Show Me The Money

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.

58 thoughts on “Show Me The Money”

  1. I disagree on the definition.

    Sorry, that’s the definition.

    Else I’d be “subsidizing” my local gasoline station every time I tank up the car, since additional demand changes the demand/supply curve.

    No. Are you using your money? Are you making a free decision to trade money for fuel? Then you are part of the normal curve.

    Is the consumer deliberately overpaying for the value of the good or service received?

    Yes. If you deliberately overpay you are subsidizing, like when I pay $20 to my niece for cookies when I can buy them from the store for less than $10.

  2. Once I was driving from Sonora to Reno over the mountains and the gas station I intended to stop at was closed. I saw a sign for another station on a side road and after driving several miles found that closed. I found an open restaurant and called for service. I paid $65 for 5 gallons of gas. That wasn’t a subsidy. I was very happy to have that five gallons rather than my $65 (well, happy isn’t exactly the word.) It was a free market exchange and therefore part of the normal curve.

  3. Elon is infallible

    No. But when talking about his own company he does have a certain bit of credibility… which you tend to lose with comments like that.

  4. Ken, you are way too easy a target. Putting such touching faith in and imputing such solemn authority to corporate PR statements is gut-busting hilarious, although it is also rather sad.

  5. Rand,

    Yes, the general public tends to be rather loose about economics terms, just as they are with space terms.

  6. Putting such touching faith in and imputing such solemn authority to corporate PR statements

    If that were true I’d be an Obama fan. I look at what is done rather than what is said (and timing is always telling as well.)

  7. Actually, I’d never be an Obama fan; it’s just a way of expressing through hyperbole how wrong you are. I don’t take Elon’s words as gospel any more than anyone else. But I can assign credibility based on what I already know. When Elon says COTS allowed him to develop Dragon faster it fits with what I already know.

    Dragon was in development very early but stalled. This fit’s his backup humanity vision, rather than the make money from satellite launch business reality. COTS was not even hinted at this time. Although lobbying for it would make sense.

    They skipped passed the F5 when customers indicated they wanted the F9.

    SpaceX had massive hiring to upgrade production ability. This is in anticipation of income potential both from COTS and private interest.

    Elon’s comments are consistent with being surprised by developments as we all generally are. What part of faster Dragon development due to COTS money do you find inconsistent? Do you think he should decline the government for some idealized principle of some kind?

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