The Space Policy Battle Continues

The latest, from Henry Vanderbilt and the Space Access Society:

NASA Exploration Funding: An URGENT Call To Action

Background

We strongly support the new White House space exploration policy. We believe it can gives NASA a meaningful future, as opposed to the dead end the Constellation “Apollo on Steroids” program has become under any reasonably foreseeable budget. (See the Augustine Report.)

The core of the new White House space exploration policy is:
- Getting NASA out of the business of developing and operating its own (massively overpriced relative to both military and commercial vehicles) space transportation.
- Passing full responsibility for basic space access to the US commercial launch sector just as fast as the commercial operators can demonstrate they’re ready.

The several billion per year freed up by doing this, and by retiring Shuttle after this year (as planned since 2004) would be used to refocus NASA on developing new technologies for future space transportation and deep-space exploration (things that have been shorted at the agency for decades), to keeping Station (the nation’s sole and dearly-bought existing space outpost) operating beyond the former 2016 shutdown date, and (once the new more affordable deep-space capabilities are available) to conducting new exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

The last few months have seen an organized Congressional effort to derail the proposed NASA reforms, largely for reasons of short-term local political self-interest. The Congressional regional coalition accustomed to seeing NASA exploration funds flow regardless of results is fighting the new policy with everything they’ve got.

Various Congressional committees have voted to reduce the new commercial and research programs by various amounts, giving the money instead to continued NASA booster and crew capsule developments. Briefly, the Senate committee NASA Authorization version diverts roughly half the commercial and research funding to a new in-house NASA heavy booster plus continued NASA crew capsule development. The House committee NASA Authorization version is far worse, diverting almost all the commercial and research funding to in-house NASA booster and capsule work, while also imposing onerous restrictions on commercial efforts both orbital and suborbital. (We have not covered these committee votes in detail because after the first it became obvious the decks were stacked in these committees and we had little chance of affecting those intermediate outcomes.)

Now, however, the House NASA Authorizers are attempting to get their version approved by the full House in a last-second maneuver before the Congress goes on August recess starting Monday the 2nd. An attempt will probably be made to bring HR 5781, the House committee version NASA Authorization bill, to a floor vote tomorrow, Friday July 30th. (Other unrelated Congressional business could prevent this, but that’s not something to count on.) The attempt if made will be under “suspension of the rules”, a streamlined procedure that limits debate and doesn’t allow any amendments. The only choice is, up or down, pass HR 5781 or reject it.

We and many others think HR 5781 should be rejected. “Suspension of the rules” also requires a 2/3rds majority to pass a bill, so there is a good chance that constituent pressure (that’s you!) on Congressmen in general can either delay this attempt till after August if the votes aren’t there, or defeat it outright.

Action

If you are reading this before east coast close-of-business July 30th (the earlier in the day the better, before 9 am is best), please call your Congressman. If you know their name, you can call the House switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for their office. (If you don’t know who your Congressman is, go to here and enter your home zipcode.) Once through to their office, let the person who answers know you’re calling about HR 5781, the NASA Authorization. They may switch you to another staffer (or that staffer’s voicemail) or they may take the call themselves. (If you’re calling after-hours or they’re getting a lot of calls, you may go directly to a voicemail.)

Regardless, tell them you want your Congressman to oppose this version of the NASA Authorization. Give one or two reasons briefly (e.g., that you support full funding for NASA Commercial Crew and full funding for NASA space exploration technology, that you are very much against any new in-house NASA booster development as very likely being a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, to support the US commercial launch industry, to enhance our national technological competitiveness, to support the President’s NASA policy, to address the NASA problems pointed out by the Augustine Commission and restore NASA’s ability to usefully explore, etc). Answer any questions they may have as best you can, then politely sign off.

We will likely be seeing more action on this as the year goes on. Keep an eye out for further Updates. Thanks for helping!

If you haven’t called yet, you can still do it tomorrow.

25 thoughts on “The Space Policy Battle Continues

  1. Thomas Matula

    Meanwhile, while the supporters of President Obama’s space policy were focused on the authorization bills…

    http://news.discovery.com/space/stealth-funding-for-nasas-constellation.html

    Stealth Funding for NASA’s Constellation

    [[[Buried in 92 pages of Senate amendments to the war bill, however, is a paragraph about NASA stating that funds previously appropriated for Constellation should remain available for Constellation contracts and that “performance of such Constellation contracts may not be terminated for convenience by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in fiscal year 2010."]]]

    This of course raises the stakes for New Space if a CR is passed.

  2. Trent Waddington

    Tom, that rider predates the GAO report that says NASA is doing nothing illegal by telling contractors to cover their own termination costs. So it’s pointless. The contractors still get the money but they know they’ve gotta use it to shutdown now or pay out of their own pocket to shutdown later. NASA doesn’t *need* to tell the contractors to shutdown, so they’re not breaking any legislation that prohibits them from telling the contractors to shutdown.

  3. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » RAND SIMBERG: The Space Policy Battle Continues. Follow the link to see what you can do….

  4. Martijn Meijering

    This of course raises the stakes for New Space if a CR is passed.

    I don’t think it does, if there’s a CR doesn’t that automatically renew the don’t-kill-Constellation clause anyway? Griffin’s scorched earth policy would remain intact and the road to Shuttle extension and a near term SDHLV could still be blocked.

  5. thomas Matula

    Trent,

    Yes, but then what do they do with the money Constellation money contractors get in the FY2011, FY2012 CR if they already have set aside the money for shutdown from the FY2010 funding? Especially if another amendment is added into a critical bill that requires them to spend it?

  6. Michael Spurlock

    After a lifetime of supporting NASA, I am now forced to oppose it. It has become a propaganda arm of the Obama Administration and a shill for phony global warming claims.

    Briefly put, if there’s no manned spaceflight program, there should be no taxpayer money.

    We no longer need NASA if it’s going to get in bed with Democrats who always, ALWAYS, cut the budget.

  7. Rand Simberg Post author

    Briefly put, if there’s no manned spaceflight program, there should be no taxpayer money.

    Ignoring the fact that there is nothing in NASA’s charter that requires a manned spaceflight program, why do you think that there isn’t one?

  8. chchch

    What is shortsighted is not to realize that there will not be any space exploration once it is realized there is not quick profit. That is the flaw in the “bet the farm approach” on the commercial sector. The other flaw is there is not a commerical approach – just fuzzy word smithing. What is the commercial sector approach when it is mostly finanaced by tax payers? Millions of stimulus money was given to a few billionnaire owned commercial space companies without a bidding process funded with stimulus money and many more millions has been promised in government money. It is all politics.

  9. Rand Simberg Post author

    What is shortsighted is not to realize that there will not be any space exploration once it is realized there is not quick profit. That is the flaw in the “bet the farm approach” on the commercial sector.

    No one is “betting the farm” on private space exploration, or proposing to. I don’t know why people keep repeating this ignorant nonsense. All that is being proposed is to purchase crew launch services from the private sector instead of NASA developing, owning and operating its own vehicles at horrifically high costs to the taxpayer.

  10. Brad

    ——————————————————–
    NASA Exploration Funding: An URGENT Call To Action

    Background

    We strongly support the new White House space exploration policy….

    The core of the new White House space exploration policy is:
    - Getting NASA out of the business of developing and operating its own (massively overpriced relative to both military and commercial vehicles) space transportation.
    —————————————————–

    Stop right there!

    Sounds to me like the Space Access Society suffers from the same wishful thinking about the Obama policy that many of the policy’s other supporters do, by ignoring that the Obama policy still clings to a NASA HLV. Sorry SAS, but the Obama HLV is precisely “developing and operating [NASA's] own space transportation.”

    Of course considering the clumsy way the new policy was rolled out, I can understand how many people only saw what they wanted to see from the new policy. But as the details have filtered out and Bolden has offered clarifications it’s now apparent how little has changed.

    Even though the Ares moon-centric architecture is gone, HLV remains. And even though manned commercial access to LEO has accelerated, the ISS has now been made a semi-permanent institution, dragging out as long as 2028. I don’t see how under the new plan the budget can sustain manned exploration beyond LEO, the very same problem NASA had with Constellation.

    At least the Shuttle is still going to die. But as far as the rest of the new policy there is still more than enough pork to satisfy Congress.

  11. Rand Simberg Post author

    The White House policy didn’t really have an HLV. It paid lip service to it, out of political necessity, but it wasn’t going to move forward for years (by which time it would be clear that it was unnecessary). It is the Congress that is trying to restore the HLV, primarily because it produces the desired pork..

  12. Brad

    Bolden didn’t think it was lip service. Or was he lying? And three billion dollars for HLV “research and development” in the original Obama budget over the next five years hardly sounds like the White House policy didn’t really have an HLV. Or was that just a three billion dollar con job?

  13. Rand Simberg Post author

    Bolden didn’t think it was lip service. Or was he lying?

    With all due respect to General Bolden, I don’t think that he’s ever really understood the policy.

    And three billion dollars for HLV “research and development” in the original Obama budget over the next five years hardly sounds like the White House policy didn’t really have an HLV. Or was that just a three billion dollar con job?

    I think that it was a three-billion-dollar program as a sop to those people who think that we need an HLV, with the idea that it didn’t really matter, because events would overtake it down the road. And many of the HLV supporters obviously thought so, too, which is why the Congress is idiotically demanding one next year. So if you want to call that a “con job,” so be it. I think it’s just politics as usual.

  14. Henry Vanderbilt

    “And three billion dollars for HLV ‘research and development’ in the original Obama budget over the next five years hardly sounds like the White House policy didn’t really have an HLV.”

    Three billion over five years is $600 million a year. NASA’s launcher development establishment can barely keep the lights on for that little. That money would have paid for work on a new high-thrust booster engine (a useful thing, if ever finished) and an ongoing HLV study. Actually developing a new booster at NASA these days runs three to six times that much per year, if you check the Constellation budget numbers.

    (For purposes of comparison, the commercially-managed Falcon 9 reached first flight for $400 million TOTAL, and both flavors of USAF-managed EELV reached first flight for about $2 billion each.)

    “Or was that just a three billion dollar con job?”

    Say rather, a three billion dollar bribe to ease NASA out of the new booster business quietly.

    One way to look at subsequent developments is that the bribe was too small, and they’re (noisily) haggling for more. Note that NONE of the revised budget proposals since this spring provide enough to allow NASA to actually develop a new booster – all, including HR 5781, provide much less per year than the Ares budget baseline numbers – the baseline numbers the Augustine Commission found that NASA was on course to overrun by 60% or more…

    The fundamental thing has already been decided: The country won’t pay NASA in-house transportation prices any more. What we’re haggling over now is the size of their retirement payoff. “…diverting almost all the commercial and research funding to in-house NASA booster and capsule work” is too much.

  15. Brad

    Haggling? The White House has given it’s full support to the Senate bill which mandates an HLV on a quicker timeline than the original Obama plan. I suspect the House of Representatives will follow.

    I’ve never argued for HLV or claimed it was an affordable path for NASA. But what some people don’t seem able to accept is the new Obama plan is just as unsustainable and unaffordable as Constellation was.

    Under the original Bush plan, STS was gone by 2011 and ISS by 2016. That was supposed to free up enough money for BEO manned exploration. Destinations and means were wide open. There was even supposed to be a fly-off competition for the CEV. HLV was not considered mandatory, it was just one of several possible options and a minority choice at that.

    It was only under the direction of Griffin that the plan went off the rails with Apollo on Steroids, with a mega-booster HLV which was pushing beyond 70MT TLI.

    So how does Obama fix that? By keeping HLV and adding for good measure an ISS that flies as long as 2028! That’s not an improvement or fix for the worst problems that Griffin left us. It’s a disaster.

  16. Henry Vanderbilt

    Haggling. Just because this White House isn’t very good at it doesn’t mean that’s not what’s going on.

    I don’t find much to argue over with you in the rest of your post. Though keeping Station flying (now that we’ve already paid far too much to build it) actually makes some sense – it’s the outpost we’ve got; we should get as much use out of it as we can until better and cheaper is available.

    NASA is a mature government bureaucracy; it’ll inevitably spend what it gets inefficiently. I’d like to see the inefficiency as far below 100% as possible, is all… Whatever money is given to NASA launcher development will almost certainly not result in a launcher, which (to say the least) doesn’t help the overall percentage. But my bottom line is, how much goes to supporting commercial space access and supporting advanced R&D – both places where there’s a good chance some of the money will actually produce useful things.

  17. Thomas Matula

    Brad,

    [[[So how does Obama fix that? By keeping HLV and adding for good measure an ISS that flies as long as 2028!]]]

