Service Module Update

Keith's note: RIF Watch has come across additional information from the Moscow meetings held in late November regarding the problems confronting the Russian Service Module. This is a follow-on to our earlier report.

The Russians apparently do not understand NASA's preoccupation with "schedule" and are often fond of pointing to their decades of experience with space stations when responding to NASA concerns. They have also tried to get NASA officials to pressure the White House to, in turn, pressure Yeltsin et al to free up additional funds. Meanwhile, Phase 1 personnel (STS/Mir), having experienced the problems with Russia and their space program first hand, have been saying "I told you so" " and "don't you guys get it?"to the ISS teams working the Service Module issue. The White House has also told NASA that they are just going to have to figure out a way to fix the problems with Russian hardware within NASA's current budget. ISS officials have been reminded that Russia has far more serious systemic problems - paying for their Army, defaulting on agreements with the IMF, and keeping their current space program going, and that is totally unrealistic to expect them to change any time soon or find any spare cash.

The current situation is as follows: The Russians are pushing to make a formal announcement as soon as is possible that the schedule for the Service Module has slipped by 8 months. NASA representatives are currently working to delay such an announcement at least until after the completion of Dan Goldin's trip to Moscow (currently planned for early December 1996). If at all possible, NASA would really like this announcement to wait until the completion of Vice President Gore's Moscow Trip in January 1997. The US bargaining position has been to push the Russians toward options that would preserve the US launch schedule as much as possible.

Five options were discussed at the November IPT meeting in Moscow. Three were eventually dropped. One proposal made by the Russians received zero consideration this time from NASA: using the core of Mir as the core of ISS - a proposal thoroughly studied - and then rejected by NASA last year. Another option included the conversion of the Service Module work to a contractual arrangement similar to that used by NASA to procure the FGB. That hasn't apparently gone anywhere either.

Two options are still under serious consideration. Both of these options would involve several years of man-tended operations; would likely cause the November 1997 First Element Launch (FEL) date to be slipped significantly; and would require significant amounts of money (several hundred million dollars) from NASA:

One proposal involves modification of the FGB such that it could assume some of the functionality of the Service Module such that the 3A, 4A, and 5A ISS configurations could be achieved without the Service Module. Among the additional capabilities required for the FGB under this option would be the ability for on-orbit refueling.

The other proposal involves NASA providing some new pieces of hardware, the most prominent of which would be an "Interim Control Module." (ICM). As currently envisioned, the ICM would combine the functionality of both the FGB and Service Module and would entirely negate the need for both the FGB and the Service Module. Under this option, Russian participation in the ISS program would be dramatically curtailed.

Existing hardware was considered as the possible source for an ICM. Lockheed's Bus-1, once proposed to provide similar functionality as part of the 1993 SSF-derived Option B redesign is no longer being considered by NASA. The prime reason being the cost of operating BUS-1 (swapping out, etc.). At one point, the use of an upper stage from a Peacekeeper (MX) missile was also considered.

Meanwhile, NASA designs for an ICM that does not use BUS-1 are at a rather well-developed stage of maturity at MSFC - equivalent to a healthy Phase B. The NASA MSFC ICM design adopts the same hydrazine/nitrogen tetroxide bipropellant propulsion system used by the Orbiter OMS and RCS systems, allows fuel transfer from Orbiter to ISS/ICM, and uses existing parts from TDRSS and SSF-developed propulsion hardware, The details of this plan are well-known within NASA, The White House, and Congress. All that is needed now is a decision and some money.

Time is running out and some tough decisions are going to have to be made by someone soon. A delegation of Russians is due to arrive at JSC next week to resume the discussions. Goldin says that he is ready to go back to Russia to close this all up. One would think that this sort of messy situation would be one the Clinton Administration would prefer to have behind itself as it moves into the Space Summit early next year.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 4, 1996 4:47 PM.

Service Module IPT Update was the previous entry in this blog.

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Review of Shuttle Program Risks is the next entry in this blog.

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