Leaders from civil, commercial and government space said at the opening session of AIAA’s Space 2015 Forum in Pasadena that space in the future will be reusable, cooperative and cheaper, with Mars the key destination for exploration.
But, the representatives of Lockheed Martin, NASA, SpaceX and the Air Force warned Aug. 31 that establishing sustainable funding mechanisms that keep pace with the pressure of inflation, and learning how to better tell the industry’s story to decision-makers, were key to ensuring progress in future missions.
Future success in space will take a collective effort by government, industry and the public to push the country’s exploration goals forward, the panelists said.
Regarding costs, all the panelists at Space 2015 agreed: Expenses have to be contained while funding must keep pace with inflation. Robert Lightfoot, associate administrator at NASA, said: “We have a plan that will close (for future exploration), but you have to take into account inflation. We’ve been flat for a long time, but you still (when planning future missions) have to take inflation into account.”
Lightfoot said he never wants a scenario where someone comes into his office and says, “I have too much (money), take some of it back.”
Wanda Sigur, vice president and general manager for civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., said keeping costs low forces the community to think about issues such as advanced manufacturing techniques, which reduce time and effort in developing new systems. “Obviously, having more money makes things happen faster, but I don’t see a change of heart coming on that front,” she said.
On the issue of reusability, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, was succinct, telling the audience, “We won’t get to Mars, or other destinations, without reusable systems” and otherwise “it’s a one-way trip.”
All panelists indicated that reusable systems reduce the overall cost of exploration missions, and will make it possible for the United States to press farther in future missions. Shotwell admitted that her vision is for the country to have reusable systems that can “move people around intergalactically, like Serenity,” drawing a laugh from the “Firefly” television fans in the room.
Other topics touched on included the future of military space, the importance of robust cybersecurity in space systems, and the need for closer work with international partners.
Maj. Gen Robert D. McMurry, vice commander at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said a major problem with cybersecurity is that the country has many older systems “out there that were designed before cybersecurity was a concern.”
NASA’s Lightfoot held out the international space station as the perfect model of international cooperation, while Shotwell noted there might come a day when the Commercial Orbital Transport System program moves into an international framework.
The session closed with a discussion of the panelists’ hopes for the future. Lightfoot brought thunderous applause when he said, “I hope to see boots on Mars before I die.”
— Duane Hyland, AIAA communications