NASA’s Future HLV Underfunded (again)

Ares I-X Rocket and Space Shuttle (NASA, 10/28/09)

Test launch of the Ares rocket with the Space Shuttle waiting on the pad. Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr.

Well, NASA has reported to Congress concerning the marching orders given them under the Space Authorization Bill, saying that to design and build the rocket and capsule Congress wants, they will need more money and more time than Congress has given them.  Congress replied saying, essentially, “We told you what to do, now do it.”

So I ask. “Where do we go from here?”  There are those who feel very strongly that Constellation was underfunded all along and that that is what put it over budget and behind schedule in the first place, resulting in its cancellation.  Are we going to go through this whole “NASA designs and tests the vehicle-Congress underfunds it-New President cancels it-Congress orders new design” cycle all over again?  Where does it end?  Are NASA’s future human spaceflight efforts destined to die on the drawing boards?

Does Congress understand the value of this country’s space program to our technical base?  I know that they understand how space launches effect the employment base of their respective districts, but I wonder if that isn’t all that they see.  In the mean time, New Space stands poised to take the mission right out from under NASA’s grasp because NASA will not have a human-rated heavy launch vehicle.  Government’s lack of vision has already allowed SpaceX, who launched a capsule into orbit late last year, to pass up the Constellation Program.  I think it is good that New Space is doing so well, but not everyone agrees that they should totally take over.

In March, the 2010 budget extension will end, as will all work on the Constellation Program as well as the Space Shuttle Program soon after that.  NASA did not do this, Government did.  Congress and two Presidents, over the course of not that many years, will effectively put an end to all of NASA’s manned launch capability before the end of this summer, with no new designs moving forward to replace them.  What follows is more lengthy hot air exchanges in the halls of power while NASA’s momentum in human space flight grinds to a halt.  Many of their experts will lose their jobs and go on to fill roles elsewhere.

Falcon rocket, Space Exploration Technologies,...

Image via Wikipedia

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) doesn’t think that commercial space can fill NASA’s shoes in even Low Earth Orbit missions, but fill them it must, and apparently for a much longer period than anyone originally envisioned.  It will be a trial by fire for those companies and I think that American free enterprise, for better or worse, will soon rule outerspace as a result.  They will own the entire LEO, and the solar system, before long because no government funded program in the world will be capable of competing with them.  NASA, through I think no fault of their own, could eventually be marginalized to the role of signing checks for all but their robotic missions.

1/24/11 Addendum:  In the discussion in the International Space Fellowship group in LinkedIn, Jun Okushi directed me to this very useful Power Point presentation detailing NASA’s 2011 human spaceflight plans.

NASA JSC Presentation: Human Spaceflight Affordability: Advanced In-house Development Portfolio January 2011 | OnOrbit


~ by Bill Housley on January 21, 2011.

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