NASA

NASA emphasizes near-term exploration systems progress, but long-term questions remain

At a Capitol Hill luncheon Wednesday, NASA officials provided a standing room only audience with an update on the development of key elements of the agency’s exploration plans: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, and ground systems to support those vehicles. And while officials gave the message that development of all three was going well, there was uncertainty—or, at least, confusion—about one longer-term element of the plan.

“We believe we are on a mission. We have a deeper purpose,” said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for human exploration and operations, after providing a quick overview of those three programs, including this fall’s test flight of the Orion spacecraft, designated Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). “Step one is coming up this fall, December 2014, EFT-1, and what we get to be doing with Orion. So be watching for that, watch us make the progress.”

The message that Dumbacher and the NASA managers of Orion, SLS, and ground systems provided the audience at the Space Transportation Association event was that all three programs were making good progress. “In SLS, we’re kind of in blocking and tackling mode right now,” said SLS manager Todd May. He said they kicked off last week a critical design review for the core stage and the booster stage last week, and currently have five months of slack on their critical path.

Dumbacher said that there “standard hardware development kind of things” the Orion program has had to work through as it prepares for EFT-1. “You always learn when you do hardware,” he said. Budget issues, including sequestration and the government shutdown last October, also complicated matters. “The bottom line is that all three—ground systems, Orion, and SLS—will be ready for EM-1″ in late 2017, he said.

What happens beyond EM-1 has been the subject of some speculation in recent weeks, which Dumbacher addressed in his opening comments. “Despite what some people might want to say in the blogosphere, [EM-2] will be crewed,” he said. “There’s word out there that we’re not going to fly crew until EM-3. Don’t believe it. The baseline plan continues to be the baseline plan of crew on EM-2.”

That “word out there in the blogosphere” was actually also in trade publications like Space News, which reported last month that EM-2 might not carry crew since industry was expecting it to be the first flight of a new, more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) that would replace the Delta IV-derived Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) that will fly on EM-1. Boeing executives at the 30th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs last month said that the EUS could be ready in time for EM-2, although as Boeing vice president John Elbon said there, “the architectures haven’t been laid out yet” for its use for EM-2 or beyond, including whether its first flight would carry a crew.

Asked later in the event about the use of the EUS, Dumbacher said NASA had made no decisions yet about when and how to fly the upper stage. “Our baseline plan, and I will start there, is the ICPS on EM-1 and EM-2,” he said. “We are looking at the upper stage and when we can bring it in to the program, what’s the place to do it. Todd [May] and his team are doing all the trades, including trades on the engines. We’re still working through all that.”

Dumbacher confirmed after the luncheon that the “trades on the engines” includes whether to use RL10 engines for the EUS, as has been widely reported, or the J-2X engine that NASA has been developing since the Constellation program. He added that NASA was looking at a range of opportunities to first fly the EUS, from EM-2 to as late as EM-5.

59 comments to NASA emphasizes near-term exploration systems progress, but long-term questions remain

  • Marek

    Its great that they are making such wonderful progress.

    Unfortunately Orion is about three years late today-three years later than when it was needed (end of Shuttle) and more than three years later than originally planned.

    The Orion that might fly this year is not a real or complete Orion, just a shell of the reentry capsule with make-do fixes to ‘simulate’ an upper stage, a service module, and various cabin systems.

    The Orion being designed and planned to fly in 2021 cannot do the ARM mission because of reentry velocity. The Orion in design was designed for lunar missions. This year’s reentry mission will be at a substantially lower velocity than even the lunar missions.

    The real kicker though is that the Orion being designed is needed for flags and footprints moon missions-something not in anyone’s plan today and something that makes little sense-why repeat Apollo?

    Orion and SLS are too expensive, will not fly often enough to be safe, and are redundant with the commercial vehicles that are further ahead and cost far less.

    So Dan, yes, everything is on target, but no one knows for what.

    • @Marek;……WHY exactly do we want to repeat the Skylab program, or the Gemini program, for that matter? I find it SO ludicrous, this “let’s-not-repeat-Apollo” soundbite, yet meanwhile, these SAME people want us to go on repeating the invention of the wheel——namely LEO stations & the capsules to service them! Just how many hundreds of times can we ferry astronauts to LEO just to do space station visits?! Doesn’t it ever get old, as well?!

      One more time, for you all: A HUMAN LUNAR RETURN WILL EXCEED & OUT-DO THE THINGS THAT APOLLO WAS ABLE TO DO FORTY YEARS AGO! It might resemble Apollo at the very beginning, because the lunar orbiters & landers are going to need a few test drives———-just like the Space Shuttle did. But beyond a tetrad, say, of shakedown cruises, the new Lunar human presence will be taken to high gear! The flight manifest will move sequentially & fairly quickly, from the sorties to the outpost expeditions. Quite unlike the Shuttle, which waited until mission 60-something, after a decade & a half had elapsed, to get on with space station visiting or constructing!

      The Asteroid Retrieval Mission is a very lousy & pointless use of a brand new man-rated cislunar craft! Is THAT all NASA is planning to do with it? Is THAT the best purpose they can come up with, for a new heavy-lift rocket & a new earth escape stage? Where’s the beef, in all this? Where’s the LANDER vehicle? This proposed giant launch system & crew capsule has NO credible-sounding purpose, if all they’ll use it for is for a flashy stunt “mission” to go bag a meteor rock!

      • I am a proponent of the lunar mission. I was also interested in the Plymouth Rock mission profile published by Lockmart. It seemed to be doable within the constraints of SLS. Navigating a manned mission to a NEA presents new and interesting challenges. I can’t understand why that mission failed to gain traction. The ARM proposal was so silly one would have thought it would be rejected out of hand. I don’t understand the thought process of our current administration. They make the wrong call on almost every decision they make.

      • “A HUMAN LUNAR RETURN WILL EXCEED & OUT-DO THE THINGS THAT APOLLO WAS ABLE TO DO FORTY YEARS AGO!”

        Yep, and its going to be done with or without NASA’s help. Orion/SLS sure as hell won’t come close to “EXCEED & OUT-DO”

        Or maybe you want Orion/SLS more that you want sustainable transportation to the Moon?

        • @Rick Boozer;……. Heavy Lift is definitely going to be needed, but SLS probably won’t be up to the task. I suspect that it might not be strong enough, for launching a viable & more-capable-than-the-Apollo type of lunar lander. But some engineering analysis would be needed to figure it out. Maybe a small Apollo-sized one might be fittable atop of the SLS, and could be sent to Low Lunar Orbit ahead of a later-sent rendezvousing crew, on Orion. [Both the lander AND the Orion orbiter would need to be capable of decelerating themselves into LLO individually.]

          In any event, this “Golden Spike” type of approach, to the flight plan, with a two spacecraft LLO rendezvous, might become the fallback plan, if we can’t get a more powerful Heavy-Lift rocket. So consider the ramifications of Project Constellation’s cancellation, and our lack of an Ares 5. Not to mention all of the valuable years, perhaps a full decade worth of time, that NASA will’ve wasted building a weaker Heavy-Lift rocket simply to go meteor-rock chasing in high lunar orbit. Who knows when a Lunar-friendly administration will finally come in? Whatever “Golden Spike” type of small-sized lander that we eventually build, will have to serve the double eventual duty of a cargo-only version lander———-which minus the ascent engine need, would be used for an eventual base-module/base equipment lander vehicle.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Constellation was cancelled for two reasons:

            1. It was a James Webb Space Telescope-class budget buster and its budget was already an order of magnitude greater than the JWST. The JWST itself has eaten NASA out of house and home by not being cancelled years ago. Constellation was going to take NASA entirely down if it had continued. First, it would have consumed every other NASA program, then it would have starved when there was nothing more to feed it. The only alternative histories in which Constellation was completed and launched anything also have unicorns and flying cars in them.

            2. It was a James Webb Space Telescope-class schedule buster. At the time it was cancelled, it was slipping its schedule by more than a year per year.

            You need to acknowledge fiscal reality. Constellation had bad genes. It was never going to live long enough to grow up.

            • “Constellation was cancelled for two reasons…..”

              I totally disagree. The engineering difficulties were fully overcome-able. Again, if Ares 1, had proved to be a weak chain link——and this was NOT a certainty, as some degree of patience with working thru the issues, would’ve made a difference——-then the Orion’s launcher could have been changed to another such smaller rocket.

              Building a lander for reaching the Moon’s surface, would’ve taken another healthy dose of that patience thing, but would ultimately have put together a viable vehicle, which could have exceeded the capabilities of the old Apollo LEM. The mission elements could’ve been constucted in phases. First to come would’ve been the Orion capsule & its accompanying launch rocket, whether an Ares 1 or something else.

              The giant heavy-lift rocket, the Ares 5, was to have been built concurrently with the designated lunar payloads it was to launch up: the Altair L-SAM, & the earth escape stage. If that portion of the plan would have had to wait somewhat longer to’ve come into service; say after 2020, then so it would’ve been———–NASA still would accomplish reaching the Moon, in this century, sometime in the 2020′s.

              Of course the ISS and any further space telescopes would’ve been sacrificed in this process. But that would’ve been fine: far more superior telescopes could eventually be built on the Moon’s far-side, and we’d have exchanged a zero gravity training environment for a one-sixth-of-earth-gravity one. Furthermore, do you really think that the future project for a manned expedition to Mars will turn out to be any easier to do than Constellation would have been??

              • Dick Eagleson

                You really need to work on reading comprehension. I didn’t say anything about engineering problems – though, in fairness, Ares I, in particular, had them in spades – I said the insuperable problems were fiscal and managerial. Constellation was unaffordable as a sole-source, cost-plus project developed in the usual NASA way. And one of the usual NASA ways was to keep slipping the schedule as the budget limitations bit. At the time it was cancelled, Constellation’s nominal finish date was moving backward so fast it was actually getting further away by the day. We were never going back to the Moon with the thing because we’d never be able to build and operate it. You talk about Constellation like its some exotic car you had your eye on to race at Le Mans, except your budget is only good for a stripped-down Chevy with no spare tire. You’re living in Fantasyland, prating about missions we couldn’t afford to undertake.

                The same is true of SLS and Orion now. There’s no money for mission hardware, the Block II phase of the project has been abandoned to keep the near-worthless first phase barely going and schedules continue to slip. The whole program is just a scam to squeeze a few more billion into the pockets of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Boeing and LockMart before the thing grinds to its inevitable halt. NASA hasn’t finished anything it has started since Shuttle and ISS. SLS is not going to be an exception.

      • Dick Eagleson

        One big reason we’re not going back to the Moon with SLS is because the thing is now a three-legged horse. NASA nixed the advanced boosters and the J-2X-based upper stage. That puts the whole Block II architecture beyond reach along with its 130 tonnes-to-LEO lift capacity. Saturn V, a rough equivalent of SLS BLock II in lift capacity, made it just possible to do short-term flags and footprints missions to Luna. The crippled SLS Block I variant that remains can only get 93 tonnes to LEO. That’s not enough even for Apollo redux missions. Instead of “Apollo on steroids” it’s more like “Apollo on diuretics” – insufficient “juice” to do the job.

        I haven’t seen an analysis yet of whether SLS in its diminished condition is any longer capable of flying the ARM mission either. It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is “No!” In that case, there’s not a lot of point in the Loonies and Meteor Men throwing down; SLS comes up short for both. But SLS is definitely no longer Moon-capable. Don’t even think about SLS launching a Mars mission.

        • @Dick Eagleson;…..I have long since suspected all this: that the SLS will NOT be powerful enough for manned lunar missions. I’ve perused over the latest diagram visuals for how the launch & payload scheme would go. It’s a depressing picture, to say the least! Sure, maybe they can build a lunar lander small enough to fit on top of it——-plus the earth escape stage that they’ll need to send it Moonward———and then they can send it unmanned into a low lunar orbit trajectory, to be accessed by the astronauts there, on board a later-sent Orion crew capsule. That was the basic flight plan to the Golden Spike concept.

          But even with that idea: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, of the crew capsule & the lunar lander,———I nevertheless have my pessimism about the SLS ultimately delivering on any of this. If we get another President who’s opposed to new manned lunar exploration———speculating of course, that if the Democrats win in 2016, and Barack gets a hand-picked successor to prevail, say, Hillary Clinton,———and she merely continues his horrid space policy, upon taking office, then America’s space program is doomed!

          SLS will merely fly the idiotic Asteroid Retrieval Mission in the 2020′s, and eventually get decommissioned & retired, for “lack of being useful for anything else”, and go the way of the old Soviet Energia rocket & the Soviet Space Shuttle “Buran”. Meanwhile the commercial boys get NASA encaged in yet another LEO station——bigger, better, faster, whatever-er——–an ISS-2 basically, and human space travel gets bogged down in the LEO merry-go-round, all over again! ALL THIS GLOOM & DOOM, BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE IN POWER TODAY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE MOON HAS LONG RUN VALUE, AS A SPACE DESTINATION.

          • Dick Eagleson

            The question you have to ask yourself is “Which do I want more – to go back to the Moon or to build SLS?” As we have seen, SLS is so pointlessly expensive that these are mutually exclusive propositions.

            On the other hand, an affordable lunar return architecture is straightforwardly possible based on SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy reuseability, Dragon V2 for crew/passenger lift to LEO and return, plus a LEO fuel depot, a LEO-to-LLO shuttle, and a lunar lander. The latter three items would all have to be designed and purpose-built. The former three items are either already extant or will be within 24 months at most.

            Using the fixed-price, milestone-based COTS model of development, NASA could likely have all three of the currently non-existent items on this list in hand at least as quickly as it got Falcon 9, Dragon, Antares and Cygnus on-line. Even if NASA had to spend twice the roughly $1 billion dollars it put into COTS, that would still only roughly equal what SLS soaks up on its own in a single year and would still cover several years worth of development effort. Of course there’d be no role to be played by Marshall or any of the other egregiously wasteful serial failures in NASA’s motley collection of centers. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, the problem here is that such a plan provides insufficient opportunities for graft.

  • James

    There is no long term target that anyone is committed to, other than “Let’s survive”, or “Let’s not look bad”, or “Let’s pretend there is a long term target”, and my favorite: “Let’s pretend the Emperor is wearing clothes”

    • Well said, James! The current President & his men fully demolished NASA! The American space program has become a complete joke! Again I ask you: are we really going to build a heavy-lift rocket, an earth escape stage, and a new cislunar crew capsule just to fly out to meet up with a meteor rock?!

      So, NASA is seriously at work, trying to bag a meteor in deep space, for a close-up photo-op with astronauts, just to tell the whole world: “Look at us, we’re going to someplace that is NOT the Moon; Ha Ha!! Hey news media: you can just ignore that little Chinese landing expedition, on the Lacus Somniorum, which managed to survive the Lunar night during a 20-plus days stay, with its Shenzou orbiter left on unmanned autopilot mode! Silly Reds: there’s nothing left to acheive down there, anymore! Ho Ho!!” [The disparaged Chinese are planning in the next year from then, to plant down a cargo-only version of its lunar lander, which will permit surface stays of up to 100 days. But hey, the Americans can't be bothered with duplicating such petty activities-----------there are additional meteors that need to be snared, bagged & hauled, in open outer space!!]

      • Dick Eagleson

        In its defense, one of the things the ARM mission has going for it is that it’s unmanned and doesn’t involve use of Orion. As Orion’s heat shield is questionable for anything beyond lunar return velocities, and because NASA only has two service modules committed for, ARM is at least a mission that lies within NASA’s early SLS hardware availability limits. Or maybe not. No target has yet been established. Therefore, no one can know precisely what total delta-V is needed or what the calendar constraints are going to be on the mission. SLS is never going to the Moon, but at least we know that in advance because we know where the Moon is. ARM’s biggest weakness is it depends upon an asteroid target “to be named later” if I may borrow some football draft terminology that seems applicable.

        • @Dick Eagleson,…..The ARM idea has many weaknesses & loose-points to it. That much is obvious to any observer. The Orion craft being just good enough for lunar-return velocities for earth-atmospheric reentry, does NOT bother me in the least. Any future manned Mars mission can simply utilize another earth-return capsule, when its time comes. But the whole Orion-SLS launch plan reveals several weaknesses, and does NOT look like a long-run solution to any viable human lunar architecture. First off, where’s the lander? Are we to send astronauts into deep space simply to join up with a meteor sample? All that massive rocketry, and NO plans at all of a return to Luna? It makes ZERO sense, to me! For all the trouble we’re going to go through, flying the ARM, we’d be better off launching an unmanned Martian-rock-sample-return mission. I’m NO Mars zealot, but if NASA is looking for a pure science space probe plan, that would sound like a much better one.

          We should’ve waited until a Lunar-friendly administration came in, and have built the full-up Ares 5 rocket. It would’ve been powerful enough for crewed Lunar missions, and would’ve been constructed concurrently with the lunar module payload that it was to’ve been used for. Orion could’ve simply been launched by a smaller rocket. [A cargo-only version of the lunar lander would eventually come into service, and longer lunar surface stay times than ever, would've been possible.] I am firmly convinced about the strong value that the Moon has, in our long-term space future. It should be our prime intermediate space destination.

          • Dick Eagleson

            There’s no lander, Chris, because SLS, as we opponents keep trying to point out, isn’t really a space program, it’s a pork program. The fact it will never launch anything, because it consumes all of the available budget leaving none for payload elements, is a matter of sublime unconcern to the members of Congress who invented and mandated this thing. They want to provide subsidized employment for their constituents. The fact that nothing real ever gets accomplished is simply irrelevant.

            The Ares 5 is dead because it was spending even more and taking even longer than SLS. You need to accept the fact that NASA heavy-lifters are a disastrous and unsustainable dead end. You can go to the Moon or you can keep pouring billions into NASA-designed BFR’s – you can’t do both.

  • Coastal Ron

    From my perspective there has never been a question that the SLS could be built, or the MPCV for that matter. The U.S. leads in this type of hardware engineering, and it’s well within our capabilities.

    The question has always been whether there is enough “stuff” to launch on the SLS, not only in it’s initial 70mt version, but also in the later 130mt version. And not just once a decade, or a couple of times per decade, but per NASA’s safety guidelines the SLS has to fly no-less-than once every 12 months. And in reality, that means there should be more than enough “stuff” to launch at a much higher frequency than that, since there are always inevitable payload and launch delays.

    But so far no one has stepped forward to identify what that steady stream of “stuff” is will be starting when the SLS becomes operational, which at this point should be after the 2021 EM-2 flight (i.e. 7 years away). NASA wants to fund the ARM but few in Congress support it, and Congress is wrapping up the FY15 budget which includes ZERO funding for SLS payloads.

    And let’s not forget that NASA is now late on releasing the Key Decision Point C (KDP C) report for the SLS, which is supposed to identify the budget for the rest of the SLS development.

    So while they feel they are ahead on the hardware side, they are definitely behind on the program side, and that is far more worrying than hardware…

  • Jim Nobles

    This is a fascinating exercise in psychology. Many folks are going to fight to stay in denial for as long as they possibly can.

    SLS is simply too expensive to operate effectively. Commercial is just going to drive that point home.

  • The phrase “whistling through the graveyard” comes to mind …

  • The hyper expensive Orion capsule was one of the few things the Obama administration actually offered to continue developing after they terminated the Constellation program (as an ISS escape capsule). But it was one of the things that Congress should have actually– terminated– after Congress commissioned the development of the SLS.

    The philosophy of using Commercial Crew vehicles to give astronauts easy access to orbit is a good one. And the Constellation philosophy of using a heavy lift vehicle as an unmanned cargo vehicle was also a very good idea.

    Orion funding could have then gone towards developing a reusable extraterrestrial landing vehicle that could have also been used as an orbital transfer vehicle between LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points or Lunar orbit. Fuel depots derived from the extraterrestrial landing vehicle could have also been developed to refuel the landing vehicle and orbital transfer vehicles.

    Integrating Commercial Crew vehicles into the SLS beyond LEO architecture could have allowed Commercial Crew passengers easy access to the lunar surface– at current funding levels– even with the continuation of the hyper expensive ISS program.

    Marcel

    • Reality Bits

      So why should we not have had a Commercial Heavy Cargo vehicle(s)? SpaceX Falcon Heavy and ULA’s upgrade path for Delta IV Heavy would have done wonders for significantly less money.

      • John Malkin

        Because the Constellation/Shuttle congressmen wanted to keep as many jobs as possible. At the time Commercial hadn’t made it to ISS. It’s a lack of vision by the congressmen to realize that Commercial approach could benefit both private and public sectors.

        Now that we have shown a huge cost savings between COTS and traditional methods, it’s hard to justify traditional methods.

        I believe the original plans to fly to an Asteroid was virtually abandon after cuts in technology development and other related developments i.e. SLS. Obama had supported it but congress needed to protect jobs. Now we have a hybrid mission that tries to fit a round peg in a square hole.

    • Vladislaw

      Marcel wrote:

      “The hyper expensive Orion capsule was one of the few things the Obama administration actually offered to continue developing after they terminated the Constellation program (as an ISS escape capsule). But it was one of the things that Congress should have actually– terminated– after Congress commissioned the development of the SLS. “

      The President presents a NON BINDING budget to congress. What part of that 10 word sentence is so absolutely unfathonable to you? Do you need to take remedial 7th grade civics class? Do you have to see flow charts? I mean come on.. really .. what part of that statement can you just not understand?

      President Obama can strike out every single dime of spending for the entire budget and THIS congress will do what they have done with ALL of this budgets… shitcan them in the circular filing cabinet. Congress could have voted to fund Constellation.. even the republicans refused to fund it…

      Do you have a brain tumor that you can not understand that? Congress voted to fund Orion. They voted and REFUSED to fund constellation and,, I repeat, voted to continue to fund Orion. The President signed off on the budget CONGRESS presented to the President. Congress – binding budget … President NON binding budget.

      So you acknowledge all the President can do is make an offer and that congress could have voted to NOT fund orion, just like they voted to NOT fund constellation.

      Everytime you write that Obama killed constellion.. ESPECIALLY with the ‘just vote no’ congress he has been saddled with.. makes you lose any crediblity.

    • Dick Eagleson

      You’re scaring me here, Marcel; that makes almost complete sense. Or are you Marcel? No, I see you haven’t given up on SLS yet. I guess you’re Marcel after all.

      For any of your scenario to come true requires something that is nowhere near as expensive and production-limited as SLS. Substitute Falcon Heavy for SLS in your comment and you have the outline of a program for lunar return that is both doable and affordable. One that I would heartily endorse.

  • amightywind

    The baseline plan continues to be the baseline plan of crew on EM-2.”

