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Prepared Statement by Fred Gregory 8 May 2003 (part 2)

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2003

Progress Made on the Orbital Space Plane Program

Mr. Chairman, I would now like to turn my discussion to the measurable progress we have made on the OSP Program since releasing the updated ISTP in November 2002 as part of the FY 2003 Budget Amendment.

Within the OSP Program, a program office has been established and the management team has been put in place, with a direct reporting path to NASA Headquarters. NASA expertise is being provided from across the Agency to ensure program success, embodying the One NASA philosophy of an integrated NASA working together. Clear, concise Level 1 Requirements for the OSP Program have been established and approved by the Agency. These requirements identify the critical top-level specifications that the OSP system must meet without dictating a design solution within the requirement. Key requirements include providing rescue capability for no fewer than four Space Station crew members as soon as practical, but no later than 2010; and providing transportation capability for no fewer than four crew members to and from the Space Station as soon as practical, but no later than 2012. The OSP system must improve crew safety relative to either the Space Shuttle or the Soyuz; offer increased on-orbit maneuverability and increase the launch probability relative to the Space Shuttle; and require less time to prepare and execute a mission as compared to the Space Shuttle. The OSP system for crew rescue must also provide for rapid separation from the Space Station under emergency conditions and allow the safe return of deconditioned, ill or injured crewmembers with ongoing treatment until arrival at definitive medical care within 24 hours; a capability not currently available to the astronauts on the Space Station. The OSP system must meet these requirements and all applicable Space Station requirements while minimizing life cycle costs.

The trade space is open for innovative design solutions from industry to best meet NASA's needs. There is no preconceived notion on what the ultimate vehicle design will be - whether it is a winged vehicle similar to the Space Shuttle, a lifting body shape like that of the X-38, or a capsule similar to the Apollo command module. Each of these shapes has competitive advantages and disadvantages that will be explored during the formulation studies. Our requirements do not specify whether the crew rescue and crew transport requirements are met with a single vehicle, by similar vehicles adapted from a common airframe, or by completely different designs. The final design will be selected based on the ability to meet all of the Level 1 requirements.

A Systems Requirements Review will be conducted this fall to establish an integrated set of NASA Level 2 Requirements to provide further definition in support of the conceptual design activities. Three competing industry teams are under contract to perform trade studies, develop conceptual designs, and develop detailed Level 3 Requirements in support of a Systems Design Review to be held during the summer of 2004. This information will be used along with independent assessments performed by NASA and other external review committees to support a decision on whether to proceed with the full-scale development of the OSP flight system in September 2004. A full-and-open competitive procurement for the design, development and production of the OSP system will be held next year leading to contract awards in late 2004 if a positive decision is made to proceed with full-scale development.

The Space Shuttle will likely remain a workhorse for the Agency through at least 2015, consistent with the framework of the ISTP. The Shuttle is required to complete the ISS assembly and to perform other critical NASA science missions such as the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. If the OSP proves sufficiently safe and reliable, it could ultimately replace the Shuttle as the primary crew transport and, thus, free up Shuttle to focus on cargo functions, or, possibly, a heavy lifter for ambitious science-driven research missions. We will use the results of mission model studies to better guide our operational strategy on the best use of the space transportation resources available for the ISS; to guide our investment strategy supporting the ISTP including consideration of alternative cargo concepts; and to influence the Level 2 performance requirements to be placed on the OSP Program. Our intention is to focus the Shuttle on the most critical functions that it alone can provide while meeting the ISS logistics needs, providing assured access to Station to ensure science objectives are met, and improving crew safety. The OSP system will be an integral part of that strategy.

NASA is committed to providing responsible, credible cost and budget estimates prior to committing to new development programs. We will be following NASA policy guidelines of using the formulation phase of the OSP Program to establish cost and schedule commitments for the implementation phase. At that point, the requirements and conceptual design will be sufficiently understood to ensure a responsible and credible development cost commitment is made. As part of the OSP system design process, each competing architecture contractor is providing life cycle cost estimates as a major deliverable. Government cost experts are developing cost estimates in parallel, utilizing legacy cost data from prior programs along with improved and validated cost analysis and estimating tools. A Cost Credibility External Review Team, reporting to the OSP Program Manager, is being established to provide expert assistance in ensuring credible cost estimation. In addition, an independent cost validation will be performed utilizing a Cost Analysis Requirements Document, as used by the Department of Defense and on the ISS Program. These various cost estimates will be studied and understood prior to the Full Scale Development decision. In addition, we are ensuring fiscal accountability on all ongoing OSP Program activities by using a proven Earned Value Management system to track actual cost and schedule performance as compared to plans

Mr. Chairman, the estimates included in the President's FY 2004 budget request for the implementation phase of the OSP Program following the full-scale development decision are placeholder estimates only, until these life cycle analyses and independent cost validation exercises are performed. We are actively examining the near-term budget requirements for the OSP Program in support of the ongoing budget submittal cycle to ensure adequate funding is maintained.

Flight Demonstrations

In addition to the OSP Program requirements definition and conceptual design activities, several flight demonstrator projects are in place to test critical technologies in relevant flight environments and reduce the risk of developing a full-scale space vehicle. Validating ground-based testing and analysis is a necessary part of fielding a new space transportation system. Each of the OSP Program flight demonstration projects will produce data that can be directly applied to the entire range of potential system designs and was selected based on previous SLI studies identifying the most critical flight demonstration needs. Each was selected under a full-and-open competition to produce data that will reduce the technical risk of a particular aspect of the OSP system regardless of the design finally chosen for full-scale development.

The Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) flight demonstration will demonstrate automated rendezvous technology and proximity operations between a chase vehicle and an on-orbit satellite, validating an advanced video guidance system that is needed to perform similar operations for the OSP system. In addition, NASA is working with the Department of Defense on related projects such as the Orbital Express to further demonstrate the technology, which has utility for both agencies. The DART vehicle is nearing the end of the manufacturing and integration phase and is being prepared for system integration testing.

The Pad Abort Demonstrator (PAD) is a full-scale platform for testing and assessment of crew escape technologies. Adding to the experience base from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs, the PAD Project will demonstrate crew escape and survivability systems utilizing current technologies by performing an end-to-end launch pad abort demonstration. Fully instrumented mannequins will generate data on crew environments during testing of propulsion and parachute systems, orientation and landing techniques, and external structural configurations.

The X-37 technology demonstrator is an integrated platform to validate approximately 30 high-priority technologies in the orbital and reentry environments. The X-37 project consists of two distinct flight demonstration vehicles. An Approach and Landing Test Vehicle (ALTV) continued from an earlier full-and-open competitive procurement award, will validate pilot-less operations during approach and landing from an altitude of 40,000 feet and below after being dropped from a B-52 aircraft. The vehicle is currently in the manufacturing and integration phase.

The X-37 Orbital Vehicle (OV) will provide a versatile technology platform to validate important technologies and obtain environmental data during critical stages of the mission. It will be launched on an Expendable Launch Vehicle, operate autonomously on-orbit, and return to Earth.

The X-37 modularity allows for multiple advanced development demonstrations. Flight experiments can still be defined and incorporated into the Orbital Vehicle into the fall of this year without adversely impacting the overall project schedule. Key X-37 technologies to be demonstrated include: pilot-less guidance, navigation and control (including high crosswind landing and all-weather windward adaptive guidance); aero-thermal and flight profile data collection; multiple high temperature, wing leading edge, and durable acreage thermal protection system technologies; lightweight landing gear and phase change brake technologies; avionics and power technologies including high-energy/high-density batteries and electrical actuators for aero-surfaces; advanced high-temperature structures; and ground operations including rapid thermal protection system waterproofing. As a particular example where the X-37 will be used to demonstrate advanced technologies, the Space Shuttle uses a Thermal Protection System (TPS) primarily composed of carbon-carbon for the nose and leading edges, low-temperature thermal blankets in the low-temperature areas, and silicate blocks. This complex system is difficult to process and maintain. The X-37 will demonstrate the effectiveness of multiple advanced TPS technologies, including high-temperature ceramic leading-edge material, durable high-temperature blankets, and metallic TPS.

Two competing interests arise when integrating the flight demonstration projects into the Orbital Space Plane Program. The first desire is to perform the flight and technology demonstrations early in the design cycle (and ideally prior to the full-scale development decision) in order to assist in that decision. The counter desire is to defer flight demonstrations until the OSP system design is better defined in order to maximize the utility of the flight demonstration. Because of the long lead time required for flight demonstrator projects coupled with the time-critical urgency of the OSP Program, it is not practical to meet both desires. We believe that the present program achieves a balance between these competing interests. The DART automated rendezvous and X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle flight demonstrations are scheduled to be completed prior to the Full-Scale Development decision. The PAD launch abort design will be completed and the X-37 Orbital Vehicle design will be nearly complete prior to the Full-Scale Development decision. The PAD and X-37 Orbital Vehicle flight demonstrations will be completed during the OSP program design period, allowing their results to be directly incorporated into the vehicle design.

It should be noted that all of the flight demonstrator contracts have built-in option periods to minimize the government's risk, in the event that the contractor fails to perform or the OSP Program concept definition studies determine that an alternative flight demonstration approach is required. This approach allows the government to end the contract without incurring termination penalties at the end of any option period should the need for redirection arise. For example, the X-37 base contract expires in September 2003 followed by an option period and a decision on a second option in August 2004. An independent cost estimate of the X-37 will be performed in support of the decision to implement the first option period of the contract. The second option decision point is consistent with the schedule for the OSP Program full-scale development decision. Using this approach, we believe we have adequately ensured that the demonstrations take place early enough to influence the OSP system design without exposing the government to excessive risk.

We believe these flight demonstrations represent a high value investment when considering the potential total development cost of the OSP system, and they will provide valuable quantitative data in support of the full-scale development decision, and that they will greatly mitigate risks during the development period. All of these flight demonstrations are crosscutting in their nature, and will provide technology data applicable to other potential future space transportation systems in addition to supporting the Orbital Space Plane system.

ISTP Reevaluation as a Result of the Columbia Tragedy

The loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew is indeed a National tragedy. We are committed to a safe return to flight, as soon as the cause of the accident is fully understood, based on findings by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), and corrective measures are implemented and independently assessed by a task team led by Tom Stafford. We will finish the ISS assembly and optimize our ISS utilization, support our national space transportation goals, and build a foundation for possible future science and exploration goals.

We are conducting an Agency study, led by the NASA Space Architect, to be completed by this summer, to review each leg of the ISTP roadmap, and each key decision point, in order to determine if a change is warranted. We will incorporate our responses to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations into this ISTP update. Importantly, we are conducting this ISTP update with an eye toward our future needs. We will pursue building blocks that provide the transformational technologies and capabilities that will open new pathways of exploration and discovery, and lay the foundation for future human and robotic missions to Earth's neighborhood and beyond.

We are evaluating options to prioritize the Shuttle Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to ensure a safe return to flight. A two-day summit was held in March to explore, discuss, and determine the best strategy to safely and effectively fly the Space Shuttle fleet to support key missions until at least the middle of the next decade. Recommendations from seven SLEP panels (Safety, Sustainability, Infrastructure, Aerospace Industry, Performance, Operations and Resources) provided recommendations to NASA's Space Flight Leadership Council. From this, 60 candidate projects were targeted for further consideration. A "Tiger Team" was established to prepare an internal submittal to support Agency decisions this summer as part of this ISTP review.

We are also re-evaluating whether we should more aggressively pursue a risk reduction program leading to a new launch vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle and support our future space exploration needs. We are working with the Department of Defense to ensure that any space transportation vehicle development or risk reduction activity is coordinated and that the investment will service both our agencies' needs to the maximum extent practical. In addition, we are re-examining whether we should place higher priority on providing assured U.S. cargo access to and from the Station and whether a development activity should be implemented in parallel to the assured crew access to be provided by the OSP system. Finally, we are examining the possibility of accelerating the OSP Program to provide an earlier alternative for crew access to space.

