Sunday, September 13, 2009
Griffin seems to be confused about goals. The Augustine committee doesn't need to concern itself with "goals" that people like Senator Shelby and Griffin himself pushed through a past Congress. The committee needs to concern itself with the goals it was given in its charter: encouraging commercial space, fitting the budget, getting U.S. ISS support online faster than the program of record, getting beyond LEO, balancing operations with R&D as well as precursor and helper robotics, bringing international participation into the picture, and evaluating a longer ISS lifespan. That's what the committee was told to do, and that's what it did. Clearly the program of record fails in every one of these areas except perhaps for getting beyond LEO, so what is there to assess?
If we want to take a step back and assess how the program of record is meeting its goals, look to the Vision for Space Exploration document, which clearly specifies what the goals are for the VSE: exploration designed to deliver economic, security, and science benefits in the context of commercial and international participation. It's spelled out very plainly at the beginning of the document. The program of record just as plainly is failing to do these things, with the exception of some bright spots like LRO/LCROSS (and others). This isn't controversial - the program of record isn't even trying to do these things.
Griffin might assume that the HSF committee would disregard their charter and do something more to their (or his) tastes. Fortunately they did their job.
... followed by an assessment of what would be required to get and keep that program on track. Instead, the Commission sought to formulate new options for new programs...
Again, the Augustine committee charter is to formulate options - and since that's plural and the program of record is only one option, by definition that means at least some of the options will be "new programs". It's in their charter, so it's what they did. If Griffin wants to take issue with the Augustine committee's charter, he should take it up with OSTP, not the Augustine committee. However, I suspect he will have a hard time convincing OSTP that the elements of the charter are inappropriate.
Finally, it's not as if the Augustine committee ignored the program of record. They spent quite a lot of time on it, and it does appear as a baseline reference in their suite of options.
Dr. Griffin on the Augustine Committee - Part 11 o...
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Dr. Griffin on the Augustine Committee - Part 1 of...
Fuel depots are a solution to the following problems:
- providing an on-ramp for commercial space participation (a key VSE goal)
- providing an on-ramp for international participation (a key VSE goal)
- providing an incentive to develop low-cost space access (an important secondary VSE goal)
- through low-cost space access, helping to achieve security, science, and economic benefits (the 3 central VSE goals) by making launch of security, science, and commercial space missions affordable
- providing a market for lunar ISRU of propellants (an important secondary VSE goal)
- demonstrating a capability (refueling) that would be useful for military, commercial, and science satellites (again addressing the 3 central VSE goals)
- allowing the development of a heavy-lift vehicle to be avoided, or a much smaller heavy lift vehicle to be sufficient, making the VSE development more affordable and sustainable (criteria mentioned numerous times in the VSE)
- allowing in-space vehicles to be refueled, and thus reused
In fact, heavy lift appears to be a solution in search of a problem. Who needs heavy lift? Apparently not NASA science, the communications satellite industry, DOD, intelligence agencies, NOAA, etc. It seems that the main reason NASA would develop heavy lift is to avoid addressing the real goals of the VSE (science, security, and economic benefits in the context of commercial and international participation).
It is difficult to understand how such an approach can offer an economically favorable alternative. The Ares-5 offers the lowest cost-per-pound for payload to orbit of any presently known heavy-lift launch vehicle design. The mass-specific cost of payload to orbit nearly always improves with increasing launch vehicle scale.
Griffin is saying Ares-5 is the cheapest because it's the biggest. That's an absurd law - why not build a rocket 1,000 times bigger at 10,000 times the cost then? The per-kg cost will be miniscule! I think Griffin's law of scale is easily violated when you consider the possibility of smaller, mass-produced rockets. Exploration, with its serious payload mass requirements, could provide the market for such mass-produced rockets.
Griffin's scale rule of thumb also ignores development costs. After all, it will be a long time before those tens of billions of dollars of Ares-5 (and related Ares-1) development efforts are amortized, at a maximum flight rate of 2 per year. We already have the EELVs and are already building Falcon 9 and Taurus 2 anyway, so their development cost for a job like fuel launch for exploration is $0. When you consider Ares-5 costs, you also have to consider the possibility that the development effort will fail, and all development costs will be wasted ... or the development effort will succeed, but the operations will be so expensive that they are canceled as happened with Apollo, and again the development costs will be wasted.
