Lawmakers produce Bill to extend shuttle to 2015, utilize CxP, advance HLV

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Senator Kay Hutchison – in conjunction with Representatives Suzanne Kosmas and Bill Posey – has produced a 37 page Bill that proposes major refinements to NASA’s FY2011 proposal, and NASA’s forward plan. The Bill is centered around a shuttle extension to 2015, in support of fully utilizing the International Space Station (ISS), along with saving elements of Constellation – such as Orion and a Heavy Lift Launcher (HLV).

Shuttle Extension:

Efforts to reverse the 2010 retirement date of the shuttle fleet have been ongoing for a few years, without being realized – partly due to a lack of support from successive NASA administrators.

Former NASA boss Mike Griffin even worked directly against extension – mainly via protection of the Ares I launch vehicle’s budget – often citing safety concerns which had no basis in post Return To Flight reality.

With a level of support for an extension of the shuttle manifest – in tandem with the development of a Shuttle Derived HLV – gained at the Augustine Committee review into NASA’s Human Space Flight program, the door was opened for building on a 2008 Senate Bill that had already actioned pre-emptive measures to protect shuttle-related assets from decommissioning.

Central to the new Bill – also known as the “Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act of 2010″ – is a solution to the short and mid term issue of “the gap” for US manned space flight capability, by extending the operational lifetime of the shuttle - as outlined in a series of instructions to current NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, pending the approval of the Bill.

“The Administrator shall take all necessary steps to ensure that all Space Shuttle Program (SSP) activities and operations are able to continue, or to be resumed, including flight operations and support, pending the completion of the reviews, requirements, and reports of this section,” noted the Bill.

“The Administrator shall take all steps necessary to ensure shuttle launch capability through fiscal year 2011 to enable launch, at a minimum, of all payloads manifested as of February 28, 2010.

“In fulfillment of this requirement, the Administrator is prohibited from terminating any contractor support which will endanger or inhibit the launching of shuttle payloads manifested as of February 28, 2010, should launches be required after the first quarter of fiscal year 2011.”

Such instructions hold their own difficulties, with numerous shuttle contractors already shut down via the current budget plan. However, it goes some way to protect the shuttle manifest from hitting a gap of its own, as SSP would enable the construction of the three spare tanks currently located at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), for example.

Recertification of the orbiters is not deemed to be a problematic issue, as previously confirmed by SSP management, and recently repeated by Mission Management Team (MMT) chair Mike Moses – who noted the fleet could ‘technically’ keep flying to 2020. A large level of recertification was already carried out on the fleet during the Return To Flight period.

However, in order to satisfy the likes of the ASAP (Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel) – who testified last year that it was their opinion an extension would require a recertification effort, the Bill calls for a short consultation period, in which a certification review would be carried out on the ability for the shuttle operations to continue for an additional five years.

“No later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act the Administrator shall ask the National Academies of Science to appoint a Flight Certification Review Committee, consisting of individuals with appropriate engineering expertise and experience in certification of space flight vehicle hardware, systems, and equipment testing and validation procedures, to review space shuttle certification activities undertaken or initiated after February, 2003.

“The Committee shall provide an assessment regarding the adequacy of those validation procedures in assuring vehicle durability, flight-worthiness, and sustainability for continued operations through a period of up to 5 years beyond the space shuttle flight manifest planned as of February, 2010 (see left for STS manifest as of March 2, via L2).

” The Committee shall take into account current and historical trends in anomaly detection and resolution within major components of the space shuttle systems.

“The Committee appointed under subsection (b) shall complete its task within 90 days of its appointment and shall provide its findings and determinations concurrently to the Administrator and to the committees of jurisdiction no later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act.”

The extension scenario – as outlined in the Bill – calls for two flights per year, which would allow NASA to retire at least one orbiter, likely to remain at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as a parts donor for her sisters. Two flights per year would also help remove the threat of a gap during the extended manifest, as contractors “catch up” with providing for the additional flights.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, to the extent practicable NASA shall operate the Space Shuttle program at a flight rate of no more than 2 missions in any consecutive 12-month period beginning during the fiscal years for which appropriations are authorized under section of this Act.

“The Administrator shall ensure that hardware components in existence as of March, 2010, remain available for use in connection with any additional flights required beyond those on the current flight manifest schedule.”

