Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials today described
a new strategy in developing its second generation of renewable
launch vehicles to the House Science Subcommittee on Space and
Aeronautics.  NASA is using the new strategy for its Space
Launch Initiative (SLI) in the wake of failures by the X-33 and X-34
programs.  SLI was developed to increase safety of space flight,
reduce the cost of traveling to space, and in the end design new
renewable launch vehicles (RLV) that will eventually replace the
aging shuttle.

Subcommittee Chairman Dana
Rohrabacher (R-CA) opened the hearing by stating, "After years
of failed efforts, I believe we must begin to peel back the layers of
SLI to ensure that it will help us realize the promise of affordable
and reliable space transportation."

Whereas the failed X-33 and X-34
missions started with a launch vehicle concept, the SLI is focused on
a "bottom up" approach by focusing on development of
component technologies and developing several concepts around
them.  This approach, "will ensure that the program is
resilient to technical and programmatic obstacles and is open to
different and innovative technical approaches," testified Dennis
Smith, Program Manager, 2nd Generation RLV Program.

The concept is not without its
risks, as the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) Allen Li
warned.  Li highlighted three critical areas that needed to be
addressed.  First, realistic cost estimates and risk mitigation
plans need to be developed.  Second, NASA needs to ensure that
all the interrelated, complex efforts need to be coordinated by
fostering open lines of communication throughout the process. 
Lastly, GAO advocated implementing performance standards and
periodically reviewing the program to asses whether the developing
technologies merit continued support.

Chairman Rohrabacher concurred with
GAO’s concern while offering cautious support.  "This
Subcommittee recognizes the value of continuing investments in the
space transportation area," he said.  "If SLI is to
become the cornerstone in America’s foundation for low-Earth orbit
development, then NASA must make the goal of reducing the cost of
getting to space the highest priority for SLI and provide constant
oversight of major program phases."

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