The recommendation in favor of an architectural approach based upon the use of many smaller vehicles to resupply a fuel depot ignores this fact, as well as the fact that a fuel depot requires a presently non-existent technology - the ability to provide closed-cycle refrigeration to maintain cryogenic fuels in the necessary thermodynamic state in space.
That's why we fund NASA research and development, technology demonstration missions like the New Millennium series, and innovation prizes. Well, we used to fund these things before Dr. Griffin diverted those funds to Ares.
This technology is a holy grail of deep-space exploration, because it is necessary for both chemical- and nuclear-powered upper stages.
Ok, let's get to work and develop it then!
To establish an architecture based upon a non-existent technology at the very beginning of beyond-LEO operations is unwise.
Ares-5 is also non-existent technology. No Ares-5 has ever been launched, and none will be for decades at best.
At any rate, why would be need a fully-developed depot technology now to include it in our long-range plans? There is so much for astronauts to do in LEO, GEO, Earth-Moon Lagrange points, and lunar orbit - as well as with robotic precursors at the more difficult destinations for HSF - before we even need to consider using either depots or HLV. We don't need to define *any* specific architecture for jobs like Mars landings at this point. Let's just take some affordable, achievable, and useful steps in the right direction for now. One of those steps is developing and demonstrating refueling technologies so that when we are at the point where we need to decide what the details of the next exploration phase will be, the important and enabling refueling capability will be available.
I don't have much to say about Ares 5 vs Ares 5 Lite. Neither option looks good to me. I can understand why the committee would look into Ares 5 Lite rather than Ares 5, simply because a single vehicle smaller than the larger of the Ares 1/Ares 5 pair is liable to be faster, easier and cheaper to develop. Let's face it - like it or not, development cost, schedule, and risk are the make-it-or-break-it issues at hand, not getting the greatest marginal improvement in capability at the lowest marginal cost during operation.
Griffin's approach of designing the biggest launcher possible ignores the tremendous cost and time penalty of doing the development. Simply put, Ares 5 may be too expensive to build, even if it is cheaper than Ares 5 Lite on a pound per pound basis. It also ignores the costs to maintain separate infrastructure for both Ares 1 and Ares 5.
Griffin's approach does not consider the benefits of a steady pace of frequent launches to lower marginal cost by spreading fixed costs over more launches, and by encouraging rocket construction that more closely resembles assembly line operations, and perhaps rocket operations that more closely resemble airline operations. Ares 5 would only launch a couple times per year, so it would certainly not benefit from these economic forces. A 2-launch Ares 5 Lite would benefit a bit more from the steady pace of launching the same rocket, but other alternatives could benefit from this force even more.
The real problem with Ares 5 is that it does not contribute to the real goal, which is not to deliver as much mass as possible to the lunar surface per year, per launch, or per dollar, but rather to lower the cost of U.S. launchers in the classes relevant to commercial space, security, and robotic science missions. Such an achievement can be the contribution of the VSE's launch component to the specific, fundamental VSE goal of "security, economic, and science" benefits. If serious commercial, security, and/or science interests step forward with requirements for Ares 5 or Ares 5 Lite launch, then of course we would be justified in taking another look at these rockets. As it is, Ares 5 and Ares 5 Lite don't contribute to the real goal of the VSE.
... All parties agree that a heavy-lift launcher is needed for any human space program beyond LEO. ...
The Augustine committee may support one sort of heavy-lift launcher or another, but I don't agree with them (or Griffin) in this case. First of all, most human space program architectures I've seen that seek to establish infrastructure and do work in GEO, Earth-Moon Lagrange points, and lunar orbit don't include a heavy-lift launcher at all. Typically they involve 1-3 launches of EELV-class payloads to establish some sort of space infrastructure (a servicing node, small space station, depot, etc), and 1-2 launches of EELV-class payloads to get astronauts to LEO and then to the destination (perhaps on an in-space only vehicle). It should be clear that these destinations - GEO, Earth-Moon Lagrange points, and lunar orbit - are all "human space programs beyond LEO". It should also be clear that there is plenty of useful work to do there, such as satellite servicing in GEO, satellite servicing at Earth-Moon Lagrange points (perhaps of Earth-Sun Lagrange point observatories that move themselves or are tugged between these points and the Earth-Moon points), lunar observations from lunar orbit, lunar telerobotics, and build-up of space infrastructure in these orbits and regions to enable greater exploration later.
