Saturday, June 13, 2009

Griffin: Human Space Flight Review Not Necessary

Griffin on Bolden, Augustine review - Space Politics - I'm just going to copy my comment there:

Griffin: “This review is not, in my judgment, necessary from a technical point of view”

A lot of people would argue with that, but I won’t because it’s almost besides the point. The inescapable problems with NASA’s current Ares-based approach aren’t technical. They’re about budgets, policy, politics, goals, stakeholders, opportunity costs, management, schedules, risks, national relevance, return on taxpayer investment, and priorities.

“Griffin said he doesn’t think the administration’s review will mean any major changes for Constellation”

He’s flat-out wrong if the review panel does its job.

Here are the main goals of the panel:

“a) expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station (ISS);”

This means the goal is to speed up ISS support, presumably because the current plan isn’t satisfactory. We already know from Griffin himself that we can’t appreciably speed up ISS support with Ares 1/Orion. Whether the committee’s recommendation for solving this one replaces or stands next to Ares/Orion, it’s certainly a major change to the current Constellation plan.

“b) supporting missions to the Moon and other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO);”

There’s not necessarily a change here from the status quo, barring things like technical showstoppers in the Ares plan.

“c) stimulating commercial space flight capability;”

The Constellation plan does this a little bit with the COTS A-C ISS cargo effort, but I doubt the Administration would make stimulating commercial space flight one of the major points if they were satisfied with that. Now there are many ways NASA could stimulate commercial space flight capability with its human spaceflight program: COTS-D or similar ISS efforts, replacing Ares 1 with EELVs, sticking orbital propellant depots into the lunar architecture, using commercial lunar robotics, using Bigelow stations or DragonLabs for HSF science and engineering, using crewed reusable suborbital vehicles for various purposes, etc … these don’t all represent changes to the Ares-based hardware architecture, but they’re all major changes to Constellation.

“and d) fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities”

Based on estimates of Constellation costs such as the one by the CBO, and based on the actual numbers in the current budget profile, it looks like this one alone will force major changes to Constellation, which is a budget-buster. Again, the change might not be replacing Ares. Maybe it will have to do with schedules, or international partners, or things like that. Whatever it is, though, if the Committee actually addresses the point, it’s bound to be a major change to the current Constallation plan.

“The space agency had its change you can believe in”

Well, yes, that was the Vision for Space Exploration. Then in 2005 the space agency had another change that’s a lot harder to believe in. You can see some examples of how different Griffin’s Constellation is from the Vision for Space Exploration at this post:

Until we fix or remove Constellation, we’re stuck with, as a recent Space News editorial title put it: “Constellation vs. Everything Else”.

No comments: