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Volume 3, No. 4                March 30, 1999
House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing on Range Modernization
Part 1, March 24, 1999

The House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics conducted the first of two planned oversight hearings (3/24/99) to gather information on America's overburdened and outdated launch range services. Following are overviews of the witnesses' testimony:

Forrest McCartney, VP of Launch Operations for Lockheed Martin Astronautics

The rising number of commercial launches (approaching 70% of the overall range usage), a mix of different missions, outdated technology and outmoded procedures are straining US launch services, according to Mr. McCartney.

The "turnaround" time is "clearly inadequate to our future needs,"Mr. McCartney said. "It constitutes a bottleneck which limits range throughput and will be a distinct limiting factor in our ability to support high launch tempos."

The Air Force is reluctant to continue shouldering the bulk of the cost of range operations and views the commercial users as a source of funds to make up for the shortfall. But if costs are substantially increased, America's competitiveness will suffer, Mr. McCartney said.

"We face substantially subsidized launch service providers whose share of the market is already large, and they are poised to capture more business at our expense," Mr. McCartney said. "This would result in significantly higher costs for the American taxpayer, as government space missions would be forced to carry the entire overhead burden of our space launch infrastructure."

Mr. McCartney said contractors, state and local spaceport authorities, and the government must forge a creative partnership to "revitalize the existing ranges and bring new sites into operation."

Jay Witzling, VP and General Manager of The Boeing Company
Range costs can impact US launch industry competitiveness in the global market place, according to Mr. Witzling. "While it may appear logical to ask the commercial space launch industry to pay for the increased requirements it is generating," he said, "we believe that the United States should move carefully."

The range elements and functions -- including public safety, range operations, launch infrastructure, and base support -- could be "managed by the US government, private industry or a quasi government/industry organization," Mr. Witzlng said. But before cost allocation can be finalized "we must come to an agreement of the desired end state."

Mr. Witzling said the US government and industry should develop a "long-range strategic vision" for enhancing the competitiveness of America's launch industry, and defer implementing a cost policy for range services "until we have collectively identified a desired end state." He also urged Congress to "fence-off range modernization funds to allow the range to be upgraded consistent with projected requirements."

Ronald Grabe, Senior VP of the Launch Systems Group at Orbital Sciences Corporation
"The launch services market is not homogeneous but rather is segmented among launch vehicle classes of varying lift capabilities," according to Mr. Grabe. "US small launch vehicle providers are not facing explosive demand for services."

While Orbital is competitive with other domestic launch service providers, Mr. Grabe said "We are not price competitive with foreign providers that are subsidized or utilize excess ICBM hardware."

"The attraction of launching from a US range is a prime ingredient to our launch competitive position," he said. "Aspects of our national range facilities such as payload processing and launch vehicle support are among the best in the world."

Mr. Grabe said significantly increasing range fees "would pose a threat to the already tenuous competitive position of small US launch vehicles." He suggested costs for using the range services be tied to lift capability rather than a flat per mission assessment.

He said "policies and regulations related to commercial launch operator access and use of range assets need revision." The process to obtain a license to the property "is unpredictable" and there should be a "single process for approval to operate safely at all ranges."

Loren Shriver, Deputy Director, Kennedy Space Center
"NASA's Space Shuttle and ELV missions have been placing an increasing demand on range resources," said Ms. Shriver. "A modernized range for the future would allow increased capacity, accommodate more launches, and allow operations costs to be spread over more users thereby reducing per-launch costs."

"NASA's Kennedy Space Center has begun to work with the USAF to identify activities or systems where advanced technologies could improve performance, increase throughput, or reduce cost of operations," Ms. Shriver said.

About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.

The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 23,000 members and 75 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.

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