To listen to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has taken a strong stand against NASA’s plans to cancel most of Constellation. “There is report language, which meets our (committee’s needs), where we went almost two pages criticizing NASA’s decision to cancel the Constellation [program] without recognizing the impact it would have on our defense industry,” he told the Davis County (Utah) Clipper. He said the language was “a win” for those fighting for Constellation, but that they “still have a long, long way to go, step by step”.
The language of the report, though, suggests that Rep. Bishop may have been overstating his point. There is a section of the HASC report on the FY11 Defense Department authorization bill that addresses the solid rocket motor (SRM) industrial base (pp. 354-355, or 382 and 383 in the PDF document). The section is actually only about one page’s worth of material, not two (it starts near the bottom of p. 354), and much of it does not address Constellation at all. The challenges of maintaining the SRM industrial base, it notes, “are made worse by the proposed termination of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Constellation program. Defense officials have estimated that the cost of propulsion systems could increase from 40 to 100 percent because infrastructure costs currently shared by the Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA would be passed on to the Department of Defense.” The next few paragraphs deal with DOD-specific SRM issues, including development programs and the need to align Navy and Air Force SRM needs for its ballistic missiles. Only at the end does NASA come up again, in reference to inter-agency coordination of SRM needs: “Any DOD strategic plan should include NASA, and any NASA plan should include the Department of Defense.”
Nowhere does that section (which appears to be the only section of the report that mentions NASA) explicitly criticize NASA for its decision on Constellation, only noting the impact NASA’s plans make on SRM planning for the DOD, which already is facing its own issues of “sustaining currently-deployed strategic and missile defense systems or maintaining an intellectual and engineering capacity to support the next-generation rocket motors,” as the report notes. The section at the end about coordination is perhaps more subtle criticism, since the White House apparently did not consult with DOD officials, or at least do so extensively, prior to making its decision about Constellation.
Another question is the claim in the report that propulsion systems costs “could increase from 40 to 100 percent” because of Constellation’s cancellation. The HASC report cites unnamed “defense officials”, but back in March Rear Admiral Stephen E. Johnson, director of strategic systems programs for the Navy, told a Senate committee that he expected DOD costs to increase by only 10-20 percent.