Exploration Update

As you know, NASA is preparing for a return to the moon by 2020.  To accomplish this goal, NASA’s Constellation Program (www.nasa.gov/constellation) is designing and building the spacecraft and systems to once again propel us beyond low Earth orbit.  At NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, a mock-up of the next full-size capsule to send humans to the Moon can be seen and also will be used in early testing. Click here, to see the photo of the Orion space capsule as it heads to its temporary home in a hangar at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

In 2006 and 2007, NASA awarded the major contracts to build the crew capsule, called Orion, and its launch vehicle, Ares I. Engineers from the NASA centers and aerospace companies around the country are designing the spacecraft, launch vehicle and systems. For example, earlier this month on July 17, Aerojet completed the second of two firings of full scale jettison motors for Orion’s launch abort system at their facility in California And, engineers from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center worked with Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne to complete engine power pack testing in Mississippi at Stennis Space Center in May. This work is essential for development of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stage of the Ares I rocket.

On the return trip from missions to the International Space Station and the Moon, the crew and crew capsule will be protected during re-entry to Earth by the heat shield. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California are testing competing materials for the Orion heat shield, while assisting the NASA Science Mission Directorate and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the application of the heat shield for the Mars Science Lab. Click here to see a photo of the Orion crew capsule heat shield.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia is leading the way for the first test flight in development of the Ares I rocket.  The Ares I-X project engineers are working toward a launch next spring.  Inert upper stage sections for Ares I-X are being manufactured onsite at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio and ATK is manufacturing segments and other components of the first stage.  Parachutes for recovery of the rocket’s first stage — the largest parachutes of this type — are being tested.  The most recent test was a test of the drogue chute on July 24th.  Click here, to read the NASA press release.

In addition to development of the flight hardware, significant construction work is underway.  Several construction events are taking place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  The Operations and Checkout Building is being refurbished to prepare it for the final assembly of the Orion spacecraft.  Firing Room 1 at KSC Launch Control has been transferred to the Constellation Program.  And construction of a new lightning protection system for the launch pad is about 25 percent complete.  Later this fall, more significant modifications to the structure will begin in support of the Ares 1-X launch. In Louisiana, work has been initiated on the Michoud Assembly Facility for preparation of the manufacturing hardware for the Ares I upper stage and Orion capsule.  While in Ohio, major renovation of test facilities is progressing at the Glenn Research Center’s Plumbrook facility where vibration, acoustic and thermal vacuum testing of the Orion capsule will take place. 

While the near-term development work is progressing, Constellation also is taking steps to prepare for lunar missions.  The Constellation Program recently held the very first program milestone for lunar capabilities.  A very thorough analysis calculated the performance required to define the transportation systems needed for lunar missions.  This information was used to define the initial designs for the Altair lunar lander and the Ares V heavy-lift vehicle to launch it.

Separately, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is preparing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite for missions to the Moon early next year. These spacecraft will provide information about the Moon that will be vital to preparing for human missions to establish a lunar outpost in the coming years. Additionally, NASA is testing several concepts for lunar rovers and technology; check out the photos (flash) from Moses Lake to find out more about the concepts and technology that we may use

These are just a few examples of the real progress we’re making in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Constellation Program. NASA is building on our solid 50-year foundation to develop the future robotic and human spaceflight. I would like to thank Doug Cooke for his contributions to this blog. For additional information on NASA’s exploration efforts please go to https://www.nasa.gov/exploration

Competitiveness in the Space Economy

In my blog entry for April 11, 2008, I wrote about the “Space Economy” and the two keys to its success.  My focus was on the first of those keys, innovation, and the way it is enabled by NASA.  Internally, we often refer to NASA-enabled innovation as technology commercialization.

With this entry, I would like to discuss the second key ingredient to economic growth — competitiveness.  U.S. National Space Policy directs NASA to encourage the development of a highly competitive U.S. commercial space industry.  Ideally, this industry would meet NASA’s mission needs in addition to those of non-government customers.  Encouraging the creation of this type of industry is known as commercial development.

