MSFC Director: Commercial Space should be serious about Huntsville

by Chris Bergin

Recently appointed Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Director Patrick Scheuermann believes there is a buoyant future for the Alabama facility, citing the Center’s role with the Space Launch System, whilst noting commercial companies who are “serious” about space, should consider partnering with Huntsville’s engineering base.

MSFC Boss Buoyant:

Replacing the popular Robert Lightfoot – who left to take up the role of associate administrator at NASA Headquarters – Mr Scheuermann is now entering his first full year at the helm of Marshall.

Marking the start of what will prove to be another challenging year for NASA, Mr Scheuermann is in a positive frame of mind for his Center’s forward path, citing the three key areas MSFC is involved with, all of which are at the very heart of NASA.

“I want to ensure that the workforce understands that we have incredible clarity in our mission,” Mr Scheuermann remarked on his short term goals for Marshall in a Q&A¬†published by the Center.

ISS - L2 Image“The NASA administrator has said time and time again there are three priorities for the agency: the Space Launch System, International Space Station, and the James Webb Space Telescope. Marshall Space Flight Center plays a role in all three.

“So, if we’re looking for clarity in our mission and what we should focus on, we have it. My job is to continue to make sure the employees understand and embrace that because we have an incredible future and a future that, quite frankly, is in our own hands.”

And those three key areas are enjoying varying levels of success.

The ISS is now assembled and into utilization – with its lifespan likely to be stretched out as far as 2028. The JWST- despite its funding and schedule struggles of previous years – now appears to be on a smoother development path. And the SLS program is enjoying an on-schedule development cycle, now heading to the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase.

SLS Launching to X Destination on X DateInterestingly, SLS’ future does lack clarity past its first two missions, as NASA managers continue to suffer from what sources claim is political-level stalling, relating to the release of a definitive exploration roadmap.

Uncertainty with long-term NASA funding projections is usually the elephant in the room when the Agency’s future goals are under evaluation, with Mr Scheuermann acknowledging his greatest challenge will be the protection of the smooth development path for key projects, such as SLS, when money is tight.

“I think the biggest challenge we will face in both near and long term is you are never going to have all the resources that you absolutely need to do a job. We have an economy where all of us as taxpayers should look for any and all efficiencies that we can bring to the table to get our job done with fewer resources.

“There’s not going to be a magic wagon filled with a whole bunch of gold that comes to us. (However,) the good news is that Marshall has been known for doing incredible things in the past, and I don’t think there is any difference in the future for what this workforce can do. We have a very clear picture of the set of requirements, and I think we’ve identified and been funded with the resources necessary to execute the mission safely.”

With NASA’s future now refocused on Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration, Mr Scheuermann noted he is positive about the keys being handed over to commercial space for access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), allowing NASA – and specifically Marshall – to concentrate on BEO enablers such as SLS.

Dragon at the ISS - L2 Image“I think (NASA’s reliance on commercial companies to get us to low Earth orbit (LEO) is going to affect MSFC in a positive way,” he claimed. “SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are well on their way to providing that stop-gap, if you will, because we have to put our precious resources into going beyond low Earth orbit, which is the Space Launch System.”

In fact, Mr Scheuermann believes MSFC has been a facilitator of commercial space, by nature of the center’s involvement throughout the history of NASA’s space flight programs.

MSFC Director Patrick Scheuermann“Marshall has facilitated a lot of commercial success that not a lot of people know about, but it goes on daily here at the center. The bottom line is, just like in the early voyagers, Marshall led the way with Apollo and shuttle to get a reliable path to LEO. That is a well-worn path and it’s time for us to push further.”

With Marshall’s history in mind, the MSFC Director hopes that the commercial industry will recognize the benefits of MSFC, calling on all companies who are “serious about the space business” to consider partnerships with MSFC and engineering assets in the Huntsville region.

“(Such partnerships) take advantage of the government’s investment in knowledge and skill base to facilitate commercial space,” Mr Scheuermann added.

“As new partnerships are formed, the fact is reinforced that if you’re serious about getting into the space business, Huntsville – which has the highest number of engineers per capita – and the Marshall Space Flight Center are where you should consider partnering.”

MSFCContinuing to note Marshall’s historical involvement with NASA programs – at least the ones that didn’t suffer from a cancellation further down the line – Mr Scheuermann believes MSFC will be around, as long as NASA is in the business of putting people into space.

“I can’t imagine an agency that doesn’t have Marshall Space Flight Center in it.

“To the public, NASA is mostly associated with putting people in space and the center that facilitates or enables that is the Marshall Space Flight Center. Marshall has played a major role in many missions from Apollo to the shuttle to the Space Launch System as well as leading science efforts on the space station.

“I think the time will continue to testify to the fact that Marshall Space Flight Center has led the way in spaceflight and we look forward to continuing that.”

(Images: NASA and L2)

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