Congress, NASA, Pentagon

HASC and Constellation

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.

28 comments to HASC and Constellation

  • Robert G. Oler

    This is like the RED Chinese attacking the Moon, just hysterics to try and drum up support for a plan which has no other reason to exist Robert G. Oler

  • It’s pretty stupid to justify the whole Constellation boondoggle just because one part might cost DOD a little more.

  • Bennett

    …and I believe it was either Robert or Major Tom who laid out (in another post) the actual cost of replacing/refurbishing ALL of the SRBs on our missiles versus continuing Constellation just to get a “volume discount” on SRBs.

    One of the weakest arguments that could be made for keeping Cx.

    The end is near.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Major Tom is the guy who has nailed the cost here.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Jeff,

    It is not true that the White House and NASA did not consult DOD. They consulted the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Undersecretary for Acquisition Technology and Logistics, the Ass’t Undersecretary for industrial base, and many others.

    Nobody in DOD — or anywhere else in the USG or private industry — uses large-diameter segmented Solid Rocket Motors. The last use in DOD was for the Titan IV. They are incredibly expensive, which is why both Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas/Boeing moved away from them for the Atlas V and Delta IV systems.

    Finally, it really seems weird that NASA, a $19B agency, should be required to shoulder a costly infrastructure burden solely to make the cost of the raw material (ammonium perchlorate) cheaper for DOD, a $650B department. Just saying it’s a little out of proportion.

    – Jim

  • Take a holiday Oler- give us all a break.

  • DCSCA

    These politicians are never going to kill Constellation in this economy. Not in an election year. There are too many jobs at stake in areas where the economy remain weak or is weakening further (the Gulf coast) — jobs that are relatively high-tech and related to the technological base of the nation. Better to have them working and paying taxes than on the dole. Not to mention the famed ‘Cernan intangibles’ wrapped in the emotional cloth of national pride, human curiosity and so on. Without doubt, Constellation needs reworking. But creating a general purpose space vehicle (Orion) should be a priority, fully funded and in the pipeline for NASA. Flying it atop existing LVs for LOE activities seems a logical progression and worth the investment. Ares less so. But a heavy lift LV family, (revive the clusters) a lunar lander and long stay lunar facility is the logical step outward and worthy work for a fresh generation of engineers. Leave the profit-centered efforts with the private sector. Nobody is preventing them from generating investment capital for a risky venture if they can show a profit for those investors. Go for it, just not at NASA’s expense.

  • amightywind

    Thanks DCSCA for the simple, unassailable logic. I think this is the prevailing view. You’d never know it with all the astroturfers on this forum.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ May 31st, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    we will see…I dont think you have the politics down real well Robert G. Oler

  • NASA Fan

    Even if DoD has to pay more for their precious SRM’s, so what. If any one has any money these days its DoD. Let them eat cake.

  • X

    Mr. Muncy-

    I respect you but you’re wrong about the WH coordinating with the DoD. DoD, DNI, State, NSC- everyone was surprised. I don’t know who told the decision on NASA was coordinate.

    It is true that early in the Augustine review the DoD was queptioned, by the Augustine members not the White House, about potential impacts. But asking DoD to guess at hypotheticals during a review is a VERY different thing from bringing them in during the decision making on NASA.

    We’ve alll been around DC long enough to know that the answers you get when asking a real question are vastly different than the answers you get when asking a hypothetical one.

    Aside from that one bit of clarification I agree with your other points.

  • X

    Let’s try that again now that I have my glasses on:

    Mr. Muncy-

    I respect you but you’re wrong about the WH coordinating with the DoD. DoD, DNI, State, NSC- everyone on the national security side of the space family was surprised. I don’t know who told you the decision on NASA was coordinated with any other department

  • vulture4

    if the Utah delegation really want to keep making SRBs the only rationale for doing so is to extend Shuttle. The R&D has already been done and the system works, and it would make sense even if we fly Shuttle another 10 years. But to build a new launch vehicle with large SRBs does not make any sense. To kill off Shuttle in order to fund a years-long Constellation “closeout” so as to mitigate some of the Shuttle job losses is also absurd; if Congress is worried about jobs keep the people working on Shuttle; at least they are doing something useful. I cannot for the life of me understand why we should spend one more dollar on Constellation, let alone the billions now planned.

  • DCSCA

    @RobertGOler- think again.

  • Someday some journalist will actually have both the ability and the guts to dig out the Thiokol-Griffin-Ares1 story, and to document in depth the Thiokol lobbying effort.

    No wait, I know most of the journalists writing today.

    Someday perhaps some historian will actually have both the ability and the guts to dig out the Thiokol-Griffin-Ares1 story, and to document in depth the Thiokol lobbying effort. It will be a running comparative in the history of how China gained world leadership in space.

    All one has to do is to remember that it is not about Mars, it is about planetary defense, and to keep one’s eye on the ball.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ May 31st, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I probably dont think it through on a day to day basis, but I do look on a day to day basis to see how trends are going…and so far I have seen nothing that tells me that Constellation is going to be saved or that there is any additional shuttle flights…I think the LON “might” (say 30 percent chance) get a real STS number…but that number actually is going down.

    Three things are stifling Constellation.

    The first is that industry (except for ATK) doesnt want it
    The second is that there is no real support for it outside of NASA districts…

    The third is that the technology demonstrators are wanted by a sizeable group inside the government (Congress people are being told that by representatives of the DoD now) and to have those projects and Constellation bleeds NASA (or forces a budget increase) and there is no sentiment for that.

    Even here in Houston outside of the Clear Lake Area support for additional NASA money is “tepid” (meaning in word only). The Continental UAL merger is going to generate more job losses at CAL then cancelling Constellation…and there are more worries about that.

    Go read the latest Houston Chronicle Op ed. It is about something that is impossible…continuing to fly the shuttle…not “keep Constellation”.

    As for Congress…there is no real support for more money…and that is what it would take.

    I dont like Constellation; but am a pretty fair observer of trends in politics…(I predicted Constellation would run aground, why and when pretty accurately on this forum) and to quote “Bones”…”its dead Jim”.

    Robert G. Oler

  • DCSCA

    @RobertGOler et al; again: You still don’t get it.

    These politicians are never going to kill Constellation in this economy. Not in an election year. There are too many jobs at stake in areas where the economy remains weak or is weakening further (the Gulf coast) — jobs that are relatively high-tech and related to the technological base of the nation. Better to have them working and paying taxes than on the dole. Not to mention the famed ‘Cernan intangibles’ wrapped in the emotional cloth of national pride, human curiosity and so on. Without doubt, Constellation needs reworking. But creating a general purpose space vehicle (Orion) should be a priority, fully funded and in the pipeline for NASA. Flying it atop existing LVs for LOE activities seems a logical progression and worth the investment. Ares less so. But a heavy lift LV family, (revive the clusters) a lunar lander and long stay lunar facility is the logical step outward and worthy work for a fresh generation of engineers. Leave the profit-centered efforts with the private sector. Nobody is preventing them from generating investment capital for a risky venture if they can show a profit for those investors. Go for it, just not at NASA’s expense.

  • These politicians are never going to kill Constellation in this economy. Not in an election year. There are too many jobs at stake in areas where the…[blah, blah, blah]

    You can keep spamming multiple threads by cut’n’pasting the same nonsense, but it doesn’t make it somehow more wise or prescient.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ May 31st, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    sorry you are as my father use to say “a one note John”. there is no give and take…which tells me you dont really believe that which you say.

    Enjoy

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    In the Washinton Times Paul Spudis wrote:

    SPUDIS & ZUBRIN: NASA’s mission to nowhere

    “The new plan proposes to contract with private companies to design and develop vehicles for human flights to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station. The agency will research advanced technologies in the coming five years before picking a heavy-lift rocket design. Human missions are next – to an asteroid in 15 years and to orbit Mars in 25 years. A human Mars landing supposedly will occur afterward – sometime.

    The idea of contracting with the private sector for launch and transport to LEO is not new. This capability was encouraged and started under Vision. The difference under the new direction is the termination of any capability by the federal government of the United States to send people into space.

    For 50 years, America has maintained this ability through an infrastructure of cutting-edge industrial hardware, specialized facilities and a skilled work force.”

    If we have multiple commercial firms doing human launches to LEO America is not losing anything. NASA still retains the ability to send personal into LEO on both domestic and International carriers.

    The New paradigm for NASA is that they are passengers for the first 200 miles. Just as an astronaut takes a commercial ride from kennedy to cali they will take a commercial ride to their work facility in space. There they will work on the advanced technology demonstration programs that will lead to America’s first dedicated space based, reuseable, gas and go, vehicle.

    Future exploration will start from LEO, get used to it. Astronauts will go to stations to build stuff and use it in space.

  • [...] folks at SpacePolitics pens an item on a recent House Armed Services Committee report on NASA’s Constellation [...]

  • Funny how Spudis and Zubrin fail to mention why the taxpayers should fund their fantasies.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ May 31st, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Where I live we have a Republican Congressman and Democratic Senators. None have expressed a public desire to support Constellation, and no one in my district is affected by it’s cancellation.

    DCSCA, outside of Texas, Alabama and Florida, who really would have a political need to support it?

  • X,

    Since you are obviously a Washington-wise professional, let me point out that I used the word “consult”, not “coordinate”. The accusation by Bishop and others is that the WH and NASA didn’t even TALK to DOD let alone ask their opinion.

