Major Shuttle and ISS extension drive taking place at the Augustine Commission

by Chris Bergin

With NASA authorization language already being drawn up behind the scenes by Congress, Augustine Commission ISS/Shuttle subgroup lead Dr Sally Ride – along with several key NASA and United Space Alliance (USA) managers – have embarked on a major push to extend the shuttle program, linking the move with the allowance for the International Space Station (ISS) to operate until 2020.

Shuttle Extension:

Efforts to extend the shuttle program past 2010 have been ongoing for over a year, with the main concern relating to the ever-growing gap between the last flight of the shuttle and the first operation flight of Orion via Ares I.

Currently, the shuttle is set to be retired in the middle of 2010, although due to the natural stretch in the shuttle manifest, the remaining seven flights are threatening to push the current schedule into 2011.

Problems with extending shuttle mainly relate to the need for additional funding, with the current shuttle budget forecast to be handed over to the Constellation Program (CxP) in 2010.

Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin also made no secret of his wish to see the end of the shuttle, and regularly played the safety card – before a major NASA study found the vehicle would be safe to fly past 2010.

Another problem relates to the skill set, with thousands of layoffs already announced within the shuttle program – most recently at JSC and KSC.

E4The phase down of contractor support facilities – and thus the availability of flight hardware for the shuttle program – is also continuing, although a freeze on destroying shuttle hardware production capability has been adhered to, following political moves.

However, right now, most – if not all – of the shuttle hardware-related facilities couldbe brought back up to speed without the need for large amounts of funding.

Such a decision would need to be taken sooner – rather than later – in order to reduce the cost impacts.

Augustine Commission:

With the departure of Mr Griffin via the change of government, President Obama’s advisors called for a review of NASA’s direction, from the bottom up, including the Human Space Flight program and plans for the future.

Led by Norm Augustine, the commission is focusing on whether the troubled Constellation Program requires a re-think, as Ares I continues to endure technical and funding challenges, both of which have resulted in the growth of the gap in US human space flight capability to over five years.

E3While alternatives to Ares I are being evaluated – namely the current favorite called the Shuttle Derived (SD) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLLV), along with a scaled down Ares V – known as Ares IV, Direct’s Jupiter vehicle(s), commerical launch vehicle options, and a Human Rated Atlas V-H and Delta IV-H (although proposed modifications to the EELVs are facing opposition from the USAF) – a growing movement related to extending shuttle has gained a significant amount of momentum of late.

Rumors first started to circulate around a month ago – timed to coincide with major job loss announcements at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – as managers tried to reassure a demoralized workforce that “nothing was set in stone” with regards to ending shuttle.

The current state of play finds NASA facing what some commentators claim is nothing short of a crisis, with the US enduring over half a decade without its own manned launch capability.

During this period, the superpower will find itself effectively paying the Russians to take over as the lead manned space flight nation, with over a billion dollars already set aside to buy seats on the veteran Soyuz vehicles, in order to transport NASA astronauts to an ISS that was mainly constructed and paid for by the US.

The Augustine Commission have several options to decide from, including a call to boost funding for the Constellation Program to close the gap, although CxP have already admitted they would not be able to launch a manned Orion prior to 2014, regardless of increased funding. Added to the numerous technical issues being endured on the Ares I launch vehicle, this option is unlikely to be taken.

Cancelling Ares I and moving to an alternative vehicle may actually reduce the gap, and most – if not all – of the respective leaders of the alternatives vehicle concepts claim it would also save billions of dollars when compared to the current path.

While such claims are being evaluated by the Augustine Commission, a realignment of funding and direction could play into the hands of extending shuttle, buying the US more time to make the transition, saving the majority of the skill set, holding on to the country’s leadership in space, and fully utilizing the $100 billion Space Station via shuttle for crew transportation and logistical support via the vehicle’s unprecedented upmass – and second-to-none downmass – capabilities.

