Subcommittee Explores Progress in NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule

Sep 12, 2012
Subcommittee Explores Progress in NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule

Washington DC – The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics today held a hearing to examine ongoing development of the next generation heavy-lift launch vehicle, called the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew capsule, as well as to discuss how these technologies can be used for future scientific missions.

Before delivering his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) acknowledged the attack on American diplomats in Libya and requested a moment of silence in recognition of the tragedy and to pray for the families of those who were murdered.

Chairman Palazzo began his opening statement saying that “For the next several decades, the Space Launch System and Orion multipurpose crew vehicle will give our country the capability to launch exciting new human spaceflight exploration missions and robotic science missions.  While no other country currently has the capability to match what we can do with SLS and Orion, a number of emerging space powers may, in time, be tempted to challenge our leadership in space. By recklessly cutting investments in aerospace R&D, we risk putting future generations of Americans at risk.”

NASA’s SLS, together with the Orion crew capsule, will provide our country a capability that has not existed since the Apollo lunar program (1972) – the ability to send humans beyond Earth orbit to lunar or other deep space destinations.  It also makes it possible for our nation to send larger, more sophisticated scientific payloads to distant planets and other deep-space destinations, and provide a backup capability for the US government to access the International Space Station (ISS) in the event that commercial crew or Soyuz services are unavailable. NASA’s current development schedule assumes an operational SLS and Orion by 2021. No specific destination has been announced for a first mission, although NASA and the White House have suggested visiting a near-Earth asteroid.  The Agency is currently undertaking a survey to identify likely targets.

Members today asked how NASA is working to ensure that programs are cost effective in a constrained budgetary environment. Testifying on behalf of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Mr. Cleon Lacefield, Vice President and Orion Program Manager, said that the NASA-Lockheed Martin team “initiated major affordability measures and streamlined Orion program management oversight by incorporating proven commercial practices to ensure our ability to work within constrained NASA budgets while keeping the program moving forward.”

Mr. Jim Chilton, Exploration Vice President at The Boeing Company, further discussed maximizing efficiency.  “We are adapting our design to maximize production efficiency in areas of tooling, headcount, procurement processes, and even the number of lifts and moves on the factory floor,” Mr. Chilton said. “This will enable the country to finally have access to an exploration class rocket within predicted annual budgets, which we see as a definition of affordability more appropriate than costs that are scaled around potential production rates.”

Testifying on behalf of NASA, Mr. Dan Dumbacher, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, discussed progress and challenges in developing these systems.  “Currently, the major challenges to the programs are not primarily technical,” Mr. Dumbacher said.  “Rather, the challenges are in maintaining program stability while acquiring the Orion and SLS systems so that the next elements of the Exploration enterprise can be developed.  Additionally, there will be the typical hardware development, manufacturing, and supply chain challenges. NASA and its industry team are working diligently to identify issues early and address them expeditiously.”

Concluding his testimony, Dr. Matt Mountain, Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, discussed some of the groundbreaking missions that will be possible.  “The SLS can definitely enable several very ambitious and imaginative scientific missions that only NASA and this nation can do. The results will be truly inspirational, and will irreversibly change our view of ourselves as a species and our place within this vast Universe.”