Status Report

NASA Internal Email From NASA Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley

By SpaceRef Editor
June 24, 2008
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NASA Internal Email From NASA Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley

Greetings everyone

We have spent the spring compiling the most detailed budget picture we have ever assembled, while working key technical challenges, finishing our requirements base through the remaining season of SDR’s, completing the lunar capability concept-level architecture, moving into for PDRs for Orion and Ares I, and achieving agency approval to transition from formulation into development later this year. All the while, we are driving toward the finish line for Ares I-X less than a year from now, and preparing for our first flight test of the launch abort system by the holidays if all goes as planned.

So there is a lot going on. You are making it happen. Through the spring we’ve had the chance to interact with agency leadership on a number of occasions, and they have been uniformly complimentary of the work you have done. We have plenty of challenges, but this program is changing the way NASA works, and our success to date is because of your hard work and dedication.

As we finish the ‘formulation’ phase of the program and projects for what we’ve termed ‘initial capability’, we have achieved a detailed definition of the ‘work to go’ to execute the first phase of the program. My confidence is growing that we will indeed maintain or perhaps even improve upon the targeted date for the first crewed launch, what we’ve been referring to as ‘initial operational capability’ or IOC. Over a year ago we established that date to be March of 2015, a date driven in part by agency budget priorities, but most significantly affected by our budget limitations until the shuttle retires in 2010.

As most of you know, during this ‘formulation’ phase, we have set for ourselves aggressive internal targets on ‘all axes’ of the program – cost, schedule and technical performance. These three aspects of project management are often referred to as ‘the triple constraint’ on any project, and it is the project/program manager’s job to balance these to achieve the desired outcomes of the program.

Aggressive internal targets were tools for us during formulation to drive out the risks involved across all three parts of the ‘triple constraint’. Specifically as it pertains to our schedule, the internal manifest dates we chose were designed to push the team to define the work as leanly as possible to get to the finish line – and this is exactly what you have done. Thus my growing confidence that our target of flying by early 2015 is indeed achievable.

Many folks ask me about ‘the gap’ between the last shuttle flight and the first crewed Orion mission. This ‘gap’ is indeed distressing on a number of levels – and has been actively discussed throughout the last two and a half years at the highest levels. No one in senior agency management likes the gap. But considering the ‘triple constraint’ of cost, schedule and technical performance, I want to review the situation with those factors in mind.

First cost – our budget is set, and it’s commonly understood that budget is tightly constrained over the next 3 years, until shuttle retires. We may hope for it to grow, for new money to show up early enough to change the outcome, but the reality is that we must plan assuming that will not happen.

Second is technical performance – our sights, from the beginning of the program and flowing out of the ESAS study, has been firmly set on the Moon. We are building Orion and Ares to go to the Moon. Key elements of Ares I are also down payments on Ares V – the first stage solid motors and J2X engine will be used on the big rocket as well as Ares I, with very little if any modification.

Orion will be designed with all the capabilities and capacities to accomplish the lunar mission. This has been a ‘stone tablet’ tenet established from the very beginning. Third and last is schedule – we set aggressive dates during formulation to see just how close we could get to achieving them with the available dollars. This also was designed to keep the earliest possible dates technically viable for as long as possible.

But as any project manager will tell you, when it comes to the “triple constraint” and optimizing the three factors, under even the best of circumstances you are free to optimize two out of the three.

Given that budget is set and technical performance is set – the ‘free variable’ in the equation is schedule. So internal schedules will need to adjust to achieve the given performance at the given budget profile through completion. This adjustment is solely to control our rate of spending

through the end of 2010. Meanwhile, we will remain aggressive in pursuit of minimizing the “gap” to the extent our funding profile allows.

Our current assessment shows, assuming no significant changes in available budget over the next two years, we will still be able to stay within the dollars allocated for phase I of Cx to meet our March of 2015 target. As we study our plan against our budget, we now have enough insight to be able to investigate ways of perhaps improving on that date – something we would all like to do. Once we finish our assessment through the summer we will finalize a formal baseline schedule, derived from the working schedules we have worked throughout the formulation phase, as we prepare for our Program Approval Review later in the year. More to come…

In closing, we should all recognize and appreciate that Congress has been very supportive and recognizes the pressure we are under in regards to the budget available to accomplish IOC any earlier than the 2015 target. But there are many competing national priorities, and we must accept the support we do enjoy and make that work. There are several Congressional attempts underway to obtain additional funding for NASA to shorten the gap. Any additional funds, should they be appropriated, would be applied to reducing the “gap” and further improve upon our target date.

Meanwhile – onward to Ares I-X, the first Pad Abort test, and to Ares I and Orion PDR… when we’re ready.

Take care of yourselves, fight burnout, and get some rest over the upcoming Memorial Day week. You deserve it.


Jeff Hanley

Manager, Constellation Program

NASA Johnson Space Center

Houston, Texas 77058

SpaceRef staff editor.