None of this needs to involve either heavy lift or refueling.
Note that these missions are the type that are most likely to be achievable in anything like the near term, so these are the ones we should be planning for the most, and spending most of our attention on. Surface missions to Mars using 6 or 7 Ares 5 launches and an Ares 1 launch (as presented by NASA to the Augustine Committee) are so distant in time, and so absurd in their per-mission cost using available technology and infrastructure, that we shouldn't be concerned with developing a specific architecture or launch vehicle for them at all yet.
So, I disagree with the statement "a heavy-lift launcher is needed for any human space program beyond LEO."
By the time NASA has become proficient in GEO, lunar orbit, and Earth-Moon Lagrange missions, and it ready to pass these missions on the commercial space, refueling technology could have been demonstrated. With this capability, more destinations are within reach. Still no heavy-lift launcher is needed.
If refueling is not to your taste, add a much milder heavy-lift upgrade, such as a "Phase 1" EELV upgrade to the 40-50MT class, or a similar-sized giant SpaceX Falcon. This is considerably less powerful than the Augustine committee's smallest HLV, the "Phase 2" EELV 75MT class launcher. The development cost and risk should be correspondingly smaller. This class of "mini-HLV" is all that we should need by the time we achieve what we can in GEO, lunar orbit, and Earth-Moon Lagrange points, which will be a long time from now. The "Phase 1" EELV HLV in combination with the appropriate reusable space infrastructure and space assembly would allow us to achieve plenty.
There could come a time after this when a larger HLV is desired - but that time is so far off that we needn't concern ourselves with it. By then, the HLV question should be in the hands of the commercial space market anyway.
Ares 1 certainly has technical problems. Maybe NASA could fix the problems, maybe not. The fixes may come at the cost of schedule, cost, capability, or safety. They may force another go-around with Orion and Ares 1 design changes affecting each other in a viscous circle. Or ... we may discover in a few years that the fixes turned out to not be so bad. I'll let the Augustine committee take on these issues with input from NASA and the Aerospace Corporation. It's good to have an independent, arms-length assessment outside of NASA, since a NASA presentation of its own problems is by definition not objective. This is why we have auditors and similar independent assessments all the time throughout government and industry.
If Griffin is upset that the Augustine committee is skeptical about Ares 1 technical, schedule, and budget issues, he should take comfort that they are equally skeptical about the schedules presented by United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, and advocates of certain non-Ares HLV ideas.
I would also note that some NASA Constellation employees have quit, and spoken out against Ares. There is also the Direct team, which its public spokespeople claim includes NASA Constellation employees, to at least consider.
At any rate, the severity of Ares 1 technical problems is a bit besides the point. The real issues go back to the Augustine Committee charter, as well as the goals of the VSE. How do we help encourage commercial space? Certainly not with the non-commercial Ares 1. How do we fit the budget? Certainly not with Ares 1, which is expensive to develop and will be expensive to operate. How do we get ISS support online sooner than the program of record? Certainly not with Ares 1, which started with a goal of 2012 operational capability, and 4 years later has in effect slipped ~6 years to 2017-2019 according to the Augustine committee.
From "A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture" - Zegler, Kutter, and Barr (United Launch Alliance):
Despite the best engineering design and analysis activities it is amply clear that even highly vetted designs such as the Space Shuttle can fail catastrophically. Probabilistic analyses are spectacularly flawed in that they make sweeping assumptions about failure modes and the means to prevent them. Nature relentlessly renders these complex analyses moot when we find another hidden failure mode via flight experience. Ground testing can assure a baseline level of confidence but only extensive flight experience can truly generate a safe vehicle with high confidence in its overall reliability. Aircraft flight testing relies implicitly on this principle.
