Status Report

Internal NASA Email from Constellation manager Jeff Hanley to JSC Center Director Mike Coats

By SpaceRef Editor
October 9, 2009
Filed under , , ,
Internal NASA Email from Constellation manager Jeff Hanley to JSC Center Director Mike Coats

From: Hanley, Jeffrey M. (JSC-ZA111)
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2009 10:06 PM
To: Coats, Michael {Jsc-Center-Director}(JSC-AA111)
Subject: Reaction…

Mike, wanted to share some thoughts on the paper you gave me… trying to zoom to 100 kft here, though I am so biased that I know I will not be taken seriously, and instead seen as desparately trying to save my program… but fwiw, here are my takeaways from what I saw…

Sec 1.0 (third page) “Human safety can never be absolutely assured, but throughout this report, it is treated as a “sine qua non”. It is not discussed in extensive detail because any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration”

. First, I cannot be sure what this really means when addressing ‘commercial crew launch’.

. I am puzzled by their treatment of safety in general. To me it is dismissive of the CAIB to ignore the systems engineering underpinnings of what we have done. No analysis or quantitative assessment is or will be offered by the committee to support their take on safety. Treating as ‘sin qua non’ to me is a cop out… plain and simple.

. Their treatment also pre-supposes that industry possesses the intellectual capital to work through the human rating and launch abort “problems” without NASA relieving them of the risk through indemnification. No evidence to that effect is offered. This is a key sticking point in my mind. If industry has not demonstrated the capacity to take on developing a human rated crew launch system with full envelope abort capability with demonstrated trackrecord of reliability, how could NASA blindly ‘trust’ them to ‘get it right’ and THEN indemnify them for any loss of life? There are significant legal issues here as well as technical and intellectual capability issues.

Page 2 “Interestingly, in the 1920’s the early airlines faced a similar barrier, which was finally overcome when the federal government awarded a series of guaranteed contracts for carrying airmail. A corresponding measure may be required if space is to become broadly accessible, with the federal government creating a guaranteed initial market for commercial firms to provide transportation to and from low earth orbit.”

. Oddly, they are here “channeling” Mike Griffin, who used this exact analogy in his many speeches when addressing commercial space and specifically COTS.

. NASA’s present COTS program is THIS EXACT MODEL. Deliver cargo first, then grow toward crew after there is a trackrecord.

. Note that the federal government did not fund passenger service, but rather funded ‘cargo’, in that case.

Sec 1.1.1 (first paragraph) “Planning for a human spaceflight program should begin with a choice about its goals – rather than a choice of possible destinations….”

. I find it interesting that they make this statement then center their findings on picking a destination.

. I am not sure the agency leadership really understands the extent to which we have rigorously derived Cx from national policy, not just the VSE but two authorization bills, and is traceable back to the Space Act of 1958. We have been extensively rigorous in this way, and we explained all that to the commission – and was summarily ignored or dismissed. Nothing they have in this report contradicts the NGO’s from which Cx was derived.

Sec 1.2.3 (Constellation Program discussion) “An independent assessment of the technical, budgetary, and schedule risk to the Constellation Program performed for the committee indicates there is likely an additional delay of at least two years.”

. We have made clear our many objections with the Aerospace assessment, which was highly superficial and flawed. The APMC has seen our own internal assessment though the JCL results, and those results do not yet take into account the improvements we have made in our schedule quality and risk posture through deployment of reserves and the reduction of program content. Our recent content review may have saved us as much as $1.5B through 2015, and more reductions are being sought to streamline the path to finishing DDTE. Schedule confidence improves through ACTIVE PROGRAM MANAGEMENT… additional resources in terms of dollars could improve the situation, and further cuts will have the opposite effect.

“This means that Ares I and Orion will not reach ISS before the Station’s currently planned termination; and that the length of the gap in US ability to launch astronauts into space will be no less than seven years.”

. They ignore here their own recommendation to extend ISS to 2020, which makes Ares/Orion more relevant.

. They ignore their OWN Aerospace assessment, as summarized by Sally Ride in their open sessions, which found that Ares I, even if late, had the best chance of all the LEO launch options of keeping the gap from growing. Aerospace’s assessment of other alternatives were no better, and most were worse.

“The committee is also concerned about the recurring costs of Orion. The capsule…”

. This is a claim, with no data to back it up. Meanwhile, we continually make improvements in the design and in our manufacturing plans to get recurring costs down. And finally, Mark Geyer clearly explained at their Houston open session that just making the diameter smaller would not reduce recurring cost. The cost is in the scope of the mission requirements that drive the complexity and scope of the systems that go INTO the spacecraft. If you reduce the diameter but you don’t ask less of the Orion during a moon mission, then it must still support the same number of people with the same systems and capabilities, just in a smaller volume.

Sec 1.3.1 Heavy Lift

. General comment to remind folks that Ares IS a shuttle derived system. Not as much as some folks might want, but we believe is a good compromise between a total cleansheet design and a shuttle C/sidemount design.

. Picking launch vehicles without regard to the total mission performance is irresponsible, in my opinion. Anyone can chose their favorite rocket, but our focus for 4 years has been about ‘the mission’… and our continual concern throughout this process has been that a consistent set of mission requirements would not drive any ‘analysis of alternatives’. This shortcoming colored ALL of their ‘option’ work, and also effected their cost estimates. THIS WAS NOT A RIGOROUS ARCHITECTURE ANALYSIS OF ALTERNATIVES. Buyer beware.

. If Mars is at all in play someday, anything short of some kind of Ares V-like solution is ill advised. Sidemount will require, in our view, at least three launches per mission. That’s 9 SSME’s per mission. We would pay more money just in SSME’s per mission than we pay for a WHOLE COPY of Ares V. While development costs might be less (debateable at this point due to the immaturity of their approach compared to ours), the recurring costs EAT OUR LUNCH – we’d have no money left to put anything inside the sidemount carrier.

. SSME is just one shortcoming of shuttle C/sidemount. It is mass limited, volume limited, and c.g. limited.

. Also one needs to appreciate – sidemount must be compared to Ares V core stage, not the full Ares V cost. That is because both solutions require an upper stage. It is the in-space part of the mission where Shuttle sidemount’s disadvantages bite us. We must radically limit the mass and volume of the vehicles and systems we launch to the Moon. And the full architecture implications of any plan with greater than two launches must be carefully studied – more launches means more inspace operations, more loiter time where systems must wait in space for the next launch, must deal with MMOD (our biggest LEO risk driver), cryo boiloff on large cryo stages, etc.

Page 12 “In the Ares I plus Ares V system planned by Constellation, the Ares I launches the Orion and docks in LEO with the Altair lander launched on the Ares V. This is the system planned by the Constellation Program. It has the advantage of projected very high ascent crew safety, but delays the development of the Ares V heavy lift vehicle until after the independently operated Ares I is developed.”

. Great heavy sigh.

. This paragraph demonstrates either an intentional mischaracterization of the facts or a clear lack of understanding of Constellation.

. Nice that they acknowledge at least here the ‘very high ascent crew safety’. Nice bone to throw us.

. The development of the heavy lift launch vehicle statements are patently false and untrue. Look at what we’re doing. We’re building the highest energy/highest risk portions of the Ares V first – and using them on Ares I to give us crew launch AND build heritage. The preponderance of the development cost of Ares I (all but about $3.5B) is directly applied to Ares V. Said another way, we are building parts of Ares V NOW, the parts we can afford and that are highest risk.

. Ares V development was not delayed because of Ares I. Ares V development was not supportable in the years 2006-2010 because the shuttle was still flying, plain and simple. ESAS had us using a 4 seg first stage and SSME on the upper stage, which would have been money invested that did not play toward the Ares V we have today, and we would be paying NOW for the SSME fixed cost burden that would have further hammered our budget through FY10 (in fact, forever).

“Building a single NASA vehicle could reduce carrying costs and operations costs, and accelerate heavy lift development. Of these systems, the committee finds the Ares V Lite in the dual mode the preferred reference option.”

. This is a claim, unsupported and unsubstantiated with any assessments or data. Ares I+V has the lowest lifecycle costs in the operations/production phase of the program. The high degree of commonality between Ares I and V is one reason, and the other is the savings in marginal cost of a copy of Ares I vs a second copy of Ares V. Dual Ares V will require SUBSTANTIALLY more infrastructure at KSC to support, an aspect that is ignored by the committee.

. Of course, later portions of this document chide NASA for its ‘fixed cost burden’, and yet many of their recommendations ADD to that burden by prescribing oversized infrastructure (dual Ares V launch) and commercial crew launch (which NASA will ultimately pay the fixed cost for through its payments for service). It is hard to fathom how this is ‘better’.

. Ares I is a good deal. It gets us started on Ares V while giving us LEO access at unprecedented levels of crew safety.

Page 13 “However, the EELV would also represent a new way of doing business for NASA, which would have the benefit of potentially lowering development and operational costs.”

. This is a claim, unsupported and unsubstantiated with any assessments or data.

. This path represents a wholesale deconstruction of NASA’s human spaceflight centers, and is suggesting that NASA has nothing to contribute to the launch vehicle development business anymore.

. The cost assessments for the options where this kind of launch architecture was assumed are HIGHLY SPECULATIVE. Cost numbers were either made up by committee members or based on unsubstantiated claims of some alternative launch vehicle providers. They made very OPTIMISTIC cost claims, claims with no basis or supporting data, and even with all that optimism they could not make it look significantly better fiscally than our baseline plan.

“In designing the new launcher, in-space stages and in-space refueling, the Committee cautions against the tradition of designing for ultimate performance, at the cost of reliability, operational efficiency and life-cycle cost.”

. Interesting that the best performing lifecycle cost option is the Constellation baseline, and it is ignored.

. Reliability and safety are at the heart of the Constellation Ares I/Orion design – how much will ‘commercial providers’ compromise here, and how much influence and insight will NASA have while still getting their ‘good price’?

Sec 1.3.2 Crew Access to Low Earth Orbit

“The Committee found that, because of technical issues and budget cuts, the Ares I schedule no longer supports ISS.”

. This ignores their own recommendation to extend ISS to 2020.

. This ignores their own Aerospace finding that no OTHER solution does any better than Ares I.

Page 14 “The Committee was unconvinced that enough is known about any of the potential high reliability launchers plus capsule and launch escape systems to distinguish their level of safety in a meaningful way.”

. This to me is code for ‘we didn’t understand a thing you said’. The committee’s dismissal of PRA is essentially a dismissal of sound systems engineering. The kind of assessments done by NASA since ESAS, in fact begun during OSP, beg to differ with this finding (whatever its true meaning is).

. At its worst, this finding/statement says ‘we don’t want to address this part because it would show the baseline to be superior and we can’t have that.” Sorry, I’m getting snippy…

. The difference between Ares I and any other alternative is essentially first stage flight. The shuttle SRM is simple, reliable, and robust. Liquid stages suffer from higher complexity and greater number of failure modes. There is also a tendency to equate reliability with safety – and this is NOT good systems engineering.

. Nearly all other alternatives have black zones, an area of study that is a considerable challenge. The discussion also ignored the fact that, in terms of safety, the rocket and spacecraft are an INTEGRATED SYSTEM and must be engineered together to ensure abortability throughout. This is what we have been doing. We are the only ones working this, that we can tell.

“… it is an appropriate time to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector. This approach is not without technical and programmatic risks, but it creates the possibility of lower operating costs for the system.”

. No basis or data was EVER offered during any of the public hearings to substantiate that ‘it is an appropriate time’ for this step. What criteria did they use to judge, what analysis or assessment suggests this? This are important questions. This finding is essentially a ‘claim’ without basis. . The technical and programmatic risks, in my opinion as well as others, is too great to ‘trust’ – if I’m going to trust, and ‘buy a service’, then they are liable and not NASA if they don’t deliver. BUT, does anyone think they WONT come to NASA to be indemnified from a disaster?

“The Committee suggests that there be a new competition for this service, in which both large and small companies can participate. By creating an additional market for commercial launch services, it is possible that the efficiencies associated with increased production runs and more frequent operations will materialize.”

. We are betting the farm on severe speculation, speculation that history to date does not support.

. Lower operating costs, but now we are supporting multiple launch vehicle production ‘fixed cost’ burdens instead of one (Ares family)… ‘Lower operating costs’ needs to account for the TOTAL human spaceflight portfolio.

. If we are going to have heavy lift, then deriving crew launch from that design and using the same production assets to produce it makes the most business sense.

