MAF provide positive ET hardware overview for early SD HLV test flight

The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) have confirmed they have almost enough External Tank resources to allow for one ET-sized “In Line” Shuttle Derived Heavy Launch Vehicle (SD HLV) test flight and up to three Block I SD HLVs. The news comes as NASA managers insist the workforce should wait for official news, and not to be distracted by reports on Ares’ demise.

Bolden’s Key Speech:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will make the most important speech of his short tenure thus far on Monday, with the first clues on what will be a new direction for the Agency set to be revealed – based on the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget.

As reported by NASASpaceflight.com on January 23, Ares I and Ares V’s battle to cling on to life – an uphill battle since 2008, when the internal schedules started to dramatically slip via funding and technical issues – was coming to an end, along with an obvious omission of a lunar program in NASA’s own interpretations of the Augustine Committee-driven Flexible Path plan.

A few days later, some of the mass media – led by the Orlando Sentinel – took the news a stage further, citing “insiders” as claiming the aforementioned were being officially cut from NASA’s future.

With the Sentinel’s article paraphrased and syndicated throughout the mass media and several other space sites, Constellation managers decided to act, informing the workforce on their official position.

“Orion Team: A few news bureaus and bloggers have been reporting on some major changes coming our way. Sometimes the number of reports gives the impression of validity when in fact they are all reporting on the same rumor,” noted Orion Project manager Mark Geyer, via one of several memos acquired by L2.

“I can tell you that I have not received any direction or information that would confirm what they are saying. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there will be some changes announced next week and that they may be significant.

“Again, I have no specific information on what that might be.”

See also NASASpaceflight.com’s Flexible Path Review:
Part 1: Battle of the Heavy Lift Launchers – Monster 200mt vehicle noted
Part 2: Manned mission to construct huge GEO and deep space telescopes proposed
Part 3: NASA Flexible Path Evaluation of 2025 human mission to visit an asteriod
Part 4: Taking Aim on Phobos – NASA outline Flexible Path precursor to Man on Mars

SD HLV Status:

“Some changes” may be underplaying the reality, with several NASA departments already carrying out evaluations on one of the major elements of the likely future path for NASA – moving away from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) based around the development of a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle.

While Ares I’s role for International Space Station (ISS) missions heads to a commercial service provider, the HLV will be contracted out – not unlike NASA already does to some extent with the shuttle – moving to a multi-company effort led by Boeing, partnering with Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and United Space Alliance (USA), with heavy NASA involvement from Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

As to how soon this vehicle will be developed will depend largely on available funding, with the question of shuttle extension still lacking a definitive answer, along with how the NASA budget will be reallocated over the next 10 years, based on purchasing commercial flight services to an ISS that will be extended to 2020.

While those questions are yet to be officially addressed, NASA managers are pushing forward at a healthy pace to work towards an “early” test flight of what is now heavily confirmed as based on the DIRECT team’s Jupiter-241 Stretched Heavy Launch Vehicle.

The early indications of achieving a fast-track approach to the SD HLV – especially when compared to the sluggish pace of Ares V’s development – are extremely encouraging, with the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) confirming available materials and required tooling are largely in place to construct a test flight vehicle, likely based on a normal “Shuttle” ET core.

This vehicle “could be ready to fly around late 2012″ according to MAF sources, which points to a regular shuttle Main Propulsion System (MPS) with three Space Shuttle Main Engines, along with two four segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB’s).

Ironically, the availability of SD HLV assets are mainly thanks to efforts made to protect for the possibility of a shuttle extension – especially at MAF, who have since confirmed they have enough materials and part-built tanks to construct no less than three new ET’s with materials to spare, with all of the shuttle ET tooling either still in-situ or protected in storage on site.

“Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) (NASA/JSC): Had a good review. Talked about several applications to the Shuttle-derived and inline configurations and demonstrations. Reviewed the status of the SSME’s. Looks like we will have at least four Block II SSME flight sets to support that, and can probably get another engine or two from Block I or Phase II engines,” noted information on this week’s Shuttle Standup/Integration report (L2).

“It appears that quite a bit of the assets from the ET would be available, not only the tooling and processing, but the hardware. Probably would be enough hardware to support 90 percent of an inline ET demo, and then probably two or three Block I flights (80 percent of hardware per flight).”

A timeline of around 36 months has been cited for the stretched ET core configuration, although the question of a four SSME MPS – along with test stand requirements – needs to be addressed to provide a viable timeline for this configuration of vehicle to be ready for flight.

Regardless, the continued benefit of the HLV’s shuttle commonality is aiding the positive evaluations, as the SSP use the findings from their Sidemount review cycles to already move into a costing phase for the HLV.

“Had a good review of the infrastructure for the flight software, looking at not only the application of the Shuttle flight software to an inline vehicle configuration, but all the processing that goes along with it, including flight design, validation and verification. Most of that applies directly to an inline,” added the Standup report.

“Will look at the commonality between the payload carrier for side mount and the upper shroud for the inline. Hope by the end of the month to have a first cut of the cost for the inline to compare to the sidemount, and hopefully will have something to pass over to the Business Office for a more detailed cost.”

Early information also indicates that this new approach is receiving significant support within the US Congress, as it provides the needed means to transition from Shuttle to the new program with all the same benefits Ares was intended to produce.

Even the long-time Constellation supporter, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is understood to be supportive of this alternate plan, along with many of his colleagues.

Ares End Game:

In what may be one of the final evaluations by the Ares team, managers have been looking at the costings of two more Ares I-X style test flights.

This was expected, following Ares manager Jeff Hanley’s plan to replace the Ares I-Y test flight in around 2013 as part of his efforts to try and save the Ares program from slipping yet further on the schedule.

“Came up with draft budget for 2X (Ares I-X Prime/I-X2), sat down with last week to discuss delta required over already existing test budget flight,” noted a January 25 memo acquired by L2. “Folks working Ares 2X and 3X (Ares I-X Prime/I-X3), and working how to get data.”

The memo also noted continued efforts to design Constellation’s Lunar plan, via a Lunar Ops Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) that was conducted just last week.

This points to Constellation efforts to continue to work the full POR (Program Of Record) despite the defunding of the Altair Program, likely in the hope of additional funding to return Constellation back on track to some extent – as much as that now appears to be a lost cause.

“We’re all seeing much in the press regarding the future of human space flight. I can’t predict how the current round of Cx second guessing is going to go. We have a Cx program and are continuing the work until/unless national space policy changes,” noted MOD head Paul Hill on another address to the workforce. “If that happens, we’ll reshape our plans and move out accordingly.

“Although the uncertainty is frustrating and unnerving, try to not waste a lot of brain cells speculating and wringing your hands about all of the permutations. The angst won’t likely help you work on whatever you have on your plate.

“Keep your eye on the ball in the plan/train/fly job the ISS and Shuttle programs and, more importantly, their crews are relying on us for every day. Keep working the Cx program that is before us. If it evolves, we’ll evolve with it, again.”

Mr Hill also made an important point, noting that the direction provided by the President still has a long way to go before it is realized as a final plan via Congress.

“Nothing has actually happened yet, whether that’s within NASA or in the White House as far as changing national space policy. Further, Congress will ultimately engage with the White House, and there will be some amount of iteration leading up to any final, new policy.”

Backing Mr Hill’s point about the political process that remains was Johnson Space Center (JSC) director Mike Coats, who addressed his workforce on Friday.

“As you know, media speculation continues on the President’s budget and its potential implications to NASA’s future. Please remember that the budget process is just that – a process – which may take many months.

“As additional details become available, we will continue to share and update our information. We will also schedule a JSC All Hands in the near future and let you know that date as soon as possible.

“So, once again, let’s stay focused on our mission and not let distractions, speculation or rumors affect our continued excellence, our commitment to safety or our care and concern for each other.”

Both Mr Hill and Orion’s Mr Geyer made comparisons to the transition of Space Station Freedom into the International Space Station. However, it was Mr Geyer that provided a strong statement on his belief in the importance of the US Human Space Flight program, and its continuation.

“Those that think deeply about this subject know that the ability to fly people into space is critical for a world power. We see this manifested in the drive by emerging powers to achieve that capability.

“However, you are in a very small group of people who has actually created this capability in the past and/or are the leaders in enabling this capability for the United States in the future. You should be proud of that, and I am confident your hard work will not be wasted.

“The leadership team from (Associate Administrator for the Office of Exploration Systems Mission Directorate) Doug Cooke on down will work with General Bolden to develop a strategy from whatever direction we are given. I will share this with you as soon as I can.

“I continue to tell people that my favorite part of the job is working with the great people who make up the Orion project. Thanks for all of your hard work. More to come.”

Live coverage and interactive debate of General Bolden’s speech on Monday will be provided here: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?board=44.0

L2 members: Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4500 gbs in size

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