The Bill also outlines instructions and rules for the eventual termination of shuttle operations, closely associating the needs of the ISS – now extended to 2020 – with the priority of the shuttle’s unique payload capability. Dependant on the translation of the Bill’s language, it also appears to hint towards additional payloads – other than just resupply logistics – could return to the shuttle manifest.

“The Administrator shall immediately upon enactment of this Act, conduct an in-depth assessment of all essential modules, operational systems and components, structural elements, and permanent scientific equipment on board or planned for delivery and installation aboard the International Space Station, including both United States and international partner elements, to determine anticipated spare or replacement requirements to ensure complete, effective, and safe function and full scientific utilization of the ISS.

“The identification of spare or replacement elements and parts currently produced, in inventory, or on order, and the state of readiness and schedule for delivery to the ISS, including the planned transportation means for such delivery. Each element identified shall include a description of its location, function, criticality for system integrity, and specifications regarding size, weight, and necessary con1figuration for launch and delivery.

“The identification of anticipated requirements for spare or replacement elements not currently in inventory or on order, a description of their location, function, criticality for system integrity, the anticipated cost and schedule for design, procurement, manufacture and delivery, and specifications regarding size, weight, and necessary configuration for launch and delivery, including available launch vehicles capable of transportation of such items to the International Space Station.”

Full utilization of the ISS, and support of the outpost through to 2020, is the key for the extension of the shuttle’s upmass – and downmass – capability, with several pages outlining the importance of the “National Laboratory”. However, such a supporting extension of the shuttle will remain a moot point unless additional funding is found – or cuts are made from other programs.

On the topic of costs, the funding for an extension, the first two years are costed at an extra $1.2B in 2011, followed by an extra $2B in 2012. These figures are much less than previously touted, and may have a good selling point for the huge jobs – and more so skill set – savings a shuttle extension would provide.

Commercial Systems:

This latest Bill has been worked on since last year, with consultations and inputs from throughout the industry, including the United Space Alliance, NASA and even SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, with the latter heavily involved.

While the current plan aims to all-but hand over the role of US space flight to the Commercial sector, the new Bill dilutes the role – without U-turning on the FY2011 proposal.

The Bill aims at answering the critics who claim the commercial sector are unproven when it comes to human space flight, with the language aiming to steer commercial companies into successfully demonstrating their ability of providing logistical support to the ISS, prior to being handed over the keys to launching humans.

“The Administrator shall take steps to ensure that the development of space transportation vehicles, systems, and infrastructure shall occur in such a way as to ensure the availability of complementary and, where necessary, redundant transportation systems capable of delivering crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit, in particular to the International Space Station, and to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

“Systems developed and operated by the United States Government shall be the primary means for delivering crew and cargo to destinations in low-Earth orbit until such time as commercial entities demonstrate, through a successful flight regime, as determined by established milestones within current Space Act Agreements, that they have the capability to deliver cargo to destinations in low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station.

“Systems developed and operated by the United States government shall be the primary means for delivering crew and cargo to destinations beyond low earth orbit. Commercially developed launch systems, such as those being developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System, for which the United States government will serve primarily as a customer, shall be the primary means for delivering cargo to the International Space Stations once they have successfully demonstrated that capability.”

Referenced as a “National Space Transportation System”, the Bill also addresses the question of the need for launch vehicle redundancy. This is where the Bill tips its hat to a potential use of the Orion and Ares I launch vehicle – from at least a technology standpoint.

“The Administrator is directed to develop a plan, no later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, for the establishment of a National Space Transportation System.

“The National Space Transportation System shall include (1) an architecture of government developed and operated space transportation systems, including one or more launch vehicles and associated crew and cargo carriers.

“(2) a streamlined approach to development and acquisition of such systems funded and overseen by the United States Government, including possible adoption or modification of effective acquisition practices utilized by the Department of Defense, where appropriate, to more effectively meet civil space transportation requirements; (3) an operational concept that utilizes existing government and industry personnel and infrastructure in an efficient and cost effective manner;

“(4) continuation or modification of ongoing programs, associated contracts, and testing and evaluation plans initiated under the Constellation Program, including the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares-1 Crew Launch Vehicle, to the extent that such elements are determined to be cost effective and operationally effective.

“(5) a plan for incrementally upgrading initially developed and deployed systems so that such systems can be made operational with existing technology at the earliest possible opportunity and then upgraded over time to fulfill more demanding missions and incorporate new technology as it becomes available; and (6) a United States Government managed approach for overseeing and ensuring crew safety, including oversight of human ratings requirements.”

