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Testimony of Frank Sietzen, President, Space Transportation Association, Given at a Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing on Space Propulsion

Status Report From: Space Transportation Association
Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Chairman Brownback, Senator Breaux, and members of the subcommittee:

On behalf of the Space Transportation Association, I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for this opportunity to come before you today to discuss the future of the U.S. space propulsion industry and leadership in this critical national field of endeavor.

Space propulsion, be it in boosters, upper stages, or in-space systems, is the backbone of U.S. access to space. The objective of U.S. space transportation policy should be to assure that access to space for all U.S. civil, military, and commercial users. The STA believes that this can be accomplished by development and operation of a robust combination of advanced reusable and expendable space launch systems, engines, and propulsion technologies. Such systems should share a maximum of common user interfaces, and be designed to substantially reduce the cost and complexity of space launch over today's existing systems, while increasing safety and reliability in operations. We at STA believe that assured access to space via this combination of systems is essential to the national security and economic interests of the United States. To advance this objective, STA recommends for consideration the following:

To reinvigorate the U.S. space propulsion and launch technology industrial base, a series of strategic goals for specific breakthrough, leap-ahead technologies should be implemented. These goals should both challenge the industry and provide a basis for future space flight programs in near-Earth space, beyond earth orbit, and for flight by both robotic probes and humans throughout the Solar System.

As suggested by the U.S. Aerospace Commission, such goals could include:

  • The capability to process and launch payloads upon demand, driven by national security or special civil space developments.

  • Breakthrough propulsion systems for both ascent and in-orbit operations that are of an order of magnitude cheaper and more reliable than existing expendable or reusable rocket engines and thrusters.

  • Development of space launch facilities that reduce launch preparation time and increase launch opportunities for a variety of payloads.

  • Substantially reduce the transit time to send missions from Earth orbit to other destinations in the solar system.

The United States should commit to a continuous, long- term development program to produce next- generation advanced space propulsion systems for sub-orbital, Earth-to-orbit, and on-orbit flight operations. Such a program should be fully funded annually, include NASA, Defense Department and commercial requirements, and supplement existing programs such as SLI, NAI and IHPRPT. Such a development program should strengthen the U.S. industrial base as well as reduce cost, risk, and increase the reliability of space propulsion systems and technologies in the 21st Century.

As one element of such a sustained program, the Integrated High Payoff Rocket Technology Program (IHPRPT) should be fully funded. The IHPRPT project, begun in FY94, set as its main objective a series of specific performance improvements in both liquid and solid rocket propulsion. The overarching goal was to achieve a doubling of rocket performance by 2010. The program was constructed to be a partnership that included NASA, the Air Force, Army, Navy, and industry. To date, however, funding targets have only been achieved by the Air Force and industry. To accomplish its many technological goals, IHPRPT must be given both full funding as originally proposed when the program began, as well as a priority within the U.S. civil and military space research budgets. But IHPRPT should be only one element of a robust and sustained program to develop advanced launch and propulsion systems.

The USAF and DARPA should be directed to work with NASA to jointly demonstrate and mature the technologies required for any advanced launch vehicles developed through either the SLI or NAI programs. These technology risk reduction efforts should be addressed in an incremental fashion to minimize cost.

The USAF, FAA AST, and state governments should be tasked to develop a plan for the future direction and control of national space launch ranges. This plan should be consistent with the recommendations of the 2000 Defense Science Board Task Force report on Air Force Space Launch Facilities; specifically:

A. Development of a vision for national space launch ranges

B. An improved operational approach for national launch sites

C. Centralization of planning and operational functions for space launch ranges

D. Establish an enhanced public-private partnership for space launch ranges

E. Development of a long-range plan for technology enhancements and architecture configurations for space launch ranges.

In summary, the most effective way the Congress and the administration can assist the space launch and propulsion industries would be through clear national space policy goals and objectives, consistent and adequate funding for research and development, and a regular dialog with industry leaders and their representatives.

My thanks for the opportunity to come before you today, and I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.

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