Extensive flight experience will be hard to come by with Ares 1, which only has the job of launching astronauts for NASA. Commercial rockets like Delta IV, Atlas V, and Falcon 9 have many other jobs, so they can demonstrate their safety and reliability over many launches - or fail to demonstrate that safety and reliability without astronauts on board.
Some critics point out that even if Ares 1 itself is safer than some other rocket, it may make the overall mission more dangerous (for example by causing redundancy to be removed from Orion).
Considering that safety isn't just about launch, the Augustine committee has an interesting idea with the "Deep Space"/"Flexible Path" options. These options postpone Moon and Mars surface exploration, allowing us to postpone the safety issues of landing astronauts on the surface, surface operations, and surface departure. This allows us to grapple with a perhaps more manageable safety problem, that of deep-space operations, for the time being. When we have gotten good at that, we may find the isolated problems related to surface missions to be more manageable, too. Incremental development in hardware and operations may lead to safer missions.
This is false. Dr. Griffin must be aware that there is a huge commercial space sector in the communication satellite field, among others. He must know of the Atlas V rocket. He must have heard of the Delta IV rocket. These rockets already exist. The government support for these rockets is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is using commercial rockets in the sense that they are run and operated by private businesses, and thus are available to address other markets at the same time they address NASA's needs.
Griffin must also know of the Falcon 9 and Taurus II rockets that will be used in the COTS cargo program that Griffin, to his credit, supported. These rockets have not been proven yet, but they are far ahead of Ares I and Ares V.
Launching a redesigned Orion crew vehicle is a valid choice in the context of an international program if - and only if - the U.S. is willing to give up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision imbued with enormous future consequences.
The U.S. already gave up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision that was imbued with enormous future consequences that we are now facing. This happened when Dr. Griffin chose the Ares I plan, and didn't fund a commercial crew transportation effort to go along with it. This loss of independent access to low Earth orbit is expected to last until 2017 to 2019 if Ares I is the only approach used.
Anyway, even setting that point aside, we could, but don't have to, launch a crew vehicle on a foreign rocket. Why does Griffin suggest that's what we'd have to do if we used commercial transportation services?
... a domestic commercial space transportation sector ... does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.
It is interesting that Dr. Griffin can predict this with such confidence. I suppose it's possible he will turn out to be right, at least for orbital crew transportation (he is already wrong for other commercial space services), if NASA doesn't properly fund a commercial crew effort.
... If no USG option to deliver cargo and crew to LEO is to be developed following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the U.S. risks the failure to sustain and utilize a unique facility with a sunk cost of $55 billion on the U.S. side, and nearly $20 billion of international partner investment in addition.
Why is Dr. Griffin so concerned about the ISS when he got rid of most of the ISS science and non-assembly engineering?
Why is he so concerned about the ISS when his exploration plan requires the ISS to be abandoned in 2016? If the commercial COTS cargo services do not get built, Griffin's plan already leaves us with no ability to get cargo and crew to the ISS until 2017-2019, after the ISS is abandoned! Even if the ISS is kept until 2020, and funding appears out of the blue to both support ISS and develop Ares I/Orion at a "brisk" pace, having Ares I/Orion in, say, 2018 does not make that much a difference. Plus, let's be clear: keeping that schedule is highly unlikely given the funding needs of the ISS.
The Russian Soyuz and Progress systems, even if we are willing to pay whatever is required to use them in the interim, simply do not provide sufficient capability to utilize ISS as was intended, and in any case represent a single point failure in regard to such utilization. To hold the support and utilization of the ISS hostage to the emergence of a commercial space sector is not "risky", it is irresponsible.
What is Dr. Griffin's point? We already have this single point of failure in Griffin's current plan, since Ares I/Orion arrive so late!
Also, what is his "hostage" concern? Why does he use loaded words and phrases like "hostage" and the committee "failed to"? Why does he put quotes around words like independent, commercial, fuel depots, and technical problems?
