NASA chief tech says 'decade' for shuttle replacement

Feb 26, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan

Once the US space shuttle program closes, it will be about a decade before America can make a new vehicle for sending astronauts to space, NASA's chief technologist predicts.

When the longtime centerpiece of US spaceflight shutters later this year, NASA will focus on experiments at the (ISS) and on partnerships with private industry to build new spacecraft, Robert Braun told AFP in an interview this week.

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 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."

NASA told Congress in January that it could not afford to build a new heavy lift rocket and space capsule within the five-year timeframe and budget outlined in the fiscal year 2011 and President Barack Obama's 2012 budget request.

"None of the design options studied thus far appeared to be affordable in our present fiscal conditions, based upon existing cost models, historical data, and traditional acquisition approaches," said a NASA report to lawmakers.

A second NASA progress report is due in April, with the shuttle Endeavour scheduled for its crowning journey to the ISS on April 19, followed by Atlantis June 28.

After that, Russia's Soyuz space capsule will provide the sole method of transport for astronauts to and from the orbiting ISS. The US shuttles typically tote six or seven astronauts at a time; Soyuz tops out at three.

While critics raise concerns about risks tied to the more limited travel options, Braun said there are plenty of benefits to go around.

"The Russians have proven themselves to be a vibrant partner in the ISS to date," said Braun.

"I would say that the Russians are dependent upon the United States for operations of the International Space Station, we will for some time be dependent on them," he said.

"I think that is the nature of a partnership. All partnerships I have ever been involved in, both parties gain something from that collaboration."

In the meantime, NASA will turn its efforts toward space experiments on the ISS -- everything from recycling drinkable water in space to finding ways to protect human space travelers from radiation and the ravages of microgravity.

"Think about what it might take to send humans off into deep space -- not only do they have to be protected from the radiation environment but they have to live sustainably in space for long periods of time," said Braun.

Another key focus of NASA and its international partners is sending a roving robot explorer to Mars, with the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory set for later this year and a landing in 2012, he said.

Braun said the US space program is far from finished.

"My job is to basically think about NASA's future and I spend almost all my time doing so and I can tell you that NASA's future is very strong," he said.

"NASA is bigger than the space shuttle. Human space flight is bigger than the ," said Braun.

"If you think about it as a book, we are going from one chapter to another chapter. In this new chapter, the International Space Station goes from something that is being constructed to something that is being fully utilized by the international community," he said.

"What we are really talking about is a transition of the human spaceflight program, certainly not an end."

Explore further: SpaceX will try again Fri. to launch station cargo

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User comments : 23

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Thadieus
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
sad, really sad.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
It's sad, really sad, that we traded the Super Conducting Super Collider for the technology demonstrator Space Scuttle. Now the Scuttle is realized obsolete and NASA is affirmative action worldwide meals on wheels.

Welcome to the third world.
fuviss_co_uk
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2011
NASA is drowning(government is behind it of course), all hopes in China, EU, Japan, Russia and India now
They should spend some money on researching technologies for space elevator, if only we can construct it, we will see hundreds of times more missions and all kinds of launches. If we build more than one space elevator, lets say 6 ( USA, UE, China, Japan, Russia, India) then it will come crazy times for space exploration. I hope that we will see first elevator in 2030
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2011
NASA told Congress in January that it could not afford to build a new heavy lift rocket and space capsule within the five-year timeframe and budget outlined in the fiscal year 2011 and President Barack Obama's 2012 budget request.


I am sure ULA would be glad to do it on time for those countless billions, if NASA is not up to the task. But I guess milking the federal budget is more important than affordable and efficient space program..
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
I am sure ULA would be glad to do it on time for those countless billions, if NASA is not up to the task. But I guess milking the federal budget is more important than affordable and efficient space program..
2 cents of your total tax burden go to NASA. How cheap do you really want space exploration to be?
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
I am sure ULA would be glad to do it on time for those countless billions, if NASA is not up to the task. But I guess milking the federal budget is more important than affordable and efficient space program..
2 cents of your total tax burden go to NASA. How cheap do you really want space exploration to be?


