Satellite Technology Feature Article
House Now Nags NASA for Delayed In-Orbit Fuel Depot Documents
By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor
Poor NASA Administrator Charles Bolden can't catch a break, it seems. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA (News - Alert)) is asking NASA to forward over its analysis and conclusions about on-orbit fuel depots – documents he says Bolden promised back in July. Worse yet, he's trying to enlist the help of former NASA Administrator (and current Obama space policy critic) Michael Griffin.
Rohrabacker, a vocal opponent of NASA's heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), sent a letter dated September 26 to Griffin, an event unearthed by Hobby Space. On-orbit fuel depots were presented in NASA's initial Human Exploration Framework on May 25, 2010, but have now been “dropped,” according to the Congressman. He'd like to know how and why the decision was made.
“When NASA proposed on-orbit fuel depots in this Administration’s original plan for human space exploration, they said this game-changing technology could make the difference between exploring space and falling short. Then the depots dropped out of the conversation, and NASA has yet to provide any supporting documents explaining the change,” says Rohrabacher.
The Representative says the promise and potential of on-orbit fuel depots would allow the use of existing launch vehicles for deep space exploration, using a series of launches to increase flight rates and increasing efficiency of operations, thereby increasing the commercial prospects for companies.
On-orbit fuel depots have flared up to be the latest debate topic on Capitol Hill and among space policy advocates. in a recent Space News editorial, Alan Stern and Gerry Griffin suggested orbital refueling could be used as a near-term stepping stone for exploring beyond low-earth orbit while SLS is being put together. NASA has four companies working on defining a future flight mission demonstration and a demonstration of an in-orbit gas station might cost as little as $500 million.
Griffin is no fan of space fuel depots, using the September 21 House Science Committee meeting on Human Spaceflight to bash them in written and verbal testimony as they pose a threat to his dream of a big rocket. He says fuel depots require a “presently non-existent technology”; the ability to keep liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen cold without excessively boiling off and says “claims made in support of this architectural approach are difficult to understand.”
Rohrabacker may have to wait a while to get the NASA documents, if the Space Launch System (SLS) experience is any indicator. The Senate Commerce Committee sought SLS documents from NASA on May 18 and ended up issuing a subpoena on July 27 to force the issue. As of this date, the committee hasn't received the documents, but it may be a moot point with the official launch of the SLS program.
Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell