NASA expects commercial use of Space Shuttle Main Engines

by | Jan 21, 2009 | Seradata News | 6 comments

SSME removal.jpg

credit NASA / caption: Orbiter Atlantis and its SSMEs. Click on the image to see a larger version

NASA has told Hyperbola, “Some individuals at NASA believe that a limited number of established or start-up commercial space transportation organizations may express interest [in Space Shuttle Main Engines] once it is clear that the space shuttle’s last mission really will occur on a certain near-term date, and that the remaining engines are still in “fly-able” condition.”

I had asked about the disposal of the SSMEs because the agency’s orbiter placement Request For Information states that “NASA plans to initially retain flight-worthy SSMEs for technical mitigation and potential programmatic reuse.”

Programmatic reuse? NASA’s definition of “technical mitigation and potential programmatic reuse” is:

1. Use by NASA and DOD government research and development laboratories (i.e., MSFC, SSC) for engineering development, advanced technology development, maintenance procedures improvement development, and training.
2. Potential flight use in civil or national security expendable launch vehicles after the completion of the Space Shuttle Program.
3. Potential flight use in U.S. Commercial expendable launch vehicles after the completion of the Space Shuttle Program has since run a story saying that the Ares project office is still considering SSMEs for the Ares V cargo launch vehicle. In response to my question about Ares interest in SSMEs NASA’s space operations transition manager Joel Kearns said:

“I am not aware of any Ares V Project Office request for SSMEs.  However, since it is known that (a) the Space Shuttle Program will keep all the assembled flight SSMEs in SSP inventory until and least the last space shuttle mission and (b) the Orbiter/RFI informs both NASA and the public that the assembled flight SSMEs are not to be advertised for disposition at this time, that means that Ares V Project knows there is no 2009 date by which they need to inform us if they do have an interest.”

The more conspiratorial amongst you might say, ah, so the Ares project office know they have lots of time before they need to ask!

Personally I am doubtful about SSME adaption to an expendable version even if is reporting higher than expected costs regarding Ares V core stage propulsion RS-68B development; because it will have to run twice as long as the RS-68 does for the United Launch Alliance (ULA)/Boeing Delta IV

I should add that NASA has also told me that “No one to date has expressed interest in the SSMEs.” But because of this apparent belief by some at NASA that start up or established commercial operators might be interested I contacted Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and ULA

SpaceX’s PR guy said “To my knowledge, we have not had any discussions about SSMEs.” To his knowledge, what about the Falcon 9 programme manager? Again, I would advise restraint in the conspiratorial department

I didn’t contact Orbital Sciences about its Taurus II launcher’s first-stage that will use two Aerojet AJ26-62*, Aerojet’s version of the NK-33/43 engines, as my colleague John Croft was trying to contact them at the time about ISS commercial resupply services and they didn’t respond

While ULA has been silent so far. Doesn’t mean anything though. I’m still waiting on ULA for a bunch of orbital propellant depot stuff (yes that thorny issue – calm down Mr Goff!)

*This is what Orbital states in its Taurus II fact sheet, AJ26-62, but the Aerojet website only refers to AJ26-58/59/61, no -62! 

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