Sunday, February 14, 2010

Obama's move to end Constellation prompts industrial base questions

December 1972 - Apollo 17 launch viewed from the launch tower. This was the only night launch of the Apollo-Saturn era; the U.S. original "Heavy Lift," was also the last Saturn V to carry humans into space. The Saturn V (configuration) was used again to launch an unmanned Skylab into space. Like Apollo 7, crews for America's first space station (and for the Apollo-Soyuz demonstration of 1975) were flown on Saturn 1B boosters, using only the first and second stages. [NASA/Apollo 17 Surface Journal-Scan by Kipp Teague].

Amy Klamper
Space News

Industry advocates are voicing concern with U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel NASA’s Moon-bound Constellation program and the threat it poses to America’s aerospace work force and U.S. strategic missile arsenals, but Defense Department officials said the two agencies are forging a plan to sustain the nation’s solid-rocket motor industrial base.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is among those railing against Obama’s proposal to scrap NASA’s plan to replace its space shuttle fleet with new rockets and spacecraft in favor of relying on commercial crew taxis to get astronauts to the international space station and back.

“This is not money-saving. This is having some kind of half-baked scheme that we can commercialize this,” said Bishop, whose district is home to ATK Space Systems, the Magna, Utah-based solid-rocket motor manufacturer that is building the first stage of Constellation’s Ares 1 rocket and major subsystems for its launch abort system. ATK executives told investors Feb. 4 that canceling Ares 1 would cost the company $650 million in contract backlog.

While Bishop’s congressional district stands to lose 2,000 jobs under Obama’s proposal, the outspoken U.S. missile defense proponent said there is more at stake than northern Utah’s employment outlook. Shutting down Constellation, he said, threatens the nation’s ability to produce solid-rocket motors needed for ballistic missiles.

“It’s not a spigot you can turn on and off,” Bishop said in a Feb. 9 interview. “Once they’re out the door and in the unemployment lines, they’re not coming back.”

ATK and Sacramento, Calif.-based Aerojet are the only U.S. companies producing large solid-rocket motors for space launchers and strategic missiles.

Gary Payton, a retired military astronaut and former senior NASA official who serves as U.S. Air Force deputy under secretary for space programs, told reporters Feb. 4 the service was still assessing the industrial base impacts of canceling Constellation.

Read the article, HERE.

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