ULA answer NASA’s RFI on COTS-2 with list of recommendations

by Chris Bergin

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has sent a list of recommendations in response to the NASA Request For Information (RFI) pertaining to Commercial Space Transportation Services (CSTS), while highlighting their range of capabilities.

The presentation outlines several suggestions NASA should take onboard, in order to improve the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) marketplace, for the purpose of increasing the viability for companies wishing to bid for COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) Phase 2 contracts.

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The response from ULA follows a NASA RFI from industry last month ‘to assist in addressing global issues affecting the Agency’s overall strategy for Commercial Space Transportation Services.

‘(This will) collect information on key parameters that would help NASA refine and mature the acquisition plan for procuring safe, cost effective, and reliable ISS logistics re-supply services. The information will assist in Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Phase 2 planning.’

COTS was created by NASA to mitigate the loss of launch capability for cargo and crew supply lines to the International Space Station (ISS), following the 2010 retirement of the shuttle fleet.

While NASA purchased an extension to Russian services via Soyuz and Progress until 2011, along with capacity via Europe’s ATV and Japan’s HTV, NASA requires additional services via a US commercial carrier.

The Commercial Space Launch Act provides the framework for NASA to procure those commercial launch services. While honoring the basic agreements to the ISS partners to supply the already agreed-upon launches of ATV and HTV, further reliance on foreign launch providers is not needed.

‘United Launch Alliance is pleased to provide this response to the Request for Information for Commercial Space Transportation Services. We are committed to work with NASA to ensure our nation’s ability to safely, reliably, and affordably service the ISS and deliver critical science payloads,’ noted the ULA presentation.

‘Specifically, we recommend that: NASA pursue an Acquisition Strategy that includes multi-year procurement of launch services. This will provide the most affordable launch solution for NASA while preserving competition for new entrants.

‘A multi-year procurement would allow: Firm launch service orders to establish a credible business case so private industry can invest and bid affordably. Stability for the industrial base and more favorable pricing. Flexibility to consider new service providers as they become certified.’

This need for a ‘real market’ would ensure interested companies could align their expected expenditure against the amount of business – or firm orders – expected via NASA’s needs. This would increase the viability for companies wishing to compete for the contracts.

ULA also suggests that NASA should separate the launch vehicle and transfer vehicle procurements, which allows for more flexibility than buying ‘end-to-end’ services. This would also allow NASA to carry out the integration between all the transfer vehicles and launch vehicles available, in order to meet their mission requirements.

‘NASA procure launch services separately from transfer vehicles and perform the end-to-end service integration in order to provide the best value, reliability, flexibility, insight and control to NASA,’ added the presentation.

‘Separated Launch Services and Transfer Vehicle contracts will: Provide NASA with the maximum manifest and integration flexibility between launch vehicles and transfer vehicles to optimize ISS operations. Allow use of NASA’s proven LV (Launch Vehicle) Certification and Mission Assurance practices that have led to 100 percent launch vehicle success.

‘Allow use of proven contractual terms and conditions for commercial launch services. Unique terms and conditions for transfer vehicles should be developed independently. Accommodate certification of emerging launch and transfer vehicle providers and the subsequent contractual on-ramping of the new entrants.

‘Enable ISS Cargo missions to be combined together with other NASA launches (SMD, TDRS, GOES, etc) for maximum order-quantity discounting. Maintain NASA expertise in end-to-end integration of ISS Cargo acquisition and delivery services and maintains critical skills in the Shuttle to Orion transition gap.’

ULA also praised NASA over its current launch service policies regarding risk mitigation and insight, claiming they have proven effective and should be retained.

The bulk of the presentation overviewed ULA’s continuing efforts on both cargo and crew launch services and capabilities, tipping its hat into the ring for future ISS supply contracts.

‘Although ULA is not in a position to provide the full range of capabilities needed to support the end to end ISS resupply and cargo return service, it is a ‘Merchant Supplier’ and is able to provide launch services directly to NASA or to other entities in support of NASA’s ISS mission.

‘ULA supports requirements for US produced launch vehicles that are launched from US launch sites to be incorporated into the COTS Phase 2 competitive RFP (Request For Proposals). The use of domestic launch for ISS transportation services should be in accordance with current US Space Transportation Policy and NASA ELV Policy Directives.

‘This will serve to sustain and maintain the US launch industrial base and enable further economics of scale and cost savings for not only launch vehicle Prime contractors, but also for critical suppliers of the launch and aerospace industry.’

Playing to their strengths of ULA’s launch vehicles, the presentation directly answered NASA’s RFI, point-by-point, including: Cargo Delivery and Return/Disposal Capability – Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and On Orbit Attached Operations – Launch and On Orbit Support Services – and Future Payload to Orbit Requirements.

Inclusive of their answers, ULA pointed to nearly a decade of success under the NASA Launch Services (NLS) contract and its wide range of launch capabilities, which supports most space launch requirements with its low risk, flight proven fleet of launch vehicles.

‘Additionally, by procuring launch separately, NASA can benefit from the fixed infrastructure cost coverage being provided by the USAF for the EELV launch systems and may realize additional savings through procurement of launch services through a multiyear block buy – something which ISS cargo services, with its relatively predictable annual upmass requirement, would seem to be especially well suited.

‘The wide range of Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles provides NASA and its ISS cargo providers with a wide range of reliable and proven domestic launch systems to meet ISS cargo upmass requirements. NASA’s lead times for ordering various EELV launch services to support ISS cargo would be similar to those currently in the NLS contracts for Atlas V and Delta IV plus any special integration time required to support the cargo carrier.’

The presentation also confirmed ULA’s ongoing efforts with their manned launch capability – following the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SpaceDev for their Dreamchaser vehicle.

‘ULA is working closely with SpaceDev to investigate the compatibility of flying the DreamChaser on an Atlas. As a lifting body, the DreamChaser provides unique challenges to integrate on an existing launch vehicle, including loads, controllability, and performance, in addition to the human-rating considerations.

‘Our initial studies have leveraged the considerable experience gained during NASA’s Orbital Space Plane (OSP) Program that baselined EELVs for launch of numerous OSP configurations, including similar lifting body concepts.

‘This provided an excellent baseline from which we conducted numerous Trade Studies focused on risk reduction and design integration to meet an ILC of 2011. The initial studies have indicated that the risks associated with integrating the DreamChaser on an Atlas are manageable and can be accomplished.’

However, it’s on cargo launch capability where ULA reveal the huge amount of work that they’ve been working on – most of which has previously been unreleased information. ULA noted that they have been working closely with Arianespace, EADS Space, Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS) and JAXA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), among others, for utilization with Atlas and Delta launch vehicles.

‘ULA has been working closely with existing and planned ISS Cargo transfer vehicle developers to assess feasibility of the designs with our family of launch vehicles. Internally funded compatibility assessments have been completed for the two most mature transfer vehicles, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV).

ULA has also been working closely with SPACEHAB ARCTUS, and Constellation Services International (CSI) LEO Express design teams to assess the compatibility of their transfer vehicle designs with Atlas and Delta.

‘ULA evaluated the ATV, HTV, DreamChaser, ARCTUS, and LEO Express technical requirements against the Atlas and Delta launch system and infrastructure capabilities. These compatibility assessments are either completed or are in work, and no significant issues have been discovered.’

Several more responses to NASA’s RFI are expected from various space industry companies over the coming weeks.

Click here to download the ULA presentation..

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