NASA is embracing commercial development because a broad and robust commercial space sector will be essential for the U.S. to meet its exploration goals in the long-term.  With the private sector providing goods and services in the near-Earth region, NASA will be able to concentrate on exploration further into space.

To encourage a new commercial space sector, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) developed a Commercial Development Policy in November 2007.  This policy is consistent with guidelines already written into law (P.L. 102-588), by including the following principles:

•    NASA should only encourage commercial space sectors that can fulfill specific mission needs.
•    Procurement of commercially procured good or service must be cost effective.
•    The goods or services must be bought through an open and fair competition.
•    Non-government customers for the good or service must exist.
•    The long-term success of the commercial space sector cannot rely upon long-term Government support.
•    The Government cannot fund the entire venture.

To date, ESMD has adopted this policy and it is being distributed to the rest of NASA offices for review.  The goal is to develop an Agency-wide, NASA Commercial Development Policy before the end of the year.

The ESMD team has made a major effort to solicit input on this policy from as many external sources as possible.  I encourage you to request the ESMD documents from Ken Davidian (kdavidian@nasa.gov).  Comments provided to Ken by the end of August will be considered for the final version of the NASA Commercial Development Policy.

Exploration Systems

A-3 Test Stand

On Thursday, August 23, I will be at Stennis Space Center for a groundbreaking ceremony for the A-3 test stand. The A-3 test stand is being built to test the J-2X, an Apollo-era liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engine, which will power the upper stages of Ares I and Ares V rockets. I look forward to attending this event which marks an important milestone for our exploration program.

To think where we were just a few short years ago with the Exploration program, where we are today and where we are going in the near future is remarkable to say the least. For 2007 alone, a great deal will have been accomplished. For example, Ares I first stage and the J-2X contracts have already been awarded and by the end of the year we expect to have awarded contracts for the upper stage and upper stage instrument unit. Work is beginning to propel us to the next great era of exploration.

Lunar Architecture

In parallel with the design, development and execution of space transportation hardware, we continue our lunar architecture planning effort. The lunar architecture is intended to enable achievement of our lunar exploration and science objectives and will facilitate commercial and international cooperation. We have an ongoing dialogue with 13 international space and science organizations to coordinate our efforts and identify areas of potential cooperation.

Partnering with Industry

We also continue to partner with U.S. industry and entrepreneurs to build new capabilities that will also benefit NASA. NASA is pursuing new ways of encouraging industry and entrepreneurs through programs such as the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) and Centennial Challenges. Centennial Challenges include the astronaut glove challenge held in May that was won by Peter Homer of Maine. The story of how Mr. Homer was out of work at the time and stitched the winning glove at his dining room table shows the spirit and passion so many of us have for space. I am sure there are many others who have the energy and creativity shown by Mr. Homer, and we at NASA want to provide opportunities for such creative souls to show it.

Additionally, we are working with other federal agencies. For example, NASA has partnered with the National Science Foundation to develop an inflatable shelter which they will test in Antarctica. This shelter will incorporate an airlock, connector tunnel, aerojel thermal insulation in the walls, and pockets on the exterior to hold snow in place. The testing will investigate the durability of the habitat in an extreme environment. The extreme environment of Antarctica mimics that of space (but with gravity).

Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD)

Advances in exploration cannot happen without good leaders. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Doc Horowitz for leading the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). Doc’s can-do attitude, energy, and background with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, as well as the leadership experience he gained as a Shuttle mission commander and pilot made Doc right for the job. Doc focused on getting the program off the ground, meeting major milestones, and making sure there were opportunities for the programs within ESMD to communicate through monthly meetings and quarterly reviews.

I will miss Doc’s professionalism and candor but appreciate his priority to be with his family. Rick Gilbrech, the current Stennis Space Center Director, will replace Doc on October 1, 2007. Rick’s engineering and project management experience will be an asset for ESMD. Rick is well-known throughout the agency for his integrity and leadership ability, and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity.