My friend Clark Lindsey over at Hobby Space points to an account of XCOR CEO Jeff Greason’s remarks earlier today during the Goddard Memorial Symposium. Policy analyst Marcia Smith reports that Greason was quite blunt in laying out the options for America’s human spaceflight program:
Stressing that he was expressing his own views and had no special knowledge of the Obama plan other than what he reads in the media, he recounted some of the discussions that transpired in the Augustine committee deliberations that led to the conclusion that the Constellation program was not executable.Â “Constellation was designed for a budget twice what it got.Â That’s what unexecutable means,” he said, adding that it would require “four, five, six billion dollar increases every year for the rest of time” to be successful, including operations….
He asserted that a “lot of lies are being spun” about the concept of commercial crew and it is “silly” to say that commercial companies cannot provide such services, but it is likely to happen first with established launch vehicles, not entrepreneurial ventures. He expects Falcon 9 and Taurus 2 to be successful someday, but Delta 4 and Atlas 5 already are proven.Â As for what capsule should go on top, he urged the aerospace community to be honest with itself that the Constellation program would have produced a crew capsule that cost $500 million each, far too expensive.
This is a pretty accurate analysis. In all the sturm und drang over the outsourcing of human spaceflight to the private sector, it’s been largely overlooked that Delta 4 and Atlas V have been long preferred by many respected experts over the Ares I. They lost the argument five years ago when NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decided to pursue a shuttle-derived architecture. The problems with Constellation have proven them to be at least half right.
Their arguments in favor of expendables have been quite practical. Much of the work had already been paid for by the U.S. Air Force, which needed the uprated rockets for its large satellites. Not having to reinvent the wheel would have freed up NASA to focus on heavy-lift technology, which is the real pacing item for trips to the moon or elsewhere.
It’s an executable strategy that’s been used successfully before. The Mercury and Gemini crews rode human-rated ballistic missiles into orbit. Soviet and Russian crews have done the same for nearly 50 years. As for private management of human spaceflight, this has been done with the space shuttle through United Space Alliance.
In short, this is not, as some have alleged, a radical conspiracy hatched by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and executed under the nose of her clueless boss, Charles Bolden. It reflects rather mainstream thinking that bubbled under the surface for years but had no chance of a hearing under the previous government.
The Constellation program’s stumbles, and a change of administration in Washington, has allowed for a full re-evaluation of America’s plans. The new leadership finds itself in an enviable position in some respects. They can’t really be blamed for most of NASA’s problems. And the previous government’s decision to fund two new commercial rockets – Taurus II and Falcon 9 – will give them more options once these systems come online. This puts NASA in a stronger negotiating position.
Greason also supported the Obama’s willingness to postpone decisions on where and when America should venture out beyond LEO.
Intermediate missions to the Moon and “deep space” destinations like asteroids are prerequisites to Mars in his view.Â Together they are an “ensemble” of destinations and the order in which they should be visited cannot be determined today, he argued.Â Instead, those decisions should made over timeÂ based on available technology and funding.
Overall, some excellent observations from Greason. You can read the full report here.