NASA Problems and Solutions

Can NASA Be Saved? 

Don A. Nelson

Contact: nasaproblems@yahoo.com  

 

As a NASA aerospace engineer I was trained to look for warning signs of possible failure. We had indicating signs of failure before the Challenger and Columbia disasters…they were there but we ignored them. Notice I wrote “disasters” not accidents. Both were disasters because they were preventable and even survivable…they were not accidents.  Instead of admitting that the space shuttle disasters were human failures, NASA management concluded that the space shuttle had to be decommissioned and that the shuttle funding be used to develop a safer system for getting humans into space.   However, NASA management is once again ignoring the warning signs that there shuttle replacement is not

On more than one occasion NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has stated that he is frustrated...and after taking the NASA top position said, “I really don’t care what signal it sends. I did not want this job.” (Ref http://www.spacenews.com/civil/bolden-talk-yields-insights-more-personal-than-political.html). I met Charlie when he first came to NASA JSC as an astronaut candidate. He is an A-number one nice guy and tries to please everyone and a NASA administrator can’t be that guy. At a recent telecom he again said that his goal was to have a human mission to Mars. I challenged him that goal is impossible with the heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) vehicles. There are too many negative to proceed with the development of Apollo class heavy lift launch vehicles. The “Austere Human Missions to Mars” presented by NASA at the AIAA Space 2009 conference requires nearly 2000 T be delivered to LEO to support a four member crew Mars mission. It would require 15 launches of the upgraded SLS to support the four year Mars mission with a launch cost of a minimum $30 billion plus the cost of the payloads. If one launch vehicle or payload fails the entire mission could be lost. With no cargo return capability on the Orion crew module there is no commercial value for this Mars transportation system. Reusable launchers with payload return capability and space based transportation vehicles with cargo bays commercial applications are the only affordable and viable option for human Mars missions.

The SLS is a political vehicle designed to try to save an industry that supports NASA launch operations. The economic environment of the 21st century dictates that we abandon government operated launch vehicles. Like the U.S. auto industry…we change or we shut down.

Charlie…by resigning you sent the message that we are on the wrong path!

Don A. Nelson

Aerospace Consultant…Retired NASA Engineer

Content:

China’s Space Shuttle                    MPCV/Orion crew module deathtrap    

NASA Management Solutions    NASA Technology Issues               

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NASA’s Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program (SLS/MPCV) will fail because…mission costs are too high, the Orion/MPCV crew module has an unsolvable water recovery issue, and there is no commercial application.

The following SLS/MPCV “operation” cost estimates were presented to the Congressional Budget Office after it failed to make the Congress aware of the prohibitive cost to operate expendable heavy lift vehicles.

·         The NASA human exploration budget will be flat lined at $2.8b for the foreseeable future. One report indicates a development cost of $38b and another reports that the first development version launch of the SLS could not take place until December 2017 and the 130mt production versions (crew and cargo) are not expected to unveiled until August 2032. This SLS development program scenario based on 13 flights over a 21 year period would have extreme difficulty maintaining the manufacturing labor force for such a low flight rate. However, it is the introduction of the cargo vehicle which forecast that it will require two launches of these mammoth vehicles to accomplish one mission. The SLS is the same heavy lift launcher concept used in the Constellation program which was cancelled because: "The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.” Such is the case today.

·        NASA has failed to reduce the mission operation cost of the SLS/MPCV. The following $4.2b estimate of annual operations cost for the SLS indicated it will cost more to manufacture the expendable vehicles, plan the mission, and conduct flight operation than NASA has budgeted for human exploration. NASA is assuming that future budgets will be increased to cover mission operations. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN!

 “It’s the Launch Cost…Stupid”… paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s presidential economy election theme. NASA must reduce its launch cost and the commercial space shuttle is the only option! The SLS/MPCV shuttle replacement plan is unaffordable, unsafe, and like the Constellation program suffers from incompetent NASA management.

Crew Modules are Death Traps

NASA Management has chosen not to disclose that crew modules have unsolvable safety issues that are inherent to all crew modules with parachute water landings and crew recovery. There is historical evidence that substantiates crew modules have been no safer than the space shuttle. In fact it is by chance that the crew module safety record is not much worst. NASA management has chosen to disregard the perilous “entry” phase of flight where two Soyuz flight crews were killed when their crew module failed during retry and the recent near fatal mishaps…all related to manufacturing errors.  Every flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) or any of the commercial crew modules will be a “test flight.”

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Orion Crew Module Crash Site

Remember one of reasons the space shuttle was decommissioned was to improve crew safety and that is not the case with crew modules! Ironically only the CSS would have crew escape pods that would protect the crew during every phase of flight. This is another NASA management blunder which again will have fatal consequences if implemented!

Recently published statements attributed to NASA state that the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Is: “designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the Space Shuttle.” As a retired NASA engineer with extensive experience in the operation of crew modules, I challenged the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance about the authenticity of this statement.  Their reply (see below) was the Orion failed to meet the safety requirements for entry during their Constellation Program evaluations and that they have failed to establish a Level 1 set of requirement for the commercial crew modules and Orion MPCV. It is my opinion that the Commercial crew modules and Orion MPCV are potential deathtraps and NASA has misled Congress about the safety of these vehicles.

While the crew escape tower on the MPCV may provide significant improvement over a Space Shuttle without crew escape pods, it does not negate the many factors that have made crew modules a death trap during the re-entry phase of flight. As example, historically the Russian Soyuz crew module’s safety record is not significantly better than that the Space Shuttle. While the Soyuz crew module has experienced a failure of the escape tower, it has been the re-entry phase of flight that has proven to be the fatal environment for flight crews. Potential fatal crew module failures are:  

·        Every crew module flight is a test flight! Manufacturing errors have occurred.  

·        Crew modules have very limited cross range capability which could require a reentry into unacceptable weather conditions.

·        Crew module’s notorious reentry errors result in an expanses landing zone that could prevent rapid access to the crew in dire circumstances.

·        Parachutes are known to fail. This is another unacceptable single point failure.

There are too many potential failures with fatal consequences for a crew module to be considered for 21st century human space transportation. The Russian Soyuz crew module is still in service only because their government cannot afford to develop a safer reusable lifting body winged runway landing crewed spacecraft.

Email reply: Excerpts from NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance:

“At PDR, the Cx (Orion) design PRA estimate was better than the requirement for ascent and not there yet for entry. We don’t have a set of level 1 requirements yet for the next NASA developed human system, but we do plan to use the Cx numbers above as part of our human rating requirements set for commercial crew to ISS.  I agree this will be a challenge for any capsule for all the reasons you give if not more.”

Commercial Space Shuttle Crew Escape Pods

This is the only viable crew escape/safe haven system and is available only on the CSS ( see: www.spacetran21.org ).

·       Commercial Space Shuttle Crew Escape Pods

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China’s Space Shuttle

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) can be expected to introduce a reusable space shuttle transportation system by 2020. The program is designed Project 921-3 and is convincing evidence that CNSA understands that at 21st century space program must be based on reusable space vehicles with capability to launch and return crew and cargo from spaced based facilities. With a space shuttle and spaced based infrastructure China will become the dominate space faring nation.

 

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In October 2006 the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) revealed that China is developing a winged space shuttle for use in the 2020 time frame.[9] Concept images indicate the planned space plane may be about 2/3 the size of the U.S. and Russian space shuttles. But instead of a using a large fuel tank that powered launch engines in the space plane, it uses a separate three-part liquid fuel booster.

Four Are Charged in Espionage Cases Tied to China

By Evan Perez

 Companies Featured in This Article: Boeing

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department unveiled charges against a U.S. military analyst and a former Boeing Co. engineer in separate cases that officials said underscore intense economic and military espionage efforts by China in the U.S.

The unrelated cases, filed in Los Angeles and Alexandria, Va., center on allegations that sensitive information about the Space Shuttle and Delta IV rocket programs, as well as U.S. military sales to Taiwan, were exposed to Chinese spies.

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Solutions to NASA Management Problems

“I think it's fair to say that there's been a sense of drift to our space program over the last several years” President Barack Obama

NASA’s ongoing inability to meet schedules, control costs, and prevent cancellation of projects is caused by their unwillingness to resolve the agencies internal problems. Internal problems that have been festering for years and must be addressed before NASA can again significant contribute to expanding mankind’s knowledge of the space frontier. This report identifies the problems and recommends solutions to stop the “drift to our space program” into oblivion.

Identifying the problems:

·        NASA has dysfunctional management. The “One NASA” problem has never been solved and each NASA center continues to operate like an independent “fiefdom”. Program costs soar because there is no accountability for failure. The objective is get the program funded with the belief that Congress will provide for cost overrun rather than cancel the program.

·        Manned spaceflight operations cost are excessive and consume too much of NASA’s resources. NASA has no incentive to reduce manned launch operation costs.

·        Technology development programs have been neglected for decades and NASA today is technologically bankrupt. The troubled “Apollo on Steroids” Constellation Program’s development problems are the results of trying to build a 21st century space transportation system with 20th century technology.

Who is really in charge at NASA?

The President makes three political appointments to NASA: the Administrator, Assistance Administrator, and the Inspector General. Too often these appointees are unwilling or unprepared to challenge the NASA civil servant senior managers who have their own agendas. The conflict in the NASA Inspector General Office leading to the resignation of the Inspector General typifies the problem and the damage it has done to the agency.