A large section of the Bill is dedicated to the approach required by the commercial companies, including Human Rating, and makes an additional reference towards the ultimate NASA goal of concentrating on beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“It is the sense of the Congress that the development of commercial capabilities for the use of space may be of value in maximizing the utility and productivity of the International Space Station by providing a commercial means of enabling crew transfer and crew rescue services for the International Space Station.

“The Congress further believes that once such commercial services have demonstrated the capability to meet established ascent, entry, and International Space Station proximity operations safety requirements the United States should make use of domestic commercially-provided crew transfer and crew rescue services to the maximum extent practicable.

“The Congress further believes that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should expedite, where possible, the use of domestic commercially provided International Space Station cargo missions, and that upon the certification by appropriate Federal agencies of operational flight readiness for the provision of commercial crew transportation capabilities, the Administrator should limit, to the maximum extent practicable, the use of a United States government crew transportation vehicle to missions carrying crew beyond low Earth orbit.”

References are also made for a commercial effort to provide cargo return capability – which will be all-but lost when the shuttle’s downmass capability ends with the orbiter’s retirement.

HLV – and return of the SD HLV option:

NASA’s long term focus has always related to exploration, with the central requirement of a large heavy-lifter underpinning the ambitions of a return to the moon and on to destinations such as Mars and its moon Phobos.

A HLV remains in NASA’s plans via the FY2011 proposal, though it relegates its development to one of spending years researching “game changing” propulsion, as opposed to the previously preferred – at the study level at least – transition for shuttle hardware into an Ares V type launch vehicle.

New technologies do receive a passing mention in the Bill, aimed to satisfy those that wish for launch vehicle propulsion to move away from the shackles of the traditional LOX/LH2-powered vehicles.

“The Administrator shall develop and keep up to date a technology development plan to support the evolving requirements of the National Space Transportation System, both for low-Earth orbit requirements and for missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

“Technology funding provided pursuant to this subsection shall be determined based on the specific mission benefits and the performance requirements needed to achieve clearly identified mission objectives, such as planning to reach destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

“There are authorized to be appropriated to the Administrator such amounts for technology funding for propulsion elements as may be necessary to advance the state of the art in propulsion elements as a priority over developments of current state of the art in propulsion systems.”

However, the door is reopened by the Bill on the “safer, simpler, sooner” approach of building a HLV from shuttle legacy hardware – such as the External Tank (ET), Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and other areas of commonality.

Such an effort would still require a trade study, the Bill notes, which had already been conducted at the request of General Bolden himself - which found in favor of an inline SD HLV over a sidemount SD HLV, and the RP-1 booster.

However, that study would be conducted again – likely taking in a range of HLV options, including Ares-legacy versions – and based on ambitious schedules listed in the Bill.

“As part of the National Space Transportation system, the Administrator is directed to conduct a review of alternative heavy lift launch vehicle configurations that may be developed by the United States government to transport crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit and beyond.

“The review shall: (A) include shuttle-derived vehicles which use existing United States propulsion systems, including liquid fuel engines, external tank, and solid rocket motor technology and related ground-based manufacturing capability, launch and operations infrastructure, and workforce expertise; (B) take into consideration technologies developed under the Constellation Program, including those developed for the Ares I system,

“Include consideration of the degree to which alternative vehicles may be developed in an evolutionary fashion with the objective of supporting initial crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station by the end of 2013 and missions beyond low-Earth orbit by the end of 2018; and (D) include comparative development and projected operational costs.”

General Bolden would also be tasked with selecting one of the HLV options within six months.

“The Administrator is directed to select a heavy lift launch vehicle and accompanying crew vehicle design concept and to initiate detailed design activities no later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act. If ongoing program development elements and activities from the Constellation Program are to be included in such a National Space Transportation System, the Administrator shall take appropriate steps to extend or modify existing contracts to facilitate this objective.”

The 37 page document is deemed a working draft – though it is the final version (version 15) of the Bill’s development, which is been classed as “sponsored” by Senator Hutchison, with a companion (identical) bill to be introduced in the House by Reps. Kosmas and Posey, and possibly others. The above covers certain – but not all – elements of the Bill.

*To view the entire Bill, click here* – further articles will follow, based on NASA reaction.

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