Congress, Pentagon

Space issues in the House DOD appropriations report

The report accompanying the House version of the 2010 defense appropriations bill approved by the full House shortly before it went on summer recess includes several space-related ; of interest:

  • Perhaps the biggest item in the bill is language that blocks the Defense Department from spending any money appropriated for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) “until the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics certifies in writing to the congressional defense committees that the NPOESS program is being managed in compliance with the Department of Defense 5000-series acquisition guidelines and that the participants are complying with the MOA [memorandum of agreement] signed on December 18, 2008.” The report also calls for an updated independent assessment of the program’s cost and schedule.
  • The appropriations committee, the report notes, “is concerned that there is no clear path for space system investment.” The report calls for the development of an annual long-range (30 years) report that “will provide a necessary roadmap for future government and industrial base investments.” The same section also presses the DOD to create a major force program category for space by the FY2011 budget submission next February.
  • The report directs the Air Force and the NRO to create a “sustainment plan” for the EELV program that would allow it to continue until 2030. That plan would address in particular liquid-propellant rocket engine development “identify the minimum level of investments and areas of technology development required to ensure the United States has a robust and viable liquid rocket engine industrial base beyond 2015″, particularly for upper stages. The same report language also calls for a review of the merger that created United Launch Alliance, assessing the cost savings promised at the time of the merger. (Another part of the report calls for development of a “five-year investment strategy” for the next block of both EELV vehicles as well as the SBIRS missile warning satellites.)

13 comments to Space issues in the House DOD appropriations report

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    With reference to sustaining EELV until 2030: This may be out-of-line or even inappropriate. However, if the USAF is really concerned about sustaining EELV production for both operational and industrial reasons, then they could do worse than allow NASA to human-rate one or both to use as an interim crew launcher. That way, production goes up and the ULA teams get more experience. There is also NASA cash to help sustain the production line and potentially NASA cash to help with upgrades and updates.

  • Well, if by NASA human rating you mean NASA coming up with a reasonable standard, then letting ULA (and anyone else who wants to compete) figure out how to meet that standard commercially, then sure it would make sense. If you mean letting MSFC “modify” the EELVs to make them what MSFC thinks should be human rated…..


  • Martijn Meijering

    There are rumours the Air Force has vetoed changes to EELVs. If true and if the Augustine panel has hushed that up, then I think that is very disappointing.

  • Fred

    It’s not a rumour, and it’s not particularly sinister. Both EELV’s are paid for by the Air Force. They are AF LV’s. The AF are quite happy for NASA to use ‘em for sat launches. Indeed they encourage this. They just don’t want NASA to start trying to man rate them as they’re afraid this would add to the cost of the EELV’s. Given the history of NASA’s development efforts who can blame them.

  • Martijn Meijering

    It’s disappointing that this is not said openly and even more disappointing the Augustine panel goes along with this.

  • Norm Hartnett

    This decision was made several pay grades above the Augustine Committee level. National security trumps human space flight. The decision is based on the past history of the interaction between national security space access and NASA space access. Basically NASA made promises they couldn’t keep and those promises lead to disassembly of the nation’s launch vehicle capabilities. This directly lead to the EELV program once it became clear that NASA couldn’t meet it’s obligations.

    To be fair there was, as usual, much political interference which lead to this mess.

    They made their bed, now they and the human space program have to sleep in it.

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    For the EELV (almost certainly the Delta) to be man-rated, NASA would have to pony up the money for it. The AF would not allow it’s launcher price to be increased due to requirements for man rating.

    And if MSFC gets the job of approving the Delta and it’s man rating – that will be REALLY EXPENSIVE! Mainly since MSFC will have great motivation to prove that they are needed to sign off on every nit. They have to justify their workforce and will find LOTS of problems that should or could be fixed.

    The AF will not want to allow NASA to determine if their launcher is safe to fly, from painful experience.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I would love to know the details of what happened.

    I agree national security trumps the needs of the civil space program, but that doesn’t mean the issue cannot be discussed openly. I don’t see why national security would be harmed if the DoD were to say “we don’t want those clowns from MSFC messing around with our launchers”. Also, this only applies to the CLV, there is no reason to rule out EELVs as propellant launchers or for launching Altair. This would actually help with establishing reliability, and the same thing could be done with Falcon.

    Keeping these considerations secret also undermines the whole FACA process. I imagine this would actually be illegal, unless the president signs some kind of finding and this is somehow communicated to the appropriate oversight bodies in Congress. And legal considerations aside, I cannot believe the White House would tolerate any of this happening without their consent. I wonder how the order was passed down the chain of command and whether General Jones’ review of launch systems had anything to do with it.