Senior members of Congress with NASA oversight also contribute to the problem when they use their position to promote agendas that dilute the primary strategic plan for the Agency or continue to support programs that have failed to meet their development goals and have exceeded budget limits. The internal agency resistances to change the cultural impairment are major factors why many qualified political candidates refuse to accept appointment to NASA.

NASA Administrator

Must have the unique qualification of a Washington politician, engineer, scientist, and program manager with the ability to determine what passes the test of being both feasible and realistic.

The Administrator must have “independent” advisors who can challenge the “entrenched” NASA civil service managers. The general rule in today’s NASA is to tell the Administrator what you want him to hear and not what he needs to know.   

NASA Inspector General

The NASA Inspector General Office has the NASA oversight responsibility; however this office is plagued by internal dissension and its technical evaluation capability is virtually nonexistent. The Inspector General must have outside independent evaluator(s) on technical issues. The Inspector General must also identify to the Administrator those project managers whose management decisions created program problems. In general, accountability of senior management doesn’t exist at today’s NASA.

The President must appoint a NASA inspector generals whose background knowledge relates to the agency…not just government career bureaucrats. To have accountability, there must be responsible oversight.

NASA Office of the Chief Engineer

This office must become the “eyes and ears” for the Administrator. The NASA chief engineer must be the administrator’s must trusted advisor and not necessarily a career civil service employee. The Administrator must provide this office with the resources to serve as the agency’s independent internal evaluator of proposed projects and monitor of existing projects. Each NASA’s center chief engineer office must serve as the coordinator agent for using the resources of their office in evaluating that center’s projects and report directly to the Headquarter Chief Engineer. They will have no allegiance to the center director. All evaluations will be public record. The peer pressure of internal monitoring by the NASA Chief Engineer will be the most effective mechanism the Administrator can have.

The Office of the Chief Engineer must be used as the training ground for future executive program managers for Senior Executive Service positions. Invaluable management experience can be obtained by appointing promising candidates to the Chief Engineer Office and rotate them around the various centers to gain insight into program management and each center’s capability. NASA’s management creditability problems can be attributed to the lack of extensive experience in project management. This process solves that inexperience problem and addresses the “One NASA” issue by creating a NASA senior management team with knowledge and a relationship with other NASA centers.

NASA Advisory Council

The NASA Administrator current appoints the members of this “advisory” council. This appointment policy defeats the objective of providing independent unbiased advice for the Administrator. Public input to the Council is not permitted and that must be corrected. Council members have been removed for issuing proclamations unfavorable to the Administrator position. This policy has been detrimental to the oversight of the Agency.

The NASA Advisory Council must be appointed by the executive branch and report to the President and Congress and not be subservient to the NASA administrator. The Council must also serve as forum where NASA employees and contractor can voice concern on NASA programs and policies without fear of management reprisal.

NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

This panel effectiveness has been negated by the appointment of members with limited technology knowledge.

For Example:

Safety Experts Call for Shuttle Shutdown (Source: Orlando Sentinel , 4/17/2009)
Saying NASA is at a critical crossroads, independent safety experts have called for the agency to stay the course and shut down the shuttle program after nine remaining missions. Keeping NASA’s shuttle fleet flying beyond 2010 would endanger astronauts and sap money from efforts to return American astronauts to the moon by 2020, the group said. “Continuing to fly the shuttle not only would increase the risk to crews, but also could jeopardize the future U.S. exploration program by squeezing available resources,” the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said in its latest annual report, released Thursday. The panel was created by Congress after the 1967 Apollo 1 launch pad fire killed three astronauts
.

These are the same “experts” that said they “didn’t do tech analyses” when requested to investigate the safety of Ares I. Their call for shuttle shutdown was based on a non-existence safety evaluation of the two transportation system.

It is recommended that membership on the ASAP consist of aerospace engineers and they not be appointed by the NASA administrator.

NASA Credibility Issue

GAO: The GAO said NASA missions faced "persistent cost growth and schedule slippage." Little seems to have changed. Since 2006, NASA has broken the bank on 10 of 12 major projects.

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Key Technology Development

NASA is technology bankrupt. For nearly three decades NASA has failed to institute a technology development program. Without advancement in technology there will be no advancements in aeronautics and space exploration. NASA’s policy of development technology during the program development contributes to excessive cost and program failures. Technology development must become NASA first priority. Technology programs must be established in the following disciplines:

·        Propulsion Systems

·        Structural Material

·        Electrical Power Systems

·        Avionics

·        Manufacturing Tooling Systems

·        Also see the author’s book.

In the late 1980’s NASA established technology teams in the above disciplines comprised of NASA employees and members of the aerospace community to identify and prioritize technologies need for future programs. No funding was ever provided for the technology programs. These technology working groups must be reestablished and funded or NASA programs will continue to fail.

