Radical surgery is needed on NASA’s vision for space exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond, according to a white paper released July 24 by the Space Frontier Foundation, a space advocacy group based in Nyack, N.Y.
Their assessment calls for immediate elimination of all work on the Block 1 version of NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and for a delay in the development of the planned shuttle- derived Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), which is based on the design of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. The white paper also recommends that NASA reconsider using Atlas 5 and Delta 4 launchers for the human exploration program.
In its paper, “Unaffordable and Unsustainable? Signs of Failure in NASA’s Earth-to-orbit Transportation Strategy,” the Space Frontier Foundation contends that NASA’s plans are flawed. The group suggests that the space agency instead make greater use of the entrepreneurial space companies that it calls the “NewSpace” industry.
“We’ve put a lot of time into this … and we do believe the study will have an impact,” said Jeff Krukin, executive director of the Space Frontier Foundation. “Think of this as an opening salvo in a long term strategy … a long-term campaign,” he said.
The 18-page policy white paper recommends that the White House and Congress specify, as a matter of policy and/or law, that NASA cannot develop, build, own or operate a new vehicle for crew or cargo missions to the international space station or to other parts of low Earth orbit. For those missions, NASA would instead be required to buy that service from U.S. companies.
The policy paper further recommends that the U.S. government immediately transfer $2 billion to $3 billion from the Crew Exploration Vehicle and Crew Launch Vehicle efforts to pay for an additional round of what the group sees as a now under-funded Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
NASA is expected to announce soon which private companies it has selected under the COTS program to share in the $500 million it intends to spend through 2010 to foster new space station crew and cargo delivery services.
The Space Frontier Foundation policy paper advocates adding at least $2 billion to the COTS initiative, to create an additional competition that would promote six to eight additional contracts.
The policy recommends that NASA stop work on the CEV Block 1, which is designed for missions to the international space station. That function, the policy paper concludes, can be handed over to private space firms so NASA can focus on the CEV Block 2 that will be used to develop the vehicle NASA will need to send crews to the Moon and beyond.
“We’re headed for a major, major dead end,” said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation during the group’s NewSpace 2006 conference, held here July 19-23 and co-sponsored by the Aerospace Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “We’re going to keep pounding the drum and it’s going to get louder and louder.”
NASA’s current plan for the spacecraft and boosters it will need to explore the moon is not going to happen, Tumlinson said . “It’s going to collapse of its own weight. What I worry about is that it’s going to take science down with it … going to take down all the other possibilities at the same time … it is politically unsustainable and is technically off the rails.”
Wendell Mendell, a space planner at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, said space agency teams are engaged in priorities and prioritizations, as well as being aware of “steering currents.”
“Quite frankly those considerations have a lot to do with engineering and budget, space access systems, and, ultimately, politics,” Mendell told the audience.
NASA teams are being very “open and respectful” of the universe of ideas and is open to the idea of dialog and interaction, Mendell said. He said he was “cautiously optimistic” that as NASA plans grow over the next few years there will be more opportunities for “a constructive interaction as opposed to a prescriptive interaction,” he said.