Live Blog – Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities Senate Science Committee Hearing

The Senate Committee on Science and Transportation hearing on Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities has begun…

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Hearing delayed because of two floor votes

Chairman Nelson speaking…

NELSON
It’s obvious that NASA Budget roll-out was an “off-nominal” event. Perception is that President has gutted human spaceflight program. But that is only a perception, not a fact. I know the President, and know him to be a true believer when it come to Nation’s manned program and that is the reason the President has in part to coming to KSC on April 15. We will hear from CinC himself when he hosts that meeting to announce new program for NASA and future of human space flight. NASA will focus on timelines of plans. President will focus on technologies as testified by Bolden a few weeks ago. This event by President will answer concerns of people.

Question is what are the elements of bringing about a major R&D program to develop a HLV to get out of LEO. President is recommending a $6B increase even as US Budget is decreasing. Another item being overshadowed is the budgeting up to now was that ISS would cease to exist in 2015. That was silly. And it’s not even completed. Hopefully ISS will start to achieve some of its promise. President put money to keep ISS up til 2020.

It is my hope that President will recognize and answer angst of NASA family. We’re in a recession. High-unemployment figures in Florida. Agnst is because the finest launch team in world is facing lay-off’s during one of the worst economic times of the world.

Now he’s blaming Bush for the budget times of the world.

And because of (Bush) the rocket that should be ready for launching with Shuttle shut-down is not ready. And that has cause angst. (Note: please…come on Senator!)

Because of a language, cancelation vs. reconstruction, angst is created.

Now, what to do about it. President’s policy, subject of this hearing, is that trips to/from ISS can be done cheaper by using commercial sector with NASA oversight on human trips can be done. President’s intent is to simultaneously develop heavy lift rockets to get us beyond LEO.

One thing I think the President should consider is the 5th Shuttle that can fly. It is held on demand. Risks are diminished so the 5th flight of a Shuttle issue can be retasked to an ISS mission. Nelson wants President to have 5th Shuttle flight. (that would only give Brevard workers another…what? months on the job?). Extending Shuttle is another matter. Gerstenmeyer says there are parts for 3 additional tanks, but getting workforce to assemble tanks and check-outs would be +2 years down the line. That doesn’t sovle problems when Shuttle is to be shut-down on 4th flight.

So we’re turning to commercial people, something we will explore today.

COTS is being done in 4 steps. Current COTS phase be funding at $12B to expedite. Next phase to supply ISS cargo service beginning in 2011. On commercial crew to ISS, effort was initiated as 2009 (Stimulus Bill) got funding awarded to 5 companies to reduce risk to flying crews with milestones later this year. Over next 5 years, $6B to commercials with eventual awarding of contract similar to commercial cargo contracts.

We’ll see what President says about going to Mars.

We’d like to see how that $6B for man-rating systems is spent. What are regulatory issues. No compromise on safety. ASAP 2009 Report will be entered into the record. (About time!).

How will investments between commercial and gov’t be allocated?

We’ll be hearing from some of the companies to better understand challenges.

GENERAL STAFFORD
Commander Apollo 10, Apollo-Soyuz

Talking about transitioning from NASA to commercial launchers for human flight.

Imperative to Congress that it understand what it’s preparing to end given what it has supported (Constellation) over the last 4 years. Will talk about transitioning the Titan ICBM to human flight.

Plan supported by Congress in Constellation came from CAIB and was noted that only $3B yearly needed to finish Constellation as originally intended. This would get us to the Moon and beyond. Either we’ll provide the money needed to have a great space program or we will recede. He agreed with 90% of the Augustine findings.

Remaining Shuttle flights should be flown and so should the 5th. This would help ISS.

Extending ISS was important. Agrees with this.

Guaranteed human space access is important.

There needs to b a demonstration of safe and reliable service to ISS. Talking about ATV and HTV budget and timeline issues, which were substantial. Over $1B.

Titan II booster man-rating took extensive modifications. Stafford’s first Gemini flight resulted in an aborted launch. Gemini was a high-risk demonstration program that would be unacceptable today. When NASA first proposed flying a Titan II was strongly opposed by Air Force. Would have required extensive changes to Titan. Special quality assurances and a seperate quality assurance program. Accumulators to stop pogo were added. Took a lot of extra people and a great deal of time and work. So it was not simple to change an existing launcher to a human-rated launcher. Air Force ended up modifiying its boosters to what NASA had done.

0.9999 rating of Apollo stands in contrast to current 0.999 of Constellation. This has to be demonstrated. Unfortunately, Augustine only mentions this briefly. And there was no mention of abort launch, crew return. Augustine Committee did not fully appreciate this. There seems to be some belief that is NASA simply stood aside that a safe alternative would come forward. This is not true. Human flight is difficult and takes extensive time and testing. There has to be a demonstrated reliablity that is not being addressed.

If the President’s 2010 budget was increased by $3B per year, Constellation would fly by 2016. But this is not in the President’s budget.

If commercial groups fail, how will we have a fall-back option if all of NASA’s workforce is gone? The Augustine Committee does not address this?

The idea of multiple suppliers didn’t work out very well with the F-22 program which came out of the YF-22 and YF-22 program.

He does not believe that the optimistic timelines by commercial launchers are realistic.

COLONEL O’CONNOR

Former NASA Chief of Mission Safety and Assurance

President’s budget canceling Constellation and going with commercial groups for human launches. Human space flight is highly dynamic. Flights near ISS pose challenges. Through its human flight accidents, system integration is very important. Validating new requirements for an vehicle is not cookie cutter or check-list driven.

Refinements are constant.

We are generating new requirements. Working with FAA. Transition from Soyuz to new launchers will be built on confidence. All subsystems and ground-systems will have to be validated.

DR. GEORGE NIELD
FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation
Role of FAA in regulating commercial launches over the last 24 years. Ensure protection of public and property. Encourage and promote commercial launchers. Safety number one.

Safety record to date is excellent.

Key challenge is the new segment, sub-orbital tourism. Working with several groups that will build spacecraft that will carry up people to the edge of space. Some will fail, but many will succeed.

Regulating commercial vehicles carry people will be extensive. There is enough good will and skill among all parties to get the job done. All COTS and CRS program launch providers will be licensed by FAA.

This is a historic opportunity to work side-by-side as we start a new endeavor. FAA looks forward to this new era.

MR. MALCOLM PETERSON
Former NASA Comptroller

Would put Soyuz up against anything we have.

Commercial launches are putting up private investment.

Soyuz is a form of commercial crew flights to ISS.

The commercial guys will have a hurdle in beating the $50M per seat price of Soyuz.

The issue is one of sustaining governmental development. If not a good argument, then difficult to sustain. There is a lot of risk. What is the investment risk? We are in unknown territory in how long ISS will be up? Other issues?

For example, ISS was canceled by previous Administration. Investors and other nations may require a guaranteed ROI. That guaranteed ROI as high as 40-45% ROI may be needed. It will be difficult to sustain commercial launch of humans without guaranteed government participation. What it takes for NASA to launch astronauts safely may be too expensive for commercial crew business. Cites the very many cameras that NASA has to track a Shuttle flight, the number of which went up after Columbia. While listening to Stafford was reminded of the many things NASA does to keep astronauts safe. Those steps taken by NASA may remove profitability of commercial crewed launches.

Has very serious doubts about commercial crew. But thinks that commercial cargo will be viable.

MR. MICHAEL GASS
President and CEO, ULA
…uh oh, video just stopped.

He’s back up!

ULA supports nation human spaceflight program. EELV provide a short-term solution to human space flight. Could be a foundation to human space infrastructure.

MR. FRANK CULBERTSON, JR.
Sr. VP, Orbital Sciences (former astronaut)

Safe human space flight requires many people to keep astronauts safe. That safety must never change.

Orion LAS being developed by Orbital.

Orbital is committed to supporting human space flight.

Whether commercial can develop safe crewed flight, Orbital believes that we can do that for safe access to ISS. $6B plus private capital should be possible to develop two sources by 2016.

Industry will take advantage of NASA and its people’s expertise. This will require close work with NASA, esp. on crewed LAS.

He will strap himself in on the first flight. Orbital’s CEO volunteers as well.

None can do this without NASA. NASA give insight and we will listen, just as we now do with COTS.

COTS is helping to build relationships, lines of communication and confidence in working together.

Orbital has been at there with commercial space at the very start.

ISS extension important for continued science and is an ideal environment for testing for new efforts to go to the Moon. Regenerative life-support and a strong supply line. We can simulate mission to Moon, Mars and beyond is possible on ISS.

Welcomes the debate on the future of commercial launch participation in nation’s space program.

More commercial participation will help America maintain its leadership in space flight.

MS. GWYNNE SHOTWELL
President, SpaceX

We support the new NASA budget. And appreciate COTS. Having the support of Congress and gov’t is fundamental to SpaceX success.

Recognize that some still question whether commercial launchers can safely launch to space.