    And no, I don’t put much stock in Lester Lyles’ asking hypothetical questions either.

    But when the AT&L command structure says “we don’t care about large diameter segmented solids”, I gotta believe they know something.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t have an impact if NASA stops buying 2/3 (or a larger fraction) of the annual production of ammonium perchlorate. Yet, it could increase the raw materials costs of smaller solid rockets. But the Augustine Committee (not Lyles) dug into that in some detail with all of the solid producers/consumers. And everyone BUT ATK said that the impact of raw materials on the finished product was like 20-30% tops.

    So yes, I would say that both the Administration and Augustine did seriously CONSULT the experts on this matter. No, they did not obtain a fully-coordinated interagency policy statement.

    As you must know, that is now coming. And the initial results do not look promising for Mr. Bishop’s constituents.

    – Jim

  • “It will be a running comparative in the history of how China gained world leadership in space.”

    Dream on. The Chinese are moving at a snail’s pace, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue at that pace. It seems like they’re moving quickly because we’ve long forgotten how quickly our program and the Russian program advanced when they started. The Chinese have a long way to go to even match our capability at a low level. If they put boots on the moon, it won’t likely be until the 30′s at the earliest.

    “These politicians are never going to kill Constellation in this economy. Not in an election year. There are too many jobs at stake in areas where the economy remains weak or is weakening further (the Gulf coast) — jobs that are relatively high-tech and related to the technological base of the nation. ”

    Again, like the faulty logic of floating the whole Cx program to save perhaps a few hundred million at the DoD, the logic of sustaining it to support a few thousand jobs in three or four metro areas is kinda silly. That logic may fly in the districts where those jobs reside, but not elsewhere. And of the space states, only two are reasonably in play by most polling, Florida and Louisiana. In both cases they are very likely to be Republican victories, though not as likely as Utah or Alabama. I don’t really anticipate most Dems will be willing to alter their votes much to court two unlikely victories. If it were a presidential election year it might be a different story given Florida.

  • [...] HASC and Constellation – Space Politics [...]

  • red

    Jim Muncy: “Finally, it really seems weird that NASA, a $19B agency, should be required to shoulder a costly infrastructure burden solely to make the cost of the raw material (ammonium perchlorate) cheaper for DOD, a $650B department.”

    That’s true, and it seems even weirder when you consider the numerous benefits the DoD is likely to get from the new NASA approach, like

    - development of space and aeronautics technology of use to both DoD and NASA (smallsat technologies, general satellite components and instruments, rockets, RD-180 replacement, etc)
    - shared use of (and thus shared fixed costs for) underutilized aerospace technology by DoD and NASA (EELVs, satellite components, etc)
    - promotion of commercial space segments that can offer services to DoD

    For example, here are some excerpts about FTD 1, the first Flagship Technology Demonstration mission for an “Advanced In-Space Propulsion Demonstration”. The mission will probably demonstrate DARPA’s lightweight and efficient FAST solar array technology and NASA’s ion propulsion system:

    “This combined technology is anticipated to deliver a significant bus performance capability with broad NASA and DoD mission applicability for a wide range of existing and potential future missions in Earth-space, Cis-Lunar Space, and Deep-Space. … DoD has identified NEXT IPS as enabling for a class of Earth-Orbital operational missions. … NASA, DoD, and Commercial missions require lightweight high-power systems in space, both for SEP, and operational platforms, consistent with the performance characteristics of the DARPA FAST array technology.”

    As a side benefit, this mission might take instruments to exploration destinations like Mars.

    FTD-1 will also introduce the AR&D vehicle. In addition to its main NASA uses (getting technology demonstrations to their starting location such as GEO and the ISS), this vehicle may have other uses, such as delivery of ISS cargo, commercial services (if it’s procured commercially in the sense of not being a NASA-owned vehicle), tug services, and perhaps services for the DoD.

    That’s just one example of the many ways the new NASA approach is likely to benefit the DoD.

  • Gary Church

    “All one has to do is to remember that it is not about Mars, it is about planetary defense, and to keep one’s eye on the ball.”

    Absolutely. I strongly recommend watching the movie “The Road.” It is why we need HLV’s.

    As for SRB’s, It is fascinating reading the story of the Aerojet 260 inch SRB and how Utah railroaded NASA into a booster inferior on every single count- except that it came from Utah by railroad of course. Sun shipyards produced the test boosters for Aerojet using submarine hull technology. Thiokol’s boosters all blew up at half the pressure needed to pass while Aerojet’s all passed. And yet Thiokol got the contract. Might have had something to do with who the NASA director was. This is ancient history- late 60′s. Utah still has it’s claws in the administration it seems.

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