Tag Archives: R&D

Then there is the House Version of the NASA Bill

While the Senate attempted to compromise on a path forward for human spaceflight through their bill, the House decided to take a vastly different approach last week.

If you watched the open debate last week, while it was refreshing to see, it was also incredibly sad that the  issue of the day that garnered the most attention was on where the shuttles should be located post shuttle retirement rather than the direction this country should take when it comes to the future of human spaceflight.

A quick summary of the House version (with Amendments)

Adds

  • Government launch vehicle/capsule to deliver crew to ISS with initial operational goal of no later than December 31, 2015.  If a commercial vehicle is available and meets safety standards, then government system will be for
  • Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle operational by end of decade

Adds an additional Shuttle Flight in FY2011

Guts Commercial Crew yet adds Loan Guarantee Program

Appears to gut the Flagship Technology Demonstration Missions, yet funds Space Technology for lower TRL technologies.

What surprised me the most was the comment by Pete Olson (U.S. Representative that includes JSC), that help is on the way implying that he believes this bill will save JSC and NASA.  In my opinion it is a short-term solution, that while it employs people for the next few years it does not nothing to sustain human space exploration long term.

I’ve maintained through conversations and tweets that the path to success is a balanced portfolio where NASA (aka Congress and the President) invest in current exploration missions and investing in R&D for the future.  Companies do this every year.  They have a product line they sell, they invest in upgrading their product line, and they invest in R&D for future products.  This isn’t rocket science.

We shall see what happens when the House and Senate bills meet one another in conference.

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Is the Senate NASA Bill Passed by the Commerce Committee Better than Obama’s New NASA?

On February 1st, 2010 NASA unveiled President Obama’s new vision for NASA that ultimately did not go over well with Congress (primarily because it was not vetted with them before hand), with America (due to the media’s hold on the wording that manned spaceflight was ending), and with many incumbent NASA workers (do I need to explain why?)  Who did the new vision go over well with?  It was a huge success with those who call themselves New Space, those who say they aren’t waiting for the government to go explore Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the moon, and beyond.  There are some really interesting companies in this arena including Masten Space Systems, SpaceX, Google Lunar XPrize, and many others.  Why did they like the new budget?  Because it invested in them and their ideas.  The new budget invested in Commercial Space to LEO being that of the International Space Station (ISS) and Research and Development (R&D) for the future.  I think a future and interesting blog post will surround the idea of these companies who are branching out to do it themselves yet go after the government contracts, with SpaceX being a prime example with public statements being made that over half of their funding has come from NASA for the COTS (cargo delivery to ISS) program.

Fast forward to July 15, 2010 when the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed their response to Obama on the FY2011-2014 NASA Budget.  The 99 page draft of the Senate’s budget was posted earlier in the week, but was marked up with quite a few amendments of which many were approved.  I personally have not seen the individual amendments and you have an online link to where they are stored, please share them.  A summary of the Senate’s budget was posted, but the full version has not been made available yet as far as I know.

Even though the Senate Bill still needs to pass another Committee and the full Senate and we have yet to hear much from the House side of Congress, I thought I would take the opportunity to comment on the Senate Bill because there is still time to craft and mold the future.

Regarding extending ISS to 2020 and adding an additional Shuttle flight, in my opinion these are both no-brainers and don’t require discussion.

What I will address is Commercial Crew, Heavy Lift & the Multi-Purpose Spacecraft, and Technology Development.  The major flaw in Obama’s proposal was that he sacrificed current exploration beyond LEO by delaying them until no earlier than 2025 for R&D and technology development.  Any successful company can share with you that their success is not just based on a current product or R&D.  They invest in both.  They are always investing in their future while executing their current product line.  NASA too needs to take a good solid look at how they can best perform R&D and technology development for the future and execute exploration missions in the here and now.  The Senate Bill is a step in the right direction, however the funding levels remain unrealistic in the current environment.  Perhaps a future blog post will transpire on how NASA can change internally to save money and meet the goals and objectives of the future.

Commercial Crew

Why do I like the wording of Sections 402 and 403 in the Senate Bill?  Because it continues the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev) through 2011, providing funding for companies to continue to develop their concepts for Commercial Crew and allows time for NASA to figure out how to run a Commercial Crew program from human rating requirements to procurement.  Consider it the year of transition, and it is a year that both NASA and the Commercial companies will need in order to be successful.

Heavy Lift & Multi-Purpose Spacecraft

I did not understand why under Obama’s proposal NASA would study Heavy Lift alternatives and perform additional studies delaying the decision for what architecture would be used until 2015 (and the next administration) therefore delaying a built vehicle until the early 2020’s.   So it’s actually a good thing that the Senate Bill provides for a Heavy Lift capability and to start working on it right away which means we can begin exploring in years rather than decades.  In Section 302 of the Senate Bill it calls out for an evolutionary design of the heavy lift vehicle.  The spacecraft, built upon the years of work NASA has done on the Orion vehicle to go to ISS and the moon will be evolved to add Mars, Mars’ Moons, and Asteroids.

Technology Development

While not funded at the original levels under Obama’s proposal, there is still funding for technology development and it remains to be seen by the time the final Senate bill gets passed for how much will be funded.   Technology, including Research & Development is a vital component for the future.  However not at the expense of current exploration missions.

Questions on NASA’s Future

(Originally posted on March 1, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society Blog.)

Earlier this month I shared with you my thoughts on NASA’s new vision and how the new vision could fail. And the weekend before the budget was unveiled I wrote about what I thought NASA should pursue in its future.

There has been no shortage of people sharing their thoughts on the FY2011 budget and the revamping of NASA and that is exactly how it should be.  People should be heard.  To date, the blog post in my opinion that sums things up the best is Changing Horses in Mid Stream.  If you haven’t read this one yet, it’s worth the time.

However, have you noticed that there isn’t a consensus in what is being said?  Which way should NASA go?  There are different camps.  Which one are you in?  Are you in the commercial camp?  The NASA only camp?  The Constellation camp?  The extend Shuttle camp?  There are too many to list.

Answer the following questions and include the why…then come back and see how I answered them.

1) Should Constellation be saved?

2) Should Shuttle be extended to close the gap?

3) Should NASA perform exploration missions while developing new R&D technogologies that will get us to Mars?

4) Is a heavy-lift vehicle required to leave LEO?

5) Why is inspiration important to the future of NASA?

*Comments have been ported over.

How could NASA’s New Vision Fail?

(Originally posted on February 11, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog)

Is this the new vision the solution?  Maybe.  The idea is to have NASA do the Research and Development (R&D) work to raise the TRLs from low to high so that they can be turned over the commercial industry.  While NASA has continued to do R&D all of these years, they have not been able to invest in everything they’d like to do because human spaceflight is expensive.  The concept is, make NASA an R&D institution and have the commercial industry pick up the flying into space portion.

My concern is this looks all grand on paper but at the end of the day where is the money and where is the implementation plan.  This plan is subject to the same perils that have doomed previous NASA programs and is at the whim of Congress and the next President(s).  What’s to keep Congress from cutting the funding (line by line remember) of specific NASA R&D departments?  What’s to keep the next President from coming in and saying this was a horrible plan and redirect the agency again?  Nothing.  Remember, there are no guarantees.

How could the new vision fail?

  • If Congress does not fully fund (for all the years to come) NASA to do the R&D work that is required to increase the TRL levels.
  • If the commercial industry does not invest significant amounts of their own money to develop human-rated launch vehicles and spacecraft.
  • If each NASA center does not secure funding to enable it to keep its contractor workforce
  • If NASA does not put together a procurement strategy such that the contracts can be in place to start spending the money right away.

Is this the right time? Is there ever truly a right time? While the budget is an increase in dollars over the FY2010 budget, it is less than what was submitted by NASA as a request for FY2011. Do you jeopardize thousands of jobs across the nation at a time when the nation is still recovering from a recession/depression?  Because, while the white house is saying this will create jobs, it will actually put NASA contractors out of work as their services are no longer required under the new vision.  The old contracts will be terminated and since this is a government agency, it will take time to start up new contracts.  How long will companies need to “hide” employees (cover costs) before those companies lay off or go out of business?  Which of the companies that exist purely to service NASA will go out of business because their services are no longer needed?  Just because a service was needed at one time, does that mean it should always be required?

Let me share with you the possible worst-case impact this could have to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX.  JSC has been the home to three major programs, Shuttle, Station, and Constellation which includes their program offices, crew and flight controller training, and mission operations (mission control).  This is by no means all that takes place at JSC, but it is its major purpose for existing.  Since 2003, the plan has been to phase out the Shuttle program in 2010 and that is not changing.  So JSC has been planning the end of an era and working on transitioning some workers to other opportunities.  Lay-offs are in progress and will continue.  NASA Administrator, Bolden mentioned last week that crew training and mission control for the new spaceflight companies will not be done by NASA.  Astronauts don’t even have to be employed by NASA.  This is all still to be figured out as the new vision unfolds.  What we do know is that JSC just took a zinger under the new vision.  Shuttle retirement was already planned, but Constellation died unexpectedly and along with it the core competencies that JSC offers which is crew training and mission operations.  So, what will JSC do under this new vision?  What skill base can they maintain?  You are going to see the space centers battle it out for funding over this next year to keep their centers and the communities that surround them alive.

The Clear Lake area surrounding the Johnson Space Center exists because of NASA JSC.  If JSC is unable to think outside of the box and embrace this new vision then there will be a ripple down effect throughout the area affecting everyone.

So what does this mean to you?  It means everyone needs to do their part to make sure that the new vision is a success, regardless of your relationship to space exploration.  Do what it takes because failure only hurts our nation and our children’s future.

*Comments have been ported over.