Propulsion Systems:

The existing space transportation system launch and orbital vehicle performance capability is provided by chemical liquid oxygen/hydrogen (or RP-1 kerosene fuel) engines and solid rocket or hybrid boosters. These propulsion systems have reached their maximum performance potential. However significant cost reductions for this class of engines can be achieved with the development of reusable engines for launch vehicles and the development of propulsion systems for space based vehicles. Improved sensors that provide information to decrease maintenance and flight operations cost are key technology requirements for these class engines and, therefore must be assigned the highest priority. In addition space based propulsion systems would require the development of a long duration propellant storage system.

NOTE: The space shuttle main engine (SSME) is the only existing reusable engine. That technology must not be lost.

The long range advance propulsion technology concepts have a wide range of possibilities. Several propulsion systems for long range consideration are:

Solar Propulsion— Incorporating a reflective solar concentrator to heat liquid hydrogen to a vapor which is expanded through a nozzle to generate thrust.

Sunlight Sail—An extremely thin and large sheet of material is expanded in space to capture the force of the sunlight like sailboats capture the wind for their propulsion force.

Nuclear Propulsion—Same principal as solar propulsion except nuclear energy is used to heat the liquid hydrogen.

Anti-matter—Collides a proton with a positive charge into an antiproton with a negative charge that produces a tremendous force for propulsion.

Plasma Rocket—hydrogen gas is heated to extreme temperatures and accelerated by magnetic fields to provide thrust.

The long range propulsion technologies will be extremely challenging to develop and will require extensive laboratory research testing.

Structural materials—technologies are needed to decrease the structural weight of space vehicles. Carbon nanotubes materials appear to have tremendous potential for space structures. They are light weight and stronger than existing spacecraft materials. The tubes also have the potential to

solve the storage and leakage problems for cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen. The tubes can only be produced under laboratory conditions. A top priority must be assigned to the development and large scale production of this material.

Research is required for materials to replace the shuttle thermal protective system. Ceramic materials for engine components also have shown promise.

Electrical Power Systems—are limited to the capability of batteries, solar arrays, and nuclear power generators. Extensive research is required in all these areas. Electro-mechanical actuators research is required to remove hypergolic generator from flight systems. 

Avionics—will present an extremely difficult management problem for the development of a space based autonomous vehicle. Foremost in these problems will be costs that may exceed 50 percent of the vehicle total cost. The integrated health monitoring and autonomous control system of

reusable space vehicles also presents formidable technology challenges in the areas of software and sensors.

Autonomous navigation systems must be developed and verified. One of the more exciting avionics technologies being investigated is in the field of nano-electronic devices. Laboratory demonstrations of accelerometers, gyros, pressure sensors, thermal actuators, and optical devices

are resulting in encouraging indications that this technology can significantly reduce space vehicle weight, improve safety by providing additional layers of redundancy, and reduce operations costs.

Manufacturing Tooling Systems- Advanced materials for future space programs must have machines that can process them. The transfer of manufacturing to foreign countries with low labor cost has diminished this nation capability to made manufacturing tools. There is an acute need for machines that process existing and advance materials which allow U.S. companies to produce products that can compete in the market.

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Author Biography

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Don A. Nelson is an aerospace consultant and writer. Mr. Nelson has consulted with congressional and government offices on NASA issues since his retirement from NASA in January 1999 after 36 years with the agency. He has made numerous media appearances on national and foreign television. He participated in the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle Projects as a mission planner and operations technologist. Mr. Nelson was a supporting team member for the first rendezvous in space, first manned mission to the moon, first manned lunar landing, and the first flight of the Space Shuttle. During his last 11 years at NASA, he served as a mission operations evaluator for proposed advanced space transportation projects. He was a member of the design team for the space shuttle. His NASA experiences give him a unique knowledge of NASA’s problems and for seeking feasible and realistic solutions. Mr. Nelson is a graduate of Southern Methodist School of Engineering. He is a certified private pilot and holds a Phase VI Pilot Proficiency Wings award from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mr. Nelson is the author of:

NASA New Millennium Problems and Solutions

by Don A. Nelson

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Written by a retired NASA engineer, this easy-to-read book is insider's look at many of the space program's current problems. Not only does it predict the most recent shuttle disaster, it provides a detailed understanding of why our nation's exploration of its 'last frontier' is headed for disaster. With aging shuttles, no definitive plans for future of the vehicle, and poor management, Nelson's book is a wake-up call to all Americans to take note and action...or lose the hope of conquering the stars (Barnes & Noble review).

Now is the time to:Speak out…or forever suffer the consequences of remaining silent!”

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OCT - 5 2010


 

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