There are some interesting top stories over at Space News this weekend. First, there is discussion of the results of the Shuttle extension study, which says that it would be possible to extend Shuttle all the way to 2015 without impacting Ares development, as long as additional budget was provided. One of the biggest arguments against it is the risk of losing another orbiter:
According to the study, both options increase the risk of losing a crew or vehicle: The two-year extension increases the cumulative risk from a 1-in-8 probability to 1 in 6; extending operations through 2015 increases the risk to 1 in 4. The risk of losing an orbiter or crew on any given mission is 1 in 77, the report said.
I know that in the past NASA has been too optimistic about probability of crew/vehicle loss, but I think that 1 in 77 is probably too conservative now. I suspect that, post Columbia (and resolution of the foam issue and ability to inspect and safe haven at ISS for all missions other than Hubble), the Shuttle is probably as safe, or safer to fly now than it’s ever been. That’s not necessarily an argument not to retire it, but I don’t think that the risk of vehicle or crew loss is a compelling argument against extension, either.
I would seriously dispute this comment from Mike Griffin:
In a Dec. 15 interview, Griffin called reliance on Soyuz “unfortunate in the extreme,” but said NASA needs the $3 billion it spends annually on shuttle to move ahead with the replacement system.
“Every time I have spoken about [the gap] I’ve laid it at the feet of budget,” Griffin said. He emphasized that without an increase in NASA’s overall budget, extending shuttle operations will result in a corresponding delay to Orion-Ares 1.
I’ve got a better set of feet to lay it at — Mike Griffin’s decision to develop an unneeded new launch vehicle, which was not intended within the vision or the budget “sand pile.” He knew what the budget was going to be, but rather than moving out on developing actual exploration hardware, and encouraging private industry to get people to LEO via COTS D or something similar, he decided to take that money and develop Ares.
Speaking of which, he appears to be losing the battle to save it:
Griffin said NASA also explored the possibility of developing a larger rocket based on EELV hardware and systems. “We went through it and we came up with the answer that the EELV-derived solution didn’t save you any schedule, didn’t save you any money, wasn’t that safe, and when you look at going beyond the space station mission to the heavy-lift architecture, was quite a bit more expensive. So it didn’t win on any count,” Griffin said. “At this point I’m kind of wondering what has to happen to have people say, ‘OK, I guess they got it right.'”
No need to wonder, Mike. Here’s what has to happen. Show us the actual results of the analysis, along with the assumptions. Then we’ll be able to decide whether or not “they got it right.” Until you do so, we will remain (appropriately) skeptical. It’s too big a decision, with too many implications for taxpayers’ dollars, and our future in space, to just take your (and Scott Horowitz’ and Doug Stanley’s) word for it.
Finally, there is a story that claims that the Orbital proposal for COTS, which was the highest cost, was also the lowest rated. Given Dr. Griffin’s history (and potentially future) with OSC, this will be sure to raise some eyebrows. Particularly since it looks like Planet Space is going to protest. Charles Lurio notes via email that he has a source who claims that:
…a reason for rejecting Planetspace was that Griffin didn’t want an EELV to be used, since, though the only flights would be unmanned, it would further underscore to people that EELV was a viable alternative to Ares 1.
At the time, it sounded like an extreme story even given Griffin’s mania to save Ares 1.
Now, with the comment in the Space News item that Orbital had, “the highest price and lowest score,” I’m starting to think that the story may be a lot more plausible.
Unfortunately, it may be. He’s really on the defensive.
Clark Lindsey has more.