Charting a New Course for NASA’s Exploration Program

by












  Space News Business

Charting a New Course for NASA’s Exploration Program

By BRIAN BERGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 21 November 2005
02:01 pm ET


Profile: Scott “Doc” Horowitz

NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems

I n selecting veteran space shuttle astronaut Scott “Doc” Horowitz to head its the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA knew it was getting a strong advocate for its leader it knows will stand behind the decision to return to the Moon with a capsule launched atop a space shuttle solid-rocket booster.

After all, it was pretty much his idea.

Horowitz was still an active duty Air Force officer assigned to the NASA astronaut office when the Space Shuttle Columbia accident occurred in February 2003. After the accident, he and several of his astronaut colleagues became convinced that the United States needed a safer, simpler way of putting people into space. It wasn’t long before the astronaut corps began to fall in line behind the capsule idea.

Horowitz, who holds a an aerospace engineer with a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta,///MY CHANGES, CQ??–WF/// proposed launching the capsule atop the shuttle solid-rocket booster, which since its redesign following the 1986 Challenger accident is considered by many//MY CHANGE JUST TO HEDGE A BIT–WF// to be the most reliable rocket in existence today.

Horowitz spent so much time designing and promoting the solid-rocket booster-based launcher that the concept is still known in some circles quarters as the Scotty Rocket.

Horowitz, who flew a veteran of four shuttle flights, retired from NASA and the Air Force in 2004 to go to work for solid rocket booster manufacturer ATK Thiokol, which produces the solid-rocket booster. as the Utah-based company’s director of space transportation and exploration. While NASA was still debating how weighing whether to launch the proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and other exploration-related hardware capsule atop a solid or a liquid-fueled expendable rocket , Horowitz was making the rounds in Washington to press his case for using shuttle-derived systems. the rounds in Washington pushing the solid as the basis of a space transportation architecture that would make liberal use of shuttle hardware for both the crew launch vehicle and the unmanned heavy lifter.

Horowitz returned to NASA in November to lead the development of the CEV and other exploration systems that fall under the effort dubbed Project Constellation. as the agency’s new exploration systems chief where he and his team are busy preparing to select a CEV prime contractor and initiate an effort to stimulate development of commercial space station crew and cargo delivery services. He spoke recently with Space News staff writer Brian Berger.

about keeping the Constellation Systems Program on track in a challenging budget environment.

How does CEV avoid the fate of NASA’s numerous abortive NASA aborted efforts to develop new vehicles?

To begin with, we have clear direction from the top to build CEV and that is something that a lot of our programs in the past have not had. A lot of past programs were also real stretches, technology-wise. The CEV is going to use today’s technologies integrated into a new vehicle that doesn’t violate any laws of physics. We are going to set clear requirements and stick to them.

You’ll notice I delayed issuing the call for improvements to the CEV proposals we received in May because I have the team working very hard getting the requirements cleaned and scrubbed. They won’t be perfect but they will be a lot better. We are going to give them to the contractors by early next year with instructions to tell us if they are not clear, if there is a better way to do business. And we intend to listen — that’s something we don’t do very well but we are getting better at it — and used the feedback to come up with an ironclad set of requirements that avoids taking on too much at a time. We are going to make this a simpler project with clear requirements and measurable successes laid out in reasonable increments and achieved in a timely manner. That is how this program is going to survive.

How will you keep the CEV and Crew Launch Vehicle on track given the space shuttle program’s $5 billion budget shortfall?

That’s what we are working on now and we will have to wait until February to see what the president’s budget tells us to do. Meanwhile, we’re going to release the CEV call for improvements, get those responses back, see what the president’s budget says and decide the best path forward.

One of the beauties of the chosen space transportation architecture is it takes advantage of the shuttle work force and we are pursuing this as a human spaceflight team effort. If we work together we can probably come up with some good solutions. There are some synergies to be achieved between exploration systems and the space shuttle and space station programs.

Can synergy alone erase a the $5 billion shortfall?

Probably not. But Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, has people and facilities I need and I can hire them to work on Constellation, even if on a part-time basis until the last shuttle has flown , allowing Gerstenmaier to take them back for a period if a shuttle problem arises requiring their expertise. Of course, this is going to require a degree of flexibility in program management that I don’t think we’ve had to deal with before.

If you look at a program like Titan 4, we see that costs go up in the final years because you have to pay to retain people with critical skills. People aren’t dumb. If shuttle is going to be retiring in a few years, you’re going to be out looking for a new job. But if we can put you to work on Constellation or some other project, that becomes your incentive to stay and we’re not spending extra money on the old program. It’s not easy to do, but that is what we are looking for.

 

On what basis How will NASA choose the CEV prime contractor?

Cost and schedule. If somebody can figure out how to give us what we want for the best cost and in the most timely manner, they are probably going to win.

Will NASA insist that the CEV be an entirely U.S. system?

You can have foreign components but it is our goal not to have foreign content in the critical path. For example, you can buy a gyroscope from a vendor in Europe but you must have a vendor in the United States in case that falls through. The United States must have a space transportation system it can produce no matter what happens internationally.

Can CEV prime contract hopefuls Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing pursue NASA’s planned procurement of space station crew- and cargo-transportation services — the firms in the running for the CEV prime contract ‑‑go after the Commercial Crew/Cargo money ?

We cannot exclude them obviously. If it is in the spirit of a commercial venture and it s meets the requirements of the Commercial Crew/Cargo program, then why not? The whole idea is to find out whether some commercial entity can bring us a service as good or better than we are going to develop ourselves and for less money. Sure, part of this is we want the start-ups to get going with their innovative technologies, but the bottom line life for us is getting a good deal.

How can you have the contractor building the CEV also leading an effort to develop a lower-cost competitor?

Our guys are asking the same question. We will have to see what kind of response we get to the Commercial Crew/Cargo solicitation. Some of the big guys might decide they are not interested.

If the Commercial Crew/Cargo effort succeeds, would does NASA forgo ordering CEVs for the international space station?

If the commercial providers can do it for less than we can with CEV, then we will move on to the next part of the program, which are the lunar missions.

NASA has made deep cuts to a billion-dollar technology-development portfolio created less than a year ago. Why?

It wasn’t supportable. Spending a gazillion dollars on technology maturation hoping for a miracle that is suddenly going to make your space transportation system cost one-tenth as much is not the most cost-effective way of doing business. The bottom line is we have a different philosophy than the old team. Their idea was to develop all these technologies starting now in order to make our job easier in the long run.

We’ve got a real issue here in that America is not going to be able to put humans in space if we don’t do something. We’ve also got a budget problem. Those are competing interests. I love technology, but how much new technology do we need to go to the Moon given that we did it 30 years ago? In fact, we’ve already developed a lot of new technologies since them, so we already have what we need to do it better than we did then. Our problem today is a systems-engineering problem, not a technology problem. We’re going to need new technologies for Mars, but we’ve still got time for that.