The HLV Cost Information NASA Decided Not To Give To Congress

By Keith Cowing
January 14, 2011
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Click on Image to enlarge “Cost and Schedule of Shuttle sidemount compared with HEFT alternatives. This is the only HLV option that meets all legal requirements and fits within the budget and schedule assumptions of HEFT. Data derived from SSP Study NSTS 60583, dated June 8, 2010”

HEFT, Lies and Videotape, Paul Spudis, AIr & Space

“So as Oliver Hardy would say, here’s another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. NASA creates an unaffordable architecture (ESAS) to implement the VSE. The response by the new administration is to cancel the VSE and replace it with promises of more distant goals at some nebulous time in the far future. Congress directs the agency to build an HLV anyway, but the vehicle has no mission, so they pull out the specs of the last HLV America flew. NASA responds by saying they can’t do it on the money and schedule specified, even though they themselves have in hand a report that shows how it can be done. Moreover, the agency still claims it doesn’t know why anyone would want to go to the Moon, despite having been shown repeatedly that what we do there will create new space faring capability.”

Keith’s note: During its recent deliberations the HEFT II activity look at a variety of scenarios, reference missions etc. One of them, DM1, actually meets the costs and schedule specified by Congress. DM1 entails creation and use of an in-space propellant depot and refueling capability. It also makes use of EELVs and other commercial launch assets. But forces within NASA ESMD personnel – led by Doug Cooke – have purposefully sat on such ideas and have made certain that they were scrubbed from presentation charts and reports to Congress and other “stakeholders”. Charlie Bolden is aware of this tactic.

According to the Summary Report of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee

“All of the options would benefit from the development of in-space refueling, and the smaller rockets would benefit most of all. The potential government-guaranteed market for fuel in low-Earth orbit would create a stimulus to the commercial launch industry. In the design of the new launcher, in-space stages and in-space refueling, the Committee cautions against the tradition of designing for ultimate performance, at the cost of reliability, operational efficiency and life-cycle cost.”

With regard to the HLV cost information that Paul Spudis has provided, if it costs you less money to develop something (Sidemount HLV) and you can fly it sooner, the money you would have spent to develop something bigger – something that would cost more and take longer – can be used instead to jump start a much more flexible in-space architecture.

Sidemount doesn’t launch as much as the bigger Ares-V+ class rockets NASA wants to build. But it flies sooner and cheaper and its operations are much, much closer to what NASA has been doing for decades. You can provide the resources that allow you to also vend launch services out in the open market in parallel for crew and other services. And when the private sector shows that it can provide the services that Sidemount offers – for less – its easier to walk away from this capability than one you have sunk much more money and time into – and you can do so sooner.

An in-space refueling architecture could eventually allow a wide range of launch vehicles, payloads, and participants to utilize an in-space refueling capability. The net result is an expanding pool of resources and capabilities that would otherwise never exist. And with that comes a flexibility the likes of which we have never had in space. This approach welcomes and expanding sphere of participants – small and large; governmental and commercial; proven and experimental; pure science and applied technology.

Despite the obvious advantages to smaller, multiple launch systems working together, there are some people in ESMD (Doug Cooke et al) that are hoping that they can wait out the current Administration with the hope that a new President would write the agency a blank check to work on their expensive rockets. Alas, these rockets not only do not have a payload, but their development would also suck up any money that might be used to build the payloads – assuming that their long development time and costs would be supported long enough that these rockets would actually fly.

Imagine what Sen. Nelson’s reaction is going to be when he learns that NASA indeed has a way to use existing shuttle assets (physical and human) – right now – to develop the Sidemount HLV. Moreover, that EELVs and other commercial vehicles (with their human and physical assets) could be utilized to meet the requirements – and intent that Congress set forth? But NASA has sat on these cheaper and more pragmatic options in favor of telling Congress that it needs more money and time to develop monstrous rockets which won’t even fly until the later part of this decade.

How does this make the White House look when they approved a report that NASA presented to the Hill last week – one that Congress has said it finds to lacking in its ability to meet Congresional intent – intent signed into law? This tactic of misinformation and subterfuge was done with the blessing of its Administrator.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.