Congress, NASA

Jeopardy or gaining support?

It’s always interesting how different people can look at the same situation and see things very differently. For example, yesterday the Orlando Sentinel reported that the White House’s NASA plans “appear in jeopardy” because of the lack of overt, or at least outspoken, support from members of Congress. “Few Democrats have publicly endorsed the entire plan,” the article notes, “while opponents such as Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who looks after the interests of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, continue to blast the proposal as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘destructive.'” Later, they argue that it may not be in immediate jeopardy so much as in limbo, with a definitive outcome one way or another unlikely before the end of the year.

However. writing for, Jay Barbree instead sees that a “consensus is beginning to build in support of the revised plan”. He claims that “the White House and Congress have been hammering out the details of a three-pronged plan for America’s future in space”, which apparently involve continued tests of an Ares 1 vehicle, as desired by Sen. Bill Nelson; commercial transport of crews to LEO; and robotic missions into the solar system (how the last item fits in isn’t clear; he may be thinking of robotic precursor missions highlighted in the budget proposals, but the examples he gives are all Science Mission Directorate missions that predate the new plan by years.)

17 comments to Jeopardy or gaining support?

  • Actually, your next headline ATK hedges their bets about the future tells us which way the wind is blowing. . . .

    — Donald

  • Mark R. Whittington

    It sounds like something coming from Bill Nelson more than just the whole of Congress. The “Look But Don’t Touch” exploration program in which we don’t go to an actual world is a loser.

  • Neil H.

    Wow, Jay Barbree wrote an article which wasn’t completely negative about the new plan for NASA? Who’s next, WSJ’s Andy Pasztor?

  • Alex

    The continued Ares I tests “compromise” make no sense, unless NASA is all but assured to keep Shuttle parts (five-seg, J2-X, Orion abort system) for its HLV. Which it isn’t, otherwise, why cancel Ares V and pour 5 billion into advanced HLV research?

  • […] für die neuen Weltraumpläne in der Politik in den folgenden Wochen entwickelt hat, darüber gehen die Einschätzungen weit auseinander … (Links zu zahlreichen Artikeln im Cosmic Mirror 336 im hellgrünen […]

  • JD

    J-2X and Orion abort are not a part of the Shuttle program, but of Constellation. But I digress…

  • @ Alex….Yes: WHY INDEED?! To waste and squander the next five years—a time span proportional to 2005-2010—just to research & experiment on just what kind of rocket we’ll LATER ON build; when we could have just what we need all along, by just properly funding and building the Aries 5. The Anti-Moon lobby wants Project Constellation killed only because it involves a Lunar Return!!! The Aries 5 could clearly be later used for asteroids & martian moons, as an eventual afterthought—but, oh no!—THEY could NOT bear the thought of our spacemen voyaging back to Luna again! Since the Anti-Moon people could not realistically get Mars right now—the technology demonstrations are completely VOID—they came up with this latest hysteria to do a NEO asteroid mission instead of the Moon. Complete bunk & illusion: but hey….whatever sabotages the Return To The Moon….right?! The summary: If you want to see bases & industrial development on another world in the near term—you should be supporting the continuance of Project Constellation. If you just want to see an endless, dead-end stream of first-time, only-time Flag & Footprint ,Book of World Records, big-brag jaunts to a bunch of miscellaneous NEO’s—which lead to NO base foothold, ever—then your loyalties are obviously with President Obama, Buzz Aldrin, & Flexible Path.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Chris Castro

    The “proper funding” as you put it, wasn’t happening under Bush and Griffin – Obama is honest enough to admit we can’t afford that level of funding (and also acknowledges that its a dead end path anyway)

    As far as the idea that the “Anti-moon lobby” (my god, talk about delusions of grandeur) being the only ones who want to kill Constellation – hardly. I see a lot of potential in the moon, but it’ll never happen with Constellation.

    If you want to go to the moon, or any real deep space location, you are going to have to improve the tech, and Constellation wasn’t doing it. We need things like Propellant depots, more efficient life support, and COST EFFECTIVE Heavy lift (something Ares V wasn’t).

    I want a clear explanation Chris – How does 2 rockets, a capsule, and a lander, that serve no market near term, get you industrial development & bases? Without always having to ask for more government money?

  • Opinion article by Space Frontier Foundation founder Rick Tumlinson in today’s Florida Today:

    President Obama recently stood in front of workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and boldly said today’s space program is failing. And he was right.

    NASA today pales compared to the days of Apollo.

    Rather than continue another expensive dead-end program, the president set a new path that gets it right at last.

    He does it by building what’s needed to go to more places faster, better and cheaper than before, and to stay where we go when we go, rather than leaving behind flags and footprints because we can’t afford to return.

  • Space Cadet

    Indeed, the fatal problem with Ares is simply the operating cost. $ 1.5 Billion per flight for Ares I. NASA doesn’t have the popular support, political support, or budget to fly it. As the Augustine commission noted, even if Ares cost $0 to develop, NASA would have to immediately cancel it because it is too expensive to operate.

    Whining about how NASA should have a bigger budget won’t make NASA’s budget bigger. What NASA CAN do is invest now in technologies to reduce the operating costs later. This is the option grounded in political reality rather than fantasies of doubling NASA’s budget. I don’t like the five year delay either. I doubt anyone does. But developing Ares then being unable to afford to fly it would waste at least a decade and the space program might not recover at all from yet another unsustainable vehicle.

    Shuttle had the same problem. The had the correct goal: reduce the cost to orbit by a least an order of magnitude and fly 50 times per year. But as the schedule slipped they made decisions that increased the operating costs in rather than allowing the schedule to slip even further. Abandoning sustainability to avoid the embarassment of further schedule slips was the wrong choice then and it would be the wrong choice now.

  • Jim Hillhouse

    Space Cadet,

    Your post that launching Ares I cost $1.1B per flight is off but the error is understandable. The cost of an Ares I flight has been, and continues to be, something that has been hard to pin down largely because NASA’s executive management throws out numbers unsupported by the agency’s own documentation.

    Let’s first look at marginal cost, that is the cost of the rocket, spacecraft, fuel, etc. associated with one Ares I launch. During a House Science hearing on March 24th, ESMD AA Doug Cooke confirmed that the Ares I marginal cost is $176M (approx. 48:03 in the hearing video).

    But that leaves the fixed costs of launching Ares I. Currently, According to the Augustine Committee [Fixed Costs, p. 50], the fixed costs for launching Shuttle is $1.5B.

    On March 23rd, during a hearing before the House Science Appropriations Subcommittee, under questioning from Ranking member Aderholt NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden tried to claim that Ares I cost $1.3B-$1.6B per flight. That blew-up in his face when Rep. Aderholt confronted Administrator Bolden with a letter from NASA stating that the total cost for three Ares I flights annually is $1.1B (approx. 1:58:53 in the hearing video).

    Most suspect that the $1.1B number is actually the fixed costs of supporting 3 Ares I flights annually. But other fixed costs estimates have centered on $900M. A couple of studies still in the drafting stages use the $900M figure.

    Combining these numbers and assuming a flight rate of three launches annually, the total cost of Ares I, that is marginal and fixed costs, is around $1.5B.

    But that’s not the end. After his testimony on April 22nd before the Senate Appropriations Science Subcommittee, the Committee staff sent Charlie Bolden a letter asking explicitly for the fixed and marginal costs as well as inquiring why the discrepancy between those numbers and repeated testimony by the Administrator. Per Sen. Mikulski, he will be reporting to the Subcommittee by May 22. Hopefully the Subcommittee will release that information.

  • red

    “continued tests of an Ares 1 vehicle, as desired by Sen. Bill Nelson”

    Doing this doesn’t make sense. We already know Ares I and Ares V are too expensive to develop, are too expensive to operate, and take too long to develop. Not only that, but the Ares I now doesn’t have anything to launch, and it wouldn’t be able to launch anything anyway if it’s just a test program presumably leading to Ares V or something like it, as implied by the article.

    If Nelson can really come up with $726M, and can actually keep doing that in later years, to support KSC or general Florida jobs he’d be better off pushing something like one of the following:

    – Take the $726M/year, the HLV R&D money, as much Constellation Transition money as he can get, the KSC modernization money, and the Shuttle slip contingency money, and try to build the least expensive Shuttle-derived HLV possible. That would probably not be crewed, and would probably be fairly close to the existing system (eg: block 1 sidemount). This would likely require raiding the rest of the budget (depending on how the Shuttle infrastructure is maintained), but it may be feasible without totally destroying the logic behind that budget. Of course some sort of payload would have to be invented, too.

    – Use those funds to get a a quick start on a modest EELV-derived HLV to be launched from Florida (such as a Phase I EELV 40-50MT HLV). Again, he’d also need to ensure there would be some sort of payload in the hopper so this rocket would start doing launches from Florida ASAP.

    Florida would benefit from getting some sort of rocket running quickly, so the approach of R&D for HLV for a few years probably isn’t the best approach for their immediate needs (the rest of the country is perhaps another story).

