Commercial Spaceflight Federation Statement on NASA’s Anticipated Announcement of a $6 Billion Commercial Crew Program and NASA Budget Increase
Washington, D.C., January 29, 2010 – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is issuing the following statement applauding NASA’s anticipated announcement of a $6 billion competitive, commercial crew program and welcoming the President’s show of support for NASA with his significant planned increase for NASA’s overall budget:
Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation: “NASA investment in the commercial spaceflight industry is a win-win decision: commercial crew will create thousands of high-tech jobs in the United States, especially in Florida, while reducing the spaceflight gap and preventing us from sending billions to Russia. This is on par with the early days of aviation and the U.S. Airmail Act, which spurred the growth of an entire new industry that now adds billions to the US economy every year. “At a time when job creation is the top priority for our nation, a commercial crew program will create more jobs per dollar because it leverages millions in private investment and taps the potential of systems that serve both government and private customers. We have a tremendous opportunity here to jump-start private activity in low-Earth orbit that will further lower the cost of access to space and unleash the economic potential of space long promised. “Working with NASA, industry can develop the capabilities to safely launch U.S. astronauts jst as commercial spaceflight providers are already trusted by the U.S. government right now to launch multi-billion dollar military satellites, upon which the security of our Nation and lives of our troops overseas depend. Investing $6 billion will fund a full program of multiple winners for commercial crew, so that robust competition in the marketplace can reduce costs and generate innovation. We are excited to see such a significant commitment from the Obama Administration and NASA leadership for pursuing this important initiative for NASA and the nation.”
What could cause a person, otherwise known as rational and intelligent, to behave in a manner which flies in the face of logic? How could one given to reason, suddenly abandon it and ignore facts in preference for factoids? More often than not, the answer is culture.
Both people and organizations are influenced by the forces of culture, resulting in a wide range of outcomes. And it is a curious phenomenon that a culture created to assure a particular outcome can sometimes become the very force that obviates it. Take for example the manned space flight safety culture. NASA took painstaking care to create a safety culture surrounding their program that could assure astronauts’ lives are protected at every stage of a mission. Yet it was culture that was ultimately to blame for the loss of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia spacecraft and the 17 heroes that climbed aboard them, never to return home.
There was nothing sinister at work, which caused these painful losses. Indeed, all those associated with the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs over the years were and remain deeply committed to building and maintaining the safest systems devisable by man. But despite that dedication, the space program has, at times, suffered.
How could this be?
When behavior accommodates the safety culture rather than the outcome of safety, ironically it is safety which is ultimately sacrificed. It’s a grievous lesson to learn and one we dare not forget. Culture — even one of safety — should never be allowed to become a noose around ones neck. Having become overly restrictive and narrow-sighted, any culture can break down and become an enemy to the very thing it seeks to protect and cultivate.
We see another case of this in the debate over commercial, human space flight. Ask anyone who works in human space exploration if they would like to see mankind settle the solar system, and the odds are infinitesimal that you’ll get anything less than an unequivocal “yes!” Yet it is ironic that some of those are acting against that goal.
Logic, supported by history, dictates that government (i.e. civil space flight) cannot exclusively fund such a grand adventure as colonization and settlement any more than it could fund the Intercontinental Railroad. The mere suggestion that we can continue to grow our human space flight program without a healthy symbiosis between government and the private sector is foolish and smacks of a blind commitment to a “space-equals-NASA” culture born out of the 1960′s when space travel was a purely research and development venture. Yet it would seem that it is exactly what is suggested by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).
The panel was created in 1968 by the US Congress after the tragic loss of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White in their Apollo 1 capsule when it caught fire during a ground test. The panel exists as an independent body to advise the Congress and the Administrator of NASA on matters of safety.
In their 2009 Annual Report just released, the panel states that neither SpaceX nor Orbital Sciences — the two companies selected by NASA to provide commercial cargo transport to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract – are human qualified; this despite the well-known fact that NASA has yet to create a human rating system for commercial spacecraft. So why would the panel choose to ignore this glaring fact and advise Congress that it is “unwise” to rely upon any commercial crew transport, citing a lack of compliance with non-existent safety regulations? Perhaps we should return to our original question: What could cause this organization, populated with professionals having a long and impressive lists of credentials , to behave in a manner which flies in the face of basic logic? Again, it is culture.