The plan isn't for NASA to stand back and hope a commercial space sector emerges. It's to sufficiently fund commercial crew transportation, at perhaps $2.5B for development from NASA, and more from the vendors, to make sure the commercial space sector emerges. With the commercial vendors pitching in their own money, why would this approach be less likely to succeed than NASA giving contractors money to build Ares I/Orion? The commercial vendors won't want to waste their money, so they'll be even more motivated to succeed. Also, there will be more than 1 commercial competitor if the COTS cargo model is used, so we will no longer have a single point of failure at all.
The Augustine Committee's independent judgment is that commercial vendors will in fact bring ISS crew transportation services to the ISS before Ares I/Orion could, even though Ares I/Orion have had a 4-year head start. This is presumably because of the potential use of existing rockets and other hardware, commercial skin in the game, commercial focus on the ISS transportation job (instead of that and the Moon and Mars), and possible use of near-term COTS cargo hardware.
Also note that the Augustine committee recommends addition money for COTS cargo to make extra sure that effort comes in on schedule.
Also note that in Dr. Griffin's plan, if COTS cargo didn't pan out, and Ares 1/Orion did pan out, and Ares 1/Orion somehow became operational much earlier than they are now expected to, they would use just about all of their funding to supply the ISS. There would be no beyond-LEO exploration even in this scenario that is supremely optimistic for government systems and supremely pessimistic for commercial systems.
If Dr. Griffin really wanted to have both Ares 1/Orion and a secure ISS, he should have funded a COTS crew transportation effort alongside Ares 1/Orion when he had a chance.
As a side issue, I will also note that when Dr. Griffin paints the stark picture of the ISS supplied only by Soyuz and Progress, he is ignoring the European ATV that was already demonstrated and the Japanese HTV that was just launched. We have numerous cargo options, so it seems to make sense to fund a COTS crew effort if we're doing that for COTS cargo.
The Augustine Committee has the job of identifying ways to stimulate the commercial space sector. It isn't surprising that they endorse commercial crew and cargo transportation services, since those also help address other concerns in their charter at the same time (expediting ISS support, fitting the budget, and enabling exploration). However, there are many other legitimate services and ways for NASA to encourage commercial space: data purchases, innovation prizes, more ISS cargo services, lunar surface vehicles, suborbital RLVs, hosted payloads, fuel delivery, and many more. My personal preference would have been to focus NASA's initial use of commercial services on non-crewed areas: lunar robots, cargo delivery, fuel delivery, data purchases and various other satellite services, uncrewed suborbital RLVs, etc. Only later would I have carefully ventured into crew transportation services. However, Dr. Griffin's plan has boxed us into a corner so we really don't have a choice in the matter -- or rather the choice we are faced with is either commercial crew transportation, or no crew transportation.
I'm not sure why Dr. Griffin surrounds the word Independent with quotes. The Aerospace Corporation is independent of NASA. Therefore, its cost estimates aren't as subject to optimistic thinking or internal pressure and censorship as NASA estimates of its own costs. Note that other independent sources (for example, see The Budgetary Implications of NASA’s Current Plans for Space Exploration by the Congressional Budget Office) have also been skeptical of NASA-only cost estimates. This skepticism is based on a long history of budget overruns on NASA programs. Here's a recent quote in the Kansas City Star on the NASA Science side of the house:
As for the scientific missions, "We're really blowing it on our cost estimates," said Marc Allen, a planning manager in the space agency's Science Mission Directorate. "Everybody's motivated to paint a rosy picture."
Could this be the case within Constellation too? Let's have an independent assessment to find out.
It is the Augustine Committee's job to provide a number of options. These options are linked by common goals - the objectives outlined in the committee's charter. The physical destinations are not the goals. In spite of what Dr. Griffin says, it is possible to compare the various options, even though it's true (as the Augustine Committee did point out in their deliberations) that they have varying levels of detail.
This lack of funding for ISS budget projections past 2015 is a real issue. This is a real concern for the international partners and potential U.S. ISS users, suppliers, and so on. The Augustine Committee had to address this issue because it's in their charter. In fact, they did include extending ISS to 2020 in all of their serious options, as Griffin suggests they do, so I'm not sure why he's objecting.
The problem is that Griffin's exploration plan falls apart after 2016 if that money is shifted to support the ISS. Why didn't he structure an exploration program that could handle this? If he couldn't, why didn't he raise an alarm? It is an amazing and irresponsible thing to develop an exploration plan that assumes that the ISS will be deorbited in 2016, when you expect that won't happen. Where did Griffin think the $3+ billion per year was going to magically come from? Why would a future administration not just cancel the then 10 year old Constellation program, given the discretionary nature of that program, when presented with this discontinuity?
In spite of what Griffin suggests, this is not just a strawman. If the Augustine Committee exposes this issue and gets it resolved one way or another, so there is no doubt in anyone's mind about what the ISS plan is, it will have done a great service.
2) Since NASA's budget as outlined in 2005 was hardly one of rampant growth (only a slight increase above inflation was projected even then), and since the Commission did not report any evidence of substandard execution of the Program of Record - Constellation - one wonders why the Commission failed to recommend as its favored option that of simply restoring the funding necessary to do the job that has, since 2005, been codified in two strongly bi-partisan Congressional Authorization Acts. ...
I imagine that the Augustine Committee failed to recommend (or succeeded in not recommending) keeping Constellation as-is with a funding boost because the committee's charter includes the following objectives:
- expediting a new U.S. capability to support utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) - Constellation does not do this.
- stimulating commercial space flight capability - Constellation does not do this.
- fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities - Constellation does not do this.
- appropriate amount of research and development and complementary robotic activities needed to make human space flight activities most productive and affordable over the long term - Constellation does not have this.
- appropriate opportunities for international collaboration - Constellation does not have this.
- options for extending ISS operations beyond 2016 - Constellation does not allow this.
How could the Augustine Committee possibly prefer the program of record when the POR does almost none of the things the committee is for?
What does this have to do with the rate of growth of NASA's 2005 budget? Nothing. That budget is now history.
What does this have to do with the level of substandard execution of the POR? Nothing.
No matter what the rate of growth in NASA's 2005 budget, and no matter how good or bad the execution of the POR is, if Constellation doesn't address the items on the Augustine Committee charter (and it doesn't), how could the committee recommend the program of record as its favored option?
1) It is clarifying to see a formal recognition by the Commission that, based upon budgetary considerations, "the human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory". Given that the Constellation program was designed in accordance with the budget profile specified in 2005, yet has since suffered some $30 billion of reductions to the amount allocated to human lunar return (including almost $12 billion in just the last five fiscal years) this is an unsurprising conclusion, but one which provides the necessary grounding for all subsequent discussions.
When the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was formulated, it was known that there would be budgetary ups and downs (with an emphasis on the downs, for anyone trying to be realistic and prudent) during the many years of development for this vision. That's why the VSE was intended to be a "pay-as-you-go" effort. That's why the words "sustainable" and "affordable" appear so many times in the VSE document. The current NASA effort based on the Ares rockets is not sustainable, as the Augustine Committee makes clear.
Dr. Griffin should wonder why Constellation isn't getting such a lofty budget. Could it be that the "Apollo on Steroids" approach isn't attractive to the public or to the space industry? Could it be that the cost and schedule overruns made the Bush and Obama administrations wary of Constellation promises? Could it be that numerous other parts of NASA had their budgets cut during the Griffin years, and now priorities have changed and they are getting back some of the money that went to Constellation? Could it be that Constellation doesn't address the purpose of the VSE? The purpose is not "human lunar return", but rather "to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program" in the context of "international and commercial participation". Constellation isn't doing any of that, so why give it a lot of funding?
Also, be careful when adding up the Constellation budget cuts. The human spaceflight budget is just a place marker while the direction of this effort is evaluated. In addition, look at changes in what is considered "Cross-Agency Support" compared to the original VSE budget.
Finally, if Griffin agrees that Constellation is on an unsustainable trajectory, why didn't he do anything about it? This didn't just start in the last few months. Why didn't he set up a program that could adjust to budget realities, or change the program when budget realities could not longer be fantasized away? If he couldn't fix the problem, why didn't he raise an alarm?