NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has given his thoughts on the direction the US space program will be taking over the next 50 years, specifically on the exploration of the moon and eventually Mars.
Griffin outlined the future – which he believes will “begin” once the shuttle is retired in 2010 – with his projected 2022 end date for the International Space Station, moon base plans and the potential for nine missions to Mars within a 20 year period.
Huge amounts of VSE related insider news and presentations – THE most comprehensive place to follow Ares/Orion development – are available for download on L2. See list at the end of this article.
Griffin’s comments – which he wrote himself – were made in a speech that was published in Aviation Week, but sent around some NASA centers – and acquired by this site’s L2 section in the morning, prior to AW’s evening publication.
The speech, over 7,000 words in length, noted Griffin’s thoughts on a variety of historical, international and future planning elements, as NASA heads towards a crossroads of transition from shuttle the Constellation.
‘We must recognize that ‘the future’ really does not, and cannot, start until after 2010,’ Griffin noted, in reference to the 2010 retirement date for the shuttle fleet. ‘Until then, we are engaged in completing a long-standing commitment to the International Space Station, with no other option besides the Space Shuttle to do it.’
That transition, restricted by NASA’s budget, will see – at current funding levels – at least a four year gap in manned space flight for NASA, as the agency balances the continued operation of the shuttle fleet, and the development of Ares and Orion – the latter having to pace itself until the additional monies are released in the budget from the retirement of shuttle operations.
‘At present funding levels, we cannot afford to develop new human spaceflight systems without the money which becomes available following Shuttle retirement.
‘Despite the concerns of those – emphatically including myself – who worry about the gap in human spaceflight between the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the availability of the new Constellation systems, Orion and Ares, we must stay on our present course and retire the Shuttle in 2010, if there is to be a future for human spaceflight.’
Whilst paying tribute to the shuttle, Griffin went on to note the huge costs associated with the STS were – as historically recognized – mainly due to the failure for the vehicle to achieve its projected flight rate of once a week. The loss of Challenger in 1986 played a large role in assuring that launch rate would not come to fruition, but Griffin argued that if the customer base had been realistic, it didn’t mean the shuttle would have been the launch vehicle of choice for all of those predicted payloads.
‘The Shuttle offers truly stunning capability, greater than anything we will see for a long time, but the expense of owning and operating it, or any similar system, is simply too great,’ he added. ‘Any new system, to be successful, must offer a much, much lower fixed cost of ownership.
‘The Space Shuttle was designed to be cost effective at a weekly flight rate, a goal that was never credible, if for no reason other than the fact that the funding for so many payloads to fly on it was never remotely available. And, if there were a predictable requirement for 50-60 government-sponsored payloads to be flown annually, that fact should be treated as a market opportunity for a private, not government, space transportation enterprise.
‘A government human spaceflight system must be designed to be cost effective at the half-dozen or so flights per year that we can expect to fly.’
Looking to the future, Griffin remains optimistic, even within the limitations of the projected NASA budgets for the years to come.
‘If the bad news is that ‘the future’ doesn’t start until after 2010, the good news is, that is only four years away. And in the 45 years thereafter, by the centennial anniversary of Sputnik, we can expect to receive at least as much money as was necessary for Apollo, three times over. And despite the limited funding for Exploration in todayâ€™s NASA budget, we will have a bit of a head start, because we’re making considerable progress toward the deployment of Orion and Ares, even while flying out the Shuttle/ISS manifest.
‘What will be done with the lunar transportation capability that is being developed? By 2020 we will have this capability, and with it choices to make. We can choose between a lunar program devoted to sortie missions, or one devoted to building up a lunar outpost. And we can choose between the level of effort we intend to focus on lunar activities vs. initiating development for Mars missions.
‘In company with other space agencies around the world, we at NASA have focused on an outpost-centered lunar exploration strategy. I believe this will be preferred over a sortie-only strategy for the reasons that it provides a much more effective avenue for international partnership, and because it provides the greatest opportunity to learn on the Moon what we need to know to go to Mars.
‘I believe that by 2021-22 we will have regained enough experience in lunar spaceflight operations that we will be able to undertake a modest, but sustained and sustainable, program of lunar outpost development and utilization.’
Griffin also gave an estimated date for the end of the ISS’ life, claiming he believes that by 2022, the orbital outpost will have finished its useful life and will be deorbited. However, by that same year, the administrator believes NASA will be carrying out three moon missions within the 12 month period.
‘By 2022 the ISS will be definitely behind us. We will have learned from it what we can, but there will come a time when the value of the work being done onboard the facility will be judged not to be worth the cost of sustaining its aging systems, and it will be brought down.
‘I don’t know when this will occur, and I am not sure it is predictable other than in a statistical sense, but I believe that by 2022 or thereabouts it will have happened. And when it does, the resources which have been used for ISS support can be applied to the support of a lunar outpost.
‘For the sake of argument and nothing more, let us say that in 2022 we will begin a sustained lunar program of exploration and development consisting of three manned missions (two outpost crew rotations and one sortie) and one unmanned cargo mission per year, utilizing three Orion/Ares I vehicles and four Ares V launches.
‘Present projections assume a cargo capacity of six metric tons on a lander carrying four crew members, and twenty metric tons on a cargo lander, at a marginal cost of about $750 million for a human mission and $525 million for a cargo mission. The marginal cost in Fiscal 2000 dollars for this nominal lunar program will thus be about $3 billion.’
Mars also received a mention, with the timeline of the early 2020’s being noted by Griffin, who went on to project nine Mars missions within a 20 year period, all costing less than the current shuttle program.
‘By the 2020â€™s we will be well positioned to begin the Mars effort in earnest. The lunar campaign will have stabilized; a human-tended outpost will be well established; we will have extensive long-duration space experience in both zero – and low – gravity conditions, and it will be time to bundle these lessons and move on to Mars – which does not imply that we will bring lunar activities to an end.
‘Quite the contrary; my prediction is that the Moon will prove to be far more interesting, and far more relevant to human affairs, than many today are prepared to believe. But by the early 2020s, it will be time to assign a stable level of support for lunar activities, and set out for Mars.
‘The development of the Orion/Ares I/Ares V transportation system is being done in a way that provides a substantial capability for subsequent Mars expeditions. In particular, we expect the Orion crew vehicle (or a modest upgrade of it) to provide the primary transportation from Earth to whatever transportation node is used for the assembly of the Mars ship, and to be the reentry vehicle in which the crew returns home at the end of the voyage.
‘The Ares V cargo vehicle will provide, with no more than a half-dozen launches, the 500 metric tons or so which is thought to be necessary for a Mars mission, based on present-day studies. As a perspective on scale, this mass is about 25 percent greater than that of the completed ISS.
‘It is difficult to estimate the non-recurring cost of developing a Mars mission that is initiated some 20 or more years in the future, and especially so when a specific mission architecture has not yet been formulated. But reasoned estimates can be made. While necessarily omitting many important details, a reasonable approach based on mission mass, consistent with modern cost estimation algorithms, was outlined.
‘It was concluded – in a study conducted for The Planetary Society in 2004 – that, following a decadal hardware development cycle, nine Mars missions could be conducted over a 20-year period for a total cost of approximately $120 billion in Fiscal 2000 dollars, or $6 billion/year, significantly less than we are spending on Shuttle/ISS today.
‘So there we have it, at least for the U.S. civil space program. At present levels of real-dollar funding, by 2057 we can celebrate the 35th anniversary of a lunar base.’
L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation: DAC-1C DDD Vast Slides on Vehicle Design. ATK First Stage Presentation. 39B Lightning Towers Slides.
DAC-1C Departure points to DAC-2 Upper Stage Graphcs (Many Changes). Orion/CEV Display Layout Presentation (40 pages) – Feb 5. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV – Feb 2. Weather Shield (Rain Shield) for Orion on the pad – Feb 1. New Super hi-res images of Ares I – Feb 1. ATK Cutaway graphics of Ares I – perspective and axonometric – Feb 1. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. CEV Paracute Assembly System (CPAS) Presentation.
Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) overview presentation – Jan 16. Major changes to Ares I Upper Stage – expansive details and data. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. Saturn Twang Test Video for use with Ares I-1R. CLV Umbilical Trade Matrix XLS.
Vehicle interfaces for the DAC 1C version of Orion Ares – Jan 3. Ares I-1R Test Flight Plan (full outline) Presentation. Ares I-1 timeline and modification expanded info. Ares I troubleshooting latest. Ares I Reference Trajectory. Boeing’s STS to Ares – Lessons Learned Presentation. Latest Ares I and Ares V baseline Configuration image and data. CLV DAC-1C (Changes to CLV Upper Stage).
Ares I-1: Four Seg+Dummy ‘Tuna Can’ stage. Ascent Developmental Flight Test Presentation. CLV Pad 39B Handover Info and Latest. New images of CLV on top of new MLP and LUT. Lockheed Martin CEV/Orion Updates. Constellation news updates. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV.
90 Minute Video of Constellation all hands meeting. CLV TIM Meeting Information. CLV/CaLV Infrastructure, Timelines and Information. Escape System Trade Study Presentation.
CEV-CLV Design Analysis Cycle Review (DAC-2) Presentation. Constellation SRR updates. CLV Stick – Troubleshooting/Alternatives/Updates. New CEV Images (include abort mode). Flight Design and Dynamics Division CEV update. CLV Mono-propellant RCS system. CEV pressurisation system review. CLV/CEV Configuration Images. The 2×3 Seg SRB Crew Launch Vehicle Option Presentation…plus more.