Given the potential benefits offered by the RBS and by alternative launch approaches, the Air Force asked the NRC to conduct an independent review and assessment of the RBS concept. As defined in the statement of task (provided in Appendix A), the purpose of this study was to review and assess the SMC/AFRL RBS concept for the U.S. Air Force. The items to be addressed include these:

• Criteria and assumptions used in the formulation of current RBS plans;

• Methodologies used in the current cost estimates for RBS;

• Modeling methodology used to frame the business case for an RBS capability, including

— The data used in the analysis

— The models’ robustness if new data become available;

• The impact of unclassified government data that had not previously been available;

• The technical maturity of elements critical to RBS implementation; and

• The ability of current technology development plans to meet technical readiness milestones.

Accordingly, the NRC formed the Committee for the Reusable Booster System: Review and Assessment, which consists of experts independent of current RBS activities but with experience in the areas of launch vehicle design and operation, research and technology development and implementation, space system operations, and cost analysis. Brief biographies of the committee members are provided in Appendix B.

The committee held meetings in February, March, and May of 2012. Air Force perspectives on issues associated with the RBS concepts were provided by representatives of AFSPC, SMC, and AFRL. Costing analyses supporting the RBS concept were provided by the Aerospace Corporation. NASA perspectives on space launch were solicited, and presentations were provided by representatives of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center. Input from industry was solicited, and presentations were received from four commercial aerospace companies involved with launch systems, two propulsion system providers, and one small business. A listing of all presenters is provided in Appendix C.

Using the materials provided, committee analyses, other available open sources of information, and its own experience and expertise, the committee developed the findings, conclusions, and recommendations contained in this report. These findings, conclusions, and recommendations represent a consensus view of the committee members regarding the RBS concept, and the bulk of this report aims to support the committee’s view.


The RBS system, the launch approach, and the basis for the RBS business case are described in Chapter 2. Chapters 3 and 4 provide evaluations of the technical and economic aspects, respectively, of the RBS as presented to the committee. The potential implementation issues surrounding the RBS program are given in Chapter 5, followed by findings and recommendations in Chapter 6. Appendix E provides details on previous U.S. reusable vehicle developments and Appendix F provides committee thoughts on operability issues associated with the design of RBS boosters.

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