National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE." National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. 1988. Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18717.
Page 15
Suggested Citation:"SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE." National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. 1988. Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18717.
Page 16

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

15 some men and women will eventually live and work on other celestial bodies. For many visionaries, the question becomes what role, if any, the United States wishes to play in humanity's quest to become a multiplanet species. The committee accepts as a reasonable answer to this question a plan that focuses for the next decade or more (1) on a space station as a facility for learn- ing how humans fare in extended-duration space flight and for developing the technological capabilities for deep-space human exploration, and (2) on developing the space transportation capabilities to support such a station. Al- though this kind of plan implies a reorientation in the primary rationale for the space station and a rethinking of plans for outfitting and utilizing it, it may not require major shifts in the current design. Whether such changes would be necessary will depend on the review of the station based on the space goals of the President. Properly aligned with these goals, the space station program would be- come a national special initiative, with presidential and congressional commit- ment to its purposes and to a funding level above that of the base NASA program. This would imply NASA budgets in the $13 billion to $15 billion range during the first half of the 1990s. SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE The Congressional Budget Office report The NASA Program in the 1990s and Beyond points out that the planned NASA program for the next decade has as its primary aim putting in place an infrastructure designed to support a variety of space missions, including many that are ambitious in scope and that have not yet been approved. Before the country invests in such an infrastruc- ture, there needs to be assurance that it is well matched to future missions and to continuing space activities that are likely to be approved and carried out. Many of those missions and activities would be part of the special initiatives described earlier. The most important element of the space infrastructure is the capacity to launch payloads into orbit. The country is slowly recovering from the crucial and expensive policy mistake of depending on one system for its access to space. The transition to a diverse, robust, and resilient launch capability is under way but will take a number of years to complete. The Air Force has taken the lead in this process by ordering upgraded versions of the Delta, Atlas, and Titan expendable launch vehicles (ELVs) for most of its space transporta- tion needs, and by planning to use the space shuttle only when its unique capabilities are required. NASA is not as far along in this transition, and its plans for the immediate future still call for primary dependence on the shuttle. In this period, the emerging commercial ELY capacity is treated by NASA as a

16 backup, even when expendable vehicles could meet mission requirements, for example, for launching planetary missions. A constraint on NASA's ability to diversify is the additional cost of ELVs, but NASA and Congress should make ELV procurement a high budgetary priority, especially where ELVs are needed to support base programs and capabilities. For future launch systems, NASA and DOD should continue to work together on requirements and technology development. The key desiderata for these advanced launch systems are reliability (because payloads are costly to lose), a capacity for rapid processing (to ensure the timeliness of launches), low cost (allowing access to space for a wider community of users), and diversity and redundancy (so that failure of one element of the launch infrastructure does not shut down the nation's entire launch capability). The development of commercial launch vehicles and supporting facilities can be an important contribution to the U.S. space infrastructure. Indeed, the reentry of the Air Force into the ELV market has enabled U.S. companies to open their production lines for commercial launchers. This, together with the policies described in the previous section, can help U.S. industry compete. Nevertheless, U.S. launchers face intense competition from foreign enterprises, which often enjoy government support and can charge prices that do not reflect total enterprise costs. In addition, the worldwide overcapacity in launches will make it difficult for private companies to compete without some form of government participation. At issue is the extent of such assistance and whether it should be supplemented by prohibitions on the use of foreign launch vehicles by U.S. users of space. There is a natural tension between the users of space and the commercial purveyors of launch vehicles and services. For the users, inhibitions against the use of foreign launch vehicles are not desirable because they would increase the cost of access to space. In the view of the committee such restraints should not be imposed, except where national security considerations take precedence. In the absence of restraints, however, the President should commission an inter- agency review of the national support required for a private U.S. industrial launch capability. This group should recommend to the President whether alter- native support should be implemented. With regard to the shuttle, NASA's plans for launching each vehicle three to four times a year appear optimistic, given the uncertainties surrounding the return of the shuttle to routine flight operations under demanding new proce- dures and safety requirements. Further in the future, the sole dependence on the shuttle for resupplying the space station has the potential of repeating the mis- take of depending on a single system for any critical task. A more productive policy would be to husband the shuttle as a valuable resource with a limited life and to depend on unmanned launch vehicles unless the presence of humans is essential. To give resilience to the program and to provide for contingencies,

Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities Get This Book
 Toward a New Era in Space: Realigning Policies to New Realities
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering assembled a group of experts in science, economics, engineering, and private technology-based enterprise to examine past space policies and their consequences and to recommend policies that should guide the national space program over the long term. Of special concern was the lack of national consensus regarding the long-term goals of the civil space program, which led to the loss of heavy launch capabilities, the fall of the Skylab, and, for lack of alternative launch vehicles, the prolonged absence of the United States from space following the Challenger accident. Without a durable framework to establish priorities, the U.S. space program has promised too much for the resources made available to it.

Toward a New Era in Space concludes that major changes are needed in the way the country and its leaders approach national space policy. The foundation of space policy is its sense of purpose—national goals that are imaginative, durable, and affordable. These goals and the programs to achieve them must recognize the growing capabilities of other nations and, through cooperation, accomplish objectives otherwise unobtainable. Major challenges also provide major opportunities. This report addresses those near-term decisions that can lead to a fruitful, consistent U.S. space program in the decades to come.


  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!