NASA funds next generation space transport efforts
Posted: January 1, 2002

NASA has announced an additional $94.6 million in contract awards to advance the agency's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) -- a research and development effort to develop the technologies needed to build a second-generation reusable launch vehicle, as well as to design vehicle architectures for 21st century missions.

These awards represent the final round of competitive selections under cycle one of the NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for NASA's Space Launch Initiative issued in October 2000.

NASA's Space Launch Initiative made its first round of contract awards -- valued at $791 million -- in May to 22 prime contractors. A new round of competitive proposals should be received in March 2002 under cycle two of the NASA Research Announcement.

NASA has selected Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, Calif., and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., to receive a combined increase of $20.7 million. The two companies will team to provide systems engineering and architecture definition for NASA's Second Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle program, which manages the SLI, laying groundwork for greater access to space for civil exploration, as well as potential defense and commercial applications.

Of the new award, Northrop Grumman will receive $15.7 million and Orbital Sciences Corp. will receive $4.9 million. The two contracts hold a renewal option upon successful completion of a review in March 2002.

An additional award of $5.4 million is being made to the Boeing Company in Seal Beach, Calif., to initiate studies in crew-survivability and crew-escape systems technologies, a project unique to NASA. A primary goal of SLI is to reduce the risk of space travel -- making flight much safer than today's reusable launch system.

Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a division of the Boeing Company, located in Canoga Park, Calif., and TRW in Redondo Beach, Calif., have also been awarded options for existing contracts for potential continued work on advanced propulsion systems. Rocketdyne could receive an additional $63.0 million; TRW could receive $5.4 million.

The activities initiated by these awards are not intended to provide a specific vehicle design, but are the first step in developing a set of alternative technologies for a new generation of launch systems and associated space transportation operations. These evolutionary technologies include crew survival systems, advanced tanks and airframe structures, long-life rocket engines and robust thermal protection systems.

The SLI investment is expected to pay off with full-scale spacecraft development options around mid-decade.

NASA is investing money and other resources in technical and business studies, hardware development, and laboratory and flight tests that will lower the risk of developing a second-generation reusable launch vehicle.

"Right now we are bringing together teams of experts who can help us expand from our baseline. We need to make sure we identify areas that merit additional research and development and pursue those," said Dennis Smith, manager of NASA's Second Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle program. "Improving access to space is an ambitious goal and we take it seriously. Sharply reducing the cost of getting payloads into orbit is the key to our future in space and to U.S. economic competitiveness."

The planned budget for the Space Launch Initiative totals $4.8 billion through fiscal year 2006.

All NASA's field centers and the Air Force Research Laboratory are actively participating in the Space Launch Initiative. The Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., is NASA's lead center for SLI.