Braun: Completing Human Spaceflight Projects Could Take Decade

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

UPDATE: I ran into Bobby Braun last night here in Orlando, and he says that this story misquoted him as saying it would take a decade.

NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun thinks it could a while to complete the space agency’s human spaceflight projects:

But with spending squeezed and NASA at odds with lawmakers over a 2016 timeframe for building a new heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle to replace the 30-year-old shuttle program, Braun said that developing the future mode of travel could take longer than Congress, or the US public, may want to hear.

“Let’s call it — think about it as a decade if you want to put a time stamp to it,” said Braun, who gathered along with a host of veteran astronauts, politicians and space enthusiasts at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to witness the final blastoff for the Discovery space shuttle.

“In that decade not only will we fully utilize the International Space Station but we will develop the capabilities to send humans up and down through the commercial crew program and to send humans beyond low Earth orbit with the space launch system and the multipurpose crew vehicle,” he said.

“What specific year in that decade I think does depend a lot on budgets but I am pretty comfortable with it in that timeframe.”

The pacing item seems to be the heavy-lift vehicle to send humans beyond low Earth orbit. NASA told Congress that the budget and Dec. 31, 2016 deadline it has been given for developing the HLV and Orion capsule are unrealistic in a preliminary report back in January.  A full report is due in April.

Although work on the Orion capsule is progressing, the HLV is more problematic. Congress has insisted that NASA build it with the same shuttle-derived architecture used for the Ares 5 program. The path has the advantage of keeping thousands of jobs in place; it also involves hardware that is expensive to adapt, build and operate. Congress also put the program on a strict timetable and budget that NASA officials feel are unrealistic.

Congress has rejected the space agency’s preferred approach, which was to focus on commercial human transport while deferring a decision on what type of HLV to build. In the meantime, NASA would conduct research and development on new technologies, including in-orbit refuelling stations and advanced engines. The goal would be to develop an HLV that is cheaper to build and operate and better suited for deep space missions.

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