Hearing Charter: NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan and Orbital Space Plane Program (part 1)

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2003

Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Thursday May 8, 2003
10:30 a.m.
2318 Rayburn House Office Building


The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a hearing entitled NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan and Orbital Space Plane Program on Thursday, May 8th at 10:30 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn. The hearing will examine NASA's proposed Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP)[1] and plans for the Orbital Space Plane (OSP). Topics will include the proposed ISTP architecture and OSP requirements, including NASA's development strategy for the OSP, plans for risk reduction and technology demonstrations, as well as the proposed schedule and total cost of the OSP program.


Since the 1980s, NASA has struggled to develop a new launch system to provide safe, routine, and less expensive access to space. Over the years, numerous concepts have been studied, but few have made it beyond concept definition and none have flown in space. In March 2001, NASA canceled the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit program and the X-34 technology demonstrator after spending $1.4 billion (not including $356 million spent by Lockheed on X-33). NASA concluded that the technical barriers of the X-33 were too great and that the benefits of the X-34 did not justify the cost. Last year, NASA canceled the X-38, a prototype of a Crew Return Vehicle (CRV), because it was believed that a multi-purpose vehicle would be a better use of its resources. NASA headquarters estimated costs for an X-38 vehicle and three production CRVs in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion.[2] NASA is continuing to move forward with the X-37 flight demonstration as part of the OSP program, but its value and relevance as a technology demonstrator for the OSP program is questionable because the on-orbit demonstration would not occur until after NASA made its decision for full-scale development.

Last November, NASA submitted a budget amendment to its FY 2003 request to restructure and refocus the ISTP. The budget amendment proposed to extend the life of the Space Shuttle by creating a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), to establish a program to develop an OSP for crew rescue and crew transportation to Space Station, and to establish a technology program called the Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) program. The budget amendment bolstered reserves on the Space Station program, as recommended by the Young Commission.

Because the budget amendment was submitted late in the 107th Congress and because no hearings were held to review the proposal, Congress specifically stated in the Omnibus appropriations report that the "funding level is not endorsed or denied," but wanted to examine the details of the proposal, especially cost. The Omnibus bill did provide funding for the OSP at the requested level of $296 million for FY 2003.[3] Other than minor changes, NASA's FY 2004 budget request reflects the program proposed in the budget amendment. This is the first hearing held by any committee on NASA's ISTP and OSP plans.

Current Status of OSP

In January 2003, NASA finalized the OSP top-level requirements, known as the Level 1 requirements. NASA divided these requirements into two parts: (1) the requirements for the crew rescue capability with a delivery date of 2010 (although the need date is 2006 because the Russians complete their obligations for Soyuz crew return capsules); and (2) the requirements for the crew transportation capability to ISS and back with a delivery date of 2012. The complete Level 1 requirements are provided in Appendix 3.

NASA recently awarded three study contracts totaling $135 million: $45 million each to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and the Northrop Grumman/Orbital Sciences team. NASA expects the contractors to perform technical engineering studies and further refine the requirements. NASA will hold a System Requirements Review in November 2003 and expects to make a decision on full-scale development by the end of 2004. Key technical tradeoffs include: (1) one vehicle or a family of vehicles; (2) a winged vehicle, lifting body, or capsule and; (3) entirely reusable, partially reusable, or expendable. The results of these tradeoffs will have a significant impact on cost and schedule.

Apollo-style OSP Study

At the urging of several NASA Advisory Council (NAC) members, most notably former Senator John Glenn, NASA enlisted a small group of distinguished aerospace executives and system experts to assess the viability of using Apollo designs as a jump-start toward satisfying the OSP Level 1 requirements. Mr. Dale Myers, a former Deputy NASA Administrator and experienced manager from Apollo and Shuttle, was a member of the Apollo OSP study team and will be a witness at the hearing to present the findings of the team.

In short, the team unanimously concluded that an Apollo-derived crew rescue vehicle, with a four to six person crew, appears to have the potential of meeting most of the OSP level 1 requirements for crew rescue, with the possible exception being the requirement to transport an injured astronaut to definitive medical care within 24 hours. An Apollo derived crew transfer vehicle would also appear able to meet most of the OSP Level 1 requirements for crew transfer with the addition of a service module for propulsion to rendezvous with the Space Station. The study team concluded that the idea had sufficient merit to warrant a serious detailed study of the performance, cost, and schedule for this approach as compared with other OSP options. NASA does not plan to investigate the Apollo concept further, but is providing the study results tothe contractors for their consideration.

OSP Schedule Acceleration Study

In addition to the Apollo study, NASA convened several in-house and contractor teams to assess whether it was possible to accelerate the schedule for the OSP. While the teams found limited potential for accelerating the schedule, up to possibly two years, they agreed on several common themes, specifically to rely heavily on existing technology, narrow the design options early, set requirements and do not change them, allow sufficient budget reserves to manage risk, and consider using a single vehicle design for both the crew rescue and crew transfer functions. NASA plans to incorporate the results of these studies into a revised (post-Columbia) Integrated Space Transportation Plan, due to be completed this summer.


Vision for the Future?

NASA has yet to determine its goals for human spaceflight beyond Space Station. Without long-term goals, it is very difficult to know how best to invest funds in developing a new space transportation system, and the agency runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past by building the system first and then deciding how they want to use it later. While the ISTP is intended to fill a specific need for the Space Station, such a large and long-term investment should be made in the context of the agency's long-term goals. A clear set of goals would provide the proper framework for making policy decisions and setting funding priorities.

Do We Need and Can We Afford Both Shuttle and OSP?

NASA defines the OSP as a "supplement" to the Space Shuttle, and in briefings to staff, NASA has asserted that the Space Shuttle is required for the duration of the International Space Station (ISS) program with or without OSP. However, NASA has not substantially supported this argument. The ISTP plan calls for the Space Shuttle to continue to operate at least until 2015 and possibly beyond 2020. While plans for the Space Shuttle will certainly be examined again after the Columbia Accident Investigation Board reports, NASA has not made a compelling argument that it needs both the Shuttle and an OSP, nor that it can afford building and maintaining both systems. In addition, it is unclear to what degree NASA considered capabilities from the International Partners, such as Russian Soyuz capsules and Progress vehicles and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), in deciding what capabilities the U.S. must develop.

How do Tech Demos Fit into OSP?

NASA proposes to spend approximately $750 million on technology demonstrations between 2003 and 2006. The projected budget for each of the three demonstration projects is provided in the Appendix. Major demonstrations include the X-37 space flight demonstrator, the Pad Abort Demonstration (PAD) to demonstrate crew abort concepts on the launch pad, and the Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART). All of these technology demonstrations were started prior to the OSP program and, therefore, were not necessarily driven by the needs of the OSP program. Since the OSP program has not yet progressed beyond establishing the Level 1 requirements, it is not clear that these are the highest priority technologies to demonstrate and warrant the proposed $750 million investment.

What will OSP Cost?

NASA proposes to spend more than $4 billion on the OSP (including the technology demonstrations) between FY 2003 and FY 2008, but does not plan to field the crew rescue capability until 2010 and the crew transportation capability until 2012. NASA has not provided an estimate for the cost to achieve each of these milestones or an estimate for the total cost of the program. Clearly, this is critical information for making any policy decision. NASA managers unofficially estimate the total cost to be in the range of $9 to $13 billion, however this figure could grow dramatically and will be driven primarily by the complexity of the selected concept and the amount of research and development NASA chooses to take on with the development of the OSP. Without a solid cost estimate the committee must decide whether it has enough confidence in the plan to justify the $550 million requested for FY 2004.

Why did NASA Cancel Alternate Access to Station?

NASA proposes to eliminate the Alternate Access to Station (AAS) program later this year despite the fact that the House Appropriations Committee reported out strong language directing NASA to spend $62.7 million in FY 2003 on AAS to "demonstrate a near-term commercial ISS re-supply service." NASA's decision to cancel AAS appears particularly short-sighted since the Space Station's crew size is now reduced from three to two because of the limited ability to deliver enough water, food, and other supplies to support more than a two person crew while the Shuttle is grounded. NASA's FY 2004 budget request does not include the projected run-out of $85 million for AAS included in the FY 2003 request. Some in industry have highlighted that an architecture consisting of OSP and an Alternate Access capability for cargo delivery would obviate the need for the Space Shuttle entirely.

Why did NASA Cancel the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle Prototype?

Before NASA changed its program and submitted the budget amendment last November, NASA had an objective to provide a Crew Transfer Vehicle (CTV) capability by 2012. NASA was pursuing a CRV prototype known as the X-38 program. The X-38 performed several approach and landing demonstrations and could have provided an interim crew return capability for the ISS by 2006, but was canceled. On June 13, 2002, NASA notified Congress of the project's cancellation citing their desire to pursue a multipurpose vehicle, which could include both crew transport and crew return capabilities as a more optimal use of NASA's resources than pursuit of a single-purpose vehicle, such as the X-38project. After 2006 the Russians are not required to provide any more Soyuz capsules and the U.S. is prohibited from purchasing Russian hardware because of the restrictions on doing so in the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000. A key issue is whether NASA should re-examine its decision to cancel the X-38.

Are Expendable Launch Vehicles Acceptable for OSP?

The OSP will be launched on an Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV), such as an Atlas or Delta rocket. ELVs were used for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs in the 1960s, however none of these programs had a winged vehicle on top of the rocket as may be (but not necessarily) proposed on the OSP program. A key issue is whether the use of ELVs poses an unacceptable risk for launching humans into orbit. In addition, today's ELVs cost approximately $150 million each, so the cost of the launch vehicle combined with the cost of an OSP (amortized if it is reusable) could approach the cost per flight of the Shuttle, arguably in the neighborhood of $500 million.


The Honorable Frederick D. Gregory is the Deputy Administrator of NASA. He serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the agency and reports directly to NASA's Administrator. Prior to his Senate confirmation in August 2002, Mr. Gregory served as Associate Administrator for Space Flight, and for nine years as the Associate Administrator, Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. Mr. Gregory has logged over 455 hours in space as an astronaut, and has extensive experience as a test pilot, and manager of flight safety programs and launch support operations.

Dr. Jerry Grey is the Director of Aerospace and Science Policy for AIAA, a member of the Science Counsel of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, and Visiting Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. Dr. Grey has served as consultant to the U.S. Congress as Chairman of the Office of Technology Assessment's Solar Advisory Panel and several space advisory panels, and as a member of the NASA Advisory Council, and Vice-chairman of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.

The Honorable Dale D. Myers is the President of Dale Myers and Associates, and has had a distinguished career in high-level management positions in government and industry. Mr. Myers has served as NASA's Deputy Administrator, and Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight; as Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy; as Vice President and Program Manager of the Space Shuttle Program for Rockwell International; and prior to that as Vice President and Program Manager of the Apollo Command and Service Module for North American Rockwell. In March of this year he led a team of experts tasked to assess the viability of using Apollo heritage designs to satisfy the OSP requirements.

Dr. Michael Griffin is the President and Chief Operating Officer of In-Q-Tel. He has nearly 30 years of experience managing information and space technology organizations. Dr. Griffin has served as Executive Vice President and CEO of Magellan Systems Division of Orbital Sciences Corporation, and as EVP and General Manager of Orbital's Space Systems Group. Prior to that he served as both the Chief Engineer and Associate Administrator for Exploration at NASA, and at the Pentagon as the Deputy for Technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. Appendix 1  

The table below summarizes the assumptions NASA has used when making space transportation strategy decisions over the past decade, how they have changed, and how they are now forecast in the revised ISTP.[4]

Assumptions SSTO FY1994 SLI / ISTP FY1999 New ISTP Forecast
Single-Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO) Achievable Too Risky, go Two-Stage Too Risky, go Two-Stage
Near-Term Launch Market Rapid growth Stable, little growth Declining
RLV Costs ~ $4-6 billion ~ $10 billion > $20 billion
Gov't Share of Development Costs Little Most All
Market Drivers Commercial Commercial Convergence Space Station Focused

NASA studied the following options during the summer of 2002 during the development of the current ISTP: * Baseline ISTP - Make the decision in 2006 to build a new RLV two-stage booster and crew transfer vehicle to deliver crew and some cargo.

* Orbital Space Plane and delay RLV booster - Develop an Orbital Space Plane by 2010-12 to be flown atop an existing Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) that must be human rated.

* Develop a Prototype RLV Booster by about 2011 - Build a common RLV prototype booster with the Department of Defense. An operational booster would come later.

* Breakthrough Technology - Continue to spend money on long-term, high payoff technology like hypersonic propulsion placing RLV on hold indefinitely.

NASA has decided to pursue the second option - Orbital Space Plane and delay RLV booster. In the budget amendment submitted to Congress in November 2002, NASA redirected the SLI program. SLI funds were transferred to the Orbital Space Plane program, as well as the space shuttle, space station, and Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) program.

Appendix 2

The following tables summarize 1) The changes to the Space Launch Initiative as a result of NASA's budget amendment in November 2002, and 2) NASA's FY04 budget request for the Orbital Space Plane program.

Restructured Space Launch Initiative ($'s in millions) - November '02 Budget Amendment

February FY 03 Budget 759 1003 1056 1256 1348 5422
Systems Architecture Definition 64 43 43 43 192
RLV Risk Reduction 502 750 580 785 866 3482
NASA Unique Systems 131 130 390 390 482 1523
Alternative Access 63 81 43 38 225
Changes 120 -85 -128 -224 -274 -590
Add to NASA Unique (Orbital Space Plane) 165 312 42 145 218 882
Reduce remaining SLI -165 -532 -305 -504 -627 -2133
Transfer 3rd Generation into SLI 120 135 135 135 135 661
Amended FY 03 Budget * 879 919 928 1031 1074 4832
Orbital Space Plane † 296 442 432 535 700 2405
Next Generation Launch Technology 584 477 496 496 374 2427

* H.Rpt.108-10 called for a decrease of $40 million to the Space Launch Initiative program[5], and stated, "The conferees have taken this action without prejudice. The conferees note that the Congress received a budget amendment on November 7, 2002, which restructured the Space Launch Initiative with the goal of developing an Orbital Space Plane with ISS crew return capability by 2010."

H.Rpt.108-10 also stated, "Fiscal year 2003 funding for the Orbital Space Plane was set at $296 million in the budget amendment. This funding level is not endorsed or denied by the conferees and is therefore subject to change by NASA as it formulates its operating plan for fiscal year 2003. The conferees look forward to working with NASA during the review of the fiscal year 2004 budget request to learn more precisely the elements that comprise the cost estimates NASA has provided in the budget agreement and other documents submitted to the Committee on Appropriations of the House and Senate.

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