House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
Aeronautics & Space Transportation Technology Hearing
The House Science Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics convened a hearing Wednesday afternoon, March 12, to examine NASA's FY 1998 budget for Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology. Testifying on behalf of NASA were Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology, Dr. Robert Whitehead, and Gary Payton, Director of NASA's Space Transportation Division.
The hearing was notable most for the announcement by Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) has been selected to replace Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX) as the ranking Democrat for the subcommittee. Cramer, formerly a county district attorney and founder of the National Children's Advocacy Center, was elected to Congress in 1990. He represents the Marshall Space Flight Center and has taken an active interest in space policy issues.
In testimony, Whitehead explained NASA currently is defining 10- and 20-year goals for aeronautical and space transportation programs, shaped around three "pillars":
Last summer, the X-34 program was reorganized into a "more effective flight demonstration test bed without the commercial launcher aspects of the initial agreement." During Phase I, Orbital Sciences Corporation will design and manufacture the vehicle and conduct two flight tests.
Phase II involves an additional 25 flight tests over a 12-month period. The program's goal is to reduce turnaround costs to $500,000 each.
"The X-34 program is proceeding as planned, is working toward a system design review in May of this year, and begins major hardware delivery this summer. Fabrication of the fuselage, propellant tanks, wings, pressurant tanks and actuation systems has been initiated," according to Whitehead.
Subcommittee members focused most of their time discussing aspects of the X-33 program. Preliminary design reviews of all subsystems have been completed, as well as the overall system design. Lockheed-Martin currently is constructing subsystems for the vehicle, including the oxidizer flight tank.
The major news in the X-33 program concerns the cost of purchasing major space parts for the X-33 as an insurance policy if the vehicle is damaged. In a January Space News article, Payton estimated the cost could be as low as $50 million. The day before this hearing, the NSS submitted a letter of recommended questions to Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher, requesting members to ask NASA's witnesses about the cost and prudent nature of funding spare parts for X-33. Rep. Rohrabacher did in fact ask this question at the end of the hearing, to which Whitebread announced that the price tag for the spare parts would be $200 million, while a second vehicle would cost $330 to $360 million. NASA has not yet made a decision on buying a set of spare parts.
Payton also announced the X-33 will be heavier than expected, reducing its top speed from Mach 15 to Mach 14.2. According to Payton, the added weight and lower speed will not impair the program's ability to generate needed data to validate new technologies for the full-scale VentureStar.
Payton said NASA currently is analyzing the ability of a full-scale RLV to service the International Space Station. The marketing strategy and requirements of the VentureStar are the responsibility of private industry and NASA is not involving itself in the process.
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