— The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) expects the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect BarackObama will undertake a comprehensive review of NASA’s Constellation program, the multi billion-dollar effort to field a space shuttle successor and other hardware necessary to carry out astronaut landings on the Moon.�
In a report released Jan. 12, AIA urged the Obama administration to “stay the course” on Constellation and “adhere to the plans and architecture that have been implemented” since 2004.
“We need to stay on track with our civil space program,” said J.P. Stevens, AIA’s vice president of space systems. “There’s been a lot of rumors and talk [and] all sorts of stuff out in the press right now. But if we ever want to leave low Earth orbit, we really need to stay with the current plan.”
NASA’s current plan calls for retiring the space shuttle in 2010 and reallocating the shuttle’s $3 billion annual budget toward completing the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket now in development and beginning work on the Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher and Altair lunar lander needed for Moon missions targeted for 2020.
Obama’s NASA transition team is widely believed to favor a different approach that entails canceling Ares 1 and downsizing Orion so that it can launch to the international space station atop Atlas 5 or Delta 4 rockets developed under the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. At the same time, sources with insight into the transition team’s thinking say NASA would be directed to accelerate development of the Ares 5 and use a pair of the heavy-lift rockets to mount eventual human expeditions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit.
Eric Thoemmes, a Lockheed Martin executive and former chairman of the AIA Space Council, said AIA’s members still believe NASA is pursuing “an appropriate architecture” but “are not averse to looking at alternatives.”
“We believe that the new administration, the new administration’s transition team, is not only doing an appropriate task by looking at alternatives, it is in fact doing what they need to be doing to ensure that we are on the right path. We are not in any way scared of people looking at decisions that have been made because we believe that we will be on the right path going forward.”
But Thoemmes said AIA would not want to see the space exploration initiative lose momentum during a lengthy analysis of alternatives to Ares 1 and the rest of NASA’s planned space transportation architecture. “The Constellation elements will be determined in detail by the new administration but we certainly hope they will return some sense of momentum as quickly as possible,” he said.
Thoemmes said that while AIA supports “the idea of a comprehensive review,” the incoming administration should be aware that “an open-ended, never-ending type of review” risks sending the wrong signal to young engineers plotting their careers.
Noting that Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver was overwhelmed by a flood of quality resumes after it won the Orion prime contract in mid-2006, Thoemmes said hanging a cloud of uncertainty over Constellation could deter young engineers working toward their degrees from seeking out space jobs after graduation.
“If they don’t view NASA’s exploration program as a stable and attractive place, they have options and they will go other places,” he said.
During his campaign, Obama endorsed the goal of sending humans to the Moon and pledged to narrow the gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the first flight of its successor, now planned for 2015. Obama did not, however, endorse Ares or Orion by name, and questions his NASA transition team has been asking about canceling Ares 1, including pulling the plug on this summer’s scheduled Ares 1-X test flight as soon as February, have fed speculation that big changes are in the works.
Stevens said AIA would caution the Obama administration against making a hasty decision on Ares 1-X. “Until you can do a detailed analysis on whether Ares is going forward or not, one would say you need to fly Ares 1-X.”
Thoemmes agreed. “If you cancel Ares 1-X, you really do close the door on the Ares 1 program,” he said. “If there has been whatever level of analysis the new administration does that determines that the best path forward is to cancel Ares 1 then you could cancel Ares 1-X. But I think you should just bear in mind that you should not do that without having carefully studied the goals of your architecture … because just canceling Ares 1-X by itself is not something you would do without the bigger picture.”
Thoemmes also said scrapping Ares 1 and using EELV “is perhaps less straightforward than it might sound.”
“It would appear when you look at it on the surface that EELVs exist and are flying today; therefore they must be available for this mission. Not necessarily so,” he said. “NASA has a fairly stringent human-rating process, so the EELVs would have to be modified to do that. They would also have to be modified to carry a launch abort system.”
Canceling Ares 1 also would impact an accelerated Ares 5 program. “There’s a high degree of commonality between Ares 1 and Ares 5, so if you don’t have Ares 1 then you have to do all your development and nonrecurring engineering on Ares Thoemmes said. “The other thing is the current architecture does not envision Ares 5 to be a human-rated system.”
Using EELV rockets to launch a downsized Orion to the space station in the near term and later using Ares 5 to launch a larger Orion variant on Moon missions would entail human-rating two separate systems, he said.
Thoemmes said the Obama administration could do the analysis and conclude that a course correction is appropriate. “But it all interrelates. And I just hope we don’t make decisions by looking at one piece of the puzzle without looking at all of them simultaneously.”
Thoemmes and Stevens discussed the changes the Obama administration might have in store for Constellation during a media roundtable held at AIA headquarters here to unveil its new report, “The Role of Space in Addressing America’s National Priorities.”
In addition to recommending staying the course, the report urged Congress and the Obama administration to minimize the looming gap in human spaceflight; maximize utilization of the space station; and fund NASA’s science programs at a level sufficient “to provide a wide suite of robotic missions and other research.”
Other recommendations included in the 32-page report include beefing up climate monitoring, establishing a comprehensive strategy for protecting space assets, and reforming export control policies to create a more favorable business environment.
“We need to fix our export control systems,” Stevens said. “It’s really put us at a disadvantage. Its intention to keep high- technology items out of the hands of our enemies was a good thing to do but it’s had other consequences [that have] made it difficult for us to compete, especially on the commercial side.”
Stevens said 2009 will be “an extremely important year” for export control reform “because if we cannot get something rolling [this year] it makes it very difficult during the next three to seven years, depending on how many administrations Obama has,” to get the problem fixed.�
AIA President Marion Blakey said process changes outgoing President George W. Bush made to the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations through presidential directives have helped reduce the U.S. State Department’s backlog of export-related license applications and improve coordination with the Commerce and Defense departments. “Those are areas we can count as real progress,” she said. “However, we still have a fundamental issue … the overall list, the Munitions List, has too many technologies on it at this point.” The U.S. Munitions List contains militarily sensitive hardware and technology whose export is regulated by the State Department.