Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama's NASA Decision

by Marcel F. Williams

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (the Augustine Commission) recently concluded that NASA's Constellation return to the Moon program is running $50 billion over the current budget through the year 2020. They also concluded that cheaper alternatives such as the NASA's Side-mount shuttle and the DIRECT concept would also exceed NASA's budget by at least $20 billion to $30 billion.

So it appears that the Augustine commission will recommend a $3 billion dollar increase to NASA's annual budget if the US is to return to the Moon or a termination of the Moon program in order to stay within NASA's current $17 billion dollar a year budget.

So what should President Obama do?

At the height of the Apollo program, the NASA budget reached $33 billion a year in today's dollars, nearly twice as large as NASA current budget. NASA's $17 billion annual budget represents less 0.6% of the total Federal budget while the US Federal government is spending nearly a trillion dollars annually on defense related purposes. So a $3 billion annual increase to the NASA budget would be extremely tiny relative to the overall Federal budget.

I believe that President Obama needs to raise the NASA budget while also choosing the fastest and the cheapest return to the Moon architecture. That's why President Obama needs to raise the annual NASA budget by at least $3 billion while choosing NASA's SD-HLV (Side-mount shuttle) concept in order to return to the Moon to set up a permanently manned lunar facility.

Terminating funding for the Ares 1 combined with a $3 billion annual increase should give NASA an extra $4 billion dollars a year to work with without immediately terminating the current Space Shuttle program or the ISS.

At least $700 million of that should go to finance the development the Orion (CEV) over the next 5 years which is currently being funded at nearly $1.4 billion a year. That would raise Orion funding to $2.1 billion a year over the next 5 years.

NASA has preliminarily estimated that the cost of developing the SD-HLV vehicles should cost $6.6 billion and could be ready for full testing in 4 and a half years. So 1.5 billion a year over the next 5 years should be more than enough to develop the SD-HLV vehicles.

That leaves another 1.8 billion a year to immediately start funding the development of the Altair lunar landing vehicle over the next 5 or 6 years so that America could be ready to return to the Moon by 2016. Why wait until 2020 to return to the Moon when the shuttle derived heavy lift vehicles could be ready by 2015 or 2016?

Additional funds for the development of the Moon program could be garnered by terminating the Space Shuttle program and US ISS involvement a year or more before the Orion-HLV and Altair-HLV space craft are ready. That would be $5 billion in additional funds if both the Shuttle and the ISS were terminated a year early and $10 billion if they were terminated two years early.

2016 should also be a time when NASA should have plenty of extra funds from both the termination of the Space Shuttle and ISS programs and from the completion of the Orion, Altair, and SD-HLV development programs: plenty of money for a continuously growing lunar base program and beyond.

The US space program has always been the ultimate symbol of America's scientific and technological achievement. And NASA has contributed far more to the economic wealth of the US than it has consumed. The expansion of humans into the rest of the solar system is essential to the long term survival our species and towards the continued economic growth of human civilization. That's why President Barack Obama needs to strongly commit the US towards leading that expansion of humanity into the New Frontier.

1. Augustine Commission

2. NASAs-Ares-Alternative:-The-Side-mount-Shuttle

3. Robots could build a base on the Moon

© Marcel F. Williams
New Papyrus


Shanksow said...

I hate to say this but, I think the fix is in to cancel the Return to the Moon program. Side mount former shuttle booster is a good idea for now. Jupiter follow-on better. But under the current Administration and Congress - I don't have any high hopes of Americans ever leaving orbit again in my liftime (and I'm almost 50 years old now).

Marcel F. Williams said...

The problem is the our previous president has put NASA in a situation where they have to do everything at once:

1. Continue the space shuttle ($3 billion of year)
2. Continue to support the space station ($1 to $2 billion a year)
3. Develop a new space shuttle
4. Develop a new heavy lift infrastructure to launch vehicles into lunar orbit
5. Develop a new lunar lander

And do all of this on a budget half that of the Apollo program which only had to do one or two things.

I'd be fore the Jupiter if they also offered a SSTO vehicle to launch the Orion without the SRBs to go along with the heavy lift SRB vehicle for beyond LEO payloads.

Marcel F. Williams said...

A lot more discussion on this article can be found at the Daily Kos:

Unknown said...

Chemical rockets might see a 15% improvement. Nuclear rockets would be at least a 100% improvement. But I think it is time to use rotating tethers made of zylon or M5 to lower the cost to the moon. Prop depots seem likely already. An electrodynamic tether should be used on the ISS for reboost. Mars direct is daring and inspirational, and is money better spent than fighting two wars overseas. Space solar powersats are much further along than I knew about a few months ago. Cislunar tethers could provide 97% of the materials needed in GEO to provide fulltime electricity to the three out of four people on earth that do not have it yet. I think that is the "killer app" commercial space should go after. With beamed power from GEO, lightcraft and M2P2 will start to drop launch costs to everywhere. Solar power, electric cars, electric spacecraft, that's the future of a spacefaring nation.  

Gary Gray said...

NASA has spent billions of dollars so far developing Ares I and so far, they have one successful suborbital test flight to show for it. SpaceX has spent approximately $300 million developing their Falcon 9/Dragon capsule program and they are preparing for an orbital test flight of the entire Falcon 9/Dragon system.

SpaceX may ultimately fail on their test flight attempt, however, the comparison I am trying to draw here is that SpaceX has developed a system to NASA specifications with far less dollars than NASA has spent developing their Ares I system.

My conclusion is that the in-house method of developing space flight systems may be obsolete. When Apollo was developed, it had to be done in-house because no company alone had the expertise to do something like that.

However, space flight technology has come a long way since the days of Apollo and we may benefit from method of defining the mission and then letting companies compete and bid on the best overall approach.

We may find that a SpaceX type approach to letting the private sector come up with the solutions, hardware, etc, in response to defined mission parameters is a better approach than developing spaceflight hardware in-house.

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Brandon said...

How's your outlook now, Marcel?

Shanksow, had it right.

Just4thefax said...

Fact: Obama is a disaster to NASA and the space program. I and others will continue to be laidoff from the space program under his grand plan of relying on other countries to do it for us.

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