Recommendation 6: When constructing the RBS program, the decision points for proceeding from technology development to demonstration to prototype to production for RBS should be based on quantitative assessments during the successful completion of the previous phase. These go/no-go decision points should be structured as on-ramps to subsequent phases with technical underpinnings that are sufficiently well understood to proceed. The decision points for proceeding from Pathfinder and hydrocarbon boost technology risk reduction to a mid-scale demonstrator and from the demonstrator to Y-vehicle prototypes should be considered as on-ramps.
Given the costs associated with the development of a new space launch capability and the technical uncertainties surrounding its operational approach, it is prudent to construct any future RBS program so that the decision to proceed to a next phase is strongly tied to the successful completion of the previous phase.
Today, the United States finds itself in the midst of a fundamental transition of space launch from a model wherein the government develops and controls the launch vehicles to a service-based model wherein industry develops launch vehicles and then sells services to both commercial and government organizations. Despite the uncertainties of this transition, the committee is aware of a large number of organizations that are developing capabilities using innovative designs, development, and operational approaches. The review and evaluation of the RBS concept within this transition period is inherently difficult, but the committee firmly believes that the future of U.S. space launch will be strong if the technology developments recommended in this study are coupled with innovative designs and approaches to achieve cost-effective and robust launch systems.