Keith Cowing is reporting that a “compromise” is taking shape and will be what is announced at the Tax Day summit in Florida.
If true, the good news is that Ares, like Francisco Franco, is still dead. The bad news is that with the Orion lite, NASA will once again be competing against private industry for a viable commercial activity. I like competition, but as in health care, the notion of competition from a taxpayer-subsidized entity remains anathema, if not an oxymoron. Also as in health care, the solution is not “competition” from the government, but to set up a structure that forces real competition among providers.
Beyond that, I think that a a Shuttle stretch and a Shuttle-derived sidemount is a waste of money, and a quarter of a century too late. It looks mainly like a jobs program to me.
Which would be all right, if it’s what is necessary to get political support for killing off the Ares disaster. The problem is that the new plan doesn’t fit the budget. As John Shannon said, Shuttle extension costs a couple hundred million a month, and with a low flight rate, each flight will be well over a billion, and not particularly safe, because it’s probably too low a rate for the operations people to maintain their edge.
“Red” has his estimate of the additional cost of this, over at Clark’s place:
Even just the Shuttle/sidemount Block 1 will be about $13B assuming those numbers. Let’s say you could gather funds from the 2011 budget for it as:
$1.5B – from the 2011 budget Constellation transition
$1.5B – from the KSC modernization
$0.6B – from the Shuttle slip contingency
$3.0B – from the HLV and propulsion research line
Also assume $0.4B gets directed to it from really fast pre-2011 budget work.
That’s $7B, leaving a $6B shortfall, even without starting Block 2 (if needed), Orion lite, exploration craft, or systems to integrate with ISS.
The remaining big new budget items (assuming commercial crew is protected as Keith suggests) are (setting aside Earth observations and Aeronautics which I assume are off the table):
$5B – space technology
$7.8B – exploration demos
$3.0B – robotic precursors
$2.4B – ISS increase
Even that $6B would put a huge hole in that, and the $6B is just a start, using optimistic assumptions. Also realize that even Griffin’s Constellation had IPP (now hidden inside space technology) and LRO/LCROSS as robotic precursors, so you’d be getting close to Griffin-esque territory already.
That was the problem that the new budget was supposed to solve. My biggest fear (in addition to the crowding out of commercial) is that once again the technology budget will be sacrificed. I notice in Keith’s report that there are two players who aren’t mentioned — OMB and Congress. Where is the money going to come from?
Also, I wonder why Tax Day was chosen as the date for the summit. In addition to its conflict with the National Space Symposium, it doesn’t seem a very propitious day to be announcing an increase in discretionary spending on an agency whose public support is broad but shallow, in a year in which spending and deficits have risen to the top of the public concern.
[Update a few minutes later]
There’s a lot more discussion over at Space Politics.