If it would be up to me, I would invest much more money into space exploration, it is one of the best use of tax money, IMHO. But my point was that there is more effective way to do it (and thus achieve more for the same limited budget), not to spend less.
Egleton
3 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
I believe that you Yanks are so broke that you cannot build a railway line, let alone a space vehicle.
My, how the mighty have fallen.
HobbySpacer
5 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2011
This article is misleading. NASA does not plan to build a vehicle to replace exactly the Shuttle, i.e. deliver both crew and cargo to orbit.

Cargo will be delivered to orbit by 2 US commercial firms (SpaceX & Orbital Sciences) starting in the next 12 months. By 2014-2015, two or more firms will start delivering crews to orbit. This will cost far less than they shuttle. The average cost per flight of a Shuttle is over $1B.

Braun is referring just to a heavy launch vehicle + the Orion capsule, which some argue are needed for deep space missions. Both of these systems are developed in-house at NASA with commercial subcontractors. Such in-house projects are extremely expensive and time-consuming. With expected budget constraints, NASA will be lucky to have them flying by 2020.

A far more cost-effective approach to deep-space missions would be to develop in-space systems, such as fuel depots and reusable in-space transports, that would work with the above commercial launchers.
RM07
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
I believe that you Yanks are so broke that you cannot build a railway line, let alone a space vehicle.
My, how the mighty have fallen.


Don't know if you've been keeping up with current events, but the *world* is broke, mate.
1gaetanomarano
3 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2011
.
.
.
stop people that still want to play with capsules, ET and SRBs just to lose TEN MORE YEARS and at least $20-30 billions!!!
.
why don't give me $1 billion to start my new.space company?
.
my plan:
.
back to orbit with an US vehicle within 5-6 years
.
a lunar orbit space station within 8 years
.
back to the Moon surface within the 50th of the Apollo 11
.
a lunar outpost within 2020
.
the robotic exploration of great part of the Moon within 2025
.
a manned orbital Mars base on Phobos within 2025
.
the robotic exploration of great part of Mars within 2030
.
the first manned Mars landing within 2030
.
the colonization of Mars to start from 2035
.
.
.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
researching technologies for space elevator, if only we can construct it,
Scuttle payload is 50K lbm/25K kg (35 MPa). Graphene UTS is on the order of 100K MPa and density is 1 g cm^-3. Geosynchronous orbit is 5 x 10^9 cm.
Sanescience
5 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
I comment on these discussion lines occasionally, so this should not be new for anyone: In all likeliness, NASA is out of the big space launching game. And that is probably for the best.

Big government wastes money like no other institution can. And when their failed designs and inefficient processes comes to fruition, are they eliminated? Nope. They pass special bills that let them fly anyways.

Government should be a watchdog and regulator. Just like now how they are requiring companies like SpaceX to implement safety systems that they themselves took out of the shuttle to save money.

SpaceX will provide space access cheaper, safer, and more reliably than NASA ever could, and soon I suspect Bigelow will be able to provide more habitat room in orbit for fractions less than the ISS.

Go private sector.
jwalkeriii
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
NASA had planned to deorbit the ISS in the first quarter of 2016. The Augustine Commission, which reviewed NASA's human space flight program, recommended in its final report of 23 October 2009 the extension of the ISS programme to at least 2020-- in nine years.

With everyone out of money and no means to build a new space station, in ten years there may be no space station to go too...
gopher65
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2011
Sanescience: Who do you think developed every bit of technology that Bigelow is using? NASA, that's who. Why didn't NASA want to use the inflatable space station tech that they developed? They did. Congress passed a law specifically banning NASA from continued development of cheap, safe, reliable inflatable modules for space stations, and further ordered NASA to continue to use the expensive, outdated, dangerous modules produced by companies in the districts of key senators. *cough*bribes*cough*

Bigelow just happened to get lucky, buying billions of dollars worth of NASA research for almost nothing (NASA's managers were hoping to convince someone else to take over their research because they knew it was better than the crap they were being forced to use).
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2011
I believe that you Yanks are so broke that you cannot build a railway line, let alone a space vehicle.
My, how the mighty have fallen.


How many shuttles do you have? How many footprints on the Moon? Aircraft carriers? We're broke, you're broke, everyone except China is broke. The difference is we have something to show for it. We spent money and built things. And if you relish in the mighty falling, we were just following in the steps of our brethren. Tell me, does the sun in fact set on your empire now?
Sanescience
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
Sanescience: Who do you think developed every bit of technology that Bigelow is using? NASA, that's who. Why didn't NASA want to use the inflatable space station tech that they developed? They did. Congress passed a law specifically banning NASA...


Yea, that is an example of the government environment and why it should not be in "business" like ventures. Sure early on when space was more of a military thing they were able to make some great accomplishments, but now that NASA is more government and less military, it is getting really bad.

How ever COTS got started, it was a brilliant idea to save some of the brilliant IP and experience of NASA and pass it on before it is lost.
Pkunk_
5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2011
Sanescience: Who do you think developed every bit of technology that Bigelow is using? NASA, that's who. Why didn't NASA want to use the inflatable space station tech that they developed? They did. Congress passed a law specifically banning NASA from continued development of cheap, safe, reliable inflatable modules for space stations, and further ordered NASA to continue to use the expensive, outdated, dangerous modules produced by companies in the districts of key senators. *cough*bribes*cough*


Another reason why space travel is going to really take off only when corporations and commercial interests are involved.
Instead of funding legions of overpaid govt. workers hamstrung by ridiculous political shenanigans and laws , space travel companies should work like Airline companies - perform or perish.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2011
Another reason why space travel is going to really take off only when corporations and commercial interests are involved.
Instead of funding legions of overpaid govt. workers hamstrung by ridiculous political shenanigans and laws , space travel companies should work like Airline companies - perform or perish.
Airlines are one of the most government tethered industries out there.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2011
I believe NASA COTS showed the way of the future quite conclusively. New launch system and capsule ready to be manrated for less than a billion speaks for itself. Compare that to the cost of NASA-developed Ares I, order of magnitude cheaper! NASA needs to adopt this model for majority of its activities. Set the price and specifications, and pay it to the company after the work is succesfully completed.
Skepticus
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2011
Sanescience: Who do you think developed every bit of technology that Bigelow is using? NASA, that's who. Why didn't NASA want to use the inflatable space station tech that they developed? They did. Congress passed a law specifically banning NASA from continued development of cheap, safe, reliable inflatable modules for space stations, and further ordered NASA to continue to use the expensive, outdated, dangerous modules produced by companies in the districts of key senators. *cough*bribes*cough*

Bigelow just happened to get lucky, buying billions of dollars worth of NASA research for almost nothing (NASA's managers were hoping to convince someone else to take over their research because they knew it was better than the crap they were being forced to use).

So how come the voters keep this system of nepotical idiocracy going?
Wulfgar
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2011
Fling cargo with a railgun into orbit cheaply, while at the same time relying on updated rocket and capsule designs to get people into orbit to assemble the stuff into space habitats/ships. That should be the plan. Rockets for transporting stuff is a huge waste. Only living things should be rocketed into orbit.
Sanescience
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2011
Fling cargo with a railgun into orbit cheaply, while at the same time relying on updated rocket and capsule designs to get people into orbit to assemble the stuff into space habitats/ships. That should be the plan. Rockets for transporting stuff is a huge waste. Only living things should be rocketed into orbit.


Well, there are a lot of things that would not survive ballistic acceleration into orbit. Most electronics or structured materials won't survive. But it might work very well for consumables (food, oxygen, fuel, etc.). And in a pinch it could be re-purposed as a super artillery weapon to land warheads or kinetic shells onto enemy targets. It would be a two for the price of one!
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2011
Well, there are a lot of things that would not survive ballistic acceleration into orbit. Most electronics or structured materials won't survive.
That's not accurate.
THe only thing that probably wouldn't survive acceleration on that order is a human being. Our electronics would have a tough time with the magnetic field generated by the delivery system but that can be shielded at a very low weight to cost ratio.

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