Space Access Update #92 4/5/00 
                Copyright 2000 by Space Access Society 

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 - NASA's Proposed 2001-2005 Space Launch Initiative 

 - Our Recommended Changes 


 - SAS FY 2001 Policy Recommendations (reprinted from SAU #91, 2/7/00) 

       NASA's Proposed 2001-2005 Space Launch Initiative 


NASA spent the last five years engaged in a process that was supposed 
to provide the data for a decision at the start of the year 2000 on 
the future of NASA and US commercial space transportation.  The 
centerpiece of this process was the $1.3 billion X-33/Venturestar 
project.  X-33's main goal was to fly a half-scale feasibility proof 
for the proposed "Venturestar" reusable space transport; Venturestar 
was aimed at meeting NASA launch requirements while also capturing 
enough of the US commercial (and military) launch market to get 
commercial investors to pay for development. 

The X-33/Venturestar project has failed, as discussed in detail in our 
last issue (  The 
available evidence is that that Lockheed-Martin cannot build the 
(multilobe conformal-tanks, lifting-body) design they sold to NASA at 
anything near light enough weight for a practical reusable rocket 
space transport, even if they are allowed considerable extra time and 
money.  Meanwhile, investor confidence in the project is conspicuously 
lacking; the only hope it has for "commercial" finance is an effective 
federal subsidy in the form of (unlikely) government loan guarantees.  

By last fall, NASA had come up with a plan, the ASTP (Advanced Space 
Transportation Plan), after collecting US industry's input via the 
Space Transportation Architecture Studies (STAS) then apparently 
ignoring this input wherever it conflicted with the agendas of the 
major NASA space-launch centers: the JSC/KSC Shuttle/Station 
establishment, and the MSFC launch technology development center.  

ASTP would have given JSC major Shuttle upgrades after a nominal 
competition with new paper "Second Generation" (IE near-term rocket-
powered) reusable launcher designs, while MSFC would have gotten 
significant ongoing funding to develop all the new launch technologies 
they wanted, just as long as these technologies were so ultra-advanced 
"Third Generation" that they couldn't possibly provide competition for 
Shuttle in less than a generation. 

We didn't like this plan (see SAU #91, "NASA's New Plan") and neither, 
it seems, did the White House Office of Management and Budget, OMB - 
the people NASA has to justify plans to before they show up in White 
House budget submissions to Congress.  The plan that emerged in the 
White House FY 2001 NASA budget proposal released in early February 
differs significantly from last fall's ASTP. 

  The "Space Launch Initiative" 

NASA's latest five-year plan, the $4.5 billion Space Launch Initiative 
for details) superficially addresses some of the problems with 
previous efforts: It calls for a goal of at least two competing 
commercial launch systems serving NASA needs, it partially breaks out 
NASA requirements into a semi-separate "NASA-Unique Systems" project, 
and it pays lip-service to expanding the contractor base beyond the 
current limited (both in numbers and in recent results - the *better* 
of the two remaining majors can't keep track of Station costs or 
Station hardware) post-consolidation field. 

We do not question the good intentions of the people who've come up 
with this plan.  But recent history has made plain that NASA is at 
heart, like it or not, a massive government bureaucracy, and good 
intentions seldom beat bureaucratic mass. 

Intentions entirely aside, NASA's new plan is still fatally flawed, in 
that it's based on two fundamentally wrong assumptions: 

 - One, that yet another Government-sponsored attempt to force 
convergence between NASA space transportation needs and US commercial 
launch needs (in the hope that NASA requirements might be met with 
commercial development funding) is either practical or desirable.  It 
is neither. 

Both previous such efforts (the pre-Challenger shutdown of the US ELV 
(Expendable Launch Vehicle) industry in favor of Shuttle, and the X-
33/Venturestar project) have been practical disasters, in significant 
part because NASA and commercial requirements in terms of system 
performance, political control, staffing, and costs are fundamentally 
incompatible.  Commercial launch customers were switching to Ariane 
even before loss of Challenger shut down NASA Shuttle for two years, 
and there was no real prospect of unsubsidized commercial investment 
in "Venturestar" even before the current technical/management problems 

Both previous such efforts have also been disasters in that, despite 
the improbability of success for the government's repeated attempts at 
NASA-commercial convergence, the mere fact of a government-sponsored 
effort to seize a majority of the commercial launch market deterred 
commercial investment in competing systems.  What sane commercial 
investor wants to compete against the government?  

This has been a significant factor in the radical decline in US share 
of the international commercial launch market.  There have been (with 
considerable encouragement from DOD) some cautious investments in 
improved commercial ELV's, enough to at least stop the bleeding and 
stabilize US launch market share somewhat below fifty percent, but 
investments in the sort of radically cheaper launch systems that might 
allow the US to start regaining lost market share have been few and 
far between, with no projects financed through to completion yet. 

Odds are, if NASA is allowed to proceed with yet another five-year 
plan to shotgun-wed NASA and commercial launch requirements, the 
results will be both another expensive failure, and also another five 
years wasted for the US companies that want to leapfrog current ELV 
technology and bring the US a much larger share of the growing 
international launch market. 

 - The second wrong assumption underlying this latest five-year plan 
is that meeting NASA's internal space launch needs should be the 
central goal of NASA space launch development efforts.  This is not 
just inference on our part; NASA comes right out and say that the 
primary customer for this effort is NASA, in the "Launch Initiative 
Program Description" at, and in 
a quote attributed to the NASA Administrator at the Advanced Space 
Transportation Plan rollout in Huntsville last October: "The customer 
is NASA" - IE, the NASA Shuttle/Station establishment, representing as 
it does half of NASA's overall budget, by far the largest NASA 
consumer of space launch and by far the largest bureaucratic political 
power center within the agency. 

The fact is, though, that the commercial space market surpassed the 
total of government space business back in the mid-nineties, and world 
commercial space continues to grow fast while government space is 
essentially flat.  Aerospace exports are the largest single area of US 
trade surplus - but this surplus is shrinking.  NASA is supposed to be 
supporting US commercial (and defense) advanced aerospace vehicle 
needs, not just internal NASA agendas. 

To date, and in this new five-year plan too, NASA is failing this task 
miserably - apparently doing their damndest to ignore it entirely, 
where they can't subsume it to their own internal needs.  A US share 
of a fast growing world market that's barely holding on in the forties 
is too important to subordinate to NASA bureaucratic turf defense. 

We don't argue that NASA's internal space launch needs should be 
ignored, mind.  All arguments about high cost versus limited returns 
for the current Shuttle/Station program aside, we can't stop flying 
astronauts into space without significant negative effect on national 
morale - the Challenger standdown was a national trauma; the ongoing 
manned space program remains a major national status symbol.  

This country is, however, under no obligation to always conduct this 
program as expensively as we do now.  The fiction that NASA space 
launch needs can be shotgun-wedded to commercial requirements has 
allowed repeated attempts by the Shuttle/Station establishment to 
ignore realistic examination of cost versus capabilities in pursuing 
function-for-function replacements for Shuttle.  

(Shuttle's large "downmass" capability in particular needs scrutiny - 
it's the main thing a (considerably cheaper) combination of a smaller 
"space taxi" plus heavy-lift expendables can't provide, and it is used 
so seldom that rational analysis will likely show that it'd be far 
cheaper to either build new copies of the occasional large "downmass" 
payloads, or leave them in orbit between uses, rather than pay to 
continue this rarely used capability.) 

  Policy Change Recommendations 

NASA must be instructed to cease efforts to square the circle; this 
latest shotgun wedding between NASA and commercial advanced space 
launch development must be called off.  Yes, NASA needs to devote a 
significant level of effort to supporting their own Shuttle/Station 
establishment's launch needs - but they also need to support US 
industry's need for technological advances that will allow significant 
market share (and national security) gains.  Most important of all, 
given the NASA Shuttle/Station establishment's demonstrated ability to 
bend all available agency resources toward its internal agendas, a 
firewall is needed between the NASA-specific and the commercial 
advanced launch support efforts, a very solid firewall. 

On the assumption that $4.5 billion over five years to meet national 
space launch needs is actually on the table, we recommend: 

 - $3 billion of this be formally committed to supporting NASA's 
internal need to back up (and eventually to replace) Shuttle. 

Half this amount should continue to go to the "NASA-Unique Systems" 
project, in essence an effort to combine various Crew Return Vehicle 
and Crew Transfer Vehicle efforts into an overall "Space Taxi" project 
aimed at a flexible general-purpose space transport capable of launch 
via Shuttle, via EELV-Heavy, or via future as-yet undefined commercial 
reusable systems.  NASA should build the F-250 crew-cab pickup of 
space, rather than another eighteen-wheeler Winnebago. 

