Frank's note: There was a time-back in the day when NASA funded research programs designed to develop advanced space launch technologies, which in part were to reduce the cost of space transportation. The Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) program and the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) funded a series of innovative designs in liquid rocket engines, propulsion systems, materials and structures. SLI gave rise to the X-33 and X-34 technology demonstrator programs. When the X-33 developed technical problems that absorbed its limited budget, it-and the X-34-were canceled. The promising Clipper Graham DC-X program, inherited by NASA from DoDs SDIO, was abandoned when the single flight test article was destroyed in a landing accident. All of the engine design programs-such as COBRA, STME-were also dead-ends.
Today, single stage launch vehicles fly only in the pages of science fiction. While the present Orion-Ares 1 architecture may well be the safe, simple, soonest launch solution promised by ESMD, notice nobody is claiming an Orion-Ares 1 stack will be cheaper than a Shuttle flight. My question to readers: what is the governments role and responsibility in reducing the cost of access to space? Would you bring back NGLT-or a revamped version of the SLI minus specific vehicle test beds such as the X-33/X-34? How would you revitalize spaceplane research? And would any of you remove funding from existing NASA programs such as exploration to fund research in advanced launch technologies? Or has that ship sailed?