Thursday, April 15, 2010
How Should Congress Respond to Obama's Manned Spaceflight Budget?
The Constellation program was supposed to return America to the Moon-- to stay. But in the words of President Barak Obama on April 15 "Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.” So the President Obama makes it pretty clear that he sees no value in a permanent human presence on our closest neighbor in space.
So under President Obama's new plan for NASA:
1. There's no manned return to the Moon
2. The Space Shuttle program will be terminated by 2011
3. Private industry will receive approximately $1.2 billion a year over the next 5 years to help develop their own manned spaceflight capability. And there will be no domestic spaceflight capability until private companies have developed their own manned spaceflight capability
4. The ISS program will continue and funding will actually be increased from $2 billion a year up to $3 billion a year by 2015 even though the US will have no domestic vehicle to access the ISS and will have to use Russian spacecraft
5. A heavy lift vehicle won't have to be decided on until 2015
6.There might be a mission to an asteroid by 2025
7.There might be an orbital mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s
8. And there might be a Mars landing after that
With a NASA budget that will increase to more than $20 billion a year by the year 2019, the President proposes spending approximately $200 billion in tax payer money over next 10 years pretty much staying at LEO and then another $100 billion over the next 5 years to finally visit an asteroid.
So what should Congress make out of budget that spends so much to achieve so little?
First of all, there are some aspects of the NASA budget presented by President Obama administration that I think the Congress should be strongly in favor of:
1. Congress should agree to support the Obama administration's total-- monetary-- NASA budget expenditures from 2011 to 2015. This is an approximately $2 billion a year increase from the 2009 budget.
2. Congress should support funding for the private commercial manned spaceflight companies at the same monetary level as proposed in the Obama administration budget. The US needs private industry to have its own manned spaceflight capability if US manned spaceflight is to grow beyond a government funded manned space program
3. Congress should support funding the robot precursor programs at the same monetary level as proposed in the Obama administration budget.
However, contrary to the Obama administration proposals, Congress should:
1. Continue the Space Shuttle program until a manned successor vehicle is ready. This is a matter of both national pride and strategic importance. Being solely dependent on a fledgling Democracy for our access to space is just not a good idea. Also, we have no idea when US private industry will be ready to launch humans safely and routinely into space
2. Immediately provide funding to use the Space Shuttle to deploy inflatable space station modules into an appropriate orbit as way-stations for future manned beyond LEO missions. There is already an American company designing such modular space stations which they plan to sell for about $100 million each.
3. Immediately provide funding for the development of a Space Shuttle derived Sidemount HLV to be completed within 5 to 7 years. Buzz Aldrin has advocated building such a shuttle derived vehicle designed to lift payloads into orbit for beyond LEO missions.
4. Immediately provide funding for the development of an EDS (Earth Departure Stage) to be completed within 5 to 7 years. The EDS will enable us to launch large payloads beyond LEO.
5. Immediately provide funding for the development of a reusable manned space plane plus MAX LAS (launch abort system) that can be launched on the Sidemount and on man-rated inline boosters to be completed within 5 to 7 years. The development of such a reusable spaceplane would also be extremely attractive to the military and to private commercial manned spaceflight companies. It could also be used as an escape vehicle aboard a space station.
6. Immediately provide funding for the development of a man-rated shuttle derived NLS-2 booster to be completed within 7 to 10 years. As originally proposed in the 1990s, the NLS-2 would use 6 expendable SSME (space shuttle main engines). This will be a single stage to orbit booster that drops four of its heavy engines before achieving orbit while the remain two continue to push it into orbit. This would probably be the simplest and safest rocket booster ever developed and would be capable of placing at least 22 tonnes into low Earth orbit. The NLS-2 booster plus HL-20 type space plane would finally serve as the successor to the Space Shuttle allowing NASA to finally retire the shuttle before the year 2020.
7. Immediately provide funding for the development an Altair single stage ascent/descent stage to be completed within 7 to 10 years. Using the LH2/LOX descent stage for cargo flights to the lunar surface and as both a descent and ascent stage for manned missions would substantially reduce development cost. For manned missions, a simple crew transport module could be placed on top of the Altair landing platform.
8. Immediately provide funding for the development of lunar base modules and lunar base vehicles and infrastructure to be ready within 7 to 10 years. Yes, despite what the President said, we should return to the Moon to set up a permanent lunar base. A Moon base would be an essential key to establishing a similar base on the surface of Mars sometime during the 2020s, which would be much earlier than the Obama administration's proposed orbit to Mars. The Moon would also be the ultimate destination for the emerging space tourism industry.
But how much would all of this cost?
As I said, this should be funded under the Presidents current budget levels over the next 5 years and by the same budget level over the next 10 years. So no budget increase over what President Obama is already proposing.
In 2009, NASA spent $3 billion funding the Space Shuttle program and $2 billion funding the ISS program. $3.4 billion was spent funding the Constellation program. The Obama budget increases NASA funding above the 2009 level by an average of $2 billion a year over the next 5 years. So if we continue the space shuttle and ISS programs at their current levels plus the robot precursor program at about $600 million a year and the private commercial manned spaceflight companies at about $1.2 billion a year, that still leaves us with $3.6 billion a year, $18 billion over 5 years, $36 billion over ten years, for manned spaceflight development projects.
NASA estimates that a SD-HLV will cost $6.9 billion to develop and an EDS stage will cost an additional $2.5 billion to develop. Congress estimated that an HL-20 type of space plane would cost about $3 billion to develop in today's dollars. If you add another $1 billion for the MAX-LAS, you've still only spent $13.4 billion for a new heavy lift vehicle, earth departure stage, and a space plane. Not bad!
Longer term projects like the NLS-2 booster and the Altair lunar lander would still get some significant funding, but would get a lot more funding after the SD-HLV, EDS, and space plane are completed. The SD-HLV, EDS, and space plane would then be funded under the Space Shuttle budget by reducing Space Shuttle flights to two per year while reserving at least 3 flights per year for SD-HLV test launches. The Altair and NLS-2 and lunar base development could then receive heavy funding until they are completed sometime between 2017 to 2020.
Once the development projects are finally completed and the ISS program finally ended in 2020 there should be at least $10.4 billion dollars a year available to operate the lunar base program (perhaps $8 billion a year) in addition to funding the additional architecture development program for a Mars program over the next decade.
So under this proposal, and under the President's total NASA budget, we could return to the Moon before the end of the decade and even have money left over to fund the additional infrastructure needed to establish a manned presence in orbit around Mars and on the Martian surface before the end of the following decade.
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