Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Assessment of Principles

The principles are also briefly evaluated.

1. Do not abandon exploration, including human and robotic missions to the Moon. – The plan eliminates much or all of the Constellation effort. However, it includes robotic exploration of the Moon and demonstrations of applications on the Moon. It also includes a more gradual build-up of NASA and commercial human spaceflight capabilities and infrastructure to allow more sustainable lunar development in the long run.

2. Do not leave human spaceflight “stuck in Low Earth Orbit”. - The plan eliminates much or all of the Constellation effort. However, it explicitly emphasizes that commercial space is to take over LEO access, space stations, and satellite servicing as soon as possible. NASA would gradually move beyond LEO as LEO missions are transferred to commercial space. It should be noted that one risk of Constellation, because of its high development and operations costs, is that Ares 1 and Orion will be built but the rest of that architecture will be cancelled. This would not only leave us “stuck in Low Earth Orbit”, but would also limit the political viability of commercial LEO space access.

3. Human and robotic areas should complement, not oppose, each other. – The Constellation effort has lost much of its support among the robotic science community because human spaceflight efforts have taken robotic space funding, even though it was problems in the human spaceflight areas (Shuttle costs, Constellation costs) that caused the budget overruns. This plan recognizes that the important applications of today, whether communications, Earth observations, military applications, or science, are all done mainly or entirely by robotic space systems. Instead of a human dash to the Moon, then, this plan emphasizes complimentary human and robotic missions. Humans are assigned much if not all of the job of satellite servicing, so humans become an integral part of the important space applications of today. As humans venture out to new locations like the Moon and asteroids, they are preceded by a thorough armada of robotic science, survey, human health, and engineering demonstration missions, again emphasizing cooperation between robots and humans. The plan also emphasizes suborbital space access, which can be done with both piloted and unpiloted vehicles.

4. Use NASA’s strengths and existing infrastructure (e.g.: robotic exploration, ISS). – This plan adds numerous robotic space missions. These would typically be small versions of the type of robotic missions NASA is known for. Because of cost constraints, many of them would be considered “Explorer-class” or even small satellites. The plan also emphasizes improvements in robotic satellite technology. It includes an increased emphasis on commercial use of the ISS, NASA use of commercial space stations, and multiple COTS vehicles for ISS cargo and crew access (complemented in 1 scenario by a downsized Ares/Orion). In contrast, Constellation does not include a COTS crew capability for ISS access, and the Ares schedule includes a large and growing gap of U.S. ISS crew transportation. Constellation also has reduced funding for ISS research, and doesn’t include incentives or business for commercial space stations. Constellation has actually in a sense taken away funding for robotic missions.

5. Do not rely on a single system, such as a single space transportation system. – This plan emphasizes multiple smaller systems whenever possible. Use of competitive and competing commercial services is encouraged. Multiple COTS vehicles are recommended. Multiple suborbital vehicles, X planes, and so on are featured throughout the plan. It is expected that some of the multiple approaches will fail. The plan may possibly take longer to reach the Moon because it will gradually grow redundant and complimentary useful space capabilities to make missions like the lunar one safer and more sustainable. In contrast, Constellation is literally a single giant system for the entire NASA space transportation, exploration, and space infrastructure effort. If this system fails in development or operation, the entire effort fails.

6. Emphasize smaller, manageable missions and incremental, achievable progress. – The plan emphasizes smaller robotic missions in areas like Environment and Education applications. Numerous small and manageable CATS demos are recommended. Incremental progress is advocated in demonstration missions that gradually improve specific space components like power systems (Energy application area) and communication systems (Communications and Media area). The plan for human spaceflight in the Exploration area is for more incremental and manageable steps that move outward gradually rather than a single big step to the Moon. Also, use of commercial suborbital rockets enables many smaller missions to take place. In contrast, Constellation involves a huge, difficult to manage rocket and spacecraft development program that seeks to make a great leap forward to the lunar surface.

7. Plan flexibility to adjust given changes in national priorities and opportunities. – In part because it consists of numerous smaller and shorter efforts, the approach advocated here is flexible and can be adjusted with minimal disruption. Different application areas can be emphasized and de-emphasized given changes in priorities. Specific programs that run into technical or budget problems can be cancelled with little effect on the overall effort, since most of the efforts are independent. Constellation, on the other hand, is extremely inflexible, since it’s a single multi-decade space transportation development program. It either all works, or all fails. There is no opportunity, short of cancelling Constellation, for taking advantage of commercial opportunities, new scientific or resource knowledge, or new priorities in Earthly problem areas.