Dr Sally Ride and the extension options:

Augustine Commission ISS/Shuttle subgroup lead Dr Sally Ride has become one of the key players in securing the extension of the shuttle program as one of the Augustine Commission recommendations to President Obama.

Dr Ride has numerous and powerful allies within NASA and the main contractor groups, not least the United Space Alliance, who pre-empted their stance ahead of meeting with the commission.

“USA Management (USA/JSC): Will go talk to the Augustine Committee. The essence of the briefing will be that it is safe to fly the Shuttle longer, and feasible under certain scenarios, and in the nation’s best interest,” they openly noted on a Shuttle Stand-up/Integration report (L2) last week.

E2Three options have been presented, notably called the “Sally Ride Options” in a presentation acquired by L2, which are based on a manifest stretch through to the end of 2011, a stretch and extension to 2012 that includes two additional shuttle missions, and an extension to 2014 with six additional missions.

All of the options – drawn up at the end of last month – show an intelligent understanding of flight hardware assets and orbiter maintenance requirements, such as the current timelines related to the Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods (OMDP) that come into play via an extension. The OMDP factor is explained in a previous extension-related article.

Option 1: Stretches the current flight schedule for the seven remaining missions through Financial Year (FY) 2011, with Discovery retiring after STS-131 in August 2010, ahead of her September 2010 OMDP deadline.

She would then become a spares donor to Atlantis and Endeavour, as they fly out the three remaining flights, STS-132 (Atlantis), STS-133 (Endeavour), and STS-134 (Atlantis), as the program ends in September 2011.

Based on current Constellation requirements and roadmap, no impact is suffered by Ares I’s test flights or manned flights, noted as “Cx impacts – none for facilities, SSP (Space Shuttle Program) no longer needs two High Bays (in the Vehicle Assembly Building) due to ‘spreading out'”.

Option 2: This extension option is classed as the favorite by numerous sources, with two additional flights taking the shuttle program into 2012. Again, Discovery retires first after she’s flown as STS-131, before Atlantis and Endeavour take up the baton to complete the manifest.

With Atlantis’ OMDP deadline in January 2012, she finds herself mothballed after STS-134 in September 2011, with Endeavour finding herself tasked with two additional flights in February and August 2012. For the final flight, Atlantis may find herself “half processed” to become the Launch On Need (LON) support vehicle for Endeavour.

“Cx impacts – none for facilities, SSP no longer needs two High Bays due to ‘spreading out’,” adds the presentation. “LON for 2012 – ISS Partners and/or process 104 (Atlantis) for ‘half’ its flow.”

E5The two additional flights require little in the way of additional assets via the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), as ET-122 – a “spare” tank at the New Orleans facility – and ET-139 are utilized by Endeavour.

ET-139 and ET-140 (previously known as ET-140 and ET-141 respectively) are part built “get-ahead” tanks, to be used as a buffer in the event an extended extension called for the restart of tank production.

Option 3: This is where ET-140 and four additional tanks would be required (three for flight, one for LON), as Discovery takes up the lead role in this particular extension scenario.

The plan revolves around Discovery returning from the upcoming STS-128 and then undertaking an Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period at KSC – which eliminates her OMDP deadline – before being tasked with a return to flight in 2011 with STS-134.

Discovery then receives another six flights, flying twice a year through to September 2014, with both Atlantis and Endeavour are retired in 2011 – bar Endeavour’s part-processed use as the LON support for Discovery’s new flights.

“Cx impacts – Ares V impacts to KSC facilities. LON – ISS Partners in 2012+ and/or process 105 (Endeavour) for ‘half’ a flow,” added the presentation, with the Ares V impacts based on its current public schedule. Internally, Ares V has slipped off the charts, making the “impact” a moot point.

Regardless, this four year extension option is unlikely to be favoured due to costs, added to hardware challenges such as new ET production restarting at MAF via new friction weld fabrication, which was referenced only just a few days by Shuttle manager John Shannon in his twice weekly updates (available on L2) on his team’s work on the SD-HLLV concept.