  • Major Tom

    “There are rumours the Air Force has vetoed changes to EELVs.” [Mr. Meijering]

    I won’t try to confirm or dispute the rumors, but it’s important to point out that human-rating changes don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) be incorporated in every Delta IV or Atlas V that leaves Decatur. ULA can develop and produce a modified, variant EELV for NASA crew launches, while still using the same workforce and facilities to produce unmodified EELVs for USAF, NRO, NASA unmanned, and commercial customers. It would largely be the same assembly sequence, but for crewed variants, the sequence would fork at a couple points for redundant avionics and engine diagnostics. Unmodified EELVs should remain at the same price (or lower — see below), while NASA pays some modest premium for its modified EELV variants for crew launch.

    And in terms of costs, there’s no reason for the USAF to pay for those modifications or for an extra EELV pad at the Cape for NASA crewed launch needs. And even if national security users did share in some of those costs (say, because greater engine reliability will benefit high-value NRO payloads), they’d quickly recoup their investment by spreading the costs of the EELV industrial base over a substantially larger customer base. If anything, unmodified EELVs should go down in price somewhat if NASA crew launches are added to the EELV customer base.

    As an aside, the cost of unmodified EELVs will go way down if NASA goes the in-space propellant provisioning route and uses EELV to supply propellant on orbit. See how much EELV demand grows on page 4 of this presentation if such moves were made:

    “And if MSFC gets the job of approving the Delta and it’s man rating – that will be REALLY EXPENSIVE!… They have to justify their workforce and will find LOTS of problems that should or could be fixed.” [Charles]

    The key is to give the bulk of NASA human space flight workforce something else to do. This was one of the major flaws of ESAS — instead of redirecting NASA’s human space flight workforce to exploration activities per the VSE, it got them wrapped around the axle of another mid-range LEO launcher. NASA should do what industry isn’t doing, can’t do, or won’t do, and mid-range launch to LEO is something that industry has been doing well for years. Between heavy lift, in-space propellant provisioning, in-space transit, landers, etc., there’s plenty other things for the NASA human space flight workforce to do.


  • DD

    I agree completely with Jon on this. NASA man-rating adds a lot of cost for little safety, but unfortunately NASA will not accept the EELV unless they can make whatever changes they want. Nobody is going to hand-fly a rocket into orbit, yet that is always a requirement. And of course there is the requirement for a design load factor increase from 1.25 to 1.4, a safety factor from the days before computers, even though actual flight loads can be validated in unmanned flight. Although ULA has some pretty good designs, they essentially sell only to the government, a cost-insensitive customer, and so their costs are not as tightly controlled as they could be. But even DOD will not pay for man-rating when they have no requirement for it. Only hope would be if ULA is willing to dedicate the Delta (or at least a new variant of it) to NASA.

  • And of course there is the requirement for a design load factor increase from 1.25 to 1.4, a safety factor from the days before computers, even though actual flight loads can be validated in unmanned flight.

    A truly stupid requirement. If it added reliability, the launch insurance industry would insist on it for satellite launches.

  • Revloc

    Fred is wrong. The EELV rockets were developed and are owned by ULA (Boeing and Lockheed-Martin) The Air Force is just buying launch services. During EELV development the Air Force provided just $500 million each to both companies to acquire 1st in-line launch service availability. The designs, facilities, and tooling for both Atlas V and Delta IV are owned by ULA. ULA can man-rate their vehicles if NASA asks them to. The Air Force can’t dictate to ULA a no man-rate condition.

  • Royce Jones

    Actually, it was the Air Force that messed things up. First, winged shuttle to meet their imaginary cross range requirements, then with the help of Congress raping the Shuttles of commercial and DoD payloads – to protect the ELV and later EELVs from competition. The net effect was the loss of 100% of the commerical satellite market in the US. Now the Air Force pays 100% of the cost of the EELVs and over $200 million a year just to maintain the ground operations.

    Fred is right – the EELV are a Air Force program – because they have no other customers other than the Air Force and the Air Force pays for all of the costs of the program. Also, the EELV companies where allowed to write off their investments on their taxes – so really they paid nothing.

    NASA looked at man rating the EELVs many times (Orbital Spaceplane for example) and always came to the same conclusion – too expensive. Now the EELVs are being low balled priced – again – as an option to Ares 1. Fact is both are bad choices.

    The COTS vehicles are not low cost vehicles either. Because of the low lift capability they are actually very expensive, expecially the OSC vehicle.

    Maybe its time for the Air Force, NASA and others to sit down and come up with a plan – not a political plan – but a financial plan that works. Good luck with that.

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