Rather than acting in the best interest of a future and healthy human space flight program, the members of the ASAP have sadly allowed themselves instead to fall into the trap of accommodating a culture, which believes that all things space must equal NASA and thus government. The cost of space flight must necessarily be dramatically cut if we are ever to achieve any sustained human presence in space, and the private sector is the lynch pin for making that happen. The misguided devotion to this antiquated and baseless notion of government exclusivity serves no one, least of all the Congress, NASA or the citizens who pay for the program in the hopes that they and their children will see a day soon in which the common man can live and work in space and benefit from the infinite opportunities to be found there.
Commercial Spaceflight Federation Responds to the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s 2009 Annual Report
Washington, D.C., January 21, 2010 – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation released the following statement on the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s 2009 annual report:
While the Commercial Spaceflight Federation agrees with the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) on its recognition of the importance of commercial spaceflight both for cargo and crew missions, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation disagrees with certain other conclusions and finds some of the assertions in the ASAP’s Annual Report to be incorrect.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation commends the ASAP on their finding in the ASAP 2009 Annual Report that commercial spaceflight “is emerging as one of the critical programs for NASA” and that “if there is a widening gap, COTS could play a key role and could be a critical program for flight safety of the astronauts.”
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation agrees with the ASAP that NASA must “quickly establish fundamental safety requirements for…programs that may in the future be used to get NASA’s astronauts to Low Earth Orbit (LEO)” and agrees with the ASAP’s direction to NASA that “considerable work must be done,” and that NASA should “accelerate the level of effort underway.” To aid this process, the commercial space industry stands ready to begin working now with NASA to agree on a commercial human-rating plan, including the appropriate standards, requirements for vehicles to meet those standards, and the mechanism by which compliance with those standards will be validated, and industry has established a Commercial Orbital Spaceflight Safety Working Group to engage with NASA and FAA.
Since the ASAP correctly points out that NASA has not yet developed standards and processes for human-rating commercial vehicles, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation disagrees with ASAP’s implication that safety will be compromised because “no COTS manufacturer is currently HRR qualified,” because, quite simply, it is impossible for companies to meet standards that do not currently exist. Until such time as commercial human-rating standards are determined, industry continues to develop vehicle hardware based on the only standards available: those NASA established for its own vehicles, known as NPR 8705.2B. As no commercial provider has yet been tasked by NASA to begin working through a NASA human-rating process, for the ASAP to state that “no COTS manufacturer is currently HRR qualified” is akin to saying that someone didn’t pass his driver’s test when he’s still waiting in line at the DMV and hasn’t even been given the exam yet.
The ASAP’s repeated references to the two “COTS firms” ignores the fact that many companies, including both established firms and new entrants, will compete in the Commercial Crew Program envisioned by the Augustine Committee. While the Falcon 9 and Taurus II vehicles have already met numerous hardware milestones and will have a substantial track record by the time any astronauts are placed onboard, several other potential Commercial Crew providers envision use of launch vehicles such as the Atlas V, vehicles that are already entrusted by the government to launch multi-billion dollar national security payloads upon which the lives of our troops overseas depend.
Despite the ASAP Report’s contention that commercial vehicles are “nothing more than unsubstantiated claims,” the demonstrated track records of commercial vehicles and numerous upcoming manifested cargo flights ensure that no astronaut will fly on a commercial vehicle that lacks a long, proven track record. The Atlas V, for example, has a record of 19 consecutive successful launches and the Atlas family of rockets has had over 90 consecutive successes, and dozens of flights of the Atlas, Taurus, and Falcon vehicles are scheduled to occur before 2014 in addition to successful flights already completed. Further, thirteen former NASA astronauts, who have accumulated a total of 42 space missions, stated in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that commercial spaceflight can be conducted safely:
“We are fully confident that the commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle. Commercial transportation systems using boosters such as the Atlas V, Taurus II, or Falcon 9 will have the advantage of multiple unmanned flights to build a track record of safe operations prior to carrying humans. These vehicles are already set to fly over 40 flights to orbit in the next four years.”