    I like the aggressive attitude. Refreshing to hear from someone who has a pair. After a long remission I can sense my Go Fever returning.

    or the J-2X engine that NASA has been developing since the Constellation program.

    Here’s some advice. If you are confused about whether to use the RL-10 or J2-X defer to the judgment of the engineers of Apollo. It worked out well for them.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      If you are confused about whether to use the RL-10 or J2-X defer to the judgment of the engineers of Apollo. It worked out well for them.

      They know what the trade offs are, the problem is that there is a distinct lack of any payloads or missions for the SLS in order to help decide which one is better in “normal” use. The J-2X is better if the upper stage has to be pushed into orbit as well as beyond orbit, and the RL-10 is better if you only need to push the upper stage beyond orbit.

      The RL-10 solution is Boeings preference… until the program is cancelled for a lack of need.

    • Dick Eagleson

      I take that J-2X talk with a grain of salt. To me it looks like an attempt to tamp down the widespread criticism of spending over a billion developing the thing and then shelving it. NASA will do its little fan dance for as long as it thinks it needs to keep the dust down, and then confirm the RL-10 decision for EUS that has already long since been announced. Dumbacher, in any event, is no one to any longer pay much attention to. He’s on his way to Purdue to train up another generation of timid, obedient slaves to the conventional aerospace wisdom. The next generation of NASA cubicle drones has to come from somewhere.

    • Fred Willett

      The NASA rule is “never put people on the first (untested) flight of hardware.”
      Now NASA is proposing to put people on EM-2 which will have first flight of EUS and first flight of ECLSS.
      So much for safety rules.
      I guess they only apply to commercial, right?

  • Egad

    …SLS manager Todd May… said they kicked off last week a critical design review for the core stage and the booster stage last week,

    Oh? So that would be the Critical Design Review, as in CDR? The one which they’ve said was going to happen in 2Q2015, a little under a year from now? And what, as others have asked, about the formal requirement for KDP-C to kick off the implementation phase in which the CDR is supposed to occur?

    I’m beginning to think that all this programmatic talk is pretty meaningless. Just recently NASA emitted a post-action report on MSL that noted,

    http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2014/06/04/MSL_LL_-_2.pdf

    “The MSL Project did not satisfactorily complete Formulation by Project PDR/KDP‐C and arguably did not complete it until after Project CDR.”

    So why should we expect better of SLS? And not producing KDP-C has the great advantage of avoiding the need to show a budget that would cause great pain and embarrassment to many.

    • Egad

      My mistake: The CDRs for the core stage and boosters have, indeed, been scheduled for 3Q2014. It’s the all-up SLS CDR that’s scheduled for 2Q2015. The question about the SLS KDP-C still stands.

  • Brian M

    Amazing the disaster the NASA Human Space Flight “Management Team” has created.

    Not only to they prematurely terminate Shuttle when they should have kept it going as long as they could, but they obviously do not have the management wherewithall to be able to create the next step.

    In fact, they do not seem capable of coming up with cogent plan for the next step.

    • Brian M wrote:

      Not only to they prematurely terminate Shuttle when they should have kept it going as long as they could, but they obviously do not have the management wherewithall to be able to create the next step.

      Huh?!

      The decision to retire Shuttle was made by the Bush administration in January 2004 after the Columbia accident. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report issued in August 2003 called Shuttle “a complex and risky system.” They didn’t call for Shuttle to be retired because that was a management decision, but did say that NASA should start planning for a replacement ASAP and recommended that Shuttle be recertified if it was going to fly past 2010.

      The Bush administration announced in January 2004 that Shuttle would fly again only to complete ISS construction. Crew rotations moved over to Soyuz because it was safer and cheaper. NASA calculated how many more flights were necessary to complete ISS, ordered only enough parts for that, and put the supply chain out of business.

      By 2011, it was all-but-impossible to keep going. It would have cost billions to restart everything while the standing army sat on its hands for years waiting for another external tank to be built. It also would have ignored the CAIB recommendations citing the fatal design flaw made back in the 1970s of placing the crew vehicle on the side of the rocket — not to mention the hideously expensive and inefficient decision to mix cargo and crew.

      In the 1970s, the Russians started flying Progress robotic cargo ships. The U.S. decided to put people on cargo ships. The Russians made the smart and cheap move. It only took us 30 years and 14 lives to figure that out.

      • Brian M

        Shuttle was re-certified for every launch. The whole idea of re-certifying for missions after 2010 was a non-sequitor; this was a falsehood spread by people who had no understanding of the program and why it was as expensive as it was.

        There was absolutely no reason the Shuttle pace could not have been slowed to one launch every six months or every year (what has been deemed safe for SLS/Orion). No additional launches were required. They could have extended the program out until a replacement was available.

        Likewise it would have been far less expensive and far more advantageous o start work on a Shuttle-derived booster (like SLS) when Shuttle was still operating instead of waiting until years later. This could have mitigated some of the issues with respect to supply line shut downs and work force lay-offs.

        They could have gone to a minimal workforce size and save as many dollars as possible. Cash flow was the only concern. As the recent NRC report pots out, dollars are not required to be a significant issue; that can be overcome. But NASA and the executive branch needed to take the lead in laying out a strategy, and they failed to do that.

        What failed was NASA and Executive Branch leadership.

        • Coastal Ron

          Brian M said:

          Shuttle was re-certified for every launch.

          I think you are confusing an individual orbiter being re-certified as being refurbished with the Shuttle system as a whole being re-certified.

          There was absolutely no reason the Shuttle pace could not have been slowed to one launch every six months or every year (what has been deemed safe for SLS/Orion).

          And what was the Shuttle supposed to do? The ISS was construction complete, there were less expensive cargo systems that were getting ready to come online, and there were no more NASA payloads that needed to get to space.

          There was nothing we needed a Shuttle for after 2011.

          As to what a safe flight rate is, you can’t compare the Shuttle and the SLS. The Shuttle orbiter just by itself required a standing army that was not required for the fully disposable SLS.

          Likewise it would have been far less expensive and far more advantageous o start work on a Shuttle-derived booster (like SLS) when Shuttle was still operating instead of waiting until years later.

          I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. The Ares I/V were Shuttle derived, and they started development back in 2005. Even the current SLS, which is even more Shuttle derived, started development while the Shuttle was still flying. But development takes a long time for this massive (and unneeded) rockets, and you still have the same problem – what is the Shuttle needed for after 2011?

          And in any case, the Shuttle has been acknowledged by the people that operated it as a system that operated on the edge of it’s flight envelope, and that is a dangerous place to be. It was the right time to retire the Shuttle.

          • I suspect Brian is one of those people who thinks the United Space Alliance employees were owed a government job for life, the heck with the cost and delays and danger.

            There was no logical reason to keep flying Shuttle once ISS was finished. It was 1970s technology, it was expensive, it was inefficient, and it was dangerous. Anyone denying that either hasn’t read the CAIB report or refuses to accept its findings as reality.

          • Brian M

            “you are confusing an individual orbiter being re-certified with the Shuttle system as a whole being re-certified”

            Not confusing anything. Unless Shuttle was going to be significantly redesigned. You need to look at the documents that identify what certification is all about

            Shuttle pace could … have been slowed “And what was the Shuttle supposed to do?”

            Shuttle pace would have been slowed while construction was underway, so the construction would not have been completed on the 2011 schedule. There were 24 post Columbia flights at a rate of between 3 and 5 per year. 25% of those were logistics missions to stock supplies for the post Shuttle time frame. If they’d spaced out the launches to two a year they still could have gotten most of the assembly done on time, augmented with other logistics carriers, and kept Shuttle logistics going through the time frame when other vehicles were ready.

            Shuttle would have been no more dangerous flying on the slowed pace of 2 flights a year than it was on a pace of 3 or 5 flights a years.

            “Ares I/V were Shuttle derived”

            Ares I was a significantly modified, lengthened SRB. It was not capable of delivering the Orion as designed. Ares V was not Shuttle derived except for the Ares I SRB. The Ares I selection in combination with the over-sized, overweight Orion was a tragic and simple engineering 101 mistake, not to mention the pulsation and loads issues associated with the SRB as a monolithic booster.

            “United Space Alliance employees were owed a government job for life”

            Nelson’s and Hutchison’s rationale for SLS and MPCV were to maintain the workforce.

            “Shuttle program itself was already in an deep state of shutdown by 2011.”

            In order to slow the pace, you do not make that decision in 2011. That decision would have been made several years earlier.

            “There was nothing we needed a Shuttle for after 2011.”

            This is really the stupid statement of the year. You needed Shuttle because it was the only US human rated spacecraft available, not to mention its value for ISS maintenane and repair.

            • Coastal Ron

              Brian M said:

              This is really the stupid statement of the year. You needed Shuttle because it was the only US human rated spacecraft available, not to mention its value for ISS maintenane and repair.

              The Shuttle could only stay in space for two weeks max, so it couldn’t be used to support normal crew rotations at the ISS. If you disagree, please point out how it was supposed to provide any value.

              And the ISS doesn’t need the Shuttle for maintenance and repair, and is being constantly proven today. If you disagree, please point out what we can maintain or repair on the ISS since the end of the Shuttle.

              Also, according the John Shannon who was the last Shuttle program manager, the Shuttle cost $200M per month, regardless if it flew. So in effect by decreasing the number of flights per year, not only would you have delayed the completion of the ISS, but you would have forced NASA to spend far more money per Shuttle flight.

              But you moaning about what should have been done is really pretty silly, since the Shuttle program has ended. And claiming you know better is pretty funny… ;-)

              • Coastal Ron wrote:

                But you moaning about what should have been done is really pretty silly, since the Shuttle program has ended. And claiming you know better is pretty funny…

                Yeah, it’s humorous how people think the government should have wasted billions of dollars and dragged out a dangerous program just to keep some USA contractors employed.

                Bush proposed cancelling Shuttle in 2004. Congress agreed. Seven years later, no one had an appetite for flushing billions more into reviving the corpse — except the pallbearers.

                It’s astonishing that anyone would think that a proposal by Obama in 2009 to delay ISS by years and flush billions more into Shuttle would have been received well by Congress. Congress killed Shuttle in 2004. They had no appetite for digging up the grave.

            • @Brian M.;…….I agree with your assertion, in both of your above comments, that the Shuttle could very well have continued flying for a few years longer, under a reduced flight rate. This would have been a terrific interim solution to much of the bad issues NASA has been having lately.

              Sure, the Space Shuttle could never’ve gone on for much longer than this decade. But think about it: even stretching out the STS manifest to five years longer than it was, say till 2016, would’ve avoided the long & exasperating dependency on Russia in sending our crews to the ISS. Resupply to it, could’ve continued to’ve been as frequently as was needed for doing the crew turn-arounds. [Either every six months, or anything between that and one full year.]

              Indeed this continuation could’ve shortened or even eliminated the United States’s human spaceflight gap, until a new capsule vehicle came into service. The associated rocketry for the designated new crew vehicle, was clearly going to be Shuttle-derived, hence, keeping the industrial production lines open would’ve made a beneficial difference, in the construction of what came next.

              NASA is now running around the farm, like a cadre of decapitated chickens, without a clue as to what exactly is going to happen! I’m NO Space Shuttle enthusiast, mind you! But extending the Shuttle would have been the smart & tactical thing to do, under the execrable conditions that the American space program found itself in, after Project Constellation had been exterminated by the reckless & pompous men in power, in 2010!

