Status Report

Testimony of James H. Crocker, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company Given at a Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing on Space Propulsion

By SpaceRef Editor
June 3, 2003
Filed under , ,

Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Senate Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee, my name is Jim Crocker, Vice President of Civil Space, at Lockheed Martin Space & Strategic Missiles. Chairman Brownback, I am deeply grateful for your kind invitation to appear before your subcommittee and provide testimony this afternoon. It is a special privilege for me to appear before you today, along with my esteemed colleague Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA, and my industry colleagues on the panel. And it is an honor to speak with you on behalf of the Lockheed Martin Corporation about the future of solar system and deep space exploration which NASA has envisioned, and which will be made possible by NASA’s recently announced Project Prometheus in-space propulsion initiative. Our nation is completing a five-year investment and development period, which has resulted in the successful inaugural flights of two new Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle systems (EELV). The second Atlas V, launched just three weeks ago, May 13, was the 65th consecutive successful mission for the Atlas family of launch vehicles. The United States now has two robust platforms ensuring our access to space for important national assets, scientific payloads and commercial satellites. The subject of today’s hearing is of vital importance, and it is very timely. It builds upon our successes in improving the United States’ space launch systems that take us from ground to orbit, and it brings attention to the next step – the urgent need to improve the propulsion and power system capabilities of those important spacecraft sent into space. At Lockheed Martin, we are continuing to push the frontiers of in-space propulsion technology, built upon our company’s half century of experience in space nuclear power systems. Lockheed Martin is extremely proud of our partnership with NASA during the past four decades of space exploration, and of the important role we have played in designing and building components for the vast majority of spacecraft that have explored and are continuing to explore our solar system. Today, I would like to focus on the vital importance of Project Prometheus, NASA’s nuclear in-space propulsion initiative. When we envision the future of space exploration and the knowledge that it will yield for all mankind, that future will be constrained if new nuclear space propulsion and power systems are not developed. We are talking about leaping ahead in our ability to explore — on a scale that is revolutionary. Project Prometheus will result in next-generation technology capabilities. It will be reliable and safe, without compromise. It is about the power of space exploration – literally. And in many aspects, it will determine the future of our ability to explore our universe. I was recently helping my son study for an eighth grade science test. As I looked through his science book, I marveled at the pictures of Jupiter and its icy moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto; beautiful Saturn, its ring system, and moons Titan, Hyperion Mimas and Rhea Uranus; and the planet Neptune. I was struck by something that all of these images have in common. They were obtained by nuclear powered spacecraft. These fantastic pictures that we take for granted in our textbooks would not have been possible without nuclear power. At these far distances from the sun, solar power is impractical. The sun is merely another star in the dark night of space. Only nuclear powered spacecraft can sail these distant oceans of space. The enormous potential of space propulsion, based on nuclear fission, has been recognized since the earliest days of the space program. The United States has flown only one system using nuclear propulsion in space – the SNAP-10A in 1965. Since the mid-1960s, all U.S. activities have concentrated on ground-based, pre-flight technology programs, such as NERVA in the 1960s and SP-100 in the 1980s. NASA recently renewed its interest in nuclear propulsion by initiating Project Prometheus, a broad program aimed at near- and long-term applications of nuclear propulsion. One part of the program involves the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), a proposed mission to perform extensive investigation of Jupiter’s icy Galilean moons — Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Featuring a nuclear electric propulsion system, the JIMO spacecraft will be capable of far more sophisticated scientific measurements and data communications than any of today’s deep space missions.At Lockheed Martin, we are proud of our pioneering history in both nuclear powered spacecraft and planetary exploration. We have played a significant role in every U.S. mission to the planets and moons of our solar systems. Those missions include Viking, Voyager, Magellan, Cassini, Mars Global Surveyor, 2001 Mars Odyssey, Genesis and Stardust to name just a few. For almost half a century, we have been pioneers in using nuclear power for space exploration. From the very first Radioisotope space power system developed under the Eisenhower Atoms for Peace Program in 1959 at the Glen L. Martin plant in Middle River, Baltimore, to the first launch of a nuclear powered system SNAP-9a on the Navy’s Transit Satellite in 1961, we have played an important role. We have served as the nation’s supplier of every space nuclear power system for the last quarter century. Every one of those systems is safe and reliable. The first of these missions, Voyager I, is in its 25th year of operation.

This is an impressive history of reliability and safety, but the basic technology has barely changed in almost fifty years and it is inadequate for future space exploration. These systems provide no more than a few hundred watts of electrical energy to power spacecraft systems and scientific instruments, enough to power only a handful of light bulbs. NASA’s Project Prometheus promises a revolutionary increase in power and a transformation of our ability to explore our solar system. Prometheus missions will utilize a small, compact 55-gallon drum-sized reactor that will supply not just a few hundred watts of power but over 100,000 watts of power. It will transform the operational and science-gathering abilities of future spacecraft much like nuclear powered submarines have transformed the ability to traverse the seas. Project Prometheus will provide revolutionary improvements in a spacecraft’s capabilities in terms of propulsion, power for science instruments, and power for increased bandwidth to bring the data back to Earth. For illustration, just six water glasses filled with nuclear fuel are able to provide more propulsive energy than in all of the rockets that have been launched to date. This amount of fuel can power a spacecraft for multiple decades. This much power will enable space science undreamed of until Prometheus, and will provide the means to transmit staggering amounts of science data back to Earth. Imagine the possibilities. The New Horizon mission is an important mission being developed by NASA today to gather data about the planet Pluto, the only planet not yet explored by spacecraft and a high priority mission identified by the scientific community in the Decadal Survey. New Horizon uses today’s state-of-the-art chemical propulsion system. It will fly by Pluto after a 15-year journey in space and as it flies by the planet, it will have several hours to gather prime science and images of the planet’s surface. It does not have sufficient propulsion capability to enter orbit around Pluto or its moon, Charon. Now contrast that with the first Prometheus-enabled mission JIMO, the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, which would be launched in 2011. Upon arrival at the Jupiter system, the JIMO spacecraft will spiral in to its first target – the jovian moon Europa. Using high-resolution science instruments, it will photograph the surface and perhaps using high power radar, it will probe beneath the ice to the liquid ocean below — an ocean where scientists hold high hopes that life may thrive. With the enormous increase in bandwidth made possible by increased power, the spacecraft will be able to transmit to Earth more science data in terms of pure volume than has been collected in the history of planetary exploration. Then we will power up the propulsion system and move to another moon and another and then another, and continue to send back the wealth of science data and images that it will acquire during each operation. Nuclear power in space is the difference. I did a simple calculation and found that over 99% of our solar system by volume cannot be explored without nuclear power. What we are talking about today, Mr. Chairman, is not whether we will develop new nuclear space power systems – but whether we will explore space. Because without nuclear propulsion and power systems developed by NASA’s Project Prometheus, we cannot truly explore and collect the volume of science data that we desire about our solar system much beyond Mars. We are talking about the need to move forward and revolutionize the ability to explore space. Mr. Chairman, Lockheed Martin is engaged with NASA on several levels that are of vital national interest. The Nuclear System Initiative and Project Prometheus are visionary, their ultimate development is essential, and the talent and experience to make them reality exists today. Today, we are greatly limited in our ability to explore space — even our own planet — because of the limited capabilities of spacecraft chemical propulsion systems and solar cell power generation systems. What chemical propulsion and solar cell power systems allow us to do today, versus what space nuclear power systems will enable us to do in the future, is very much like the difference between wind-powered Clipper ships versus today’s nuclear powered submarines. It is the difference between the past and the future. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, we encourage you to strongly support the Nuclear System Initiative and Project Prometheus. As NASA has envisioned, Project Prometheus “includes substantial, long-term investments to develop advanced nuclear technologies that will expand NASA’s toolkit for solar system exploration, and could ultimately lead to human voyages to Mars and other destinations throughout the solar system.” As we enter the 21st century, we find the Europeans launching a mission to Mars, the Japanese launching a mission to an asteroid, the Chinese considering missions to the moon and the United States preparing to embark upon an entirely new journey of exploration. Project Prometheus will propel the next generation of American scientists and engineers toward discoveries beyond imagination and provide technological benefits to the nation that go well beyond the exploration of planets and moons. When I help my future grandchildren study for their science tests, I hope to see new pictures and read of bold new discoveries in their textbooks. With your support and leadership, Project Prometheus will make that possible. Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I want to thank you again for holding this important hearing today and for asking me to participate in it. I will be glad to respond to any questions you or members of the Committee may have.

SpaceRef staff editor.