…actually, with no discernible fanfare, the Augustine report has been released. I’m looking it over now.
[Update a few minutes later]
It was clearly written by a committee, and has some politically correct statements in it, such as (from the summary on page 11):
Given the funding upon which it was based, the Constellation Program chose a reasonable architecture for human exploration.
This is eminently disputable. There were no fiscal circumstances under which this architecture ever made sense if, by being “reasonable,” one means satisfying the dictates of the VSE and the Aldridge Commission. But I understand that politically they want to grant Griffin’s team a fig leaf (and olive branch) and an excuse to accept a new direction. Don’t expect them to take it.
[Update a few minutes later]
Again in the summary, on page 12, they attempt to justify the assumption that heavy-lift is not optional:
No one knows the mass or dimensions of the largest hardware that will be required for future exploration missions, but it will likely be significantly larger than 25 metric tons (mt) in launch
mass to low-Earth orbit, which is the capability of current launchers. As the size of the launcher increases, the result is fewer launches and less operational complexity in terms of assembly and/or refueling in space. In short, the net availability of launch capability increases. Combined with considerations of launch availability and on-orbit operations, the Committee finds that exploration would benefit from the availability of a heavy-lift vehicle.
First of all, it’s a weak argument in that “benefits from” != “is essential to.” No one would dispute that an architecture could “benefit from” a large vehicle, in a world of unlimited financial resources. The question, in the real world, is whether it’s provides the most bang for the exploration buck. I’ll be interested to see if they try to show this in the details of the report.
But beyond that, it’s a word salad:
As the size of the launcher increases, the result is fewer launches and less operational complexity in terms of assembly and/or refueling in space. In short, the net availability of launch capability increases.
What does the phrase “net availability of launch capability” even mean? How does the first sentence relate to the second? Why is fewer launches better, considering that reliability and economies of scale come from increasing operational tempo? Why is “operational complexity” bad? The Shuttle huggers used to claim with apparent admiration that it was the most complex vehicle ever built, as though that was a feature. Has it now become a bug? Apparently, but no case is made for the proposition — it is simply assumed, and there’s no discussion of the trade between it and the ginormous costs of developing and operating a heavy lifter at low flight rates. Finally, as I’ve noted before, if no one knows what the largest piece is, then how does anyone know that it’s greater than 25 tons? Will there be an analysis to defend this? Stay tuned, as I get into the meat of the report (though not necessarily immediately).
I have to say that I love this:
…the EELV approach would also represent a new way of doing business for NASA, which would have the benefit of potentially lowering development and operational costs. This would come at the expense of ending a substantial portion of the internal NASA capability to develop and operate launchers. It would also require that NASA and the Department of Defense jointly develop the new system.
The big unstated assumption here is that NASA actually possesses an internal capability to develop launchers. All of the available evidence for this since the Shuttle development is that it does not — there is nothing to retain. In fact, this was one of the key rationales put forth by Mike Griffin to let Marshall build a new rocket — because they hadn’t done it in decades, didn’t know how to do it, had demonstrated this with several failed attempts in the interim, and needed some on-the-job training.
And the notion that either NASA or the DoD will be developing the EELV derivative, jointly or otherwise, is unfounded. Such a development will be performed by Boeing and/or Lockheed Martin, as the original EELVs were developed. NASA and DoD will jointly provide requirements, not develop a launch system. I agree, though, that if there were such an attempt for the government to get involved to that degree, it would end in tears.
But lest this be all bashing, let me praise this paragraph, even though it seems almost like a grudging afterthought (still on page 12):
All of the options would benefit from the development of inspace refueling, and the smaller rockets would benefit most of all. A potential government-guaranteed market to provide fuel in low-Earth orbit would create a strong stimulus to the commercial launch industry.
I’ll be interested to see them elaborate on this, again, as I get into the main report.
In general, be aware that this post is a work in progress, and pretty much stream of consciousness as I read through. My overall assessment of the report could (at least in theory) end up being quite favorable, once I’ve grokked the whole thing. These are simply initial impressions.
[Update a few minutes later]
Bobby Block has been reading it:
A first reading of the 157-page report shows that it is stronger than the summary with more explanations and data.
It depcits NASA’s Constellation Program, which is supposed to replace the space shuttle after it retires, as being expensive and unlikely to arrive in time to service the International Space Station for very long if the White House agrees to extend the use of the complex from 2015 to 2020.
That’s hardly news to anyone who’d been paying attention. Which would exclude Congresspeople.
[Update about 2 PM Eastern]
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation has issued a release (not on their website yet):
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomes the strong support for commercial human spaceflight expressed by the White House’s Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee, which released its final report today. The Augustine Committee endorsed the creation of a Commercial Crew program to develop commercial capabilities to transport crew to the International Space Station, with a baseline NASA investment of $3 billion, to include multiple competitors and human-rating of an existing reliable launch vehicle.
The report further included the following key statements in support of the commercial procurement of crew transportation services to the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit:
- The time is right: The report stated, “Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. … A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit…”
- Industry is capable: The report stated, “There is little doubt that the U.S. aerospace industry, from historical builders of human spacecraft to the new entrants, has the technical capability to build and operate a crew taxi to low-Earth orbit.”
- Commercial is safe: The report stated, “Any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration.” Later, the report added, “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.”
- A diverse set of competitors exist: The report stated, “During its fact-finding process, the Committee received proprietary information from five different companies interested in the provision of commercial crew transportation services to low-Earth orbit. These included large and small companies, some of which have previously developed crew systems for NASA.”
Commenting on the release of the Augustine Report, Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and Chairman of Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems, stated, “Augustine’s detailed report could not be more clear – only by pursuing commercially procured crew transportation can the nation afford to extend the Space Station beyond 2015, even if NASA does receive extra funding. Leveraging the commercial sector will also free up NASA resources for exploration beyond Earth orbit.”
A recent industry-wide survey by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation revealed that 5,000 direct American jobs would be created by a full Commercial Crew program. Through a combination of government and private investment, companies such as United Launch Alliance, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and others would be able to create jobs in states including Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Maryland, and Virginia.
“If a Commercial Crew program is not started now,” added Sirangelo, “America will be forced to pay Russia to launch our astronauts to orbit for years to come, at a price of $51 million per seat and rising. With so many capable American companies here at home, why should we outsource our entire human spaceflight program to Russia?”
Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, added, “Shortly before the Augustine report was released, over a dozen distinguished former NASA astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating that commercial companies can safely handle the task of low-Earth orbit transportation. NASA already relies on the commercial sector for high-value satellite and cargo missions, and the time has come for an evolution to commercial procurement of crew services as well.”
It is progress, especially considering the friendly words from the new administrator. It really is a sea change from a decade ago, when Dan Goldin was fighting to keep tourists off the ISS.
[Early afternoon (Pacific) update]
Here’s the report from the New York Times, presumably based on the press conference.
[Late afternoon update]
Chuck Divine attended the press conference, and blogged it.