No son of Augustine study, Bolden has a forward plan

by | Aug 5, 2009 | Seradata News | 11 comments

A concern expressed by this blog was that the Norman Augustine led review, all 90-odd days of it, would simply be too short to achieve anything and that the options this US Review of human spaceflight plans committee would come up with would just lead to another study 

Fortunately it would seem, according to sources brave enough to talk to Hyperbola, that Bolden will have a “forward plan” very soon after Augustine has briefed the US Senate and House of Representatives, dates for which are being organised now

This will follow the committee chairman’s 14 August debrief to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and John Holdren, Office of Science and Technology Policy director – whose office kicked off the review on behalf of president Barack Obama’s administration

The rapid timing for all this is apparently because political wheels are to be set in motion as regards the Congressional budgetary process. So it is nice to know everything but the engineering is driving the schedule

But fear not Hyperbola readers because this NASA announcement yesterday indicated that all would be revealed sooner than you think

The Aug. 12 meeting will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. EDT at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Amphitheater, located at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington. The agenda is:

1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Committee public deliberations:

Discussion of final options

Discussion of final report

Discussion of close-out activities

Hyperbola understands that all the Augustine materials will be made public on 12 August, and perhaps there won’t even be set of secret appendices…

Coming back to this forward plan of Bolden’s, some people have been getting quite excited about what Xcor founder and chief executive Jeff Greason’s (pronounced Grey-son) propellant depot presentation means for the options that Augustine’s committee could choose

But don’t hold your breath. Such a readiness to have a wide range of views represented at these events, including presentations by the likes of Robert Zubrin, have less, this blog feels, to do with a genuine interest in these options than a calculated decision to avoid a backlash – “but everyone was given the chance to air their views”

Instead some of the Augustine report’s options are likely to be incorporated into broad themes thought by some to be influencing the Bolden forward plan and they are, a strong international element, missions that go beyond low Earth orbit, perhaps to L1, a commercial element and something that fits within the NASA budget

At the first Augustine panel public meeting’s press conference the former Lockheed Martin chief executive and review committee chair said he was interested in “marginal costs and marginal benefits”

NASA tells Hyperbola that this was a reference to the budget. This blog disputed this but they insisted and so what can be inferred from this marginal cost or benefit approach for the budget is essentially, what likelihood is there of one option costing more than another in every sense

To once again look into the crystal ball the question that comes to this blog’s mind is which of the known alternatives that could be considered for the Augustine report’s options present more risk for budget and schedule for these themes than others? 

Which has more risk, Commercial Orbital Transportation Services’ (COTS) vehicles, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV), an altered Ares/Orion or Shuttle derived Heavy Lift Vehicle side-mount? Or the orbiter?

For this reason propellant depots are disliked, it is an entirely new spacecraft with no heritage and requires a radically different architecture. And what would launch it? The ULA Delta IV or the yet to fly SpaceX Falcon 9 heavy come to mind. Anyway the word on the street is that NASA personnel are not giving the depot idea the thumbs up to anyone. Just ask any contractor pushing that, and this blog is referring to companies with larger profit and loss accounts than Xcor

For some Bolden’s forward plan will probably be Shuttle extension, with HLV over lap and a crew transport developed from COTS or EELV, while others will prefer a reformed Ares/Orion, HLV combination

While this blog thinks the options are quite self evident (Flame Trench also named some of the more obvious options such as ISS extension) the real mystery now is what will that Bolden forward plan say? Any answers Charlie?

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