In contrast, ASAP describes the Ares I as “demonstrated” despite the fact the Augustine Committee determined the Ares I vehicle will likely not fly until 2017, and the ASAP ignores the fact that NASA is planning to place astronauts on the second orbital flight of the Ares I system. As Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley recently stated, placing astronauts on these early Ares I flights poses a safety risk equal to or worse than that of the current Space Shuttle:
“What at least some of our work suggests is that, yes, on the second launch the LOC [loss of crew] risk may be roughly on par with today’s mature shuttle risk. Other assessments are less rosy (a little riskier than a shuttle launch).”
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation disagrees with the ASAP’s characterization of a Commercial Crew Program as an “alternative” to Ares I, because these two systems fulfill very different missions – Commercial Crew is not an alternative to systems designed to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Commercial Crew is akin to developing a Gemini spacecraft for low Earth orbit, rather than an Apollo spacecraft for reaching the Moon. The Orion exploration vehicle, for example, must reenter the atmosphere at one-and-a-half times orbital velocity, encountering nearly double the heat loads that a LEO-only spacecraft would encounter. Because it serves a simpler mission, any vehicle that is designed simply to service the Space Station and other LEO destinations will be more cost-effective without sacrificing safety.
The ASAP mischaracterized how safety was treated by The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (also known as the “Augustine Committee”). The ASAP’s 2009 Annual Report perpetuates the unfortunate misconception that Augustine Committee inappropriately assumed safety to be a “given” (here the ASAP appears to be misquoting the Augustine Committee’s statement that safety was treated as “sine qua non” – in fact, “sine qua non” is universally defined as “something absolutely indispensable or essential”). As Norm Augustine stated in a Congressional hearing, safety was “the number one issue for us [the Committee] to consider.” The Augustine Committee, whose 10 members have cumulatively amassed 293 years of space industry experience, spent an extensive amount of time on safety issues and determined that “the Committee… would not suggest that a commercial service be provided for transportation of NASA crew if NASA could not be convinced that it was substantially safe.” In contrast, the ASAP stated it has “not yet had the opportunity to evaluate any of these [commercial] concepts with regard to inherent safety issues.”
About the Commercial Spaceflight Federation
The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever higher levels of safety, and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry. CSF member organizations include commercial spaceflight developers, operators, and spaceports. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is governed by a board of directors, composed of the member companies’ CEO-level officers and entrepreneurs. For more information please visit www.commercialspaceflight.org or contact Executive Director John Gedmark at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202.349.1121.
Of all the interesting things that happened this week throughout civil and commercial space, sadly it will likely be the least inspiring event that gets the greatest attention.
Cocaine was found Tuesday inside NASA orbital processing facility number 3 where the Discovery is being prepared for a March launch to the International Space Station. Kennedy Space Center DirectorWe are conducting an investigation and working with center security and law enforcement officials to get to the bottom of it.” But since when is NASA in the business of law enforcement? And to which “law enforcement” was Mr. Cabana referring? We’re not talking about a clerk getting caught smoking pot behind a 7-Eleven. This is a major breach of security at a federal installation. A valuable, national asset – not to mention the lives riding on its flawless performance – has been put at great risk. Anything less than the involvement of the FBI is unacceptable.
Now every piece of hardware on the spacecraft is suspect and should be re-checked to ensure its safe operation, yet Cabana states, “I have absolutely no concern for the safety of the processing of the vehicle.” Excuse me? The shuttle is the most complex machine ever built by man, but after a short, three-day check, he can make such a bold statement? He references a system of checks and balances meant to ensure against the vehicle being compromised, but when the extent of the substance abuse – whether it involves the workman, the inspector or both – is not known, that system is itself suspect.
Lisa Malone, the center’s spokeswoman, would seem to downplay the incident by pointing to the fact that only a small amount was discovered, having said “I understand it was residue.” The Orbiter Processing Facility (or OPF as it is called) is supposed to be a secure facility, requiring special access badges. The mere presence of the drug — in any quantity — is a glaring red flag that NASA’s security processes are faulty. And this is yet another reason why NASA should not be investigating… itself. The conflict of interest is obvious.
And so far there is no official statement from Mr. Bolden. You remember him? The Administrator of NASA? If he is attempting to counter the arguments that he’s the most lackluster administrator for the agency so far, his mute silence isn’t helping.
The prudent course of action is to place the launch on hold until federal law enforcement can step in to investigate where NASA’s security has holes and until all the necessary and thorough checks of Discovery’s systems can be completed, regardless of how long that may take. To press on with any preset date will only serve to push for a speedy conclusion to the investigation in order to meet that date. It places the cart squarely in front of the horse. And if the culture within NASA fails to understand this, then the systemic problems within that culture which led to the loss of two orbiters and 14 heros may be more imbedded than we had feared. Perhaps this is a harsh assessment, but with so much at stake, America’s space program deserves the greatest vigilance we can give it.
The outset of the last decade was met by a mixed sense of hope and dread. Some of us were convinced that the world as we knew it, our transportation, our communication, our energy, the bulk of our infrastructure then (as it is now) controlled by computers, would fall victim to the ever-publicized Y2K bug and come crashing down around our ears. The Dot-Com bubble was at its peak as venture capital continued to pour into and feed an explosion of commercial growth in the Internet. That bubble would burst by March, however, with an estimated loss of $5 Trillion in market value. Still, things stabilized after a time of adjustments.
Before the close of 2000, the Human Genome Project produces the first available assembly of the genome, promising quantum leaps in medicine; Expedition 1 moves in as the first resident crew of the International Space Station, a US-lead, international effort in new space-based research and promising advances in medical and materials technology and serving as a beach head for all other points in the solar system; And as California suffers the first of two years of rolling blackouts and the notorious ILOVEYOU computer worm tears its way through millions of computers worldwide, NASA prepares for another series of Mars launches including Mars Odyssey, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Phoenix Mars Lander. Clearly, the emphasis at this point is Mars. Among the policy makers at the agency, it’s taken for granted that our nearest neighbor in space, the moon, is nothing more than a celestial backwater, a dead end not worthy of any serious consideration or funding for human exploration, and lunar robotic space flight is all but completely stymied by a mars-centric culture. In the decade of the aughts, missions to the moon flown by non-US entities outnumber NASA’s by 2 to 1. Within NASA, missions to Mars outnumber those to the moon by 3 to 1. During that entire ten-year period, NASA sent only 2 spacecraft – arguably but a single mission since they flew literally on the same rocket and shared many objectives.
But oh what a difference a single decade makes. The day we entered Y2K America’s only space transportation system was a space shuttle that had proven itself far less capable and safe than the capsule-based system it replaced, leaving humans stranded in the purgatory of low earth orbit; the idea of commercial human spaceflight – the vehicle through which we would finally realize the painfully elusive goal of affordable access to orbit – was barely a dream; and we still operated under the delusive notion that water – critical for making any manned, off-earth venture affordable – found in the lunar rock samples gathered by Apollo astronauts was mere contamination from earth. On that day the machines, infrastructure and vision for establishing a permanent human presence on another world were no nearer our grasp than they were at the outset of the space age four decades earlier. The wheels of progress in space had gotten hopelessly bogged down. But today? Today is a very different day.
We enter this new decade vastly better equipped than the last. The dust of ignorance has been wiped from our eyes, and we can clearly see a fact that, in one fell swoop, brings within our reach the permanent human settlement in space that once evaded us: the moon is not the barren wasteland it was once believed to be. We can indeed live off the land, as it were, because we now know it to harbor the raw materials we need. The lunar surface contains ample amounts of water for drinking and for conversion into air for breathing. This singular and very recent discovery was a game-changing event! It meant that the round-trip travel time between earth and our first outpost could be placed at 6 days rather than the year it would be for Mars; a fact that, in turn, enabled the commercial sector to participate. And it is the commercial sector that is key to sustaining human space flight, because it reduces the cost so dramatically.
Space travel is no longer the one-dimensional construct it was. The emergence of commercial human space flight brings with it the financial and technological agility so desperately needed for the advancement of human exploration as a whole. The civil and commercial human space flight sectors work increasingly in concert to achieve, together, our new goals in space.
And with new goals have come a change in the technology we’ll use to carry them out. In an ironic turn of events, the space shuttle is being supplanted by a much-advanced version of its predecessor, the capsule. Even neglecting the glaring deficiencies in safety suffered by the shuttle, it’s a change that had to occur since the shuttle is unable to travel to the moon or any place else in the solar system. It was never designed for such a flight.
Both NASA and the private sector now have their own designs for a capsule. And despite what you may have read, they are not mutually exclusive nor will they compete with one another. Each has a distinct and important mission.
