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Bureaucratic War?

Is NASA fighting with OMB?

Lots of great comments here, including the fact that Mike Griffin's fear mongering about China is at odds with administration policy. Including this great comment from "red""

it would be a good idea for Griffin to consider what kind of response by NASA would be useful to the U.S. in countering the real military and economic space threats from China. It seems to me that ESAS doesn't help counter these real threats at all.

The kinds of capabilities that NASA could encourage, invent, or improve to counter China's ASATs, launchers, and satellites are things like:

- operationally responsive space
- small satellites
- Earth observation satellites
- telecommunications satellites
- economical commercial launch vehicles
- commercial suborbital rockets
- improved education in space-related fields
- space infrastructure (e.g.: commercial space stations, tugs, refueling)

It's possible that, if NASA were contributing more in areas like these (through incentives to U.S. commercial space, research, demos, etc), it would find the budget battles easier to win.

No kidding. Especially the last. And Apollo On Steroids makes no contributions to any of these things.

[Update a few minutes later]

Speaking of comments, "" has a description of what NASA's "pat on the back" PDR really means:

This past week, Constellation patted itself on the back for getting Ares I through its first preliminary design review (PDR) but glossed over the fact that Ares I still has to conduct a second PDR next summer to address the unresolved mitigation systems for the first stage thrust oscillation issue, with unknown consequences for the rest of the design. See the asterisk on the pre-board recommendation at the bottom of the last page of this presentation.

The Constellation press release and briefing also made no mention of the recent year-long slip in the Orion PDR to next summer. See NASA Watch, NASA Spaceflight, and Flight Global.

So neither the Ares I nor the Orion preliminary design is complete, and one could argue that the Constellation program has been held back a year more than it's been allowed to pass to the next grade.

More worrisome than the PDR slips are the grades that Ares I received in this partial PDR. The pre-board used a green, yellow/green, yellow, yellow/red, and red grading scheme, which can also be depicted as the more familiar A (4.0), B (3.0), C (2.0), D (1.0), and F (0.0) grading scheme. The pre-board provided ten grades against ten different success criteria from NASA's program management handbook. The ten grades had the following distribution:

One "Green" (A, 4.0) grade
Two "Yellow/Green" (B, 3.0) grades
Four "Yellow" (C, 2.0) grades
Three "Yellow/Red" (D, 1.0) grades
No "Red" (F, 0.0) grades

So seven of Ares I's ten grades were a C or a D. Ares I is NASA's planned primary means of crew launch over the next couple of decades and should define technical excellence. But instead, the project earned a grade point average of 2.1, barely a "gentleman's C" (or a "gentleman's yellow"). See the pre-board grades on pages 3-7 of this presentation.

And even more worrisome than the PDR slips and grades are the areas in which the project is earning its lowest grades. Among areas in which Ares I earned a yellow/red (or D) grade and the accompanying technical problems were:

The preliminary design meets the requirements at an acceptable level of risk:
- Induced environments are high and cause challenges, including pyro shock to avionics and acoustic environments on reaction and roll control systems.

- No formal process for control of models and analysis.

- Areas of known failure still need to be worked, including liftoff clearances.

Definition of the technical interfaces is consistent with the overall level of technical maturity and provides an acceptable level of risk:

- Process for producing and resolving issues between Level 2 and Level 3 interface requirement documents and interface control documents is unclear, including the roles and responsibilities of managers and integrators and the approval process for identifying the baseline and making changes to it.

- Numerous known disconnects and "TBDs" in the interface requirement documents, including an eight inch difference between the first stage and ground system and assumption of extended nozzle performance not incorporated in actual first and ground system designs.

See the pre-board grades on pages 4-5 of this presentation.

So, in addition to the unknowns associated with the unresolved thrust oscillation system for Ares I:

- the vehicle's electronics can't survive the shocks induced during stage separation;

- the vehicle's control systems will be shaken apart and unable to keep the rocket flying straight;

- the vehicle is going to hit the ground support structure on liftoff;

- the project is assuming performance from advanced rocket nozzles that don't fit within the vehicle's dimensions;

- the project can't even get the height of the rocket and its ground support to match; and

- there's no good modeling, analytical, or requirements control necessary to resolve any of these issues.

And the real kicker from the press conference was the revelation that Constellation manager Jeff Hanley only has 2,000-3,000 pounds of performance reserve left at the program level and that Ares I manager Steve Cook has no margin left to contribute to unresolved future problems like thrust oscillation impacts to Orion. See, again, NASA Watch.

We know from prior presentations that Orion's mass margin is down to practically zero (286 kilograms or 572 pounds) for ISS missions and is negative (-859 kilograms or -1,718 pounds) for lunar missions. See p. 25, 33, and 37 in this presentation.

When added to Hanley's margins, that means that the entire Ares I/Orion system is down to ~2,500-3,500 pounds of mass margin for the ISS mission and ~300-1,300 pounds of mass margin for the lunar mission. That's between seven and less than one percent mass margin against Orion's 48,000 pound total mass. Typical mass margin at the PDR stage should be on the order of 20-25 percent, about triple the best-case assessment here. Ares I/Orion still has seven years of design and development to go and at best has only one-third of the mass margin it should have at this stage.

Even worse, those Orion mass margins don't account for the mass threats still to be allocated in next year's Orion PDR. In the presentation above, the 90th percentile mass threats for the ISS and lunar missions are separately about 900 kilograms or 2,000 pounds. That reduces the total Ares I/Orion mass margin to between -1,700 and 1,500 pounds. That's a negative (negative!) three percent mass margin on the lunar mission and only a positive three percent mass margin on the ISS mission, at least seven times less margin than what the program needs at this point in time.

Instead of worrying about $60 million Soyuz purchases and extending existing Shuttle jobs, Weldon and his staff need to be worrying about the $20 billion Ares I/Orion program and whether it can ever technically close and replace some of those Shuttle jobs.

Some have attempted to excuse this by saying, "well, every big space program has teething issues." True. Two responses.

First, many of them die from them (e.g., X-33).

Second, I don't know of any comparable program that had essentially zero margin at PDR (and I'm not aware of any that required multiple PDRs or "PDR do-overs") that survived them. Perhaps someone more familiar with history can enlighten me.


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Karl Hallowell wrote:

Yes, another great comment from I'm starting to think (in addition to the hoping I've been doing all along) that Ares I won't survive the next administration. BTW, any idea what the $20 billion price tag mentioned above includes?

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 15, 2008 9:00 AM.

Where Is The Pencil Czar? was the previous entry in this blog.

The Sky Isn't Falling is the next entry in this blog.

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