When the administration released its FY2011 budget proposal in February, development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle was not a high priority: the proposal deferred a decision on an HLV design to as late as 2015, a plan reiterated by President Obama in his speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15. Instead, the proposal called for technology development for an HLV, including a new hydrocarbon rocket engine. That hasn’t set well in Congress, and the Senate’s NASA authorization bill calls for development of a HLV starting in FY11. NASA, it seems, is now willing to support that approach.
“NASA wants to start heavy-lift work in 2011 ‘in a very robust way,'” the Huntsville Times reported today, quoting deputy administrator Lori Garver, who is in town. And what about the need to study various HLV designs? “We don’t need to study it anymore,” said Marshall director Robert Lightfoot, whose center would lead any HLV program.
Garver attempted to sound a conciliatory note in her comments, as least as reported by the Times: she said there’s no longer a “stalemate” between the White House and Congress on NASA, with both sides now talking to each other. (She added, though, that it would be up to Congress to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of NASA authorization legislation.) She said that NASA and the administration got off to a poor start selling the new plan: “We had not well explained the issues with Constellation.” And, she complemented Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the most vociferous critics of the administration’s NASA policies: “One of the reasons we are as far as we are (in space) is because of Sen. Shelby.”