              • Dick Eagleson

                Your scenario fails the fiscal smoke test. Keeping the Shuttle in service at a reduced flight rate would have cost even more than the Danegeld we wound up paying to the Russians. It would have raised the cost of each mission and – NASA’s budget being what it was – either ISS or Constellation would have had to die to keep feeding it instead of Shuttle dying to feed ISS and Constellation as actually happened.

                If ISS died, then the whole rationale for keeping Shuttle flying would have died with it. So it would have had to be Constellation. In other words, Constellation was a dead man walking pretty much no matter whatever else was decided. The “reckless and pompous men” who foisted the unaffordable Constellation on us in the first place are the ones who also doomed it. You need to get your nose out of NASA’s backside and look around at the real world for a change.

        • pathfinder_01

          Slowing down the shuttle would have slowed down ISS construction there was no good reason to do that. The shuttle could not act as lifeboat(Soyuz was doing that).The shuttle program itself was already in an deep state of shutdown by 2011. They only ordered enough parts for the last mission and no more. Some suppliers would have closed their doors by then.

  • I find it interesting that Nasa’s Dumbacher will admit that building hardware causes learning (as it should):

    Dumbacher said that there “standard hardware development kind of things” the Orion program has had to work through as it prepares for EFT-1. “You always learn when you do hardware,” he said.

    Whereas Boeing’s Elbon seems to think that learning in the hardware stage is a failure of process:

    “More than the other players in the game, we go through a disciplined design process,” he said. “Others have a philosophy of ‘build it, test it, see what’s wrong, fix it, test it, see what’s wrong, fix it.’ That can work when the risk is not as significant as it is for flying crew. I don’t think we can afford to learn lessons about the problems in our design when we’re flying humans.”

    • Coastal Ron

      Ben Brockert said:

      Whereas Boeing’s Elbon seems to think that learning in the hardware stage is a failure of process

      Excellent observation, and I wonder if it’s a little dig on Lockheed Martin, who is building the Orion.

      Although if the Orion never gets to space because of it’s challenges, I’d still blame Michael Griffin for choosing the whole “Apollo on steroids” approach.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Ben Brockert

    Elbon has clearly not chatted with the B787 people :) RGO

  • josh

    nasa hsf is broken. shut down msfc and jsc and start new programs built on milestone based fixed price contracts (like the hugely successful cots), i.e. give the money to new space and stop this farce. nasa is spending tens of billions on useless hardware like sls and orion that will do absolutely nothing to enable true exploration, let alone space settlement. it’s an utter waste of time and resources. the best thing that could happen at this point would be if both eft 1 and em 1 fail. sls blowing up on the pad – beautiful:) seriously, anything that helps shut down this joke of a space program is a good thing.

  • Hiram

    I love the “We believe we are on a mission. We have a deeper purpose” incantation from Dumbacher. Unfortunately, he doesn’t offer any clues about what it might be, though lists a few “steps” to getting there. Is he talking about sending humans to Mars? We now have the NRC report telling us that this strategy probably isn’t a good way to go about doing that.

    No, I suspect his deeper purpose is just having an operational deep space capability. That’s how an engineer approaches policy. Build it, and then try to figure out what the hell to do with it, and how in the world one can afford it. Sounds pretty “deep” no? Of course, when SLS is finally cancelled, it will remain an engineering triumph, though a profound policy failure. Dumbacher and his team will get their gold stars, and grouse about the lack of compelling policy. NASA has a rich history of such travails.

    • Brian M

      I think you have captured the essence of NASA’s problem. Some seem to think that having astronauts and engineers in charge is what is important. These technical types have proven unable to lead the program. Having an engineering background is helpful but far more critical are management and political skills and ability. These are things the current NASA leaders are sorely missing, and the previous one (Griffin) too.

      If you look at the backgrounds of the current NASA leaders you’ll find they have little successful experience designing or developing anything. Far too many of them come from an operations background, and it was not operations where they had to develop and establish new capabilities and processes-all they did was follow the plans of those that had preceded them. This was one of the downfalls of the NASA organization in the Shuttle and ISS eras. Maybe they will ultimately develop a new deep space capability although the experience to date has not been particularly positive or successful.

      I would love to see a full accounting of all of the astronauts, flight directors (and their spouses) who have been placed into positions for which their applicable qualifications were at best marginal.

      • Coastal Ron

        Brian M said:

        I think you have captured the essence of NASA’s problem. Some seem to think that having astronauts and engineers in charge is what is important. These technical types have proven unable to lead the program. Having an engineering background is helpful but far more critical are management and political skills and ability. These are things the current NASA leaders are sorely missing, and the previous one (Griffin) too.

        Let’s remember what the title of the highest level NASA employee is – “Administrator”. Not “leader”, not “visionary”. Administrator.

        It is not in the job description for the NASA Administrator to develop, articulate and get political consensus on a “vision” for NASA.

        If you look at the backgrounds of the current NASA leaders you’ll find they have little successful experience designing or developing anything.

        And if you look at their job description, they don’t need it. I think it’s in the last full-up review of NASA by the GAO that they showed a chart tracking how far behind programs were now and in the past. What Administrator Bolden has done in his time has been to decrease significantly how far behind on average programs are. And that is his main job, which is to make sure his department is well run.

        Now that’s not exciting to most people, but to people that care about taxpayer money (like me) it is WONDERFUL! And though he has his own “vision” for what NASA should do, he is only one of many people that does, and his job is not to proffer or push his vision – he works for the President, and that is who he has to support.

        I would love to see a full accounting of all of the astronauts, flight directors (and their spouses) who have been placed into positions for which their applicable qualifications were at best marginal.

        While maybe marginally entertaining, it would affect nothing. If a politician thinks someone is the right person, regardless if they are qualified, they will push for them. That’s not only politics, but human nature. Hard to change either…

        • Hiram

          “And if you look at their job description, they don’t need it.”

          Exactly. And my point (which I neglected to properly attach as a reply — see below) is that the fault is with the Administration (and Congress) for asking NASA to develop policy that they are unqualified to develop. NASA is being asked by the Administration and Congress to do stuff that they’re not supposed to be doing, which is to map out how space exploration meets national needs and priorities. Engineers, scientists, and technologists simply don’t do that. NASA has a big problem, but it is levied on them by the Administration and Congress, which can’t step up to the plate in real space policy development, at least for human space flight.

          This is, in fact, the most damning aspect of human spaceflight. That the Administration and Congress don’t want to step up to the plate to justify it as a national need, but are content to levy that responsibility on engineers, scientists, and technologists.

  • Hiram

    “Some seem to think that having astronauts and engineers in charge is what is important.”

    But it is — ONCE YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY NEED TO DO (and why it’s important to do it). That’s correct that NASA is filled with engineers, scientists, and technologists who are completely policy-illiterate and are asked to read national needs and develop policy that responds to those needs. Presidential administrations (and this is by no means the first one to do it) have shrugged their shoulders, looked at NASA, and said “Hey, you guys know about space. You figure out why we should be doing it!” Bad move. Really bad move. What has this Administration done to advance space policy? Geez guys, we’ve been to the Moon, and sure, go for an asteroid, I guess. That’s not policy. It’s anti-policy.

    In fact, VSE was an admirable effort by the Bush administration to do exactly what needed to be done. Of course, having done it, that administration pretty much ignored it, and proceeded to trash it in Constellation.

    So what space exploration needs, a lot more than money really, is an administration that wants to spin a compelling and idealistic story about why it’s important, and that regularly bolsters that story. They would energetically cultivate Congress to help make it happen, and to avoid getting derailed by political partisanship and ensure some level of sustainability, make that story a win-win one. Bush had a clue, but he screwed it up. Obama doesn’t have a clue.

    • John Malkin

      Many of the members of committees have a huge conflict of interest, not just space committees but all. Each one tries to pull money to their corporate, state and other supporters in the form of pork.

      It would seem that having people from space states would benefit space as a whole but in truth it causes exactly the problems we have in space.

      As long as the government is in charge of space infrastructure, it will go few places. Capitalism must drive space expansion and exploration will be a byproduct which NASA can benefit.

  • guest

    Let’s remember what the title of the highest level NASA employee is – “Administrator”. Not “leader”, not “visionary”. Administrator.

    However, if you look at all past major human space flight programs, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and station, they ALL originated with NASA administration developing a plan and program and bringing it before the President and staff and recommending endorsement and approval.

    Why would anyone expect Obama, a Constitutional Law attorney, or Holdren, and environmental scientist, to figure out and decide what is needed in human space flight? The “experts”, and I use the term loosely, are people like Griffin, Bolden and their staffs.

    • Hiram

      The Apollo program had one overriding goal. Beat the Soviets. That was the WHOLE REASON for that effort. That was the national need. There was no national need for “exploration”. It was to show up the Soviets in missle technology, where their programs had given them profound leadership as a terrifying threat, and thereby recover some national pride. That was the policy guidance given NASA by the Administration. The policy was crystal clear. The national need it served was crystal clear as well. NASA answered the mail.

      Sure, NASA could come up with a grandiose plan today to go to Mars (or the Moon, or an asteroid). They’d bring it to the Administration or Congress, which would look at it (and the price tag) and say, “Uh, why?” Of course HSF pundits would dimly chant “to explore!” or “to beat the Chinese!” But they’d just be being delusional.

      Why would anyone have expected JFK, a career politician, to figure out and decide what is needed in human space flight? Here’s a hint. What he figured out was simply that we had to stick it to the Soviets. Engineering, technical and science expertise just didn’t pertain. The national need was, to him, quite profound. Nope, I don’t trust Griffin or Bolden one iota to come up with rationale like that.

      • Jim M

        Yes, Kennedy wanted to stick it to the Soviets so he asked Johnson who asked NASA, what could the US do. NASA said we have the F-1 engine and plans for Saturn rockets and the Apollo CSM is already in design. We were thinking about circumlunar but lets go for broke and do a moon landing. And they did. That was NASA’s idea.

        “NASA could come up with a grandiose plan today”
        I think that was Griffin’s Constellation. There was no strategy that made sense. AS the NRC pointed out, the budget has been flat. It might be increased incrementally but they need to provide reasonable rationale.

        • Hiram

          “That was NASA’s idea.”

          Of course it was NASA’s idea. It was an idea that was created to serve the need expressed by the Administration. The idea was an act of implementation. This Administration, nor Congress for that matter, has given NASA a real national need that they are now charged with fulfilling.

          As to Constellation, that’s exactly right that there was no strategy that made sense. The Administration and Congress looked at Constellation carefully, and the budget it required, and said “Uh, why?” There was no reason why.

    • Jim M

      NASA administration developing a plan and program and …. and recommending endorsement and approval

      I agree and it was not simple recommending; they politicked to make sure the necessary organizations, like DOD or Commerce all had a stake and would support.

      I wonder if there is anything like this today. If there is I have not seen it. I see a lot of prima donas saying “we’re great, we’re wonderful, we’re astronauts, or we’re engineers who brought you Shuttle, so support us…

      • Pathfinder_01

        The problem is NASA has nothing really to offer to the DOD. The shuttle was going to be used for DOD missions but after the shuttle proved both expensive and unreliable(delays) that kinda ended it. I can’t think what NASA could offer Commerce in an age where launch services are purchased from private companies.

    • Robert G. Oler

      There is no doubt NASA could come up with a plan, but hte politicians must sell it to the people. there is zero support for those plans (well some, in the space pork districts) RGO

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