Status Report

Testimony of Byron K. Wood, The Boeing Company , Given at a Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing on Space Propulsion

By SpaceRef Editor
June 3, 2003
Filed under , ,

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, I would like to thank you for taking time from your busy schedules to look into a matter that I consider to have potentially dire consequences for the national security of the United States and the future of our civil space program–that is the failing health of the propulsion industry in the United States. America is on the verge of losing the capability to develop and produce liquid propulsion rocket systems – and, once gone, this will be a very difficult capability to re-constitute.

For over 50 years, Rocketdyne has been a world leader in liquid rocket propulsion systems and space power systems. We have over 1500 launches to our credit with our engines for the Space Shuttle, Delta, and Atlas systems, and their predecessors, and I, personally, have spent the better part of my career, working in this area. I have never seen the industry in a more precarious position. We have three major liquid propulsion companies in the United States, and not enough work to keep even one healthy. Frankly, all three of us are on the verge of going out of business. If you refer to the first chart I have attached, you will see the erosion of our human capital over the last several years at Rocketdyne. This is typical of the entire industry. We are falling below the critical mass of skills needed to meet national security and civil space goals when we are called upon to do so in the future.

What has caused this dire situation? There are many contributing causes. The crash of the commercial launch market due to oversupply of on orbit telecommunications satellites has been a major contributor. And the market that is left has been seized by foreign competition.

If you refer to my second chart, you will see that, on an engine basis instead of a launch basis, the United States accounts for only 14% of the launch market. The Russians account for over 60%, followed by the Europeans.

America is rapidly losing its leadership in space.

In reference to my third chart, America has lost its vision for the future of space. Great nations do great things – What are the great things in the future for America?

China plans to orbit a human, maybe this year. China has openly stated that they are aiming for the moon, in the not too distant future. What is the future in space for the United States?

One area where NASA has developed a great vision is in the exploration of the outer planets. Project Prometheus, to develop advanced radioisotope systems to fly first on the Mars 2009 lander, and to develop a nuclear propulsion system to fly first on the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), represents the kind of vision in taking a great leap forward that is exactly what this country, and our space industry, needs. The nuclear propulsion system will allow exploratory probes to actually enter orbit around distant bodies, allowing the science community the time they need to do detailed exploration, instead of grabbing what information they can get from a rapid fly-by. The high power levels, once there, will allow whole new areas of scientific exploration to open up, such as active radar investigations, and will also allow significantly higher levels of data to be transmitted to Earth. The isotope power systems will allow the exploratory rover on the Mars surface to operate for years, as opposed to the weeks achieved by its predecessor powered by solar cells.

I commend Administrator OíKeefe for the high priority he has placed on this program, and the staunch support he continues to give it as NASA tries to recover from the Columbia tragedy. I also commend the Members of this Congress for having the vision to add funding to NASAís FY2003 Appropriation Bill to jump start the JIMO program. This is the kind of inspiration we need in the space program. This inspires people of all ages. I have retirees knocking on my door wanting to come back to work on this program. And it is also visionary programs like this that will provide the inspiration for our young people to enter the science and engineering fields.

But where is the vision for the U.S. for space in the vicinity of our own planet? We must get the shuttle flying again, there is no other way to complete the space station, which is our gateway to move beyond low earth orbit. But where do we go from there?

NASA is funding propulsion technologies for next generation vehicles under their Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) program, and the Air Force is funding similar activities under the Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology (IHPRPT) Program, but both of these programs are seriously underfunded. DoD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a commission prior to his current post which identified many areas where DoD needed to move forward to ensure they maintained the high ground of space. Dr. Ron Sega, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDRE), has proposed the National Aerospace Initiative. Both of these efforts represent a vision of the future for military space, but the services have been slow to embrace these visions, and loathe to invest in them. The situation has become so serious, that your fellow Senators on the Armed Services Committee, in their recent report accompanying the FY04 Defense Authorization Bill, noted that the USAF requested more funding for biological research than for propulsion research, which the Committee noted they felt should be a high priority within the Air Force.

This is not the way America maintains its leadership in space. So, what can the Congress be doing to help avert this crisis?

First – continue your strong support for Project Prometheus. This is the kind of activity that inspires not just our current workforce, but our workforce of the future. This will take us to new frontiers in space.

Second – continue the national debate on the future of our space programs, both civil and military. We need to clearly identify where we want to go and move out. America is a great country and can do anything it wants to do, once it makes up its mind to do it, and that is where we have a problem. Propulsion is usually the long pole in the tent for any new space programs. While we debate our direction, we need to maintain our competency for future propulsion needs, before we lose it completely.

To achieve this, I recommend that the Committee endorse increased budget for the NASA Next Generation Launch Technology program, which must be expanded to provide a complete cadre of technologies and systems development for a new reusable space transportation system.

Also, while I realize it is not within the jurisdiction of this committee, I urge you to work with your colleagues to see that the Defense Departmentís National Aerospace Initiative receives the funding necessary to proceed as Dr. Sega envisions it, which is significantly more than requested in the FY04 budget request.

Dr. Werner von Braun was fond of saying: ìWho will control the oceans of space?î I have been somewhat disappointed in my career in that we had Americans walking on the moon in the 1960ís, but I will not live to see people return to the moon or go beyond. Now, I believe I will see people on the moon in my lifetime, but they will speak Chinese. Where will America be when this happens?

Thank you

SpaceRef staff editor.