    – Funding some sort of redundant launch infrastructure at Florida for other rockets like Taurus II or Falcon I … and encouraging some of those Florida launches to actually happen.

    – Making sure the commercial crew effort succeeds and operates from Florida.

    – Making sure Florida is well-positioned to actually work on some of the Flagship Technology Demonstration work, which KSC will manage with JSC.

  • Let’s first look at marginal cost, that is the cost of the rocket, spacecraft, fuel, etc. associated with one Ares I launch.

    Marginal cost is relevant only to existing vehicles with sunk costs. It’s meaningless for a vehicle with tens of billions ahead of it in development, which will have to be amortized, and whose flight rate will be low.

  • @ Feris Vaylyn…. Take a closer look at the Constellation elements: A HEAVY-LIFT launcher IS there: the Aries 5. Then take a look at the Altair landing vehicle—an unmanned, automated variant can be flown out, and landed on the Moon. Without the need to return a crew back to Lunar orbit, the would-be ascent stage can now be used to permanently soft-land heavy-mass cargo & base modules. This new capability, never utilized with Apollo because of that project’s premature cancellation, will now enable, through Orion & Altair, the emplacement of large hab modules and their components. THIS WILL LEAD TO BASES & industrial development. All we got to do is support Constellation, and get it going again! Flexible Path NEVER intended to allow for a Lunar Return! It was invented by people who were against ANY Lunar scheme from day one. That’s why you’re now getting all this “Let’s go visit an asteroid instead” nonsense!

  • Ferris Valyn

    Chris – no, actually, you don’t have that with Constellation. Yes, Altair can be modified. OTOH, there are a number of VTVL suborbital crafts that could be modified to do the same thing. However, thats not event the point

    The point is this – with Constellation funded, you have
    1. Ares I
    2. Ares V
    3. Orion
    4. Altair, as a human transport (and only a human transport).

    You can’t turn Altair into a 1-way base element without spending more money on the Altair lander for modification.

    FURTHER, Someone has to pay for the base elements. This includes, Development Costs, Construction Costs, and operations costs. And you have to have someone that will ACTUALLY USE that base for something. Show me a private user who wants that, in the near future, who can afford it.

    And all of this assumes you can double NASA’s budget so as to fund JUST Constellation, as is.

    This stuff doesn’t appear without money & users, and unless you can identify them, you won’t get a base from Constellation anymore than we got one from Apollo

  • @ Ferris Valyn….. Nonsense & hogwash!!! Even if the Constellation Moonbase were as inefficient as the ISS—and note please, that THAT project never gets any complaints from anybody—the sheer marvel of a manned outpost on another world will be worth its weight in silver!! Unlike a Skylab or a Mir, you wouldn’t have to worry about having to de-orbit it, when you’re done; it stays tranquilly on Luna firma, until whenever you are ready to send the next troop of explorers there again. (Hence, we get the option of intermittent or permanent habitation of the base.) Station modules for the ISS are always being designed and redesigned for specialized function, for connection to the entire LEO station. Why would an unmanned, ascent-stage-instead-used-for-cargo variation of the Altair, be such an impossible task?!?! Even the old Apollo lander could have been altered to soft-land cargo, for a one-way descent, onto the Lunar surface, all those years ago. The summary: Once we’re successfully flying it to the Moon, the Altair L-SAM could become just as agile a workhorse, as the Orion CEV. WE JUST GOT TO DARE TO LEAVE EARTH ORBIT, once again. We actually did it before—forty years ago!

  • Ferris Valyn

    Chris Castro –

    First, there has been numerous complaints about ISS over the years – note the various redesigns, if nothing else.

    The reason why people like ISS now is because IT ACTUALLY EXISTS, as opposed to any moonbase, which does not exist.

    Further, I don’t care how great a marvel a lunar outpost is – if it doesn’t put food on the table for someone, it doesn’t do anything.

    And I don’t claim that it would be impossible. It would be quite possible. What I do claim is that it would cost money. And that, if you want Constellation (in a reasonable timeframe) AND you want this capability for Altair, you are going to need more then a $6 Billion increase in the NASA budget.

    Finally, lets get back to the other point, which you totally missed – WHO IS THE USERS? Who are the companies that need a moon base?

    I grant you can say a lot about ISS, and its not perfect. OTOH, it does at least have existing users, and existing markets it serves, right now, and new markets are forming. We don’t have to spend development money to get and new markets.

    Again, the issue isn’t the technology, which I fully agree is doable – the question is who is going to use it (to create those companies & industries) and who is paying for it. You haven’t addressed those points at all

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