A series of studies have been conducted to evaluate whether it is feasible to accelerate the OSP development schedule. In order to determine the most rapid development schedule possible, the OSP established an independent review team of aerospace experts (Aaron Cohen, Vance Brand, Dale Myers, John Young, and Ken Szalai) to evaluate whether the proven Apollo Capsule could provide a relatively quick solution to crew rescue and crew transport requirements. The review team brought vast space transportation expertise and intimate knowledge of the Apollo Program to this study. The Apollo capsule is a potentially attractive solution since it was a robust design, its performance was well understood, and the full-envelope abort-and-recovery system was simple and safe. This study team concluded that, for a crew rescue vehicle, an Apollo derived vehicle that has the potential for meeting most of the Level 1 requirements could be available four to six years after contract award given adequate resources; hence, one to three years sooner than the OSP plans.

Additional findings of the Apollo Capsule study team were that while the Apollo system is well understood, virtually every system would have to be redesigned. In particular, the structure would need to be redesigned for compatibility with the internal pressure of the International Space Station. In addition, Apollo hardware could not be used due to obsolescence, changes in manufacturing techniques, and lack of traceability; the drawings could not be directly used due to incompatibility with modern systems; and life cycle costs would be strongly dependent on ground support systems and recovery site infrastructure.

In addition to this best-case schedule improvement, the OSP Program organized two other groups to provide an assessment of the schedule acceleration potential. The first group was a NASA-wide Focus Group consisting of representatives from several NASA Centers containing experienced Program and Project managers as well as "out-of-the-box" thinkers. The second group established was a multi-disciplined team from within the program. Both groups were to address alternative approaches to the OSP system design and development that could, given no funding or personnel constraints, result in schedule improvements by evaluating the current plans for each phase of the program. In addition to these internal teams, the OSP Program architecture contractors were solicited for their input on the acceleration possibilities. The studies identified a possible 6-month to 1-year schedule acceleration for the crew rescue capability and a potential savings of 1 to 2 years for the crew transport capability.

However, to accomplish an accelerated schedule, the following would be required:

  • Conduct an early downselect of the shape and design concept. Select a single design to serve both the crew rescue and crew transport functions;
  • Limit the requirements and keep them simple, focusing on the primary role of transporting crew;
  • Develop the minimum flight vehicle test plan early in the program, including qualification test flights, and adhere to that plan; and,
  • Provide additional reserves to allow recovery from issues and problems as they arise.

Cost implications of an accelerated effort are still being assessed, and no final conclusions as to the feasibility have been made. While the direct use of the Apollo heritage design does not appear to provide significant benefits, an advanced capsule remains a candidate that could be considered for the OSP system design. The results of these studies are being incorporated into the ISTP update study to determine an integrated NASA position once the data from all studies is available.

Summary

In summary, significant progress has been made toward implementing the OSP Program since its introduction in November of last year. The OSP Program Level 1 Requirements have been established, and the program schedule and acquisition strategy has been developed. The NASA/industry teams are in place to perform the conceptual design studies and flight demonstrations that will support a full-scale development decision by the end of FY 2004 and future detailed design decisions. The OSP Program provides a number of near-term and long-range benefits for the Agency. The new system offers operational flexibility for U.S. missions by providing assured crew access to the ISS and meeting the U.S. obligations for crew rescue. Safety will be improved beyond that of the Space Shuttle and Soyuz. In addition, the OSP Program builds a bridge to the future by the experience gained from designing and developing the system and by enabling increased Space Station crew size and resultant science benefits.

The new ISTP represents a flexible roadmap to guide our space transportation investment strategies. NASA is committed to safe return to flight following the Columbia tragedy and to create new capabilities for continued exploration and development of space. As we look forward, we will continue to use an integrated approach to guide our investment strategy and to ensure a responsible, credible plan.

Thank you for this opportunity to address the Subcommittee.

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