Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That Would Have Saved Me a Lot of Time

Summoning the Future By Remembering the Past - SpaceRef - Dennis Wingo's statement describes what I've intended, in a rather long-winded way, to say on this blog:

When the Obama administration's FY 2010 budget was introduced it was a breath of fresh air. The unsustainable Constellation program was cancelled and commercial spaceflight was embraced to support the ISS, and technology game changing missions funded that would lower the cost and provide a flexible path for exploration. However, the abandonment of a destination coupled with no real rational for what to do in Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration erased the vision (i.e. sense of purpose) part of the exploration plan.

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The economic development of the solar system was the core value that made George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration exciting and worthwhile to the nation. The implementation was horribly done in the most wrong way possible. The Obama plan is the right implementation, but without the core value of economic development starting at the Moon, it is bereft of a moral underpinning.

The Obama administration's implementation is the right one, and the one that was intended with Bush's Vision for Space Exploration: make heavy use of robotic precursor missions, enable strong participation by commercial space and international partners, ensure that the effort is affordable over the long term, make steady progress, and encourage practical technology innovation.

The Flexible Path idea of performing easier deep space missions on the way to the surface of rocky worlds also makes sense. However, as distances increase, these deep space missions tend to become more difficult themselves, and to become less immediately useful in an economic sense. A hybrid of missions to the earlier, easier, and more immediately practical Flexible Path destinations done often enough to develop space infrastructure and commercial capabilities at those destinations, followed by a strong lunar surface push enabled by that infrastructure as planned in the Vision for Space Exploration, would keep the best parts of both approaches, while in the long run making the more distant deep space destinations on the Flexible Path more reachable.

The Administration's plan looks particularly strong in the area of technology - perhaps too strong for some - but this appearance could be changed simply by renaming some of the Flagship Technology Demonstrations to be simply "Missions", "Modules", and "Spacecraft". For the initial set we'd have the Space Tug spacecraft, the Inflatable Habitat ISS module, the Advanced Solar Electric Propulsion mission, and the Aerocapture mission ... and we'd still have a couple "Flagship Technology Demonstrations" as well.

Switching the Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technology effort to an affordable, modest increase in EELV or similar capabilities (e.g.: to 40-50mT to LEO) with development starting fairly soon would also give the Administration's proposal more of an operational flavor, while still leaving NASA with a strong technology portfolio.

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