Former US Navy admiral Craig Steidle is adamant: the USA's new space exploration vision - Project Constellation - "will be an international programme". Just not right now.

Study contracts to propose concepts for the space exploration architecture - and for the critically important crew exploration vehicle (CEV) - will be awarded next month, but will be limited to US industry by an existing policy that prohibits NASA research funds going abroad.

Chuck Allen, Boeing's programme manager, exploration systems, says: "They are working to fix the problem. Steidle has said it absolutely must be an international effort. They just don't know the details yet."


Boeing, meanwhile, is moving ahead to form an international team for Project Constellation. "We're not waiting. We are trying to put an industry-to-industry team together from around the world."

It is hardly surprising that Steidle, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, is a fan of international participation.

He once headed up the multination Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, which has been promoted as a model for international co-operation.

What has surprised some in the USA is Europe's opposition to using the JSF's "best value" model, fuelled by discontent over the return on investment, in workshare terms, among many of those countries that have paid to become partners in the fighter's development programme.

European concern over the future of the International Space Station (ISS) has also taken the USA by surprise.

"It is clearly critically important that we complete the ISS," says Allen.

Under the space exploration vision sketched out by President Bush earlier this year, the USA would retire the Space Shuttle on completion of the ISS in 2010, and abandon the ISS itself in 2016 in favour of heading to the Moon - leaving NASA's international partners, it is presumed, to take over operation of the station.

Under Project Constellation, NASA plans to conduct flight demonstrations of CEV prototypes in 2008, leading to manned orbital flights of the "Spiral 1" vehicle in 2014.


Human missions to the Moon, using the developed "Spiral 2" CEV, would begin in 2015 at the earliest, and no later than 2020.

Manned Mars missions, using a notional "Spiral N" CEV, would probably begin around 2030, NASA believes.

An aggressive timetable, with a request for CEV proposals expected in January next year, could preclude international participation in critical decisions on the space exploration architecture and design of the CEV - unless NASA's policy is changed quickly.

Says Steidle: "We are seeking best value regardless of the source and we are reviewing our policy for foreign co-operation."

Allen says international participation on Boeing's team will be on a JSF-style best-value basis. "Not all of it is within Boeing, and not all of it is within the USA."


Launch systems is one potential area of co-operation. "We want to make the launch solution as robust as possible, with as many potential suppliers as possible. We are not assuming it has to be a US vehicle."

The European Space Agency is conducting its own studies under a two-year space exploration preparatory programme, with the intention of presenting proposals to Europe's space ministers in the second half of next year.

Europe, and Russia, clearly want to participate in the US space exploration vision, but it is equally clear that the future of the ISS and the form of the co-operation must be decided before the journey to the Moon, Mars and beyond can become an international endeavour.



Source: Flight Daily News