Volume 9, Number 4 July/August 2001 Aerospace Technology Development
Next-Generation Space Transportation Effort Launched
NASA has announced the first round of contract awards in an agency initiative to find a more affordable and reliable highway into space. The Space Launch Initiative (SLI) is a research and development effort designed to substantially improve safety and reduce the high cost of space travel.
The studies initiated with these awards are not intended to provide a specific vehicle design. Rather, this first step marks the beginning of a process that will lead to the development of a common set of advanced technologies that NASA will make available to all U.S. aerospace companies. These cutting-edge developments will be used for future government and commercial launch systems and space transportation operations.
The SLI investment is expected to pay off with full-scale spacecraft development options around mid-decade.
“A second-generation reusable launch vehicle will open up the space frontier and significantly improve life on Earth,” said Art Stephenson, Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama (the facility that is leading the program).
“The Space Launch Initiative is a comprehensive R&D effort that provides technology developments that dramatically increase the safety, reliability and affordability of space transportation systems,” Stephenson added. “Through this new initiative, NASA’s mission requirements will be met more efficiently, the U.S. launch industry can better compete in the international launch market, and our nation’s leadership in space will continue to grow in the new century.”
NASA first solicited proposals last fall and has awarded contracts valued at $791 million to 22 prime contractors nationwide, including large and small companies, to allow maximum competition.
The money will be used to develop space transportation system concepts and the technologies needed to pioneer this extraordinary effort, which is expected to make the next-generation reusable launch vehicle at least 10 times safer and crew survivability 100 times greater, all at one-tenth the cost of today’s space launch systems.
These leap-ahead technologies include crew survival systems, advanced tanks and airframe structures, long-life rocket engines and thermal protection systems.
“We’ve got a clean sheet of paper and a wide open competition,” added Stephenson. “The goal is to develop technologies to enable a mid-decade decision regarding the full-scale development of a versatile space transportation system that can be used for both government and commercial services.”
Nearly 300 experts throughout NASA, with technical support from the Air Force Research Laboratory, evaluated numerous proposals leading to this initial down-select and awards for this first round of SLI contracts. The awards are for a 10-month base period with options for one or more additional years.
The options enable NASA to measure performance on a yearly basis to make sure the program’s ambitious goals are met. This approach also allows for continued competition in key technology areas and for NASA to take advantage of new emerging technologies.
The planned budget for the Space Launch Initiative totals $4.8 billion through fiscal year 2006. Additional solicitations in the fall of 2001 and 2002 will commit significant additional funds to the effort.
All of NASA’s Field Centers and the Air Force Research Laboratory are actively participating in the Space Launch Initiative and are vital to its success. The Marshall Space Flight Center is NASA’s lead center for SLI. The Air Force Research Laboratory includes research and development facilities at nine U.S. Air Force bases. Q
For more information, please contact Dennis E. Smith, Program Manager, Second-Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle Program Office, NASA, Mail Code: UP01, George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, AL 35812, & 256/544-9119, TTY 256/544-5095. Please mention you read about it in Innovation.