On appropriations and authorizations

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice, and science subcommittee marked up its FY2006 appropriations bill Tuesday, including $16.4 billion for NASA. That figure includes $250 million added at the behest of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to provide funding for any Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission NASA may approve. (NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has previously said that he would support reinstating a shuttle servicing mission assuming a successful shuttle return to flight.) The $16.4-billion top-line figure, though, falls about $60 million short of the President’s request, which did not include Hubble servicing funding. It’s not clear where the cuts took place, although the Baltimore Sun reported that both the shuttle and CEV programs were fully funded. The full appropriations committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who chairs the science and space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced yesterday that she had officially introduced a NASA authorization bill for fiscal years 2006 through 2010. The bill will be marked up during a full committee hearing scheduled for Thursday morning. The bill hasn’t made it into Thomas yet, but Hutchison’s press release offers a few intriguing details. The bill would designate the US segment of ISS as a “national laboratory facility”, something the senator has discussed at past hearings. In addition, the bill “requires completion” of the ISS and also “prohibits a gap in U.S. human space flight capability.”

Those last two positions present some potentially thorny issues. First, what does it mean for the ISS to be “completed”? If the bill refers to a specific assembly plan, that’s one thing, but given the past history of the program there may be some flexibility in what constitutes “complete”. The release notes that the bill would require NASA to inform Congress if the number of shuttle launches currently scheduled to build or supply the station changes. Second, the prohibition of a “gap” in American manned spaceflight would seem to suggest at first that the shuttle would have to continue flying if the CEV or another vehicle (like the t/Space CXV) is not ready to replace it by the 2010 retirement date. Administrator Griffin has made it clear in a number of recent statements that the 2010 date is a hard deadline for shuttle retirement, however. The release does state that NASA would have to develop “a contingency plan to address station servicing needs during any potential hiatus in U.S. capability to transport humans and cargo into space, eliminating the possibility of a gap in space access.” This might open the door for the procurement of cargo and human launch services from the commercial sector, although many may question whether commercial human access to ISS will be available by 2010. (Russia would also be an alternative, if it weren’t for that pesky INA.)

Update 6/23 12 noon: A Space News article reviews the bill and finds a provision in the legislation that does require the shuttle to continue operations until a successor is available:

In order to ensure continuous human access to space, the Administrator may not retire the Space Shuttle orbiter until a replacement human-rated spacecraft system has demonstrated that it can take humans into Earth orbit and return them safely.

20 comments to On appropriations and authorizations

  • Matthew Corey Brown

    There it is, if the “No Gap” goes through, expect t/space to fail. Though I’m hoping there will be some subsidy for private ventures to help to get them to succede, then failure would be less likely.

    Starting to see a trend that only NASA can do orbital. And i do not believe its due to incompetance of non NASA endeavours. Dang shortsighted human greed.

  • Before all the talk about SDV, the real decision point would have been when the ET and SRB production lines shut down for lack of business, but now there’s nothing to keep them from flying orbiters beyond 2010, if whoever is president and administrator at that time decide to do so.

  • Wouldn’t you figure that the very stupidest thing that Kay Bailey Hutchison said in the hearings, that they should make the space station a national laboratory, is now the centerpiece of her legislation. After all these years, she still thinks that the space station will cure cancer.

    If they make the space station a national laboratory, it will be the only national laboratory to fall into the ocean before it does anything useful.

    Meanwhile, I have to applaud Griffin for his commitment to the 2010 deadline for existing human spaceflight at NASA. I hope he socks it to them.

  • Also: Jeff Foust hits the nail on the head in questioning the notion of “completing” the space station. You can’t finish a fiasco. You can, however, “declare victory and go home”.

  • One obvious point that has remained unwritten until now is that with every Shuttle flight dropped from the manifest comes a sack full of cash for Griffin to spend on SDLV development and other missions. Even a modest savings estimate of 25% per flight would release about $7 billion from the planned 28 flights over the next five years.

  • Mr. Ciclops, that strikes me as unlikely. Even now, the Shuttle is dominated by fixed costs. You are not going to release large amounts of money by not flying a vehicle you are paying $4-5 billion a year to maintain.

