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starship-design: FW: SSRT: Space Access Update no. 92

Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 16:46:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: Donald L Doughty <spacelst@world.std.com>
To: DC-X <delta-clipper@world.std.com>
Subject: Space Access Update #92  4/5/00 (fwd)
Sender: delta-clipper-approval@world.std.com
Reply-To: delta-clipper@europe.std.com

                     Space Access Update #92 4/5/00
                 Copyright 2000 by Space Access Society

    (SAS's eighth annual conference, "Space Access 2000", will be at
    the Holiday Inn Old Town in Scottsdale Arizona April 27-29 - see
    the upcoming SAU #93 or http://www.space-access.org for details.
    Our hotel room block guarantee ends Friday 4/7/00 - reserve now!)


  - NASA's Proposed 2001-2005 Space Launch Initiative

  - Our Recommended Changes


  - SAS FY 2001 Policy Recommendations (reprinted from SAU #91, 2/7/00)

        NASA's Proposed 2001-2005 Space Launch Initiative


NASA spent the last five years engaged in a process that was supposed
to provide the data for a decision at the start of the year 2000 on
the future of NASA and US commercial space transportation.  The
centerpiece of this process was the $1.3 billion X-33/Venturestar
project.  X-33's main goal was to fly a half-scale feasibility proof
for the proposed "Venturestar" reusable space transport; Venturestar
was aimed at meeting NASA launch requirements while also capturing
enough of the US commercial (and military) launch market to get
commercial investors to pay for development.

The X-33/Venturestar project has failed, as discussed in detail in our
last issue ( http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau91.html).  The
available evidence is that that Lockheed-Martin cannot build the
(multilobe conformal-tanks, lifting-body) design they sold to NASA at
anything near light enough weight for a practical reusable rocket
space transport, even if they are allowed considerable extra time and
money.  Meanwhile, investor confidence in the project is conspicuously
lacking; the only hope it has for "commercial" finance is an effective
federal subsidy in the form of (unlikely) government loan guarantees.

By last fall, NASA had come up with a plan, the ASTP (Advanced Space
Transportation Plan), after collecting US industry's input via the
Space Transportation Architecture Studies (STAS) then apparently
ignoring this input wherever it conflicted with the agendas of the
major NASA space-launch centers: the JSC/KSC Shuttle/Station
establishment, and the MSFC launch technology development center.

ASTP would have given JSC major Shuttle upgrades after a nominal
competition with new paper "Second Generation" (IE near-term rocket-
powered) reusable launcher designs, while MSFC would have gotten
significant ongoing funding to develop all the new launch technologies
they wanted, just as long as these technologies were so ultra-advanced
"Third Generation" that they couldn't possibly provide competition for
Shuttle in less than a generation.

We didn't like this plan (see SAU #91, "NASA's New Plan") and neither,
it seems, did the White House Office of Management and Budget, OMB -
the people NASA has to justify plans to before they show up in White
House budget submissions to Congress.  The plan that emerged in the
White House FY 2001 NASA budget proposal released in early February
differs significantly from last fall's ASTP.

   The "Space Launch Initiative"

NASA's latest five-year plan, the $4.5 billion Space Launch Initiative
(see http://nais.msfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/EPS/synopsis.cgi?acqid=25421
for details) superficially addresses some of the problems with
previous efforts: It calls for a goal of at least two competing
commercial launch systems serving NASA needs, it partially breaks out
NASA requirements into a semi-separate "NASA-Unique Systems" project,
and it pays lip-service to expanding the contractor base beyond the
current limited (both in numbers and in recent results - the *better*
of the two remaining majors can't keep track of Station costs or
Station hardware) post-consolidation field.

We do not question the good intentions of the people who've come up
with this plan.  But recent history has made plain that NASA is at
heart, like it or not, a massive government bureaucracy, and good
intentions seldom beat bureaucratic mass.

Intentions entirely aside, NASA's new plan is still fatally flawed, in
that it's based on two fundamentally wrong assumptions:

  - One, that yet another Government-sponsored attempt to force
convergence between NASA space transportation needs and US commercial
launch needs (in the hope that NASA requirements might be met with
commercial development funding) is either practical or desirable.  It
is neither.