SpaceX believes that it can get astronauts to ISS within 3 years of contract award because of Dragon’s design.

We are first to privately launch a liquid rocket, twice.

Both Falcon 9 and Dragon have been designed from birth as human rated (LAS? Where’s that?)

Had to do this because of ISS operations.

NASA would never put astronauts on an unproven rocket and Falcon 9 will be proven before a crew boards it. Time is available to deal with technical problems that arise. There is nothing inherently unsafe about commercial rockets.

Falcon 9 was designed with NASA human rating from the beginning.

Any first stage engine can fail while still having a successful launch, just as Apollo’s Saturn V could.

SpaceX believes that by not worrying about LEO that it can concentrate on future heavy-lift vehicles.

SENATOR HUTCHISON
Wants to continue Shuttle. How can we keep ISS open without having Shuttle? And wants additional Shuttle flights funded separately without impact to NASA budget. Gap is too important to rely on commercial promises alone. We need our own means to access space while working with commercial space launchers on human space flight. Shuttle and Constellation should not be shutdown. We need to keep our infrastructure, people and knowledge and backup, that is necessary. We need to keep our own capabilities while building commercial launcher capabilities is not something we want to do. And depending upon the Russians is not something we should be doing. That money should go to American efforts. Will work with Nelson to for America to continue to rely on itself for its human space program until the commercial launchers can take up that challenge.

NELSON
What is needed to assure that commercial launchers can safely launch astronauts.

STAFFORD
NASA knows how to do this. Multiple levels of assurance needed to reach the three-9’s, that is 0.999 safety factor.

O’CONNER
We are working with industry on human safety standards. And we’re tailoring the standards with industry.

NELSON
Is $6B enough Mr. Peterson to get commercial launchers to human rate their rockets?

PETERSON
I have not idea. This won’t be Gemini again.

NELSON
How do we determine the right amount.

PETERSON
Impossible without designs, funding, commitments, procedures, the whole 9 yards until you have numbers when estimating costs. We usually miss the numbers by an order of magnitude.

NELSON
But you were albe to do with cargo

PETERSON
Cargo is something we’ve done. We can do that. Cargo is straight-forward. Competitive environment is such that scale of economy make cargo viable.

NELSON
What if we took $6B and used that didn’t use that human certification but instead for devleoping HLV for Mars program?

GASS
Funding is a factor of how we spend it. Constancy of funding is the issue, not how we spend it.

NELSON
Astronaut office involved in developing human rating certifications.

O’CONNOR
Certianly. Talking about the 4 legs of stool of human rating the rocket.

Residiual risks exist.

NELSON
How have Russians reduced risk?

O’CONNOR
First flight aboard Soyuz was in 1995. How did we build that confidence. We’ve only recently understood their program and their design. We didn’t send people to Russia to lay on requirements, but to learn. Key ingredient was equivalence. Russians did things different, but its equivalent. Demonstrated reliability was important.

These build confidence.

NELSON
Mr. Stafford, would you tell us how you built that confidence.

STAFFORD
Electrical and plumbing systems were changed. They really opened up to us. The Russians do things differently but end up a t the same place.

NELSON
How can we guarantee that Russians price seats at the right price?

STAFFORD
$50 per seat. In 2012, that price will go up. We don’t know how much Russia subsidizes Soyuz. It will be difficult to beat that price.

CULBERTSON
Difficult to price a ride. Difficult to build that number. If price alone, then Russians can undercut us. Difficult to launch $50M, even under $100M per seat.

NELSON
Maybe better to put $6B in

PETERSON
Doesn’t understand why Administration didn’t continue Constellation, to follow the Augustine Committee’s recommendation to fund Constellation at $3B yearly as a backup. Orion leapfrogged Soyuz reliability and safety (his frustration with the Administration’s action is visible, really not happy with Administration’s action on Constellation). Shutting up now since “…I’ve shot myself in the foot”.

NELSON
Well, you’re OK because you’re the former Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance. (crowd laughs)

SHOTWELL
We can guarantee less than $50M/seat within 3 years of contract signing. Don’t need all of $6B. Dragon was designed from the beginning to fly people, so we can move quickly.

CULBERTSON
Can’t be that optimistic…(laughs). We’ve looked at previous systems including the Shuttle, for a 20,000 vehicle, cost works out to $3B for development. Could be significantly less. Mission cost would be $300M – $400M for human missions. There’s a lot of infrastructure such as Mission Control, tracking, etc. that has to be paid for.

NELSON
Shifting from crew to cargo, what lessons can US companies learn from ATV HTV development.

CULBERTSON
That shows us a challenge. Were expensive and behind schedule but worthwhile. US companies can do this. We should build on this. Could move beyond just cargo.

Talking about possibly servicing satellite and new science endeavors.

NELSON
What do you think General Stafford of the commercial claims? Notes that the Europeans and Japanese were over-budget and behind schedule on ATV and HTV.

STAFFORD
We saw Europeans $1.3B Euros on the ATV. They were 2 years behind schedule.

As former head of Air Force Flight Test Center, I’ve seen contractors propose a lot of hot-buscuit items that they costed ahead of schedule and under-budget. And they always missed those targets.

NOTE: Has adjourned the hearing to make a Senate vote on FAA.

NELSON
Committee will resume. Dr. Nield, what will be some of the chief challenges of building a human civilian program?

NIELD
Congress has given us the money and guidance, but until we see actual flights, starting with suborbital, we won’t know what additional regulations, etc. and challenges that we all face.

NELSON
Should FAA be involved with ISS missions.

NIELD
We work well with NASA, we’ve worked well on COTS, NASA brings its experience.

NELSON
Any new regulatory authorities that FAA will need regarding crewed flights?

NIELD
Given Congressional guidance so far, question is how to minimize risk to crews.

NELSON
Since FAA is responsible for safety of airplanes, can it play that role in spacecraft.

NIELD
We already play that role.

NELSON
Well, I passed the first commercial space act and I never intended the FAA to get into this. Don’t want more layers of regulation. General, I see you laughing…(probably at Nield’s discomfort)

STAFFORD
The only one who has the expertise to write those regulations, it’s NASA. Don’t want layers of bureaucracy, but NASA is the only one who can handle regs for crews.

NELSON
Can ULA support 4-6 crew vehicles?

GASS
We have looked at Orion, Orion light, on our full line of vehicles using our existing pads.

NELSON
How long would it take you to do a CEV program.

GASS
In 2-3 years, we could do this from our background in integration with National Security programs.

NELSON
Unmanned in 3 years and manned in 4 years. Shotwell says she can do that in 3 years.

GASS
Name that tune. You can throw-out numbers. We have credibility and experience. (Wow!)

NELSON
Mr. Culbertson, you said it might take 3-4 years.

CULBERTSON
We don’t know exactly how long it will take. It should be 3-4 years. Things can take longer. Under bad circumstances, it could be 5 years.

NESLON
If it were 5 years that’s Ares. So no matter, we’re looking at 5 years workign with the Russians.

CULBERTSON
Let me ask Ms. Shotwell and Mr. Culbertson, what assurances can we tell that your timeline statements won’t slip?

SHOTWELL
We are very confident of our timeline. First Dragon will fly in July. Dragon was designed from the beginning as human-rated.

CULBERTSON
Time-line for COTS has slipped to months and we’re pretty close. Won’t give a timeline for commercial crew. We don’t know what the requirements are. It would be premature to issue a statement til we see the ruquirments.

NELSON
I’d like to ask the 3 of you, don’t think this will occur, but, what would happen if there were some emergency and evacuation were needed. Now cargo and crew were not longer needed. What happens to your companies?

GASS
I’ll reiterate what Mr. Peterson said, there’s operational, technical, and market. This is market. That precludes why any rational investor would invest in this. That means that gov’t guarantees are needed.

CULBERTSON
Gass is correct. There needs to be guarantees. Concerning our cargo contracts, that could be an issue all though Orbital has other businesses, so that wouldn’t be major. If that happened, we’d offer to work with the gov’t to reman and resupply the ISS. It’s that important. It might be expensive, but necessary.

SHOTWELL
The market for SpaceX is broad, if we lost ISS cargo and crew, it wouldn’t be e. 24 launches are Falcon 9, and we’re signing more. We have other customers outside of the gov’t.

NELSON
Any concluding comments any of you would like to make. General?

STAFFORD
In my 40 years of experience, everything has taken longer than forecast and cost more money than forecasts.

PETERSON
If we are serious, we should put sufficient funds on the table allowing process to continue without interruption that delay activities. You want to look at, if going to be truly commercial, protection for investors. Investors need to know that they can get at least recovery of their principle, maybe lost of ROI. Otherwise, raising capital will be difficult.

GASS
There have been success of delivering on schedule and cost, but when the gov’t is the main buyer, even if on different markets, the gov’t can be a smart buyer.

NELSON
Thank you. You’ve been illuminated as we plow forward. Meeting is adjourned.

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