Colorado Springs -- President Barack Obama will spend about 45 minutes on the ground in Florida Thursday explaining his administration’s “game-changing” space policy, and from comments at the 26th National Space Symposium here even many of the invitees in his hand-picked audience will be skeptical.
U.S. space-industry executives who will have to make the Obama space policy work say they are dismayed by the amateurish roll-out of the plan, which continues to dribble out from the White House in tiny increments that betray a lack of planning. And details of the ongoing planning that have emerged haven’t always been reassuring.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because they don’t want to alienate NASA leadership, executives here worry that the open-ended technology-development plan envisioned in Obama’s Fiscal 2011 NASA budget request can quickly become a cash cow for other spending on Capitol Hill, absent a clearly defined architecture and set of goals in space.
They also complain that so far the new plan doesn’t have any procedures in place for capturing benefits from the more than $9 billion spent on the Constellation Program of space shuttle follow-on vehicles. That includes work through the preliminary design review milestone on the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Orion crew capsule.
And they cite the difficulty in keeping workers engaged in Constellation projects under the Fiscal 2010 budget when the future is so uncertain. The decision to kill the Constellation Program of space shuttle follow-on vehicles, hard on the heels of shuttle retirement, has thrown business and workforce plans into disarray, leaving senior managers worried about how to maintain their existing shuttle and Constellation workforces, and wondering what will be the best posture for pursuing future business.
Speaking for the record, Dennis A. Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, says Boeing intends to stay in the human-spaceflight business. The company already is making investments to go with the $18 million study award from the space agency to develop concepts for commercial crew transport to the International Space Station, but it is moving cautiously on the administration proposal to turn human access to low Earth orbit over to the private sector.
“On the broader question of commercial business models for space, it’s one that’s going to require strong partnership between industry and government,” he told Aviation Week. “We’re going to make our decisions on a case by case basis. We’re going to apply technology and capability where we have it. We’re going to make decisions based on sound business rationale. We do want to be NASA’s partner.”
Boeing cancelled a press briefing here on its commercial crew plans, saying “the timing isn’t right.” Muilenburg said he has spoken to Administrator Charles Bolden about the need for business cases that close in setting up commercial routes to the ISS. Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manage of Boeing Space Exploration, says the long-term market for commercial crew access to LEO isn’t clear, with Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable habitats the only customer on the horizon after the ISS is retired.
“I think there’s just a lot of work to do before we decide what these new business models look like,” Muilenburg said.
Obama is scheduled to fly into Kennedy Space Center Thursday afternoon, for a quick visit to one of the shuttle launch pads and a televised speech on the space policy. Lori Garver, deputy NASA administrator, said she expects the president to make some news in the speech – a possible reference, given the major job losses expected at KSC after the shuttle, to the addition of one more shuttle flight to the three remaining on the manifest.
After Obama departs for a political fund-raiser in Miami, a set of four break-out panels will discuss various aspects of the Obama policy – commercialization of the space station, how new technology can help make long-term human exploration sustainable, and what the “vision” is in the otherwise diffuse Obama policy.
Participants in some of the break-out panels that will follow Obama’s remarks were only invited late last week, and Garver said the subject matter is a work in progress. In an address to the symposium here, Bolden outlined NASA’s objectives in turning the existing U.S. space program on its head with the administration’s new approach.
“An anticipated offshoot of our enterprise will be enhanced U.S. economic competitiveness, and development of new commercial markets, capitalizing on the American ideals of competition and innovation,” Bolden said. “We’ll benefit from our aerospace industry’s decades of experience, while engaging a generation of new space entrepreneurs….NASA will be the catalyst for a global space exploration movement, as nations across the globe join together to explore beyond our home planet.”