling potentially contradictory reports. They are both on ascent for potential role as NASA Admin. Augustine is a safer play as leader of the “study”, and he is not shy about costs.

    Watch for a Kennedy-esque historically significant speech and appointment to follow right on the heels of this report, as the American public contemplates the Apollo legacy.

  • Carl Hewlett

    Ping-Pong!

    Well if we are going to switch horses in mid stream we better hope Space-X has it together for station support.

    Direct 2.0 is the way to go if we are going to drop back and punt, (best retention and expansion of capability lift for the least investment).

    Space out the last shuttle flights to close the gap in flight capability, (to see if Space-X will preform as advertised).

    All this talk of scale this, man rate that, for the Delta IV or Atlas V does not take into account the payload processing issues. Major modifications would need to be made to the existing pads and support structures. Remember the processing problems with Apollo 7?

    As for members of the review team to add:

    John Young – Real American Hero!
    Burt Rutan – For out of the box thinking
    Homer Hickman Jr. – Veteran of the clone wars
    A Anson-Stoner Representative – To teach NASA how to sell the product to main street!

    Have a great day!

  • anonymous

    Direct 2.0 is the way to go if we are going to drop back and punt, (best retention and expansion of capability lift for the least investment).

    —–

    Direct has the same fundamental problems, nobody at NASA knows how to build a booster. Perhaps this motley crew could build Shuttle-C because all the parts are there, but any other changes will just be beyond the talent pool at Huntsville and Johnson.

  • […] es der Ares I an den Kragen? Gerüchte verdichten sich, dass Obama neu nachdenken lassen […]

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