development has the additional benefit of enabling the business environment regarding emerging new entrant commercial launch providers to become clearer.
Recommendation 5: Following successful completion of the Pathfinder program, the Air Force should reevaluate the RBS business case, accounting for the following factors: new-entrant commercial launch providers; potential impacts of single-source providers; and Air Force need for independent launchers to satisfy assured-access-to-space requirements.
Upon the successful completion of the Pathfinder program and the associated development of the four principal technologies, the Air Force should reevaluate the business case for RBS to determine if it can be closed at that point. This business case analysis should include the impacts of new-entrant commercial launch providers, single-source providers, and the Air Force need for independent launchers.
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 associated with its operational approach, it is prudent to construct any potential future RBS program in a manner wherein the decision to proceed to any next phase is strongly tied to the successful completion of the previous phase.
Today, the United States finds itself in the midst of a potentially 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 governmental organizations. Within 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 is fundamentally difficult, but the committee firmly believes that the future of U.S. space launch will be strong, given the technology developments recommended in this study coupled with innovative designs and approaches for more cost effective and robust launch systems.