Status Report

Preliminary Report Regarding NASA’s Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Pursuant to Sect 309 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010

By SpaceRef Editor
January 12, 2011
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Preliminary Report Regarding NASA’s Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Pursuant to Sect 309 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010

January 2011

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Executive Summary

NASA prepared this preliminary report regarding NASA’s plans for developing a Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) in response to direction in Section 309 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267):


Within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, or upon completion of reference designs for the Space Launch System and Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle authorized by this Act, whichever occurs first, the Administrator shall provide a detailed report to the appropriate committees of Congress that provides an overall description of the reference vehicle design, the assumptions, description, data, and analysis of the systems trades and resolution process, justification of trade decisions, the design factors which implement the essential system and vehicle capability requirements established by this Act, the explanation and justification of any deviations from those requirements, the plan for utilization of existing contracts, civil service and contract workforce, supporting infrastructure utilization and modifications, and procurement strategy to expedite development activities through modification of existing contract vehicles, and the schedule of design and development milestones and related schedules leading to the accomplishment of operational goals established by this Act. The Administrator shall provide an update of this report as part of the President’s annual Budget Request in subsection (a) not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act.

With the President’s signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 on October 11, 2010, NASA has a clear direction and is making plans for moving the Agency forward. NASA appreciates the significant effort that has gone into advancing this bipartisan legislation, particularly efforts by the leadership and Members of this Committee. There are still details that the final FY 2011 appropriations outcome and the President’s FY 2012 budget request will provide, but broad guidelines have now been enacted into law. This is a time of opportunity for NASA to shape a promising future for the Nation’s space program. Today it is no longer a question of IF we will explore, but how.

Since the enactment of the Authorization Act, NASA has been working expeditiously to meet the requirements of the Act, and this preliminary report details our best information for the MPCV and SLS as of early January 2010. NASA commits to providing a follow-on report to Congress as early as the Spring 2011 timeframe to update our approach based on the plans described herein and, if necessary, modifications based on the outcome of FY 2011 appropriations and the President’s FY 2012 budget request.

On December 6, 2010, NASA formally established planning teams at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Johnson Space Center for the eventual SLS and MPCV programs, respectively, to carry out the work described in this report.

Guidance from the Administrator has established three principles for development of any future systems for exploration. These systems must be affordable, sustainable, and realistic. To date, trade studies performed by the Agency have yet to identify heavy-lift and capsule architectures that would both meet all SLS requirements and these goals. For example, a 2016 first flight of the SLS does not appear to be possible within projected FY 2011 and out year funding levels. Based on the guidance in the Authorization Act to take advantage of existing designs and hardware, the Agency has selected Reference Vehicle Designs for both of these vehicles as bases from which to work and which we believe most closely align to the requirements and goals of the Authorization Act. However, to be clear, neither Reference Vehicle Design currently fits the projected budget profiles nor the schedule goals outlined in the Authorization Act. Additionally, it remains to be determined what level of appropriations NASA will receive in FY 2011 or beyond – a factor that will impact schedule as well.

NASA has developed a process to make progress on the Reference Vehicle Design for the SLS while the Agency determines whether the design is sufficiently affordable, sustainable, and realistic, and also while the Agency studies other options to solicit innovative ideas and ensure the best value for the American taxpayers. Given that affordability for heavy-lift is a primary objective, second to crew and public safety, NASA has initiated several industry study contracts regarding heavy-lift and propulsion. The study contracts will help inform decisions on the final detailed design concept and acquisition details for the SLS. In parallel, NASA will conduct studies on concepts that were competitive in our internal trade studies to validate, support, or challenge our current thinking in an effort to ensure an affordable design that meets Authorization Act requirements.

By Spring of 2011, NASA expects to have completed several key analytical steps:

– Analysis of the current Ares and Shuttle contracts for their applicability to the future development program;
– Analysis of the cost and benefits of the Reference Vehicle Design and other vehicle designs
– Analysis of potential initial procurement approaches (in the case when procurements are required, NASA will follow applicable procurement regulations, including the March 4, 2009, Presidential Memorandum on Government Contracting).

With regard to NASA’s MPCV requirement, NASA has performed initial assessments of the current Orion Project’s applicability to the new MPCV requirements in the Authorization Act, and has adopted the beyond-low Earth orbit (LEO) Orion design as the Reference Vehicle Design for MPCV. These initial assessments included factors such as the current Orion design and phased development approach for operational beyond-LEO capabilities, the current Project organization and processes, existing facilities and infrastructure, and the current prime contract. For the near term, NASA will continue work on the Orion until the MPCV Program is formally authorized to proceed, and once authorized to proceed, NASA plans to initiate the Program with design robustness and affordability while making use of current Orion investments and workforce as practicable.

NASA recognizes it has a responsibility to be clear with the Congress and the American taxpayers about our true estimated costs and schedules for developing the SLS and MPCV, and we intend to do so, to the best of our ability in this preliminary report, as well as in the follow-on report. To this end, NASA commits to obtaining independent (outside of the Agency) assessments of cost and schedule for SLS and MPCV design options as part of its decision process this Spring or Summer, and further to make these assessments public.

Currently, our SLS studies have shown that while cost is not a major discriminator among the design options studied, none of the design options studied thus far appeared to be affordable in our present fiscal conditions, based upon existing cost models, historical data, and traditional acquisition approaches. Operational costs will have to be scrutinized and reductions from current projections will be needed in order to ensure affordable operations and so that funds are available for other necessary Exploration developments such as long-duration habitats and landers. A feature of the Shuttle/Ares-derived reference vehicle is that it enables leveraging of current systems, current knowledge base, existing hardware and potentially current contracts, thereby providing schedule and early-year cost advantages. However, a 2016 first flight does not appear to be possible within projected FY 2011 and out year funding levels, although NASA is continuing to explore more innovative procurement and development approaches to determine whether it can come closer to this goal. In this context, we are still reviewing overall affordability for the longer-term, and alternative design analysis continues to be part of our strategy. Other technical options will be considered based on industry input, innovative methodologies for affordability will be explored, and partnership opportunities will be pursued with other government agencies with the goal of identifying a significant affordability benefit.

It is clear that successful development of SLS and MPCV will be dependent on sufficiently stable funding over the long term, coupled with a successful effort on the part of NASA and the eventual industry team to reduce costs and to establish stable, tightly-managed requirements.

All development options require NASA’s greatest asset, our skilled workforce, consisting of both civil servants and contractors who embody 50 years of learning and expertise. Although NASA must find greater efficiencies in its next-generation human spaceflight efforts, NASA will strive to utilize our workforce in a manner that will ensure that the Nation maintains this unique asset during the development of the SLS and the MPCV, focusing on safely executing the NASA mission and achieving our affordability and sustainability goals.

In summary, we are committed to developing an affordable, sustainable, and realistic next- generation human spaceflight system that is in the best interests of the Nation, and we therefore look forward to working with Congress as we finalize our strategy for achieving human spaceflight to many destinations in our solar system.

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SpaceRef staff editor.