Florida Today's interview with the state's Senator Bill Nelson and other politicians seems to have uncovered the core of what the new US human spaceflight vision will likely be
It sounds a bit like the Review of US human space flight plans' option 4A but there are some pretty odd aspects to it. An extra billion dollars is not going to buy you much for starters
And that extra billion is not even news. In the updated (so it says) FY2010 budget request there is an extra billion for Ares I crew launch vehicle in the FY2011 column and then that slumps back by a billion for FY2012
For the less constrained budget option the Review's report spoke of an extra $3 billion in real terms by 2014. One billion extra dollars from October 2010 will have to be followed by increases well above a billion in each of the next two fiscal years to match that original Review report real term increase estimate
With this extra billion NASA will apparently "accelerate" the development of a Saturn V class, or is that Ares V lite, booster. How they will do that is going to be interesting. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne told me last year that work on the Ares V core stage engine, the RS-68B, had not even begun. And as the Review's report states on page 59:
Further, as the Shuttle and ISS programs are terminated, a significant percentage of NASA's fixed costs will transition to Constellation. The Committee has found that not all of those costs have been accounted for in the Constellation budget plan.
So what proportion of the $3 billion Space Shuttle Programme budget is actually saved to fund this booster acceleration, and the climate change related science projects and the improved aeronautics research and wasn't there a $5 billion commercial crew competition mentioned somewhere by the Review(?)
And it is hard to see how flight tests using the Ares I first stage in the 2012 time frame will help a Shuttle workforce that has been needed to service three reusable spaceplanes being used over an average of five flights per year every year with all the accompanying infrastructure to be maintained that goes with it
If you're going to spend $2 billion on a five segment solid rocket booster in FY2011 then you might want to start by fixing the parachute problem for one, assuming the new Saturn V class booster will bother to reuse its SRBs. Not reusing them was an option for boosting Ares V cargo launch vehicle performance
But the oddest statement in the Florida Today article is the one about Shuttle...
Shuttle factories have shut down, so there would be a significant gap -- two to three years -- between the last scheduled shuttle mission and flights added to the manifest.
Sources close to the Shuttle programme tell Hyperbola that that simply is not true. Vendors had shut down production lines but they are still receiving payments and no such gap of years would exist. The deadline, Hyperbola hears, is this March when payments to those vendors stop. I guess the Obama administration had to have a reason not to opt for option 4B
And what of the commercial competition? The $5 billion proposal from the Review's panel. No mention of that at all. And no Commercial Crew Development initiative announcement, is there a future for commercial crew transport?
Considering the amount of media coverage the flexible path plan has had over the last few months its surprising that its not mentioned in the Florida Today article. Instead we get a broad intent to send people into space. I suspect that is because the rest of the world has been working towards robotic and human Moon and Mars plans for the last few years to see how they can best fit in with the Constellation goals. NASA's partners have probably told the Obama administration, "no we can't!"