Augustine Review: October summit set to reveal NASA’s forward path

The strategic direction of NASA is set to be announced in the first week of October, when new administrator Charlie Bolden and Human Space Flight Review panel chairman Norm Augustine conduct a NASA Executive Summit for all Senior Executive Service employees. The news came as center and space industry directors continue to tell their staff to keep their focus during “this period of uncertainty.”

NASA’s Forward Path (Mr Coats):

Continued uncertainty surrounds the direction NASA will be steered over the coming years and decades, ranging from an extension to the shuttle program, to an affordable and potentially ambitious exploration plan – with the ultimate decision to be taken by the Obama administration.

With a shuttle mission currently on orbit, Johnson Space Center (JSC) director Mike Coats made an address to his workforce, asking them to remain focused on the near term. Interestingly, he also gave his strong backing to a Constellation Program that is in real danger of being cancelled – which has led to an increase of lobbying in support of continuing with the Ares program recently.

“During this period of uncertainty regarding the future of Human Space Flight, I wanted to keep you informed of what we know and what we don’t know,” noted Mr Coats on an internal address acquired by L2.

A2“First of all I want to congratulate the Constellation team and everyone who supported the Orion Preliminary Design Review (PDR). I can fully appreciate the tremendous amount of hard work that goes into achieving a major milestone like the PDR, and I extend my thanks to all of you involved in making it so successful.

“Like any program at this stage there are a handful of technical issues yet to be resolved, but none are serious and it is obvious the entire Constellation Team is working extremely well together. I am looking forward to the (second attempt of the) DM-1 motor firing in Utah, the Ares I-X launch next month at KSC, and the first Pad Abort test early next year. The progress across the board on the Constellation Program is impressive.”

Interesting, Mr Coats followed his comments about being “impressed” with the Constellation program, by noting he is “quite proud” of the program that is successfully launching humans and hardware into space right now, by noting his backing for the recent slips to the last few launch dates in order to ensure safe flight.

“I’m also quite proud of the effort that went into launching our two Shuttle missions this summer. Bill Gerstenmaier/Associate Administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, and John Shannon/Shuttle Program Manager, emphasize repeatedly that we will launch our missions only when it’s safe to do so.

“That’s exactly the right attitude, and I’m confident we will fly out the remainder of the Shuttle manifest safely and complete assembly of the International Space Station (ISS).”

After praising the achievements of the ongoing STS-128 mission, Mr Coats then moved on to the subject of the Augustine Review, outlining the well-know options of extending shuttle and the ISS, but also noted what appears to be a key date for the Agency in October – before stressing the workforce needs to continue to be focused on the current plan, until they are told different.

“All of us have been waiting for the results of the Review by the Human Space Flight Plans Committee, otherwise known as the Augustine Panel. The Panel has begun to provide preliminary briefings to summarize their findings, but a final written report will probably not be published until later this month,” added Mr Coats’ address.

“NASA senior management is studying the Augustine Panel briefings and is meeting several days a week to develop a NASA recommended strategy to present to the Administration. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Panel Chairman Norm Augustine are currently scheduled to testify to Congress on September 15 and 16, although that may slip until the Augustine report is published.

“Mr. Bolden has scheduled a NASA Executive Summit for all Senior Executive Service employees in Washington on Oct 6 and 7 to discuss strategic direction for the Agency. We will keep you informed of events as they unfold.

“NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has stated clearly that we should proceed with our current program, which has been authorized and funded by Congress, until and unless the Administration and Congress direct otherwise.

“Our most powerful message to the American public is continued mission success in our profession of space exploration. Keep up the terrific work!”

MSFC’s Forward Path (Mr Lightfoot):

Newly appointed Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) director Robert Lightfoot made his first All Hands address to his workforce last week, saying they will deal with any changes to the forward path “as a team”.

A3Marshall has the most to lose if the Ares program is cancelled, especially if the favored option results in a commercial launch vehicle, such as an EELV (Atlas V-Heavy, Delta IV-Heavy).

“We’ve got the skills, the tools and the capabilities, and if you don’t have those, you don’t have a mission,” noted Mr Lightfoot in the Marshall Star. “There’s a lot to be done. No matter how it comes out, this team is going to be involved.”

Although previous MSFC comments relating to the Augustine Review have stated that the Marshall Center will be involved in any plans to launch humans into space, Mr Lightfoot told his workforce that they will soon know what the future will hold for the center, and to continue to focus on developing Ares.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he added. “We’ll have an answer soon, and we’ll deal with it as a team. As Marshall.”

United Space Alliance’s Forward Path (Mr Covey):

USA head Dick Covey – one of the key supporters for extending the shuttle program beyond 2010 – also sent out an address to his workforce in relation to the upcoming delivery of the Augustine Review findings.

Mr Covey is in charge of a workforce that will suffer the brunt of the job losses, based on the current plan to retire shuttle and then endure a six year – or more – gap to the first operational flight of Ares I and Orion.

A6“For the past few months, the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Committee, led by Chairman Norm Augustine, has been conducting a thorough assessment of numerous options for the future of our Nation’s space program.” noted Mr Covey in an address acquired by L2.

“This review has been enlightening and educational as presenters from industry, academia and the general public have openly discussed a wide variety of options for our Nation’s future human space flight program. Since we anticipate extensive media coverage surrounding the committee’s final report, I think it is important to discuss what the committee’s work will mean to United Space Alliance.”

As expected, Mr Covey focused on the extension of the shuttle to 2011, which would be based on a manifest stretch of the remaining flights on the current schedule. Plans to extend past that point are available for an additional year of operations – to 2012, and the more costly 2015 option.

“The committee was chartered to ‘identify and characterize a range of options that spans the possibilities for continuation of U.S. human space flight activities beyond retirement of the Space Shuttle.’ We know from the committee’s public discussions that there is consensus among committee members that the Shuttle should, at an ‘absolute minimum’ fly out the current manifest even if it means flying into FY 2011.

“There is also agreement that the ISS should be extended to 2020 if the budget can accommodate this extension. The committee has expressed concerns about the budget and schedule for the Ares I and Orion programs, and considered alternative approaches as well as alternative budget profiles.”

A7Mr Covey also stressed the Augustine Commission are only presenting options, and no decisions or changing of course would occur until the Obama administration makes the decision on NASA’s forward path.

“As stated in its charter, the committee’s report will present options – not recommendations – and the national debate will continue – not end – with the completion of the panel’s work.

“A wide variety of options are being considered, and multiple factors, the most significant of which will be the NASA budget, will be debated and taken into consideration as the President outlines his vision for human space flight. We can anticipate that the debate in Washington, D.C., and in the news media will continue until a decision is made.”

The references to the media are likely based on ensuring his workforce keep focused on the missions, rather than the unavoidable play-by-play on the fate of both the shuttle program – and the program that will succeed it – in the media. To which ends, Mr Covey also stressed his workforce needs to concentrate on what they are doing right now, even though his address ironically was sent out whilst most of his workforce were doing just that.

“At USA, we will continue to support and engage in the evaluation of the various options. As this process moves forward, we will continue to provide information and context to you. Regardless of how the issues are resolved, our primary goal must continue to be flying each and every mission as safely and successfully as possible.

“We cannot allow ourselves to become distracted or lose our focus on the job immediately ahead of us. We must increase our efforts to make safety the top priority and never hesitate to call a ‘time-out’ when needed. Our contribution to the future of human space, now and in the future, will be to remain committed to excellence in all that we do.”

SD HLLV:

With the Constellation Program continuing their development of the Ares and Orion vehicles, the options relating to a change of path for NASA are also refining their plans.

An impressive EELV-based exploration architecture is understood to be making huge strides behind the scenes, in preparation for being one of the frontrunners in the conclusions of the Augustine Review report. While the SD-HLLV (Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle – or HLV for short) is still being worked on within the Space Shuttle Program (SSP).

A5The latest updates point to a focus on the Lunar Reference Mission via the utilization of the HLV, while costings are refined through their preparations for being the Augustine Panel’s option of choice.

“Preliminary data is showing that with an LOR approach and two HLV launches, we can get a 33-34 metric ton lander,” added the latest notes from the Shuttle Standup/Integration reports on L2. “The team reviewed the re-costing analysis for the HLV. It is pretty much the same was what they had provided early. Continue to make progress.”

In fact, all of the recent notes that have referenced the HLV work have been positive, with the architecture soon to be reviewed by NASA managers as high as NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Mr Bill Gerstenmaier.

“Pulled together a brief overview for John Shannon, and ready to brief him on a Lunar Reference Mission,” added a note on the Standup at the end of last week. “Hope to take the Lunar Reference Mission brief to Bill Gerstenmaier soon.

“Have consummated a plan for the avionics and flight software, similar to the Shuttle. It makes maximum use of the Shuttle capability and hardware. It supports a human rating requirement, if needed.”

This vehicle – along with the Direct heavy-lifters known as the Jupiter family – have already been classed as the most favorable options to work alongside an extension of the shuttle program by the Augustine Review panel. However, all of the recent work on “extension” has focused solely on continuing operations to 2011.

Shuttle Extension:

The latest studies have been conducted from a departmental standpoint, showing costings and issues with extensions of six months and 12 months on top of the current manifested end date for the shuttle near the end of 2010.

Interestingly, several presentations – acquired by L2 – work on the basis of a set list of assumptions, which request a focus on the potential impacts to the Constellation Program.

A4“Assessed 6 month and 12 month Shuttle extension options. Evenly spaced flights. Retention of current Constellation budget! No schedule relief of Constellation milestones. Flex utilization of workforce to support both programs – critical skill protected by the integrated team!,” opened the “key assumptions” note on one departmental presentation.

That presentation continues by pointing out that extending shuttle, based on the current roadmap for Constellation, holds several major risks that need to be addressed via assurances a small extension to shuttle would be fully funded, as opposed to hand outs and job sharing with the Constellation Program – which the presentation notes will be where the priority funding is currently targeted for from 2011.

“Greater demand for skill sharing. SSP highest priority today – beyond SSP mission prep & OPS, Cx will be priority in 2011. Tougher trade in meeting Cx milestones with Shuttle requirements. Reduced capacity responding to Shuttle anomalies/issues. Increased need to track and assess vehicle anomalies (prelaunch),” noted “risks” on one of the presentations.

“Budget covers only modest issue tracking. Vehicle aging and processing attention-to-detail may impact systems health. Workforce morale may degrade vehicle preparation integrity. Critical skills attrition: Potential for most experienced/senior people to transition to leadership roles with Cx. Economy improves and return to around 15 percent attrition.

“No resource margin in FY11 – large management challenge. Must have FY11 Cx budget to protect critical skill levels!!!”

These concerns appear to be the mirrored in all recent extension documentation, which note the capacity is there to extend the shuttle manifest, but only with the required workforce and funding support – due to the shoftfall that has already been noted for the Constellation Program based on the current budget projections.

More will follow on NASA’s options via the Augustine Review in the coming week.

See also:
Extension and Alternatives: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/tag/extension/

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