8. Strengthen research and development (e.g.: NACA, New Millennium). – The proposed plan greatly strengthens NASA’s support of research and development. There is an emphasis on researching, developing, and demonstrating new satellite power systems in the Energy application area, new satellite communications technology in the Communications application area, and new satellite observation instruments in the Environment and Defense and Security application areas. International Space Station and commercial space station research and development are strengthened in the Medical, Health, and Biology application area. The Educational application area supports numerous university research projects. The Transportation application area supports research and development of space access technologies. The Education application area and others promote the use of innovation prizes to inspire research and development outside of NASA. The Constellation program has resulted in a significant reduction in NASA research and development on the ISS, in Aeronautics, and in Space and Earth Science. Even in space transportation, Constellation is not intended so much as a research and development effort as a rocket building effort based as closely as possible on existing and demonstrated technology (i.e. the Space Shuttle and Apollo). The idea of using what already exists has merit in many cases, so this approach of Constellation is not inherently a bad one; that depends on how well the existing pieces fit together. However, the point is that the Constellation effort shouldn’t be considered to be Research and Development since it deliberately tries to avoid new research and development. We can expect little innovation from Constellation other than the Constellation rockets and spacecraft themselves.

9. Get some results quickly. Don’t leave the main payoff for 16 years. – This proposal promotes small, quick, incremental improvements where payoffs can happen quickly. Small robotic missions can return results a lot earlier than 2020, even though Constellation has had a multi-year head start. More modest and focused COTS and other space transportation efforts are likely to return results like crewed access to the ISS before Constellation, thereby reducing the “gap”. The emphasis on commercial suborbital spaceflight tends to shorten the time to get back results, assuming this wave of suborbital vehicles is successfully built. The new NASA market proposed here would help increase the chance that that happens. The increased use of the ISS would return results quicker, since the ISS is already partially built. Finally, the human exploration of the deep oceans of the Earth can begin right away with existing classes of vehicles, and gradually increase in capability. Constellation, on the other hand, doesn’t return major results until 2020 or later, even if it succeeds. Constellation also includes a small number of robotic lunar exploration components like LRO (GRAIL is outside Constellation, in the Discovery program) that should in fact return early results. Those robotic efforts are outside the scope of the comparison taken here; there is no proposal to change those lunar robotic missions here, other than to ensure that more lunar robotic missions are added. Constellation’s intended mid-stream result of ISS crew transportation around 2015 is not considered a substantial advantage in the comparison, because one scenario here would continue a downsized Ares/Orion program (perhaps with a smaller crew size) that would more easily meet the ISS objective, and more importantly both scenarios here would include a strong COTS crew effort that should produce even better results.

10. Earn broad support beyond the program’s workers and contractors through demonstrated usefulness. Earn support from businesses, other Federal agencies, States, educational organizations, and science and engineering organizations. – It’s easy to identify Federal agencies that would benefit from the NASA efforts focused on application areas. The political constituencies for these Federal agencies would of course also benefit, and NASA would as a result earn support from these constituencies, and possibly more funding. The Energy application area would benefit the Department of Energy. The Environment application area would benefit NOAA, the EPA, the Interior Department, Department of Agriculture, and other agencies concerned with the environment. The Defense and Security application area would benefit the military, Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies. There would be numerous opportunities for international cooperation with many smaller missions that would be useful to the State Department. The Health, Medicine, and Biology areas would help the efforts of the National Institute of Health and other agencies, and would also strive to help commercial operators offer cost-effective space-based health products and insights that could help the large government medical insurance agencies. Similar examples can be given for the various application areas, and many of these examples cross application areas. For example, NOAA and the military and intelligence agencies would benefit from frequent small NASA robotic missions across a number of the application areas that would encourage shared costs of using EELVs, new cost-effective launchers, and responsive, cost-effective small satellites. Meanwhile, the numerous efforts to encourage commercial space through developing technologies to the point of commercial interest, by offering numerous innovation incentive prizes, and by purchasing services from commercial space would result in support not just from the broad commercial space community, but also from the users of commercial space services. Science organizations would benefit from the strengthened emphasis on science in several of the application areas, and the low-cost access to commercial space services that science users could take advantage of. Educational organizations would benefit from the same efforts, as well as the strong Education application area. Constellation, on the other hand, has already alienated Science and Aeronautics organizations, has little to offer for other Federal or State agencies and their countless constituents, and does little for commercial space or the economy as a whole.

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