Congress, NASA

Putting COTS selection on hold?

I haven’t had a chance to review the NASA-related language in the omnibus appropriations bill currently being considered by Congress, but Space News [subscription required] has found a provision that would effectively place the ongoing COTS selection process on hold, perhaps for months:

“[T]he Appropriations Committees note that one of the two COTS contracts is currently in dispute, and are concerned by NASA’s recent decision to re-compete the disputed contract before all challenges have been resolved,” the report language states. “In doing so, NASA could potentially create a liability to fund three proposals instead of two as originally envisioned, increasing the costs of this program to the taxpayers. Therefore, NASA is directed not to select a new contractor until all challenges are decided. Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is directed to perform a full review of COTS program expenditures and management.”

(I suspect some at NASA are cringing at the use of “contracts” and “contractor” above since they have emphasized on many occasions that COTS is run as a set of Space Act agreements awarded to companies outside of the usual federal acquisition regulations; that flexibility would seem to provide ways for NASA to get around any concerns expressed in the conference report excerpt above.) The article also notes that the bill cuts the funding for COTS in FY08 by roughly a third, from the requested $236 million down to $160 million, which could have a bigger influence on the selection process that the delay.

27 comments to Putting COTS selection on hold?

  • Although an unfortunate turn of events for COTS, this highlights how little the appropriators are buying into the “gap” argument. The appropriators are cutting not only the mainline Shuttle replacement for ISS transport (Constellation/Ares I/Orion), but the backup (COTS), as well. There may be legitimate reasons from a financial point-of-view for cutting both (uncertainty about how GAO will rule on the RpK protest for COTS and any number of issues in Constellation). But it would appear that, contrary to Griffin’s remarks about a gap in U.S. human space flight being “unseemly” and worries about Russia from Senator Nelson and Representative Weldon, the appropriators are fine with the gap and relying on foreign transport to ISS for some number of years.

    FWIW…

  • MarkWhittington

    Anon actually stumbles into a good insight here, though he artfully avoids mentionng the party affiliation of the appropriators who are “fine with the gap.” Democrats tend to be somewhat blind to the possibilities of what depending on the Russians for space flight could mean. One could imagine a scenario in which Czar Putin muses that if we don’t stop building missile defenses, Russia will have to rethink this arrangement of being a space taxi service for the Americanskis.

    On COTS, one can also blame the traditional Democrat disdain for private commerce. The last thing they want is the prospect of Elon Musk becoming the “Bill Gates of space flight” (You may laugh, but I’ve seen that phrase used more than once.) This should be a wake up call for those folks who are “Fine with” the destruction of VSE, since the “private sector will step in and do it all and better.” Not under a Democrat government. Especially if Oberstar gets another chance to regulate the nauscent space launch industry to death.

  • “Anon actually stumbles into a good insight here”

    And once again, Mr. Whittington again puts words in my mouth, makes up issues, and paints whole parties with a gross generalizations that do nothing to illuminate the debate or advance the discussion.

    Please, if you can’t enter a debate without mischaracterizing what other posters have said or imagining non-existent party platforms, then don’t bother posting.

    “artfully avoids mentionng the party affiliation of the appropriators who are ‘fine with the gap.’”

    I didn’t avoid anything. I don’t know which appropriators voted for or against the appropriations bill, or what their reasons were for doing so(whether it was NASA or another issue). So I can’t say anything about how party affiliation played into the Constellation and COTS cuts, if at all.

    And, unless you supply some evidence, neither can you.

    “Democrats tend to be somewhat blind to the possibilities of what depending on the Russians for space flight could mean.”

    How do you know that it was Democrats who proposed and voted for the cuts? How do you know that Republicans opposed and voted against the cuts? Evidence?

    Moreover, Senator Nelson, a Democrat, was the first congressman to speak out about the specific issue of Putin and the gap at Griffin’s last hearing. Not that there was a race, but Nelson arguably beat Weldon and other Republicans to the punch on the issue. If a Democratic Senator is the first congressman to publicly identify this issue, how can the entire Democratic party be “blind” to depending on Russian Soyuz/Progress flights?

    Not that I think Nelson or Weldon are very good representatives for KSC or NASA, or that the gap is a real issue, but let’s at least give credit where credit is due.

    “One could imagine a scenario in which Czar Putin muses that if we don’t stop building missile defenses, Russia will have to rethink this arrangement of being a space taxi service for the Americanskis.”

    Actually, since the Russian program is fairly dependent on revenue from NASA Soyuz/Progress purchases and almost certainly can’t operate the ISS without NASA’s mission control and other technical resources, it’s a highly unlikely scenario. I certainly wouldn’t plan NASA’s human space flight program around it.

    “On COTS, one can also blame the traditional Democrat disdain for private commerce.”

    Evidence? References?

    I’d also note that Al Gore, for example, is a major Democrat who has spoken publicly about the importance of commercial space flight and attended commercial space flight forums. Here’s an excerpt from an article on his talk at the X PRIZE Cup Executive Summit:

    “Gore said he has long been a fan of faster, cheaper, better approaches that allow the private sector to exploit the space resource ‘in a responsible and creative, and cost-efficient way.’

    As an example, Gore spotlighted the competitive and dynamic forces unleashed by the entrepreneurial growth of the Internet.

    ‘We ought to learn that lesson and apply it to space,’ Gore said. ‘Because of the environmental climate crisis, we need to speed up the introduction of private companies into the creative exploitation of the space resource.’

    Gore spoke as part of a Wirefly X Prize Cup Executive Summit 2006 [image], held here Oct. 19, attended by a range of executives, visionaries and space and high-tech leaders.”

    Full article at (add http://www):

    .space.com/news/061026_gore_space.html

    I can’t think of any Republican of similar stature who’s made similar statements in support of commercial space flight or put in that kind of time at a similar commercial space flight event.

    That doesn’t mean that the Republicans are opposed to commerical space flight, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the Democrats are either.

    “The last thing they want is the prospect of Elon Musk becoming the “Bill Gates of space flight” (You may laugh, but I’ve seen that phrase used more than once.)”

    Where? Reference?

    “This should be a wake up call for those folks who are ‘Fine with’ the destruction of VSE, since the ‘private sector will step in and do it all and better.’ Not under a Democrat government.”

    With only one or two exceptions, no one who posts at this forum is “fine with the destruction of the VSE”. Many folks on this forum, however, do see Griffin’s ESAS implementation plan for the VSE as having crippled, and potentially destroyed, the VSE. There’s a huge difference between the VSE and ESAS, and it’s far past time to continue conflating the two.

    “Especially if Oberstar gets another chance to regulate the nauscent space launch industry to death.”

    Oberstar wants more regulations for commercial suborbital space flight. That has nothing to do with COTS or the gap, which is about government orbital space flight.

    Just to be clear, I’m not registered as either a Democrat or Republican and have voted for candidates from both parties. But this sort of ill-informed and broad slandering of entire parties is not justified. There are supporters and detractors for NASA, Constellation, and commercial space flight in both parties.

    Ugh…

  • MarkWhittington

    Gee, Anon, we seem to have strucl a nerve. Some questions for you or anyone who thinks that the Dems support commercial space and the GOP does not

    (1) How much actual support was forthcoming for commercial space during the Clinton Administration when Al Gore was Vice President? Please don’t mention the Alternate Access Initiative. That was a joke of a program that resulted in paper and nothing else?

    (2) Under which President did COTS get started?

    (3) How much did the GOP cut COTS when it was in charge of Congress?

    (4) How many Republicans support Rep Oberstar’s regulation scheme? Name them.

    (5) What is the real name and job position of the person calling himself Anonymous? (OK, I know it’s impolite to actually want to know the name of the person I’m debating with, but it seems to me that an unwillingness to post under an actual name speaks to credibility and hidden bias.)

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. I’m rather put put by wild accusations made by anonymous people on the Internet of “putting words in mouths” and “slandering parties.” That also speaks to the credibility and bias of the person making those wild accusations.

    (4)

  • Charles in Houston

    Fellow Space Enthusiasts -

    Not that we can afford to descend into arguments here, but Anonymous certainly has his facts correct (again) and we should emulate him.

    Mark W. could do some fact checking, he says:

    “Democrats tend to be somewhat blind to the possibilities of what depending on the Russians for space flight could mean.”

    And that is far too broadly stated. I have personally spoken to one Democract, Representative Nick Lampson, who sounds very alarmed about depending on the Russians for access to Space Station. He does represent the neighborhoods around the Johnson Space Center and so has some parochial interests there.

    On the other hand, our Senatorial representation, mainly Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, has had opportunities to take action but has missed them. I can’t think of much that Senator Cornyn has done either.

    Generally, party affiliation does not predict support for our space program and if we try to make it a partisan discussion we have distracted ourselves from the difficult choices we have to make.

    Our representatives hopefully will see the best interests of the country and keep COTS alive. Eternally stalling some sort of decision is not in our interests.

    As a disclaimer, I also do not have a strong party affiliation but would support anyone who gives us a rational plan to not become irrelevant in space access. COTS is a valuable way to give us options – perhaps not so dependent on the vagaries of government funding.

    Charles

  • MarkWhittington

    “On the other hand, our Senatorial representation, mainly Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, has had opportunities to take action but has missed them. I can’t think of much that Senator Cornyn has done either.”

    Charles, that is actually untrue. Hutchison was the consponser of an amendment to add a billion dollars in emergency funding to accellerate the development of Orion/Ares. House Democrats killed that amendment in conference.

  • reader

    I dont have anything constructive to add to the discussion, but mr. Whittington, could you please, for just once, actually address the response to your post ?
    People asked, politely, for facts to back up your claims, could we just once get some ? Evidence, reference, whatever ?
    If you are going to reply, please dont evade the questions asked from you.

  • MarkWhittington

    “Reader” (Ga, nother anonymous poster), I think I made my point in my response, even if it did consist of answering a questions with other questions. It is not my fault that you didn’t like the answer, but please do not accuse me of not having done so.

    Here’s another that just occured:

    What are the names and party affiliations of top tier candidates for President who have advocated (to some extent) cutting back and/or delaying the development of the Orion/Ares system? Which one of these candidates have suggested alternatives, commercial or otherwise.

  • reader

    You could have just said “no”. Which is ok, it simply documents the quality of the arguments made.

  • “Gee, Anon, we seem to have strucl a nerve.”

    No, I’m sick and tired of you putting words in my mouth and using broad generalizations and patent falsehoods to characterize the non-existent positions of whole political parties. You’ve done it a handful of times over the past few weeks. Put simply, if you can’t put together an argument without making up the facts behind nearly every point in your argument, especially regarding the statements of other posters which are right there in front of you, then don’t bother posting. Or at least please stop using my name in vain in your posts.

    “(1) How much actual support was forthcoming for commercial space during the Clinton Administration when Al Gore was Vice President?”

    Between Alternative Access and the Space Launch Initiative flight demosntration contract with Kistler, low hundreds of millions of dollars.

    “That was a joke of a program that resulted in paper and nothing else?”

    Is that a statement or a question?

    If it’s a question, the Alternative Access program started with a handful of staffers at the Clinton White House. It was pushed on NASA despite opposition and slow-rolling by NASA staff under Goldin.

    And that’s not the only commercial human space flight activity that had its origins in the Clinton White House. There’s also Kistler demo contract, an award to a commercial space flight company using contract regulations from the commercial part of the FAR. The Kistler demo contract was made under the Space Launch Initiative, which, like Alternative Access, also started in the Clinton White House.

    But let’s ignore history and assume that the Clinton White House did not start the first commercial human space flight programs at NASA and instead actively opposed them. Does that mean that opposition to commercial space flight is a plank in the Democratic Party’s platform? Or that all Democrats oppose commercial space flight?

    Can’t you see the ridiculousness of your inaccurate, false, and uselessly broad generalizations?

    “(2) Under which President did COTS get started?”

    Bush II. So what? Unlike Alternative Access and the Space Launch Initiative, which again both started with a handful of staffers in the Clinton White House, COTS was a NASA initiative that has its origins with O’Keefe, Steidle, and their NASA staff. COTS did not start with staff or political appointees in the Bush II White House.

    “(3) How much did the GOP cut COTS when it was in charge of Congress?”

    The better question is how much did Griffin cut from O’Keefe and Steidle’s budgets for new commercial space flight programs to fund Ares I/Orion? Answer: Griffin cut the funding in half, cutting about half a billion dollars to fund Ares I/Orion and leaving only another half billion for COTS.

    These are two different Republican NASA Administrators, both of whom served the Bush II White House during a Republican-controlled Congress, when they made their respective decisions to boost or cut funding for commercial human space flight programs. In both cases, it had nothing to do with their political masters in the White House or Congress, and everything to do with their priorities and strategies as NASA Administrator.

    “(4) How many Republicans support Rep Oberstar’s regulation scheme?”

    I have no clue, and for the record, I disagree with Oberstar’s proposals. But for the second time, commercial suborbital human space flight regulation is just not relevant to NASA orbital human space flight or the gap.

    “(5) What is the real name and job position of the person calling himself Anonymous?

    Sorry, some of us have day jobs in the field and can’t reveal our identities. That doesn’t mean that you have the freedom to misportray our posts without being called out on it. Or the freedom to make up positions for whole political parties that have no basis in fact and not be called out on it.

    “it seems to me that an unwillingness to post under an actual name speaks to credibility and hidden bias.”

    If that’s what you really think and you’re paranoid enough to believe that I’m some deep cover Democratic plant that posts here to bring down the great Republican human space flight program, then by all means, please stop using my name and making up facts about what I’ve said or thought in your posts.

    “Charles, that is actually untrue. Hutchison was the consponser of an amendment to add a billion dollars in emergency funding to accellerate the development of Orion/Ares. House Democrats killed that amendment in conference.”

    How do you know that it was only Democrats who opposed the amendment?

    How do you know that some House Republicans didn’t also oppose the amendment?

    And wasn’t Hutchison’s co-sponsor in the Senate a Democrat (Mikulski) to begin with?

    Again, can’t you see the ridiculousness of your baseless, inaccurate, and useless generalizations?

    Again, ugh…

  • Anon – The paranoia that Mark has about the Democratic Party is endemic of true believers. I think the proof of that has been shown many times.

    In other words, its best not to confuse him with the facts.

  • “What are the names and party affiliations of top tier candidates for President who have advocated (to some extent) cutting back and/or delaying the development of the Orion/Ares system? Which one of these candidates have suggested alternatives, commercial or otherwise.”

    Obama, Democrat, and no commercial alternative. Again, so what? No Republican candidate has made any substantive remarks regarding what they would do with Constellation/Ares I/Orion. And none have proposed any commercial alternatives either.

    At least with the Democrats, one other leading Democratic candidates for President, Clinton, has made it clear that she wants a Shuttle replacement as soon as possible, which could be read as supportive of either Ares I/Orion or commercial alternatives (or both).

    Does any of this mean that either the Democrats or Republicans as a whole oppose or support commercial human space flight?

    Absolutely not, and we shouldn’t claim such.

    “I think I made my point in my response, even if it did consist of answering a questions with other questions.”

    I guess if your point was to show that two commercial human space flight programs started with staffers in the Clinton White House, or that two different Republican NASA Administrators serving the Bush II White House have alternately increased and cut funding for commercial human space flight programs, or that suborbital human space flight regulations are a non-sequitor for this conversation, yes, I guess your questions made those points.

    I have answered your questions, but you have not answered mine. Where is logic or facts, instead of more questions, to back up your statements?

  • Mark: What are the names and party affiliations of top tier candidates for President who have advocated (to some extent) cutting back and/or delaying the development of the Orion/Ares system?

    Well, if money speaks louder than words, I would have to say Mr. Bush, Republican.

    – Donald

  • Norm

    “Finally, bill language is included, as proposed by the House, prohibiting funding of any
    research, development, or demonstration activities related exclusively to the human exploration
    of Mars.”

    “The amended bill provides no funding for Return to Flight as an emergency designation
    as proposed by the Senate. The House did not propose a similar provision.”

    Also included is about half a billion dollars in earmarks thinly disguised as “Cross-Agency Support Programs”

    Both parties are responsible for this and Bush got exactly what he asked for in the NASA budget.

  • anonymous

    what is forgotten here is George French who owns RipK
    also owns 2 other firms which are NASA contractors,
    Space Explorers and Orbitech. Seems that he has really
    endangered these firms with this ill thought out legislative protest.

  • Al Fansome

    Mr Whittington,

    You spend a lot of time trying to assign fault to Democrats for all the wrongs in the world, rather than suggesting how we solve the current problem.

    If you have the facts on your side, it would be one thing. I do agree that in the aggregate that Republicans are slightly more “pro-space-commerce” than Democrats. However, there are many Democratic legislators who are significantly more pro-space-commerce than the average Republican politician. You could make a smaller point that is defendable.

    Instead, you go over the top, and make overblown assertions that can not be backed up. It makes you look foolish and destroys your credibility. If you don’t care about your personal credibility, and don’t care if people take your opinions less seriously, fine that is your choice.

    For example:

    WHITTINGTON: Some questions for you or anyone who thinks that the Dems support commercial space and the GOP does not

    Did anybody say “Dems support commercial space and the GOP does not”? If not, this is a straw man argument, and is not based on fact.

    WHITTINGTON: (1) How much actual support was forthcoming for commercial space during the Clinton Administration when Al Gore was Vice President? Please don’t mention the Alternate Access Initiative. That was a joke of a program that resulted in paper and nothing else?”

