Monday, June 08, 2009

How far is the ESAS Architecture from the Vision for Space Exploration? Some Excerpts from the VSE

The ESAS-derived launch architecture has taken NASA far from the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). The VSE was made by the previous Presidential administration, but I'd suggest that the central points of the VSE match the current Administration's goals. I’ve included a number of important excerpts from the NASA document A Renewed Spirit of Discovery: The President’s Vision for U.S. Space Exploration (PDF). I contend that NASA’s Constellation effort, and in particular the Ares-based transportation system, goes against the letter and intent of these important points, in many cases at very fundamental levels, and also that the Ares-based transportation system takes funding away from efforts that would address these points. Here are the VSE excerpts ... see for yourself how different they are from the current effort that is devoted almost entirely to building new NASA rockets and other ESAS elements:

"The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program."

"the United States will:
  • Implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond;
  • Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations;
  • Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and
  • Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests."
"Use lunar exploration activities to further science, and to develop and test new approaches, technologies, and systems, including use of lunar and other space resources, to support sustained human space exploration to Mars and other destinations."

"Develop and demonstrate power generation, propulsion, life support, and other key capabilities required to support more distant, more capable, and/or longer duration human and robotic exploration of Mars and other destinations"

"Pursue commercial opportunities for providing transportation and other services supporting the International Space Station and exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit."

"Acquire crew transportation to and from the International Space Station, as required, after the Space Shuttle is retired from service"

"NASA will begin its lunar testbed program with a series of robotic missions. The first, an orbiter to confirm and map lunar resources in detail, will launch in 2008. A robotic landing will follow in 2009 to begin demonstrating capabilities for sustainable exploration of the solar system. Additional missions, potentially up to one a year, are planned to demonstrate new capabilities such as robotic networks, reusable planetary landing and launch systems, pre-positioned propellants, and resource extraction."

"Use lunar exploration activities to further science, and to develop and test new approaches, technologies, and systems, including use of lunar and other space resources, to support sustained human space exploration to Mars and other destinations"

"NASA does not plan to develop new launch vehicle capabilities except where critical NASA needs—such as heavy lift—are not met by commercial or military systems. Depending on future human mission designs, NASA could decide to develop or acquire a heavy lift vehicle later this decade."

"In the days of the Apollo program, human exploration systems employed expendable, single-use vehicles requiring large ground crews and careful monitoring. For future, sustainable exploration programs, NASA requires cost-effective vehicles that may be reused, have systems that could be applied to more than one destination, and are highly reliable and need only small ground crews. NASA plans to invest in a number of new approaches to exploration, such as robotic networks, modular systems, pre-positioned propellants, advanced power and propulsion, and in-space assembly, that could enable these kinds of vehicles. … Other breakthrough technologies, such as nuclear power and propulsion, optical communications, and potential use of space resources, will be demonstrated as part of robotic exploration missions. The challenges of designing these systems will accelerate the development of fundamental technologies that are critical not only to NASA, but also to the Nation’s economic and national security."

"Many of the technical challenges that NASA will face in the coming years will require innovative solutions. ... One way that NASA plans to do this is through a series of Centennial Challenges. ... NASA plans to establish prizes for specific accomplishments that advance solar system exploration and other NASA goals."

"The space missions in this plan require advanced systems and capabilities that will accelerate the development of many critical technologies, including power, computing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, communications, networking, robotics, and materials. These technologies underpin and advance the U.S. economy and help ensure national security. NASA plans to work with other government agencies and the private sector to develop space systems that can address national and commercial needs."

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