Both previous such efforts (the pre-Challenger shutdown of the US ELV
(Expendable Launch Vehicle) industry in favor of Shuttle, and the X-
33/Venturestar project) have been practical disasters, in significant
part because NASA and commercial requirements in terms of system
performance, political control, staffing, and costs are fundamentally
incompatible.  Commercial launch customers were switching to Ariane
even before loss of Challenger shut down NASA Shuttle for two years,
and there was no real prospect of unsubsidized commercial investment
in "Venturestar" even before the current technical/management problems

Both previous such efforts have also been disasters in that, despite
the improbability of success for the government's repeated attempts at
NASA-commercial convergence, the mere fact of a government-sponsored
effort to seize a majority of the commercial launch market deterred
commercial investment in competing systems.  What sane commercial
investor wants to compete against the government?

This has been a significant factor in the radical decline in US share
of the international commercial launch market.  There have been (with
considerable encouragement from DOD) some cautious investments in
improved commercial ELV's, enough to at least stop the bleeding and
stabilize US launch market share somewhat below fifty percent, but
investments in the sort of radically cheaper launch systems that might
allow the US to start regaining lost market share have been few and
far between, with no projects financed through to completion yet.

Odds are, if NASA is allowed to proceed with yet another five-year
plan to shotgun-wed NASA and commercial launch requirements, the
results will be both another expensive failure, and also another five
years wasted for the US companies that want to leapfrog current ELV
technology and bring the US a much larger share of the growing
international launch market.

  - The second wrong assumption underlying this latest five-year plan
is that meeting NASA's internal space launch needs should be the
central goal of NASA space launch development efforts.  This is not
just inference on our part; NASA comes right out and say that the
primary customer for this effort is NASA, in the "Launch Initiative
Program Description" at http://std.msfc.nasa.gov/progdesc.pdf, and in
a quote attributed to the NASA Administrator at the Advanced Space
Transportation Plan rollout in Huntsville last October: "The customer
is NASA" - IE, the NASA Shuttle/Station establishment, representing as
it does half of NASA's overall budget, by far the largest NASA
consumer of space launch and by far the largest bureaucratic political
power center within the agency.

The fact is, though, that the commercial space market surpassed the
total of government space business back in the mid-nineties, and world
commercial space continues to grow fast while government space is
essentially flat.  Aerospace exports are the largest single area of US
trade surplus - but this surplus is shrinking.  NASA is supposed to be
supporting US commercial (and defense) advanced aerospace vehicle
needs, not just internal NASA agendas.

To date, and in this new five-year plan too, NASA is failing this task
miserably - apparently doing their damndest to ignore it entirely,
where they can't subsume it to their own internal needs.  A US share
of a fast growing world market that's barely holding on in the forties
is too important to subordinate to NASA bureaucratic turf defense.

We don't argue that NASA's internal space launch needs should be
ignored, mind.  All arguments about high cost versus limited returns
for the current Shuttle/Station program aside, we can't stop flying
astronauts into space without significant negative effect on national
morale - the Challenger standdown was a national trauma; the ongoing
manned space program remains a major national status symbol.

This country is, however, under no obligation to always conduct this
program as expensively as we do now.  The fiction that NASA space
launch needs can be shotgun-wedded to commercial requirements has
allowed repeated attempts by the Shuttle/Station establishment to
ignore realistic examination of cost versus capabilities in pursuing
function-for-function replacements for Shuttle.

(Shuttle's large "downmass" capability in particular needs scrutiny -
it's the main thing a (considerably cheaper) combination of a smaller
"space taxi" plus heavy-lift expendables can't provide, and it is used
so seldom that rational analysis will likely show that it'd be far
cheaper to either build new copies of the occasional large "downmass"
payloads, or leave them in orbit between uses, rather than pay to
continue this rarely used capability.)

   Policy Change Recommendations

NASA must be instructed to cease efforts to square the circle; this
latest shotgun wedding between NASA and commercial advanced space
launch development must be called off.  Yes, NASA needs to devote a
significant level of effort to supporting their own Shuttle/Station
establishment's launch needs - but they also need to support US
industry's need for technological advances that will allow significant
market share (and national security) gains.  Most important of all,
given the NASA Shuttle/Station establishment's demonstrated ability to
bend all available agency resources toward its internal agendas, a
firewall is needed between the NASA-specific and the commercial
advanced launch support efforts, a very solid firewall.

On the assumption that $4.5 billion over five years to meet national
space launch needs is actually on the table, we recommend:

  - $3 billion of this be formally committed to supporting NASA's
internal need to back up (and eventually to replace) Shuttle.

Half this amount should continue to go to the "NASA-Unique Systems"
project, in essence an effort to combine various Crew Return Vehicle
and Crew Transfer Vehicle efforts into an overall "Space Taxi" project
aimed at a flexible general-purpose space transport capable of launch
via Shuttle, via EELV-Heavy, or via future as-yet undefined commercial
reusable systems.  NASA should build the F-250 crew-cab pickup of
space, rather than another eighteen-wheeler Winnebago.

The other half should be divided between "Space Taxi" integration with
EELV (with emphasis on subscale demonstration of reliable emergency
vehicle separation and recovery, rather than on extensive "man-rating"
changes to EELV to marginally increase booster reliability) and such
other NASA-unique systems as NASA deems appropriate - Station small
package delivery, subscale reusable flyback booster demos, et cetera.

  - $1.5 billion, or $300 million a year, should be committed to
support the US commercial space launch sector, via NASA "Future-X"
and/or via similar organizations under DOD - DARPA, AFRL Phillips, and
ONR all come to mind.  NASA's current budget submission calls for
shutting down "Future-X" after current projects are complete; if NASA
genuinely doesn't want the job of supporting US commercial and defense
advanced space launch needs, other agencies are available.  Splitting
available funds among more than one sponsoring agency makes sense
anyway, in that competition concentrates the bureaucratic mind

The general approach should be to support construction and intensive
testing of actual hardware at the edge of the current practical state-
of-the-art, in ground tests and flight demonstrations of individual
subsystems and integrated vehicles.

In order to spread the eggs among many baskets and to encourage
diverse competing approaches,the maximum size for any individual
project should be what NASA currently calls "Pathfinder" class, one to
two hundred million dollars total, with many smaller projects also
included in the mix.

In order to expand the potential reusable aerospace-frame vendor base
beyond the current post-consolidation pair, the risk of awarding
significant hardware contracts to unproven or startup companies should
be accepted.  (We note in passing that NASA has effectively done
exactly this in awarding the "Pathfinder" class X-34 project to
Orbital Sciences - when OSC finishes X-34, they'll be in good position
to credibly pursue a commercial RLV venture.  We approve, and we'd
like to see this precedent expanded to other companies.)
(We also note that given the recent track record of the established
majors, going with startups won't likely increase risk very much.)

Finally, and very important, projects should be selected on the basis
of providing practical advances in reusable space launch systems of
near-term use to US commercial and defense interests.  "NASA
requirements" should be kept on the far side of an inviolable
firewall.  NASA manned space will eventually end up using systems
developed under this program, but given their record of protecting
bureaucratic turf at expense of the national interest, NASA launch
customers *must* not be allowed to interfere with this program.


Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.

  Space Access Society

  "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"
                                         - Robert A. Heinlein

                   ----------Text Attachment----------

(We originally published the following NASA advanced launch
development policy analysis and recommendations on February seventh,
2000, the same day NASA unveiled its FY 2001 budget request, which
includes initiation of a $4.5 billion, five-year "Space Launch
Initiative".  We've seen nothing in that plan to radically alter our
conclusions and recommendations, and much to confirm them.)

     Eleven Months Till 2001, And We're Still Stuck On This Rock -
             Now What?  SAS FY 2001 Policy Recommendations

  - On NASA X-33: If Lockheed-Martin truly believes X-33 is still
relevant to anything other than saving corporate face, let them
prove it by paying for all additional costs from this point forward.

NASA should support them in this if Lockheed-Martin chooses to
continue, but without spending any further taxpayer dollars on the
project.  If indeed Lockheed-Martin is serious about Venturestar as
a genuine commercial project, and if indeed they believe X-33 still
has any relevance to the much-changed Venturestar design, let them
put their own money where their mouth is.

Otherwise, it's time to shut X-33 down as being an expensive lesson
in what not to do in pursuing cheaper space launch.

  - On Federal loan guarantees for space launch projects: We oppose
any measure that would have the effect of picking and subsidizing a
"winner" or winners from among the variety of companies planning
low-cost launch projects.  All such measures we have seen to date
have, for all practical purposes, been aimed at some specific
company.  We do not oppose Federal support for commercial low-cost
launch ventures in general, but we have yet to see legislation
introduced that would provide such support on a level playing field.

  - On Federal support for development of low-cost reusable launch
technology: Available funds should be increased modestly, should be
focussed on a variety of relatively small projects aimed at flight-
demonstrating a variety of different near-term payoff approaches,
should not be confined to projects proposed by the existing major
firms, should not be allocated by just one government agency, and
should be allocated by organizations and to organizations willing to
pay attention to past lessons on successfully advancing the
aerospace state-of-the-art via X-vehicle projects.

Specifically, we would like to see more funding for NASA "Future-X"
flight demonstrator projects, and also for similar projects in
appropriate (IE not hidebound-bureaucratized) agencies under DOD.
Competition is good - the recent policy of one specialty, one
center, eliminating intra-government competition, has greatly
reduced incentives to succeed, by reducing the danger of losing
funding to another agency in the event of failure.  Instead,
agencies have taken to defending failure by claiming the job was
impossible anyway.  Absent competition, who can prove otherwise?

Ideally, we would like to see, between NASA and DOD over the next
decade, one new start per year of a one-to-two hundred million
dollar-class reusable launch flight demonstrator project, with the
goal of giving all credible players (and not just the existing
majors) a chance to show what they can do.

There are a wide variety of credible approaches to cheap space
transportation.  But commercial investors so far will not pay to see
which might fly and which won't; the payoff is too uncertain and too
long-term.  The Federal government can, for no more per-year than
NASA spent on X-33, separate the wheat from the chaff, to the point
where a few years from now commercial investors (and government
procurement officials) will be able to make sensible low-risk
decisions on low-cost reusable space vehicles.

  - Shuttle: The NASA Space Shuttle should be maintained and operated
on missions of national importance until its variety of functions
can be replaced by various more specialized lower-cost vehicles.
Routine NASA space transportation services should end up
commercially contracted for, just as NASA currently procures routine
air transportation services.  NASA isn't allowed to operate its own
airline - over the long term, the agency should also be moved away
from operating its own spaceline.

In the short term, a flexibly-launched (on EELV, Shuttle, or future
reusables) Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle (CCTV) should be rapidly
developed as a supplement to and potential emergency replacement for
Shuttle, in order to, at acceptable cost, assure NASA's ability to
meet its manned-space commitments.

Shuttle upgrades should be limited to addressing immediate safety
concerns and to providing operating cost and/or capability
improvements that will pay for themselves in the short term.

The current prohibition on Shuttle competing with commercial launch
providers should be continued indefinitely, to avoid disrupting an
emerging industry that is currently fragile and in the long run is
vital to the nation's economic security and national defense.

  - NASA's massive "manned space" Shuttle-Station establishment in
general needs to be brought to heel.  They currently consume half of
NASA's overall budget while providing at-best dubious results.
Meanwhile they far too often act as the hypertrophied tail wagging
the NASA dog.  For one example, the nominally separate branch of
NASA that deals with advancing space transportation technology seems
totally unable to make plans that don't give priority to the manned
space empire's requirements over those of US industry and US defense
agencies.  X-33 and now ISTP both suffered badly from this.

  - NASA's space technology centers need to pay far more attention to
the practical needs of US industry.  On March 3, 1915, the Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics (later the National Advisory Committee for
Aeronautics or NACA) was established by a rider to the Naval
Appropriations Act, "..to supervise and direct the scientific study
of the problems of flight, with a view of their practical solution."
*Practical* solution.  Workable solutions *now*, not ultra-advanced
whizbangs in twenty years.

A working rocket engineer recently told us he has file cabinets full
of old NACA reports that he uses every day - they're models of
concise, accurate, useful information.  He says that reports from
the first few years after NACA became NASA are still useful, but
after the early sixties things went downhill, badly.

NACA was vital to the success of the US aviation industry.  To the
struggling US low-cost launch industry, today's NASA is no such

One example of the sort of work NASA ought to be doing but isn't:
Most current rocket engines were intended to be thrown away after
one flight, and thus reuse of them has not been explored and
documented.  Reports on the practical reusability of various engines
- relight procedures, throttling potential, number of cycles,
minutes of burn-time, wear and recommended maintenance intervals for
various parts - would be immensely useful to reusable launch
designers, however tedious and unglamorous they'd be to generate.

NASA's spaceflight technology centers have lost sight of this "NACA"
practical industry support function, and need to be led back toward
it.  If they prefer sexy ultra-advanced decades-off technology work
so much they still refuse to do the NACA job, the task (and the
funding) should be given to someone else.