    The facts conflict with your assertion — The Alternate Access to Station program was cancelled in 2003 under a Republican President, a Republican-controlled Congress, and a Republican Administrator of NASA (Sean O’Keefe – protege of VP Dick Cheney).

    So much for the great support of space commerce by Republicans. The reason they get any credit for creating COTS is because they killed AAS, and had to start over.

    - Al

    “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” — W. Edwards Deming

  • Vladislaw

    I think that the republicans are, as of late, more commercially space orientated then the democrats only because who the republicans choose to honor.

    “We want to congratulate Dennis Hope, founder of the Lunar Embassy, for the wonderful acknowledgement he has received from the Congresss of the United States. Dennis Hope has been named co-chairman of the Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council. He has also been issued the highest honor the National Republican Congressional Committee has, the prestigious Republican Gold Medal.

    Dennis states, “The most perplexing aspect of these wonderful recognitions is, I am not a Republican. Actually I disagree with the two party system and think it should be drastically overhauled. I am pleased that our work for the last twenty-three years is finally beginning to be recognized by the United States government as being valid. This is a huge step in the official recognition by the USA for the claims we made and the diligence with which we have pursued our challenging quest. Finally a major world power has spoken to us and they have been kind.”
    http://www.lunarlandowner.com/news.htm

    Dennis Hope is the man who has been selling lunar land deeds for the last twenty years. If the republicans are recognizing him I can ONLY imagine they are trying to make him legitiamate and therefore make his lunar land deeds legitimate also, hence the republican push for the moon.

    Vladislaw

  • Bill Adkins

    Space does not break along partisan lines.

  • Al Fansome

    Mr. Whittington,

    I assume that you know who Bill Adkins is?

    Regards,

    - Al

  • Keith Cowing

    Yes Mark, just who is Bill Adkins – and why do his simple words trump all of your silly partisan snarkiness?

  • John Provan

    Trying to blame the Democrats for this is silly. There is a five-year gap looming in US human access to space. What president submitted the budgets that plan for that gap? Bush. What party is Bush? Hence, the five-year gap is Bush’s Gap.

  • COTSadvocate

    BACK TO THE ORIGINAL DISCUSSION about the congressional on COTS.

    I think this congressional language is a tempest in a teapot.

    It is highly likely that the GAO will turn down the RpK protest — which is focused on whether NASA can use OTA for the COTS 1.5 competition. Others have previously discussed here why the RpK protest is very weak.

    Once the dispute is over, the Mikuslki language will no longer have any effect.

    In parallel, it is also highly likely for NASA to take longer than February 2008 anyways to be in a position to sign the new Space Act Agreement.

    The COTS program took about 4 months the last time around — from the selection of the six semi-finalists to the selection of the two winners (~6 months from proposal delivery).

    If we assume they take the same amount of time this time around — and based on the COTS program’s statement that they will not start interviews until after January 7, this suggests a decision around May. If you want to give them some credit for a “learning curve”, think April (or March at the earliest).

    In summary, I see no need to start screaming “the sky if falling”. There is plenty of time in the COTS Program’s schedule for the GAO to rule on the dispute, and to allow the COTS program to proceed as they desire.

    - COTS Advocate

  • Vladislaw

    I thought both Musk and Bigelow said they had deep enough pockets to fund their programs WITHOUT any money from NASA or be dependant on NASA for the success of their respective programs?

  • COTSadvocate

    The only person who has demonstrated — by his actions — that he has deep enough pockets to fund his entire program — without any help from NASA — is Jeff Bezos.

    Musk has obviously already accepted (and lobbied for) NASA money. And he is asking for even more NASA COTS money in order to accelerate his crew system. If he had deep enough pockets, he would not need to do this.

    Bigelow has publicly stated that his program is dependent upon the development of affordable crew & cargo transportation systems. Bigelow is waiting for somebody else to fund those critical systems. Until they arrive, he does not have a real business. It is kind of like Henry Ford saying “I have this great idea for how to make cars, but wooden tires are awful … I have to wait until somebody invents the rubber tire.”

    - COTS Advocate

  • Vladislaw

    RpK Says It Won’t Take NASA to Court Over COTS Dispute
    WASHINGTON — Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) has backed off its threat to sue NASA for withdrawing financial support of the K-1 reusable rocket the Oklahoma City-based company was developing under the U.S. space agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to deliver supplies and eventually astronauts to the international space station.

    http://www.space.com/spacenews/

    Does this mean NASA will be able to go ahead with the second cots funding package?

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