NASA is building the Orion and Altair spacecraft. Similar in concept to the Apollo Command Module but with greatly advanced systems and double the crew capacity, Orion is designed as an interplanetary transport. It will carry astronauts from earth orbit to the moon and beyond. Once it reaches its destination, the crew will transfer to and descend to the lunar surface via Altair, itself conceptually similar to the Apollo Lunar Module but also with pronounced advancements over its predecessor. Together these vehicles comprise the next-generation deep space exploration system. Their point of departure is earth orbit, but how do they get from the surface to orbit? That’s where the commercial sector comes in.
A company based in Hawthorne, California named SpaceX is taking up the task of producing the vehicle that can carry both cargo and crew to orbit. Its Founder and CEO Elon Musk, who also co-founded Paypal, has long carried a deep passion for human space flight and realized the importance of reducing its cost. Using his own money, he began developing the Falcon series of rockets as well as a companion spacecraft called Dragon. After several successful flights of the smaller Falcon 1 rocket, SpaceX is now preparing for the maiden launch of its Falcon 9, which will go on to regularly deliver cargo to the International Space Station and has the ability to carry crew as well when NASA gives its approval to begin development of the additional systems for Dragon necessary to support humans, such as the crew escape system.
Here for the first time we see civil and commercial space working together, providing different but complimentary systems that support the overarching goal of putting people on another world. The private sector provides transport to earth orbit and the logistical support surrounding that leg, and the civil sector provides the advanced systems needed for crew transport to the final planetary destination. It’s a beautiful symmetry.
So now that we’ve turned our sights to the moon, now what? Exactly what regions of the moon are we to explore first? And what will be the basic needs to be met for such an outpost?
Recent discoveries have uncovered water in prodigious amounts both in and around the Cabeus crater at the lunar south pole. Extraction of that water from within the interior of Cabeus and surrounding craters presents technological challenges we’ve not yet faced. First is the simple matter of descending into a crater. It’s never been done, so it will be necessary to develop new — or modify currently-existing, earth-based — technology to perform that task. Second is the extremely cold temperatures to be found inside the craters. At approximately -370 degrees fahrenheit (-223 degrees Celsius), they are the coldest regions we have yet to encounter in the solar system. Fortunately, however, we can get our feet wet (pun intended) on the simpler task of extracting water from the much more accessible and warmer areas near the crater rims.
But there may be an alternative — or additional, depending on how you look at it — source of lunar water. Less than three months ago, the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft took the first picture of what’s been termed a “skylight.” Having long been suspected by lunar scientists as a fairly common structure on the moon, a skylight is an opening to a lava tube. Vulcanism on the moon died out billions of years ago, so these tubes have spent the intervening eons vacant and hollow. In places, their roofs have collapsed, exposing the interior, and it may be possible that the same mechanism that deposits water into the cold traps within craters in the lunar polar regions has also left water here. Possible advantages provided by skylights are that they can be found at much lower latitudes, lending to better line-of-sight communications with earth, and that they could serve as natural shelters against solar storms, which can deliver intense doses of radiation.
As important as water and oxygen to the outpost will be power. Given that a single lunar night lasts for two weeks, solar cells are clearly not a viable source of energy; therefore, nuclear power is a must. Already NASA is working on the development of such a system, along with new building construction techniques, lunar surface vehicles for transporting astronauts between them, and many other technologies that will be necessary for sustaining a lunar outpost leading to a settlement. And here again, the commercial sector will be capable of providing logistical support, thereby reducing cost in much the same way it does with arctic bases on earth. As that commercial presence in space increases, so does the demand for jobs. Speaking in relative terms, we’re headed for a population explosion in space, made possible by a hand full of dreamers, of bold entrepreneurs willing to put their hard-earned fortunes at risk to realize the dream of a multi-world civilization all of us have imagined for so many decades.
As with previous decades, we enter this one with the same mixture of hope and dread. We’ll have our times of difficulties and adjustments, but we also have one thing that previous times failed to produce: a real shot at the final frontier — not just for an elite few, but for the common man. Recent discoveries, unparalleled relationships forming between public and private sectors and a change of destinations would all seem to signal the next chapter in history. We’ve opened a new decade, plotted a new course, and the possibilities are infinite.