Obama Must Complete All Shuttle Missions, Even If That Means Funding, Flights In Fiscal 2011; And Don't Fund Shuttle Flights By Short-Changing Other Programs
Senate Bill Lashes NASA For Procurement Cost Overruns, Delays; Space Agency Must Tighten Rules, Procedures
An important Senate panel warned the Obama administration not to abandon the Ares I next-generation space rocket without congressional review and approval.
That warning was written by the Senate Appropriations Committee commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), and then endorsed by the full appropriations committee, in the NASA appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
At issue is which companies will make the rocket that will lift the next-generation Orion space capsule into orbit.
President Obama ordered that a committee be formed, headed by Norm Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], to review NASA and its space hardware development and procurement effort, the Constellation Program.
As things now stand, the Orion crew exploration vehicle made by Lockheed will be lifted to space by the Ares I rocket made by other companies.
The Augustine panel is considering whether it would be cheaper to abandon the Ares I rocket and instead use an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) military lifter rocket made by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed and The Boeing Co. [BA]. (That EELV would be either an Atlas V, a Lockheed design, or a Delta IV, a Boeing design.)
The Ares I rocket has been in development for years. In separate efforts, it is being designed by Boeing, Alliant Techsystems Inc. [ATK], and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies Corp. [UTX].
Some in the Obama administration say it would be cheaper to abandon Ares I and use an EELV instead. Further, they say the EELV is an existing rocket, and could be ready to fly sooner than Ares I.
But critics of that move say the EELV wouldn't have the capability to support moon missions the way the Ares I lifter for the Orion capsule and the Ares V heavy cargo lifter would. Further, the critics point out that abandoning Ares I at this point would waste billions of dollars worth of investment in the rocket and many years of effort. Also, the Ares V design and development expects to use much of the Ares I design features, so that abandoning Ares I would add a huge amount of work, time and cost to developing Ares V. Finally, the critics point out that the EELV would have to be human rated if it is to lift a capsule full of astronauts to space.
The Senate panel waded into the controversy, with some stern directions for the Obama administration as the Augustine panel prepares to issue recommendations on how the Ares I- EELV issue should be resolved, a report expected in August. The administration must not grab the Augustine recommendations and unilaterally make changes in the Constellation Program, the Senate committee stated.
"The committee directs that NASA shall not use the operating plan or reprogramming process as the method of implementing the recommendations of the review," the senators said in a report accompanying the appropriations bill.
"The opportunity for directing a well constructed and thoughtful approach to manned space flight should be as a budget amendment to the [fiscal] 2010 budget requrest that is received [from Obama] in a manner that is timely for consideration by the [Senate] committee, or as part of the 2011 budget request" that Obama sends to Congress next year, the report continued.
The report then pointedly noted that it is supplying roughly $1.4 billion specifically for Ares I, along with a similar amount for Orion.
And the senators stated that they value the planned future Ares V heavy lifter rocket.
"The committee believes that the Ares V cargo launch vehicle will be a critical national asset for carrying exploration and scientific payloads beyond low Earth orbit to the moon and beyond," the senators declared.
And they aren't eager to see delays in developing Ares V. "To facilitate the earliest possible start of the development of the Ares V, the committee recommends a funding level of" $100 million.