Boeing Co. Vice President and International Space Station Program Manager
With the planned completion of the international space station in 2010, NASA’s prime contractor on the program, Boeing Co. of Chicago, will shift its focus from construction and integration to maintaining the space laboratory for scientists to search for clues to medical and scientific mysteries.
Leading that transition is Joy Bryant, a 23-year Boeing veteran whose earliest memories include being shaken out of bed by rocket launches near her
home. Bryant, whose responsibilities at Boeing have included bringing the 4 rocket on line and working as the company’s chief engineer, has spent the past three years managing the space station as laboratories of international partners were added and scientists began realizing the facility’s research potential.
In March, Space Shuttle Discovery delivered the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the station, marking installation of the last U.S.-built component. This summer the station will begin accommodating six crew members instead of three.
Scientists are expected to use the space station’s zero gravity environment to conduct various types of research, including medical investigations that could lead to a vaccine for salmonella or advance stem cell and cancer research. Through NASA, Boeing will guide investigators through the difficulties of sending experiments into space and retrieving the data remotely. The company will be tasked with troubleshooting and analyzing problems as they arise, drawing upon lessons learned during the space station’s design and development.
likely to extend its participation in the space station program five years beyond the current commitment, which expires in 2015, Bryant’s team is studying the life span of the massive laboratory and preparing for new modes of delivering cargo and crews after the space shuttle’s planned 2010 retirement.
Bryant spoke recently with Space News staff writer Becky Iannotta.
What is Boeing doing in preparation for the likely extension of
participation in the space station beyond 2015?
We have just started a two-year analysis to go way beyond 2015 so we will be prepared when NASA asks what the life of the station is. We’re analyzing out to 2028.
From a design side, I’d say we are well overdesigned. For example, the P6 solar array, which has been up there since 1999, is still over a 100 percent capability, even with atomic oxygen erosion that it has had, because we built in so much capability to prepare for all the possibilities.
In the event that the
opts to end its space station participation in 2015, when would Boeing need to know in order to adequately prepare?
Ultimately that decision will be made by NASA. If NASA did decide to completely turn the station over to the international partners, then it would depend on what the international partners wanted to do. If they want to basically replace the NASA pieces, then those international partners would probably turn to Boeing from a contractor perspective and we would almost skip the government-owned, contractor-operated stage and go straight to an international business stage. But I would think a better transition might be for NASA to go to a smaller program office and move the operations responsibilities more to Boeing. That would allow us to transition over into the international partners running the pieces with multiple contractors. If you did it in two steps, it would probably require about five years. If you tried to do it all in one step it’s probably a four-year perspective.
What are some of the challenges of upgrading to the six-person crew this summer?
What I see in the transition is that it is not necessarily a challenge but more a success story. We have been a team of just NASA and Russia for a long time, and we thought it was going to be a challenge as we moved to operating internationally with our partners and the science but we haven’t missed a beat. I’m happy to report it is going quite well. At one point in the summer we’ll have all five agencies – NASA and the Japanese, European, Russian and Canadian space agencies – represented. The international partners have been waiting to get their labs on board, which they now have, and yet it’s very important for them to have their astronauts there, so this is a piece they want to see. We’re getting our waste and hygiene systems and all the pieces ready including the oxygen generation systems and the volume there to handle the additional instruments.
How will the space shuttle’s retirement affect station operations?
We will have to do things differently in sustaining because of the shuttle retirement. The methodology of investigation and troubleshooting associated with components changes when you don’t have downmass – the ability to return cargo payloads to Earth intact. How you repair things changes when your logistic support is different. Spares are a bit of a challenge. We’ve got a whole work force that has just gone out to procure from each of the previous designers some of the spares and getting those on line. And as we change to the post-shuttle era we’ll be relying on Russia’s Progress, Japan’s HTV and the European Space Agency’s ATV for some of the upmass and we’ll continue to rely on Soyuz for the human transportation. We’re doing the visiting vehicle integration for both U.S. cargo services providers and we’re providing the common berthing mechanism. Both of those vehicles are currently not crewed and so there will be additional integration when we get down to that piece of it.
One of those cargo services providers, Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (), has lobbied for funding to develop the crew capability under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Do you think the crew capability, known as Capability D, is going to happen?
I would have to say yes but I don’t know how you get there from here. I don’t know how you justify funding a company that hasn’t done human spaceflight versus maybe a contractor like Boeing who has done it before. COTS is not the only solution for crew capability, so to say we need to provide more money over here to this system in order to provide human capability, I think you’d have multiple contractors raising their hands saying, “um, wait a minute.” You could do multiple launchers using Ares or expendable launchers. But the COTS piece that SpaceX is talking about is only the capsule piece. So from a capsule perspective, meaning human spaceflight, who’s done it? Boeing has, Lockheed is currently working on it. So there would be no justification to say “I, NASA, have to go to COTS.” You’ve got multiple providers. There’s not a single answer.
How will research aboard station change after the shuttle’s retirement?
What changes is the lack of downmass capability so you really have to assess and set up your experiments so you get data and understand how to get that data. That’s where Boeing comes in, helping investigators set up their experiments so they can get all the science through data as opposed to samples and specimens.
Some people have said it will take a major scientific breakthrough for Americans to become
interested in the space station. Is such a breakthrough imminent?
I really believe that we will find something. It will be furthered in the labs here on Earth but it will be able to cause change. Can I today describe what that will be? No, but I do believe it will be at the cellular level – nice and small – and it will either be in stem cell or cancer research; or it will be in vaccines or in the biofuels – how do we make plants grow differently.
We’re exceeding what our plans were from a science prospective, but going forward, what we need is to make it easier for those partners, the investigators, to bring those sciences. Boeing’s role is to improve the processes for payloads. What we often hear from our NASA counterparts is we really ought to be the Home Depot where you can come in and we help you start your projects.