The other half should be divided between "Space Taxi" integration with 
EELV (with emphasis on subscale demonstration of reliable emergency 
vehicle separation and recovery, rather than on extensive "man-rating" 
changes to EELV to marginally increase booster reliability) and such 
other NASA-unique systems as NASA deems appropriate - Station small 
package delivery, subscale reusable flyback booster demos, et cetera. 

 - $1.5 billion, or $300 million a year, should be committed to 
support the US commercial space launch sector, via NASA "Future-X" 
and/or via similar organizations under DOD - DARPA, AFRL Phillips, and 
ONR all come to mind.  NASA's current budget submission calls for 
shutting down "Future-X" after current projects are complete; if NASA 
genuinely doesn't want the job of supporting US commercial and defense 
advanced space launch needs, other agencies are available.  Splitting 
available funds among more than one sponsoring agency makes sense 
anyway, in that competition concentrates the bureaucratic mind 

The general approach should be to support construction and intensive 
testing of actual hardware at the edge of the current practical state-
of-the-art, in ground tests and flight demonstrations of individual 
subsystems and integrated vehicles.  

In order to spread the eggs among many baskets and to encourage 
diverse competing approaches,the maximum size for any individual 
project should be what NASA currently calls "Pathfinder" class, one to 
two hundred million dollars total, with many smaller projects also 
included in the mix. 

In order to expand the potential reusable aerospace-frame vendor base 
beyond the current post-consolidation pair, the risk of awarding 
significant hardware contracts to unproven or startup companies should 
be accepted.  (We note in passing that NASA has effectively done 
exactly this in awarding the "Pathfinder" class X-34 project to 
Orbital Sciences - when OSC finishes X-34, they'll be in good position 
to credibly pursue a commercial RLV venture.  We approve, and we'd 
like to see this precedent expanded to other companies.) 
(We also note that given the recent track record of the established 
majors, going with startups won't likely increase risk very much.) 

Finally, and very important, projects should be selected on the basis 
of providing practical advances in reusable space launch systems of 
near-term use to US commercial and defense interests.  "NASA 
requirements" should be kept on the far side of an inviolable 
firewall.  NASA manned space will eventually end up using systems 
developed under this program, but given their record of protecting 
bureaucratic turf at expense of the national interest, NASA launch 
customers *must* not be allowed to interfere with this program. 


Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions 
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in 
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. 

 Space Access Society 

 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" 
                                        - Robert A. Heinlein 

                  ----------Text Attachment----------

(We originally published the following NASA advanced launch 
development policy analysis and recommendations on February seventh, 
2000, the same day NASA unveiled its FY 2001 budget request, which 
includes initiation of a $4.5 billion, five-year "Space Launch 
Initiative".  We've seen nothing in that plan to radically alter our 
conclusions and recommendations, and much to confirm them.) 

    Eleven Months Till 2001, And We're Still Stuck On This Rock - 
            Now What?  SAS FY 2001 Policy Recommendations 

 - On NASA X-33: If Lockheed-Martin truly believes X-33 is still 
relevant to anything other than saving corporate face, let them 
prove it by paying for all additional costs from this point forward.  

NASA should support them in this if Lockheed-Martin chooses to 
continue, but without spending any further taxpayer dollars on the 
project.  If indeed Lockheed-Martin is serious about Venturestar as 
a genuine commercial project, and if indeed they believe X-33 still 
has any relevance to the much-changed Venturestar design, let them 
put their own money where their mouth is.  

Otherwise, it's time to shut X-33 down as being an expensive lesson 
in what not to do in pursuing cheaper space launch. 

 - On Federal loan guarantees for space launch projects: We oppose 
any measure that would have the effect of picking and subsidizing a 
"winner" or winners from among the variety of companies planning 
low-cost launch projects.  All such measures we have seen to date 
have, for all practical purposes, been aimed at some specific 
company.  We do not oppose Federal support for commercial low-cost 
launch ventures in general, but we have yet to see legislation 
introduced that would provide such support on a level playing field. 

 - On Federal support for development of low-cost reusable launch 
technology: Available funds should be increased modestly, should be 
focussed on a variety of relatively small projects aimed at flight-
demonstrating a variety of different near-term payoff approaches, 
should not be confined to projects proposed by the existing major 
firms, should not be allocated by just one government agency, and 
should be allocated by organizations and to organizations willing to 
pay attention to past lessons on successfully advancing the 
aerospace state-of-the-art via X-vehicle projects. 

Specifically, we would like to see more funding for NASA "Future-X" 
flight demonstrator projects, and also for similar projects in 
appropriate (IE not hidebound-bureaucratized) agencies under DOD.  
Competition is good - the recent policy of one specialty, one 
center, eliminating intra-government competition, has greatly 
reduced incentives to succeed, by reducing the danger of losing 
funding to another agency in the event of failure.  Instead, 
agencies have taken to defending failure by claiming the job was 
impossible anyway.  Absent competition, who can prove otherwise? 

Ideally, we would like to see, between NASA and DOD over the next 
decade, one new start per year of a one-to-two hundred million 
dollar-class reusable launch flight demonstrator project, with the 
goal of giving all credible players (and not just the existing 
majors) a chance to show what they can do.  

There are a wide variety of credible approaches to cheap space 
transportation.  But commercial investors so far will not pay to see 
which might fly and which won't; the payoff is too uncertain and too 
long-term.  The Federal government can, for no more per-year than 
NASA spent on X-33, separate the wheat from the chaff, to the point 
where a few years from now commercial investors (and government 
procurement officials) will be able to make sensible low-risk 
decisions on low-cost reusable space vehicles. 

 - Shuttle: The NASA Space Shuttle should be maintained and operated 
on missions of national importance until its variety of functions 
can be replaced by various more specialized lower-cost vehicles.  
Routine NASA space transportation services should end up 
commercially contracted for, just as NASA currently procures routine 
air transportation services.  NASA isn't allowed to operate its own 
airline - over the long term, the agency should also be moved away 
from operating its own spaceline. 

In the short term, a flexibly-launched (on EELV, Shuttle, or future 
reusables) Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle (CCTV) should be rapidly 
developed as a supplement to and potential emergency replacement for 
Shuttle, in order to, at acceptable cost, assure NASA's ability to 
meet its manned-space commitments. 

Shuttle upgrades should be limited to addressing immediate safety 
concerns and to providing operating cost and/or capability 
improvements that will pay for themselves in the short term.  

The current prohibition on Shuttle competing with commercial launch 
providers should be continued indefinitely, to avoid disrupting an 
emerging industry that is currently fragile and in the long run is 
vital to the nation's economic security and national defense. 

 - NASA's massive "manned space" Shuttle-Station establishment in 
general needs to be brought to heel.  They currently consume half of 
NASA's overall budget while providing at-best dubious results.  
Meanwhile they far too often act as the hypertrophied tail wagging 
the NASA dog.  For one example, the nominally separate branch of 
NASA that deals with advancing space transportation technology seems 
totally unable to make plans that don't give priority to the manned 
space empire's requirements over those of US industry and US defense 
agencies.  X-33 and now ISTP both suffered badly from this.  

 - NASA's space technology centers need to pay far more attention to 
the practical needs of US industry.  On March 3, 1915, the Advisory 
Committee for Aeronautics (later the National Advisory Committee for 
Aeronautics or NACA) was established by a rider to the Naval 
Appropriations Act, " supervise and direct the scientific study 
of the problems of flight, with a view of their practical solution." 
*Practical* solution.  Workable solutions *now*, not ultra-advanced 
whizbangs in twenty years.  

A working rocket engineer recently told us he has file cabinets full 
of old NACA reports that he uses every day - they're models of 
concise, accurate, useful information.  He says that reports from 
the first few years after NACA became NASA are still useful, but 
after the early sixties things went downhill, badly.  

NACA was vital to the success of the US aviation industry.  To the 
struggling US low-cost launch industry, today's NASA is no such 

One example of the sort of work NASA ought to be doing but isn't: 
Most current rocket engines were intended to be thrown away after 
one flight, and thus reuse of them has not been explored and 
documented.  Reports on the practical reusability of various engines 
- relight procedures, throttling potential, number of cycles, 
minutes of burn-time, wear and recommended maintenance intervals for 
various parts - would be immensely useful to reusable launch 
designers, however tedious and unglamorous they'd be to generate. 

NASA's spaceflight technology centers have lost sight of this "NACA" 
practical industry support function, and need to be led back toward 
it.  If they prefer sexy ultra-advanced decades-off technology work 
so much they still refuse to do the NACA job, the task (and the 
funding) should be given to someone else.