Spacelift Washington: U.S. Space Launch Policy Facing Uncertain Overhaul

By frank_sietzen
March 25, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

WASHINGTON -March 25 – The Clinton administration 1996 space transportation policy has been greeted by the incoming Bush administration as ‘dead on arrival’, industry and Congressional sources tell this column. But while an overhaul will be necessary, it won’t come soon, sources say, thanks to a backlog in choosing who the administration will select to head up space activities-especially NASA and civil space leadership, which remains in the hands of 1992 Bush I appointee Daniel S. Goldin. The policy named NASA as the lead agency for crafting reusable and human spaceflight vehicles, embodied at the time in the X-33 project. DoD was named lead for expendable vehicles, with EELV as the main throwaway booster focus. But with DoD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld strongly supporting military space research that includes development of an Air Force spaceplane and piloted quick reaction strike capability, NASA control of the RLV development agenda is believed headed for the dustbin.

A consensus? Not yet

When the players are finally in place, look for yet another review of space transportation issues, this time aimed at how to blend NASA and DoD crewed space needs together. Some sources are suggesting that depending on whom Bush selects as NASA chief, the Air Force could easily get the upper hand in the process. “NASA may be left with space shuttle upgrades”, this column was told last week. What about SLI? It may be facing an overhaul of its own in the post-Goldin era. Currently under the direction of Marshall Spaceflight Center Director Art Stephenson, SLI is likely to get a face-lift after Goldin departs, some are saying. Among the many reasons we hear is the little-known fact that Stephenson is the only TRW executive brought over to NASA by Goldin-and has been targeted by some conservatives eyeing NASA as one of several likely candidates to go when Goldin himself leaves-whenever that is. Of course, some of these same sources were saying last December that Goldin would be gone by now and the new space team in place. So much for predictions.

What is also being said is that DoD future visionary Andrew Marshall sees no big splurge for military space programs after all. Those familiar with Marshall’s first draft of a proposed overhaul of military spending and programs say space radar and longer term space R&D are the only elements for space boosts contained in his future plan. Others, however, are suggesting that for expendable vehicles, “something will clearly be needed beyond EELV” to keep pace with military launch needs, especially in surge and Launch-on-Demand. And, with the shrinking of the commercial launch market since the EELV program got underway, some are quietly suggesting that there will be casualties in the Delta IV and Atlas V fleet by the time full IOC for the EELV birds is reached. What does that mean? That EELV might not be the last form military expendables take.


“There’s not enough business to keep those (EELV) programs running” is what we heard from more than one source last week. And while few believe that Space Based Laser will ever become operational, it was also pointed out that BMDO has been quietly pumping money to NASA Marshall to study -what else?- a family of heavy lift expendable boosters to both orbit SBL and new upper stage technologies to allow on-orbit refueling. Look for more money to get funneled into X-37/40A as a result, to make more certain the station-keeping and cold gas thruster system that the prototype program contains. Thus far much of the Air Force money in the X-40A demo has been for extension of the vehicle’s flight stay-time to two weeks. The new solar array technology might support extended missions. There might also be other vehicle systems developed that are capable of performing orbit changes. These could be added to future variants of the spaceplane.

“For now,” said one source last week, “they (the space launch industry) should be happy just to get to launch on schedule.” After that? “Then we can figure out what to do with Launch-on-Demand. ..” Right now, both are alluding the launch industry as much as on-time take-offs of your commercial air carrier.
In our next column: space launch issues raised from next week’s Satellite 2001 plus details from the Delta IV Breakfast on March 28th, and the launch of the GSLV the same day.

Editor’s note: Our thanks to all of those who emailed responses to our publishing of the CSBA launch cost appendix. While it is clear that the capability of the Pegasus listed on that chart varies with the published lift ability of the vehicle, we felt it important to publish the chart as it existed. CSBA has promised to release the complete presentation on space launch used in Watts’ study, and when we get it we will reproduce it here in full. The dialog over this issue was the strongest since this column began last summer, and we hope to encourage readers to use this forum as a way to address their professiona

l interests and concerns facing space transportation. That is why Spacelift Washington was created.

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