Testimony of  Mr.Gerard W. Elverum to The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Of The House Committee on Science

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Mr. Elverum is testifying based on his own expertise and representing the documented views of The Space Transportation Subcommittee of The Aero-Space Technology Advisory Committee Of the NASA Advisory Council

The Subcommittee was created in 1995 to assist the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) in oversight of NASA's efforts to achieve America's #1 space goal--a significant reduction in the cost of manned access to space. Subcommittee members participating at the time of its apparent phase out at the end of 2001 were:

Vice Admiral Robert Monroe (Chairman)
Mr. Wolfgang Demisch  Dr. James Mar
Mr. Gerard Elverum     Mr. Duane McRuer*
Dr. Robert Huang        Mr. James McWha 
Dr. Donald Jacobs*     Dr. George Springer
Mr. Henry Jex                                                                  

* NAC members
All except Mr. Henry Jex and Mr. James McWha had participated since the Subcommittee's formation.

Initial reviews focused on the down-select process for proceeding with a single technology demonstrator vehicle. Despite the Subcommittee's objections that the selection criteria were inadequate to justify the extreme risk of a Single-Stage to Orbit, NASA committed to reaching the goal of replacing the Space Shuttle through the X-33/ Venture Star Program. As a result, the Subcommittee under the guidance of the NAC focused almost exclusively on X-33/Venture Star for five years. However, as our reports continuously cautioned, it became apparent even to NASA by mid-2000 that an operationally viable SSTO vehicle would not be achievable in the near term. No justification could be made to implement the NASA's goal of a "decision to proceed" to an RLV full development program by 2000. In our Report of September 6, 2000 we stated:

"It now appears, however, that two central parameters of the original program cannot be met: (1) Industry cannot fund the planned RLV without considerable (probably several types of) Government support (loan guarantees, anchor  tenancy, indemnification and/or insurance, possibly direct funding, etc.); and (2) the mass-fraction demands of a useful SSTO appear to be out of reach, not only with current technology, but with any technologies expected to be available for a Next-Generation RLV."

Because of the loss of almost six years chasing the SSTO concept, the Subcommittee believed the original goal of a Shuttle replacement by about 2008 was completely out of reach. We therefore stated as one of our recommendations:

"NASA should immediately launch an urgent, competitive 'Next- Generation TSTO RLV Program' designed to meet the nation's Manned space flight needs with a reliable, robust, lower-cost replacement for the Shuttle by about 2012."

"The first phase (FY01-02) should be detailed systems analysis and implementation planning to match requirements to achievable funding, and to structure realistic Government-industry cost sharing approaches.

Rationale: (some) Studies have indicated that a TSTO system using modern technology and rapid-turnaround, reduced ground-crew operations can save billions of dollars. The nation is long overdue in validating this by serious, in-depth systems analysis. If this initial phase is successful, subsequent phases of the program might be: one-year, industry-wide conceptual design competition (FY03), with downselect to two teams; three-year, well-funded systems engineering and technical validation competition (FY04-06), with downselect to one team; and five-year full-scale engineering development (FY 07-11). All phases should include well-funded engine programs. NASA should assume a substantial part of Next-Generation TSTO RLV development costs, as a necessary expense of reducing the overall cost of manned space flight."

Although it was not specifically highlighted in the written report, one of the most important parts of the second sentence in the recommendation was:
"to match requirements to achievable funding, and to structure realistic Government and industry cost-sharing approaches "

At the time, the Committee had fundamental concerns based on our reviews of the ISTP program as to how NASA was going to proceed with a viable Shuttle replacement vehicle. Given the grave difficulties with X-33, we saw no real alternative "program approach" in the relatively unfocused technology projects that could provide any hope of leading to a justifiable path to replacement of the STS. We were given to understand that NASA had realized that fact, and had proposed a more realistic $4.5 B. funding wedge that it termed the "Space Launch Initiative". It was our opinion that all of those dollars if realized (and more) needed to be strongly constrained to focus on a single program. This was based on our understanding of a national commitment to replacing the STS as soon as practical. Target IOC in the 2010 time frame was indicated. The justification for this need presumably derived from risk concerns about the aging STS vehicles.

Our understanding was that because of the NASA need, the purpose of the SLI was to enable NASA to establish at least two credible (system engineered) RLV system candidates for a competitive downselect by about 2005. In the judgment of the Subcommittee, the only hope of achieving such a goal would be if the system and operating requirements controlling the design of a new RLV were conservatively matched to a possible viable funding profile. Any RLV design concepts that could have low development schedule and cost risk profiles should be driven primarily by systems engineering trades, and not by optimistically incorporating unvalidated new technologies. In fact, stage velocity requirements for multi-stage earth- to-orbit RLVs do not demand cutting edge new technologies! Such technology projects may be fun to do, but they are not necessary. As clearly demonstrated by the Shuttle, pushing extreme technology limits to save take-off weight for a reusable Launch Vehicle is exactly what you don't want to do.

Funds to reach the stated NASA goal of having two or three credible system-engineered candidate RLVs by 2005 were obviously seriously limited. Therefore, it was the Subcommittee's view that the only major technologies funded by SLI should be those defined by the outcome of detailed, conservative system engineering results for credible multi-stage RLV candidates. Furthermore, those technology efforts should be focused only at validating any specific engineering design criteria that had not already been established by an authoritative source.

The Subcommittee's experienced-based judgment was that a NASA and national commitment to a real Shuttle replacement RLV program based on definitive overall program requirements and an identified funding profile, is necessary if a reasonably near term replacement of STS is to be achieved. This has been a consistent theme of the committee's reports and verbal advice to the NAC and all levels of NASA, including the Administrator. In many cases it appears to have been misunderstood, and has become a source of dispute. However, I want to make clear that, at the direction of the NAC and the NASA administration, our focus has been on the manned reusable launch vehicle programs to replace the Shuttle as soon as practical. Therefore, our recommendations were always aimed at what needed to be done to achieve that goal. The Subcommittee's role was to provide advice in that regard, not to determine if an operationally flexible manned space capability was no longer a national need.

On November 8 and 9, 2000, the Subcommittee met at MSFC for our first review of the SLI. We focused on program definition, intent, goals and commitment to pursue the first phases of a funded vehicle program to replace the STS in a time frame that could realistically be called "second generation" (say 2010-2012). Although we thought we were told that goal was indeed the desired payoff for the SLI, what we heard about the planned effort was not highly encouraging. There appeared to be small pieces of the action for everyone, and a premise that brand new technology and performance optimization (based on vehicle weight) was going to somehow magically result in higher reliability and a factor of ten lower cost to launch NASA manned missions. Our concerns were presented in a report in January 2001. I have elected to paraphrase conclusion #3 of that Report, which I present below along with several selected recommendations from the Report (also including some editing in italics).


3. In a number of vital particulars, the SLI as it was apparently shaped and passed on to MSFC for execution, and as presented to the Subcommittee the end of 2000, appears to lack the basic essentials of a committed System Program (an achievable goal, an overall commitment to a realistic end-item budget, a rough completion date, etc.) The performance improvement 'requirements' for the program which were arbitrarily established are unachievable ( because they are simply unmeasureable) for a (near term) second ®o›gration RLV. The SLI as it was presented at the time of the meeting was not adequately structured nor balanced as the front-end of a program truly committed to achieving the goal of providing a credible near-term replacement of STS with a multi-stage RLV. The implementation guidance encourages broad R, T&D in areas that are insufficiently constrained by Systems Analysis supporting the achievement of that goal (or any goal other than broadening the general technology base). The Subcommittee believed the initial focus should be principally on Systems Analysis, and the innovative engineering application  of existing technology to the replacement RLV total system. A big-system program, such as we believed SLI was supposed to enable, must be fully defined by a clear mission, practical operational envelopes and an achievable cost profile.These requirements are mandatory so that an engineering process consisting of:

1.)   Systems Analysis to define a few truly credible candidate reusable launch vehicle /ground operations total system configurations that are constrained by mission, operational, and life-cycle cost requirements that are fully committed to.

2.)   Preliminary Systems Engineering of several most promising candidates, and iteration with systems analysis to arrive at two or three of the most desirable (lowest risk and life-cycle cost) RLV total system configurations.

3.)   Specific identification resulting from steps 1.) and 2.) above, of the highest leverage specific technologies that must be validated to establish the credibility of each of these System Candidates to meet the acceptable "Requirements" for a 2nd generation RLV .



1.     "NASA (through the Congress) should give SLI a program orientation to produce a robust, low-cost second generation RLV by about 2015. at a specified development , test, and production cost (e.g.: $xx B) managed in accordance with a milestone-oriented 2001-2015 schedule." (Note, that this implies a Government controlled and predominantlyGovernment funded launch vehicle development program )

2.   - - - -

3.   NASA should scrub the second-generation "requirements"document of August 1999 to produce "softer" more generic (missions and operational) requirements, relying on the front-end Systems Analysis work to provide the informed decisions on requirements.

4. Most importantly, NASA should commit the FY01 SLI budget effort almost entirely to Systems Analysis of RLValternatives. Each alternative must have clear credibility as candidates for a near-term second- generation RLV  that can specifically satisfy all NASA's committed mission and ground operations needs. These should include multistage-to-orbit systems ( including enhancing the basic Shuttle with any applicable sub-systems accepted for the other system candidates), etc. top-level needs. These needs ("use requirements") should be defined totally by NASA's operational needs, not by arbitrary and unmeasurable cost and reliability ratios! To be clearly credible for near-term, candidate RLVs must primarily be based on existing  or validated technologies and subsystems. Truly objective realistic life-cycle cost profiles must be developed for each candidate system. These results will be the systematic inputs required to select a very limited number of RLV candidates for in-depth Systems-Engineering

5.     NASA should ensure that the entire System Analysis effort is done by one team of experienced systems analysts, (a number of) key members of which should be a professional cost estimator, none of whom have a proprietary interest in the outcome. The same analysts should analyze each system considered truly reasonable as a near-term replacement for the wide range of missions accomplished by the STS to ensure consistency. (Or if not one team, at least assure frequent and open interchange of specific experts among each concept committed to analysis.)

The final report of the Space Transportation Subcommittee, dated June 5, 2001, followed a meeting at the Johnson Space Center on May 1-2, 2001. During this review, the sensitivity of an ongoing competitive procurement activity prevented our inquiry into specifics of the actual planned content and goals of contracts in negotiation under the first phase of the SLI. Thus, the Subcommittee's June 2001 report focused our perception of the SLI program plans as presented to us at the time. We sensed what to us seemed to be a significant shift in the program's objectives and schedule, and what appeared to be a broad unfocused "advanced technology orientation". As a result, we once more had a credibility problem with the SLI actually being able to achieve what we had understood was its objective. That was to provide a justified basis for selecting two or three competitive candidate systems for parallel initial development as a near-term "second generation" RLV to replace the Shuttle.

The overall implication of our four(4) recommendations were for NASA either to provide an effective programmatic basis for achieving the goal of enabling a Shuttle replacement RLV, or to make a firm decision to significantly upgrade the Shuttle and commit to it as the nation's primary (only) manned and flexible in-orbit space transportation system. I have interpreted and edited those report recommendations to provide some further clarification of the basis for our views.

We pointed out that since the early 1990s, America's #1 space goal has been 'Reduce the cost of access to space.' Previous quick studies (NAC, STAS, ISTP, etc.) have indicated that (under certain assumptions), a new multistage configuration had the potential to save tens of billions of dollars over continuing to operate the STS in its current mode and configuration, and at current program limited flight rates. In our opinion, the highest priority job of the SLI's System Analysis effort should be to objectively and credibly validate or refute these estimates using 1.) common assumptions about the capabilities and risks of using new technologies, 2.) incorporating the same available installable subsystems for satisfying similar requirements, and 3.) using common methodology and criteria for establishing required failure mode risk margins.

Non-vested-interest contractors and NASA organizations should perform these Systems Analyses. Results of the analyses, interrogated by a rigorous set of selection criteria,would permit NASA to confidently make a conservative, risk-controlled and justified decision on which RLV candidate systems should proceed into a full systems engineering phase. It would establish a credible total systems life cycle cost comparison between a modified STS and each evaluated candidate system without game playing regarding hidden and equivalent capital amortization costs. It would also compare various risk profiles using common methodology and assumptions.

The Systems Engineering phase would ultimately define for each selected candidate an optimized RLV total detailed configuration (including all ground turn-around and in-space operational modes) which satisfies all of the "rational" imposed manned-capable launch system requirements. This systems engineering phase would also identify all remaining non-validated critical design criteria for every subsystem that could not be iterated out during the systems engineering process.

Assuming NASA retains its commitment to development of a near-term Shuttle replacement RLV (so called second generation RLV) ,  establishing these identified missing design criteria should be the primary focus of essentially all technology funding of the SLI. All other generic technology exploratory or design criteria work (ala the old NACA activities) should be performed only as part of the Advanced Space Technology Program which can be assumed to go on forever.

As in the case of the earlier "down selection" process at the system concept level, results from the final systems engineering process, carried out under the total direction of NASA and an independent non-vested systems engineering contractor, and interrogated by a comprehensive set of objective selection criteria, would order the candidate RLV systems against those criteria. The results would also establish risk assessment uncertainty profiles for each system based on that system's validated design criteria status. This would provide objective, credible and justified characterization of the risks associated with: 1.) the engineering development program, 2.) the flight and ground operations, and 3.) the total expected life cycle-costs against a common set of flight rates, and payload integration characteristics.

Only given such an objective set of justified information , can Congress, NASA, and ultimately the potential Contractors make their various decisions with reasonable confidence. This was clearly not done in 1995 when the SSTO selection was made. If it is not done properly for deciding whether to commit to 20 more years of Shuttle operations or to commit to a near term replacement, the consequences for the nation could be disastrous. The only effective resources the Subcommittee has identified that can be applied to this crucial decision are contained in the SLI.

If it is acceptable that that decision be quickly made on the basis of assertions by vested interest players both within and outside of NASA, then the SLI funds could be applied to a broad range of technologies.

// end //

More status reports and news releases or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.