“The biggest concern, identified during discussions with ET, is we’re right on the cusp of disposing of some ET hardware that could be easily available for several options,” Mr Shannon noted, although last week’s Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) presentations included one from MAF, which made it clear no ET production hardware is to be disposed of, due to “uncertainty regarding future requirements (in the space program).”

Political Support for Shuttle and ISS Extension:

Dr Ride’s options appear to have moved on a stage, with information acquired by L2 that at least one version of draft NASA authorization language is currently being worked on behind the scenes in Congress, which appears to focus on Option 2 – to extend shuttle into 2012 – centralized on extending the operational life of the ISS to 2020.

Extending ISS to 2020 is not just logistics and crew transport related, but also appears to include the potential to “beef up” Station via additional hardware being flow, centralized on the ISS’ roadmap that was created ten years ago. As to which hardware this could ultimately relate to is not specified.

“1. The Space Shuttle Program shall not be terminated by a date certain. Termination of space shuttle missions operations shall be contingent upon: a. Completion of the Mission Manifest planned as of April 30, 2009, by whatever date the planned missions may be safely conducted according to the planned mission content and objectives,” noted wording that is understood to be in one draft language that has only recently being created.

“b. Delivery of remaining flight-ready orbital replacement units, spare replacement units, research instrumentation and other maintenance materials and research equipment originally scheduled for delivery to the International Space Station within the space station assembly sequence entitled “Revision F,” dated October 24, 2000, and which require the capabilities of the space shuttle in order to be delivered to the International Space Station; and

“c. A determination by the President of the United States, forwarded to the appropriate Committees of jurisdiction, that voluntary termination of space shuttle missions in support of International Space Station operations at any point shall not cause a degradation of the capability to deliver equipment, logistics, cargo upmass and down-mass necessary to provide full utilization of international space station science and research capabilities, for both United States National Laboratory and International Partner scientific research and experimentation, through Calendar Year 2020.

“Such a determination shall include the basis for any conclusion or determination not to plan for delivery of previously-manifested equipment, spares, and logistics support for ISS operations, maintenance and research capability, including the feasibility and availability of alternative launch and delivery systems in a proposed post-shuttle operations period during the remaining life of the International Space Station.

The second element to the draft language finally makes the call in real dollar figures for what it would take to extend shuttle in the current climate – noting such monies may actually be gained via the cancellation of the Ares I launch vehicle, in favor for a less expensive alternative.

Even if Ares I survives, it would cost around $5.6 billion over two years to extend shuttle to 2012, effectively allowing an improved ISS to extend to 2020, save several thousand shuttle jobs, whilst reducing the gap by two years.

“2. For purposes of implementing the provisions of paragraph 1, there are authorized to be appropriated an additional $200 million for Space Shuttle operations in FY 2010, a total of $2.7 billion for Space Shuttle Operations in FY 2011, and a total of $2.7 billion for Space Shuttle Operations in FY 2012,” added the information.

“3. Additional sums may be appropriated, as necessary, to ensure planned flight hardware currently maintained in storage or in an incomplete flight readiness testing program and systems integration process, may be configured and integrated for launch aboard currently-planned or potentially additional space shuttle flights in the post-2010 time period, or upon alternative payload delivery systems, whether provided by cost-sharing investments of international Partners (launch vehicles, testing and integration) or by reasonable and economic alternative systems.”

E6However, political language, extension options, and internal NASA support for extension have been seen before, with nothing changing as a result.

The difference this time around is the Augustine Commission, which now finds itself with a clear option to either recommend extension for Shuttle and ISS, or effectively allow for the end of US dominance in Human Space Flight in just over a year’s time.

Also, the head of NASA isn’t publicly dismissing the option this time around.

Ultimately, Shuttle’s D-Day is around the corner, the battle lines have been drawn, and the outcome expected to be known in just a few weeks time when Mr Augustine reveals the commissions recommendations to the President.

Reference: Previous *main* Shuttle Extension articles by

L2 members: Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size.

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