    Actually one elephant in the room everyone is ignoring is if, without the Shuttle to repair it, the ISS will be able to last that long, or even long enough to the see start of “contracted crew” services to it.

    http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/space-station-cooling-malfunction-100801.html

    Space Station Suffers Cooling System Malfunction
    By Tariq Malik

  18. Henry Vanderbilt

    My (admittedly non-expert in this case) understanding is that Shuttle was (by design) essential to assemble this Station, but that it’s set up so they have a lot of built-in redundancy and are pretty much self-supporting for routine maintenance. In this case, the story you point to mentions that the (redundant) cooling pump that was shut down by its power controller can at need be replaced with one of a couple of on-board spares – if it doesn’t just turn out (as seems most likely) that they’re treating a simple “reset the circuit breaker” problem with their usual caution.

    Not that it isn’t possible that Station will hit a terminal problem at some point, especially if we futz around with getting redundant crew and cargo transports in place. It’s why I think it’s a good idea to add the one extra Shuttle mission they have hardware for, and carry up all the extra Station spares they can pack on board. We really don’t want to leave Station too long with Soyuz/Progress as the sole means of routine crew access and logistical support – a problem with those systems would at that point be a PROBLEM.

  19. Thomas Matula

    Henry,

    The original thinking, before Columbia, was that the Shuttle, with its large carry capacity and robotic arm, would be there to service the station and then assist in deorbiting it. Originally both programs would have ended at the same time and were joined at the hip.

    After Columbia the thinking changed to retiring the Shuttle as soon as construction was completed and preposition any spares too big for Soyuz to carry up. Although some of some of the proposed cargo systems will have a limited ability to carry spares, their interior size limits them greatly in this regard.

    So the gamble is that the right spares for ISS were selected, the spares selected will still be good after years of being on orbit, and that ISS won’t need another one after you use the spare you have. If not then you have a very expensive and very useless relic in orbit, at least until it does its dive into the atmosphere.

    And of course no where for COTS or commercial crew to go.

  20. Henry Vanderbilt

    Well, yes, there’s a risk that Station could break in some irreparable way, and that risk very likely is increased post-Shuttle by the way Station was designed closely around Shuttle’s capabilities. I think we can agree that was bad (and at least in part politically motivated) planning.

    Is your point that people should be aware of the possibility? If so, good point. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure what you’re driving at. Should we give up and shut Station down preemptively because it might someday break?

    Speaking of risks, it turns out that coolant pump has a real problem and needs to be replaced – resetting the circuit breaker didn’t work. Two pumps in the cooling system, both needed for full Station operation, and two (soon one) spare on board. Stored outside, actually, which implies they may not fit through the hatch from a Progress. Yes, someone had better start doing some hard thinking about alternative ways to deliver larger-than-docking-hatch spares, if they don’t already have a plan. Because it’s the nature of complex systems like Station that some parts turn out to break more often than planned.

  21. Thomas Matula

    Henry,

    [[[Two pumps in the cooling system, both needed for full Station operation, and two (soon one) spare on board.]]]

    Fortunately there are still Shuttle missions, both to bring the broken pump down to figure what went wrong and to bring up a spare one, or two.

    Short term the best solution would be to keep the Shuttle flying, as Buzz Aldrin argued in a recent Op-Ed.

    http://buzzaldrin.com/the-way-forward-achieving-a-consensus-on-americas-future-in-space/

    July 19, 2010 The Huffington Post

    [[[For the very near-term, I have proposed extending, or commercializing, the space shuttle system, which would preserve the opportunity for reduced manifest (one or two flights per year) support of the International Space Station]]]

    But lacking that it is critical that options for supporting ISS beyond the limited capabilities of Progress, COTS, etc. Perhaps a COTS-E for large spares. Otherwise Congress best be prepared for the day when Mr. Murphy calls and the ISS must be abandoned and deorbited. And New Space Advocates best hope its far enough in the future that “commercial crew” is a done deal.

  22. Henry Vanderbilt

    Continuing Shuttle beyond the one extra mission supported by existing components is a really bad idea. It’s being retired because it was expensive and fragile; restarting the operations would make it more expensive and more fragile. The details are out there; I’ll let other point them out if they like.

    There’s nothing particularly difficult about oversized cargo delivery to Station that I can see, conceptually. It’d take some actual desire to do the development work involved – yes, perhaps a COTS-E.

  23. Thomas Matula

    Henry,

    Yes, the new crisis on the ISS would be a good opportunity to push through the idea of a COTS-E.

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