. I would agree with this approach IFF NASA was not building heavy lift.

. At least they didn’t come right out and SAY to CANCEL ARES I.

Page 17 “The committee finds that both Moon First and Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. It also finds that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive: before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.”

. Though we said it during nearly every brief we gave, they ignore the fact that Constellation is IN FACT an architecture that enables both ‘Moon First’ and ‘Flexible Path’. In addition, we have worked ACTIVELY on the human Mars DRM so as to inform our design decisions for the Moon. It is not at all clear WHAT WE ARE NOT ALREADY DOING.

Page 19 “Option 3 – Implementable Program of Record”

. We have run our own program cost models on varlous solutions of the +$3B over FY10 cost profile, as I sent you yesterday, and can validate that we can do Ares I in 2015, beyond LEO around 2020, and HLR (Altair) in 2024 or 25 (depending on how much money is siphoned off for technology).

. “Moon First” and “Flexible Path” give up Ares I. With no Ares I, there is no heavy lift before about 2020, with many variants later. THIS WORK SHOWS THERE IS NO ADVANTAGE TO DROPPING ARES I.

. Meanwhile, the agency faces several disadvantages to abandoning Ares I that should be reviewed by senior management. The least of which that any solution without it means the JSC, MSFC, and KSC will be launching no NASA developed systems for the next 10 years.

. The committee themselves stated on several occasions ‘to justify a change of path any alternative should have a compelling advantage’. The committee’s own work SHOWS NO SUCH COMPELLING ADVANTAGE to change Constellation’s baseline.

Page 21 “The Committee believes that resources at this level ($3B above FY10 budget) are required for an exploration program that the nation can be proud of. This is because of the high cost of admission required to send humans beyond low Earth orbit.”

. Finally, something we can all agree with.

Page 22 statements on adequate funding with reserves, flexibility to manage money across accounts, etc, all very good.

Page 23 “Finally, significant space achievements require continuity of support over many years. One way to assure that no successes are achieved is to continually pull up the flowers to see if the roots are healthy (our Committee might be accused of being part of this pattern). NASA and its human spaceflight program are in need of stability of both resources and direction.”

. Amen.


What happened to ‘there has to be a compelling reason to change’ from the baseline? This report makes specious and unsupported claims of benefits from proposed changes with no basis in analysis or assessment. The commercial thread is totally contradicted by history, where several attempts to spur ‘commercial’ launch markets have died. Is there REALLY a true ‘market’ as yet? I think NASA has the right idea with COTS, but it will take time – the airline passenger market didn’t develop overnight.

Ares I brings NASA significant value, including…

. NASA can relearn LV dev on large scale before embarking on building the biggest rocket ever.

. Maximize cargo to the Lunar surface for robust exploration – prevents downsizing Ares V (ultimately a lifecycle cost issue)

. Bridge workforce mid-teens while HLV development goes on

. Provides a cost effective test LV for Orion (Cx’s version of Saturn IB) without having to wait for HLV.

. Life cycle cost (LCC) savings for the total LEO/Beyond LEO Ares I/V combo, if we understand that USG LEO access is important and at the same time we’re serious about heavy lift

. Minimizes LCC so that more money is unencumbered for mission-specific hardware

. Need Ares I to maximize safety of exploration missions

. Need Ares I because without it there is no certain USG human access to LEO.

. Preservation of SRM industrial base

. Backup for commercial capability, should the decide it is unprofitable to continue

. ‘Sanity check’ upper bound on commercial costs; i.e., if they can’t beat government costs, the taxpayer shouldn’t buy their product

I’m not against ‘commercial’ in concept, if the ‘claims’ can be realized without ‘betting the farm’ of human spaceflight on it. So I would be just fine with a firmer statement of policy (even codified in law) that prohibits NASA from using Ares I for supporting ISS unless no other domestic provider is available. We could today show our manifests as ‘mainlining’ such a provider and put in place a long range procurement strategy. Meanwhile, keeping Ares I and our exploration architecture intact and moving forward is important to transitioning our workforce.

Sorry for the length of this note, but I wanted to share my full reaction to what I am reading… I hope this helps, for what its worth…

Thanks for reading, j

SpaceRef staff editor.