An October 14, 2013 story in Space News reported that a number of former NASA officials, including former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, attending the Von Braun Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama complained about how flat budgets are impeding the space agency’s efforts to fulfill its mandate to explore space beyond low Earth orbit. Due to sequestration, NASA’s budget has actually declined in recent years.
And, of course, the disruptions due to the government shutdown have not helped.
Still, the constrained budget environment that NASA has been obliged to operate in has forced the space agency to become creative in how it is conducting its flagship programs, the Orion spacecraft and the heavy lift Space Launch System. Advances in manufacturing technology seem to be part of a solution.
“Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of space advanced programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif., said industry’s contribution could involve ‘attack[ing] the manufacturing process in a number of different ways.’
“Additive manufacturing, sometimes called 3-D printing, is one of these, Van Kleeck said. ‘We want to build within the company a core competency of additive manufacturing,’ she said. ‘It will make components [and] engines cheaper.’ Then, after seeing to the manufacturing process, “you attack the business and the management processes,’ Van Kleeck said.”
Then some changes in NASA oversight practices can also help to reduce cost.
“Kim Doering, manager of Dynetics’ Space Systems Division, gave a practical example. Dynetics is working on concept studies for side-mounted boosters that could be used on future variants of SLS to increase the rocket’s carrying capacity from 70 tons to low Earth orbit to as many as 130 tons.
“At a project review earlier this year, Dynetics had ‘25 people in the room and a handful of the NASA contract folks,’ said Doering. Ordinarily, ‘we would ... have 300 or 400 people in a review ... but really, there were a much smaller number of people who truly needed to be there.’
“At the end of the review, ‘NASA had to accept it only took 25 people, and they got all they wanted,’ Doering said.“