    That is also the problem with a Shuttle-drived HLV. You have to pay for the Shuttle standing army. Since the Air Force is paying for the EELVs anyway, and that’s not going to change, the only way I think you can free up the kind of money that VSE needs is to “spiral” the ELVs to the kind of heavy live vehicle we need. I’ve read at least two articles in AvWeek arguing that the EELVs could be easily adapted to carry more than half what the Shuttle stack can carry. If so, continuing the Shuttle program in any form makes no financial sense.

    Since a better EELV helps a far larger constituency, using them also makes more political sense.

    Using the SRBs as the major propulsion of a human spacecraft has always been spectacularly stupid and it remains so.

    — Donald

  • Dwayne A. Day

    “That is also the problem with a Shuttle-drived HLV. You have to pay for the Shuttle standing army.”

    Much of that standing army is for servicing the orbiter. With a shuttle-derived HLV you don’t need that portion of the standing army. It should not be hard for NASA and its contractors to calculate how much of that standing army is unnecessary for a shuttle-derived HLV and then subtract that cost.

    “Since the Air Force is paying for the EELVs anyway, and that’s not going to change.”

    Actually, this could be a thorny issue. Right now the Air Force uses no more than half a dozen EELVs a year (anybody have a calculation for 2004?). But if NASA decides to utilize it for a lunar mission, it would need _more_ vehicles than the Air Force. At that point the Air Force would certainly want to shift the burden for subsidizing the vehicle to NASA and save themselves the money.

    Yes, it is all government money, but the problem still remains for the agencies involved–whose budget gets stuck with the task of paying for the EELV standing army?

  • Well, I think it’s cheaper for everyone to have _either_ the EELVs or the Shuttle. Since dropping the EELVs is not a political option, and the EELV’s standing army is smaller than the Shuttle’s, that leaves the Shuttle. In any case, yes, the Shuttle is “human rated” but it is also built from technology dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The EELV’s technology dates from late the 1980s and did not try to push the envelope as far. All other things being equal, I’d rather trust humanity’s future in space to the latter.

    Also, I think we ignore the constituency issue at our peril. Outside of those of us who want to colonize Mars, no one is arguing to retain the Shuttle launch system. Everybody who wants a largish payload in orbit can find a use for the EELV. Which vehicle is going to get used the most? Which vehicle is going to survive?

    — Donald

  • Bill White

    Has anyone outside the blog-o-sphere discussed whether one EELV launch pad is sufficient to sortie the mass needed to do a genuine lunar mission?

    Related, how many DoD launches use Canaveral rather than Vandenberg? Schedule conflicts for a single pad would appear to slow NASA launch rates and liquid hydrogen doesn’t store well in LEO while awaiting modular assembly of a lunar mission.

  • Bill White

    Is this breaking news?

    Donald, it seems that Michael Griffin might not agree with you.

  • No surprise, Bill.

    NASA has not done well following its technical muse; I just though maybe we should try following some of the historial precedents to try for the smallest, lowest-cost step possible.

    We won’t know for a decade or more who is right, but, on historical grounds more than technical ones, I’ll still bet I am.

    — Donald

  • Bill White

    Big SDV for cargo (no crew) with a t/Space CXV capsule to ferry up crew after a lunar ship is safely in orbit seems like a winning combination to me. Frankly, I do not know why the CEV ever needs to land on Earth if a light weight t/Space capsule can do the ferry duty.

    Dock the CXV to the CEV and go to the Moon. Return to LEO and re-enter the CXV and land the crew. Leave the CEV on-orbit for re-use.

  • Gee, Bill, it looks like you’ve been paying attention to t/Space’s architecture briefings.

    CXV carries both astronauts and passengers to LEO in a survivable, robust, and affordable way. Dock with in-space CEV that’s launched uncrewed on whatever, which flies to and from the lunar surface or lunar orbit or whatever.

    It’s called Earth Orbit Rendezvous, and it’s an open architecture that allows new providers to deliver people, propellant, and smaller pieces of cargo to LEO via whatever means they come up with, while NASA does its CEV thang.

    Today, capitalism can grab LEO. We’ll take the rest of CISlunar space tomorrow. ;-)

  • Just N. Engineer

    Bill: don’t think shuttle-derived HLLV is a done deal yet. The report you mention seems a little odd, since most design studies have been focusing on 80-100 MT vehicles. Get up to 120 MT and it may not be possible to design a EELV HLLV. (Those designs are a bit of a kluge anyway – I mean, 7 CBCs in the Delta 4 HLLV designs? C’mon…)

    Anyway, what that report doesn’t mention is that the HLLV decision isn’t Griffin’s to make: it’s the President’s, and Griffin and Rumsfeld have to give him a joint recommendation. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that meeting…) Seeing the hole EELV is chewing in the DOD’s pocket, along with just about every other major milspace program, and Rummy’s sure to be fighting for ways to staunch the bleeding, like getting NASA to buy more EELVs. As the aforecited Mr. Cowing might say: ‘Stay Tuned’…

  • Bill White

    Anyway, what that report doesn’t mention is that the HLLV decision isn’t Griffin’s to make: it’s the President’s, and Griffin and Rumsfeld have to give him a joint recommendation. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that meeting…)

    Heh! I posted that exact fly on the wall comment elsewhere. :-)

    Any, just-n-engineer, I agree with you that the question remains wide open. (With O’Keefe EELV was a slam dunk.)

    But consider Seantors Nelson & Hutchinson’s insistence that orbiter NOT stand down until CEV flies with crew. Can we fly an EELV CEV by 2010 even with a reduced ISS schedule?

    And what would extending orbiter’s life do to all our hopes and dreams? (Don’t yell at me, Senator Hutchinson is a Texas Republican.)

    My intuition is that Griffin wants SDV for cargo and t/Space for crew (as much cargo as in a car trunk) but cannot put all his eggs in t/Space since flying CEV by 2010 is the key to assuring orbiter is gone come 2010. My intuition (again) is that Griffin believes he can actually fly crew on Thiokol plus J2 CEV by 2010 (and pay for it from inside the STS/ISS portion of his sand table budget) and thereby avoid a head-to-head confrontation with a bi-partisan alliance of Senators.

    President Bush may claim its his decision (EELV vs SDV) but Florida electoral politics and the wishes of Senator Hutchinson are not irrelevant. I just don’t see the President giving Kay Bailey Hutchinson a stiffarm shove on this issue of not grounding the orbiter until after its replacement is flying.

    So, who among us would prefer EELV if it meant orbiter remains flying until 2012 or 2014?

  • Bill White

    PS – – Back to the first comment, I believe “No Gap” with light-SDV gives t/Space a better chance than if we build a EELV lofted disposable crew carrying CEV.

    Leaving the CEV permanently on orbit to be supplied with LOX from the Moon and crew and methane/LH2 from Earth gives the private sector many more market opportunities.

  • alex b

    Nice read. Keep it going. Spiderfriend333

  • Nolonger N. Engineer

    > Anyway, what that report doesn’t mention is that the HLLV decision isn’t Griffin’s to make: it’s the President’s

    Just N, do you really think the President of the United States makes technical decisions on what launch vehicle to build?

    At most, he will choose among options presented to him by his advisors. They will isolate him and present him only with the options they want him to hear, just as they did with VSE in the first place. Read Cowing’s book and see how many times the word “commercial” was mentioned.

  • Just N. Engineer

    Hey, Nolonger, I think you’re missing the point. The decision to develop shuttle or EELV-derived heavy-lift will not be made solely by NASA: Griffin and Rumsfeld have to develop a joint recommendation to send to Bush for him to accept (or reject, one supposes.) So just because Griffin has settled on a 120-ton inline SDLV doesn’t mean that’s what will be built. That was the context missing from the original report cited above.

  • Edward Wright

    > The decision to develop shuttle or EELV-derived heavy-lift will not be
    > made solely by NASA: Griffin and Rumsfeld have to develop a joint recommendation

    The idea that Rumseld will come riding in on a white horse to kill the Shuttle dragon (er, griffin :-) seems to be wishful thinking.

    First, there’s no reason to assume Rumseld would take time out from the war on terror just to get involved in designing NASA’s new heavy lifter.

    Second, even if Rumsfeld had nothing better to do with his time, there’s no reason to assume he would oppose Griffin. Given that Griffin was appointed by the President and has been proclaimed the greatest rocket scientist since Von Braun, it seems unlikely Rumsfeld would overrule him on a technical decision.