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Death Knell

I said some time back that we would know that NASA was serious about finally terminating the Shuttle program when they began shutting down the supplier base for the External Tank. (Can’t find the exact post I’m thinking of, but this one is close.)

That seems to have happened a week ago:

Then last week, we received direction to accomplish the work necessary to reduce our existing contract deliveries from 35 External Tanks to a total of 18.

As a result of this direction, we have begun the process of terminating the contracts of suppliers who have already provided sufficient materials to support the production of 18 Sixth Buy tanks. About 100 suppliers will be affected, with the majority in the greater Los Angeles area, although others reside in Alabama, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon and Vermont. This action was long expected and now defines our future requirements in support of the Space Shuttle program.

Surprisingly, this seems to have gone unnoticed among space bloggers, with only Clark Lindsay noting it.

The odd thing about this is that, if NASA intends to use the ET as the basis for a Saturn V-class heavy lifter for the VSE, I should think they’d want to keep the supplier base intact. The memo from Marshall Byrd acknowledges the possibility of heavy lift vehicles in Michoud’s future, but states that supplier contracts will be “terminated”. This language pretty clearly precludes keeping the suppliers on some sort of “retainer” or bridge funding to maintain the ability to restart production of key components in the future. One hopes NASA is smart enough not to shoot itself in the foot here, by saving money in the short run at the expense of huge requalification costs in the future when they decide to resume procurement of certain ET hardware for SDLV use.

4 comments to Death Knell

  • Paul Dietz

    > The odd thing about this is that, if NASA intends to use the ET as the basis for a Saturn V-class heavy lifter for the VSE, I should think they’d want to keep the supplier base intact.

    Perhaps this gives the lie to the notion that that heavy lifter would really be reusing much of the existing ET.

  • The question then becomes, what will be the basis of the new heavy lifter? Assuming, of course, that there is to be one. Does NASA have the money and time to design, facilitize, and qualify an all-new heavy lifter that doesn’t use ET-heritage components and tooling?

  • This kinda puts to bed the idea of using ETs as the basis for a space station.

    Yes that was put to bed decades ago but a guy can dream.

  • You’d seem to be in a “Gift of the Magi” situation — if NASA does finally abandon ET, you could pick up the tooling for large-scale space station modules on the cheap, but that would only be possible because your only means of putting them into orbit just went away.

    Unless of course you wish to also build SDLVs of your own using that tooling, or you find a way to hoist them up your space elevator.

    (Interestingly, Martin Marietta looked at a “single launch space station” concept — several, actually — during the early days of what became ISS. One launch would have placed in orbit the volume equivalent of seventeen average-sized ISS modules at once, fully assembled, tested, and ready to use…but, it wouldn’t have justified the existence of Shuttle as a means for building space stations, so of course it was a non-starter.)