A new heavylift rocket and the International Space Station are winners - and evolved expendable launch vehicles are among the losers - in proposals that NASA administrator Charles Bolden will take to President Barack Obama.
Bolden is charged with giving Obama proposals for a new US human spaceflight policy following a review, ordered by the US president, that is now finishing its work.
Bolden outlined his proposal at the International Astronautical Congress in Daejeon, South Korea: retire the Space Shuttle by the first quarter of 2011, keep the International Space Station operating long after its planned 2015 retirement date, use commercial launch services - which may have a substantial international element - for cargo and crew transport to station, and develop a heavylift vehicle for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
Bolden has arrived at this future scenario since Obama's spaceflight review committee filed its summary on 8 August, with the final report expected to land on the NASA chief's desk shortly.
That summary report detailed eight spaceflight policy options that included using the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Delta IV EELVs for crew transport and launching beyond-LEO mission elements. Expressing concerns that exploration using EELVs required complex multiple launch scenarios, Bolden also rules out their use for crew transport. "EELVs are not man-rated [and] they are middle class," he says, not the heavylift class wanted by NASA. He adds that NASA is "costing a heavylift vehicle".
The need for a heavylift rocket could see the Ares V cargo launch vehicle survive the likely cancellation of NASA's return-to-the-Moon programme, Constellation. Hampered by insufficient funding, Constellation is years behind schedule and, under Obama's NASA budget request for 2010, there is not enough money to continue it.
Bolden's proposal would use a rocket something like Ares V. This matches the spaceflight review report's option two. It involves a rocket called Ares V lite, to launch Constellation's Orion crew exploration vehicle and future Earth departure stages.
Option two says there would be no heavylift rocket until the late 2020s and Bolden is ready to go slow. He says the agency will "determine the speed [of the exploration plan] with the budget we get" and he does not expect to even have a plan in time for NASA's fiscal year 2011 budget submission, which has to be with Obama by the end of this year. The NASA chief's hope "is to establish the [human spaceflight] vision first".
Bolden expects to have a number of meetings with Obama before a decision is made and says his first meeting with the president will be in "the next few months".