Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NASA seeks ideas for future space transportation plan
Posted: April 3, 2000

An artist's concept of the X-33 reusable launch vehicle demonstrator. Photo: NASA
NASA is beginning a new journey toward the launchpad with a second-generation reusable launch vehicle (RLV) system that will be safer and cheaper than today's technology, and will rely more heavily on the commercial space business to meet NASA's science and exploration goals.

The agency has published a NASA Research Announcement entitled "Second Generation RLV Risk Reduction Definition Program." It calls for industry proposals as a first step in defining detailed requirements, and identifying and commencing initial risk reduction options, to enable a second-generation Reusable Launch Vehicle competition in 2005, leading to an operational system around 2010.

The studies will serve as a springboard for the five-year, $4.5 billion effort to reduce the risk associated with building and operating next-generation launch systems before entering the full-scale development phase in 2005.

"In the last several years, NASA has initiated several technology demonstration programs," said Dr. Row Rogacki, director of the Space Transportation Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We've invested in specific concepts. We've partnered heavily with industry on aggressive technology programs. We've made great progress and gained much insight into promising emerging technologies. We better understand the balance between commercial and government interests.

"However, NASA has encountered difficult lessons and delays in key technology projects," Rogacki said. "We've learned that more development along multiple competing paths is needed. We've learned that commercial markets are not growing as previously projected.

"But there are still possibilities to make access to space more robust," he said. "This effort is part of the Administration's Space Launch Initiative intended to target these challenges."

NASA's strategy has three main goals:

  • A hundredfold increase in safety over existing systems and a tenfold reduction in the cost to launch payloads, from $10,000 per pound today to $1,000 per pound in a decade;
  • Minimize technical and business risk for the full-scale development program, ensure NASA's requirements are met and coordinate with requirements of the commercial space industry, support private ownership and operation of reusable launch vehicles and other potential systems;
  • Enable more than one commercial option for getting to the International Space Station, and affordably meeting NASA's near-term space transportation requirements while providing growth paths to meet future requirements.

The studies will address an architecture that covers not only possible Earth-to-orbit launch vehicles, but also in-space orbit transfer vehicles, ground and flight operations and the technology and organization required to support both.

NASA and its industry partners will take advantage of space transportation programs such as the X-33, X-34, X-37 and Advanced Space Transportation Program to reduce technical risk and create increased competition during the five-year risk reduction phase.

The risk reduction program will be a NASA-wide effort and also will involve the U.S. Department of Defense.

Industry proposals in various technical areas are due by June 1. NASA anticipates multiple awards this year resulting from the NASA Research Announcement.

The risk reduction program is a result of NASA's industry-led Space Transportation Architecture Studies in 1998 and 1999, and the agency's Integrated Space Transportation Plan developed in the fall of 1999. In addition to a second-generation reusable launch vehicle, that plan addressed safety upgrades for the Space Shuttle, a crew return vehicle for the Space Station and basic technology research. Those elements are covered in other program plans.

The Marshall Center is NASA's Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development.

Sign up for Astronomy Now's NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed directly to your desktop (free of charge).

Your e-mail address: