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NASA's Contellation Proram

posted Apr 13, 2009, 9:46 AM by John Kavanagh
Jeff Hanley, NASA's Constellation Program Manager,  posted Where Things Stand with Constellation on the official blog. I replied:


Thanks for the insight. I think the Vision for Space Exploration and the Constellation Program is the most inspiring adventure to engage the United States in two generations.

Yet how much more affordable could the Constellation Program be if the legislative guidance had instead asked NASA "to use as much existing national launch infrastructure" as possible? Would NASA have interpreted it in a broader space sector context?

I understand that tapping the space launch marketplace instead of operating a government launch infrastructure wouldn't afford as much political predictability to allocate funds across NASA Centers in congressional districts. Yet it seems that NASA's weighting of the architecture selection criteria, particularly the performance requirements of Orion, was rigged to exclude any non-NASA launch providers.

It is great that Constellation's architecture is "re-invigorating the NASA institution across all of its 10 centers in California, Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Alabama and New Mexico."

But is this NASA-centric architecture and value proposition at the expense of the grander objectives of the Vision to open up space for exploration and development by the United States and our international partners? 

If NASA's architecture continues to make government access to space, be it LEO or cis-Lunar, increasingly unaffordable. I cannot believe that it is going to cost $30 billion (1/3 the cost of ISS!) just to get back to the historic capability where the United States has a CLV that can carry 4-6 astronauts to orbit once or twice year.

It seems that with the current Constellation architecture we're left with opening up cis-Lunar space at the cost of a few billion dollars per government astronaut per year.

In summary, at this cash burn rate I don't think Constellation current approach will last long. While Constellation may achieve the objective of rejuvenating the NASA campuses at all 10 of its centers, I don't think it is a “sustained and affordable human and robotic program” nor will it “extend human presence across the solar system”, to quote the Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy.