US government space efforts in difficulty if not crisis. Could be talking about almost anything in space — reconnaissance satellites, human spaceflight BEO. Long-time problem, growing in severity, and it’s a crisis because legacy systems being called on to do things that they were never designed to do in terms of lifetime, but every time we try to replace, go over budget or get cancelled or reduced in scope, so that they never serve as replacement for what we used to have. When you find time and again that goals exceed resources, you can either downscope goals, get more resources, or change the game. Human spaceflight is not a luxury — need a frontier, need a place to maintain dynamism, and find elbow room. DoD is definitely not a luxury when it comes to recon, but all replacements are not working. Scaling back goals is not an option. Financial crisis is now upon us. Non-defense discretionary is going to stay flat at best and probably go down. If NASA is going to even maintain flat budgets it will have to show more for the money (need more Buck Rogers for the bucks in order to get the bucks). Technology isn’t “ten times better this or stronger that”). It’s just a fancy word for knowing how to do something. One of the root causes of our current problems was the submergence of the NACA, and then Apollo, when NASA started to focus on technologies for its own needs rather than those of industry. ITAR has been another problem crippling our industry, and one of the more pernicious effects has been to starve the industry of funding for its own research. This conference is a small part of the problem, but it will play a key role in solving it. Suborbital vehicles will add a lot of technologies. Learned from Augustine that the addition of just a few key technologies can enable NASA to do a lot more with a lot less. Many of those technologies can be demonstrated suborbitally. Won’t get all the way where you need to be for human exploration, but can provide a critical foundation, and the more we can have had experiments on suborbitally, the more that the expensive orbital tests will be successful. Examples: cryo quick-disconnects, propellant acquisition and gauging in weightlessness, crucial for orbital propellant storage and transfer. Real pieces of hardware are sitting in real labs sitting at as far a level of maturity as there can be sitting in a lab, gathering dust, waiting for flights to mature in the environment. Frightening overruns in military satellites arise from untried tech in the satellite, but no ongoing efforts to mature those technologies in non-critical systems, and many of them can be tested suborbitally. ISS also provides excellent testbed (as will Bigelow) for longer-duration technology tests.
Pure science also important, but in doing science, they also push technology. At low flight rates, expendable launch systems are most cost effective, but as rate goes up, we want reusability. Shuttle demonstrated that a vehicles that requires so much effort to turn around have no advantage over and expendable. Suborbital flight is the “school” where we will learn how to do orbital reusable right. Most of those lessons will drive the recovery of a reusable upper stage. We have to return to the kind of environment we had between the Wright brothers and WW II, but it’s hard because of the government domination over the past half century. Have to develop environment in which many approaches are tried at hight rates. Science missions are a significant market segment for suborbital, and government is most substantial funding sources for science, so government policy is important. CRuSR important, but execution has been slowed with management changes and direction changes, and lack of current budget doesn’t help. Don’t expect to see the government become the lion’s share of an market segment, but it’s needed as an initial anchor to help overcome “wait and see” attitude from other customers. Availability of of government funds critical to prime the pump through transitional period. That’s the great value of government funding. Initial payloads can fly at considerable risk, and there should be no additional hurdles for this, and modest investments needed to encourage this industry could be the most important money spends in this decades in terms of technology payoff that allows us to open up the solar system.