Congress, NASA

Senate committee adopts “compromise” NASA bill

In the end, this morning’s markup was short and sweet, full on self-congratulation and lacking any debate or tension. The Senate Commerce Committee approved unanimously a NASA authorization bill that will “refocus and reinvigorate the agency in a smart, fiscally responsible way”, in the words of committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

The committee did approve a number of amendments to the bill, although the contents of most of them were not discussed during the session. One amendment that the committee did approve was from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) that would authorize NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program at the administration’s requested level of $15 million a year. It also approved an amendment from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that increased funding levels for technology programs. However, left off the list of amendments was one from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) that would have restored funds to the commercial crew program to the level requested by the administration, as well as make other changes to the program. The full, amended text of the legislation hasn’t been released yet, but presumably should be in THOMAS in the next couple of days.

Members of the committee from both sides of the aisle praised the bill. “This legislation approved today represents a strong balance between the need for investment in new technology and the continued evolution of the commercial market to take an increasing role in supporting our efforts in low Earth orbit,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the committee, said. “The goal was to preserve U.S. leadership in space exploration and keep as much of the rocket-industry talent as possible employed,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the committee’s space subcommittee, said in a statement. The subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), played up the local benefits of the legislation, in particular the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans: “With this bipartisan bill, we’re not only going to start making the changes we need to save Michoud, we’re going to ensure these jobs stay in Louisiana and bring NASA back in line with its original mission as the world’s leader in manned space flight.”

Vitter was not the only one making a local connection in comments on the legislation. “In February, the President announced a plan which would have resulted in the end of our nation’s manned space flight program and Utah’s solid rocket motor industrial base,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Today, after six months of work, we have taken an important first step away from the abyss.” Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) also sees the bill as a step away from death and despair: “What this bill does is take NASA off life support so it can prepare the shuttle for ‘launch on need’ and move ahead with the heavy lift rocket program and the next generation space vehicle by 2016, which is a big improvement compared to the Administration’s plan.”

The authorization bill goes to the full Senate, although it’s not clear when they will be willing to take it up. However, in the near term it appears that the legislation will serve as a model for appropriators: next week a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY11 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. The chair of that subcommittee, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), “I think likes what we’re doing,” Rockefeller said near the end of the markup. Afterwards Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of that subcommittee, indicated his support, at least in general, to the authorization bill, calling it “a good first step in the legislative process” but noting that appropriators like him “will determine the ultimate outcome”.

However, commercial space supporters in the Commerce committee hinted that they may make another effort to restore funding for commercial crew when the authorization bill is taken up by the full Senate. “As we move to the floor, I’m going to be teaming up with some colleagues who would like to see a little more done on the commercial side, so we’ll all work together and maybe we can get that done,” Sen. Boxer said during the markup. “I know it’s been a challenging process, I know the Administration has been working with us and others as well who are advocates of commercial space, and I think there may be even more room to go,” said Sen. Warner.

60 comments to Senate committee adopts “compromise” NASA bill

  • Justin Kugler

    If Boxer and Warner succeed, I think we can all find a way to live with this (despite my instinct to agree with Jon Goff over at Selenian Boondocks). Even so, I don’t think Congress should be making technical decisions for NASA. Boosters should be selected on the basis of their ability to satisfy mission requirements and new ones should only be built if existing capabilities are insufficient.

  • Senator Vitter bloviated:

    … “We’re going to ensure these jobs stay in Louisiana and bring NASA back in line with its original mission as the world’s leader in manned space flight.”

    Senator Vitter should read the National Aeronautics and Space Act. It says nothing about launching humans into space.

  • Justin Kugler wrote:

    Even so, I don’t think Congress should be making technical decisions for NASA.

    Hey, they just decided to tell NASA to launch a Shuttle flight without any emergency backup if something goes wrong. If they’re going to risk astronauts’ lives, why not dictate what technology should be used too?!

  • Coastal Ron

    I agree with your comments Justin. I’m also a little concerned about the comment from Senator Hatch (UT), which can only be for SRB’s. To what degree they will stipulate SRB’s is kind of concerning.

    The devil is in the details, and there is still a lot of hell the appropriators can create. Keep your fingers crossed…

  • amightywind

    I agree that congress should provide requirements not designs, but I am happy with shuttle derived booster. It keeps the NASA facilities and work force going with a minimum hiatus. It is large. The side mount configuration is simplest though susceptible to debris strikes. It is not clear if it will be the Orion launcher. At least the President’s anti-vision is truly dead and we can cease the endless discussions of EELVs or Falcon9 as the only future for manned space launch. All in all a brighter day after 6 months of darkness.

  • Bennett

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ July 15th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I was waiting for you to catch that… ;-)

  • Justin Kugler

    If something went wrong on that last flight, there would be so much hell to pay. I’m pretty sure it would be taken out of NASA’s hide, too.

  • Bennett

    Justin, In the private fantasy part of my brain, something would go wrong. But only SpaceX has a capsule and LV ready to both deliver supplies to the ISS, and bring some of the crew back to Earth safely.

    The rest of the crew will be fine until the next Soyuz or Dragon launches in a month or two…

  • Warner does not have a snowball’s chance. And the commercial folks will be lucky if they escape Shelby’s grasp, who called today’s legislation, “…a good first step.”

  • A Shuttle derived HLV to be completed by Dec 31, 2016 at a cost of $11.5 billion.

    Hallelujah!

  • Major Tom

    Consolidating/repeating from the prior thread…

    Instead of setting policy direction for NASA, the authorization bill jumps into second-order engineering decisions like vehicle capabilities and heritage in the absence of any understanding or agreement about where we’re going, on what schedule, and for what goals.

    What are the targets? What are the deadlines associated with those targets? What other key understandings do we need to make intelligent, multi-hundred billion dollars architecture decisions?

    These are very basic, first order policy answers necessary to develop a coherent exploration plan. And they’re totally missing from the authorization bill.

    And then there’s all the questions raised by the specific deficiencies in this authorization bill.

    Why does the budget not match the technical content and schedule of the MPCV?

    The authorization bill doesn’t provide the funding necessary, not by a long shot, to support the development of an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) by its stated 2016 goal. We know what an ISS-capable Orion was going to cost from the runout NASA’s FY 2010 budget (Griffin’s last Constellation budget) and we can compare that to funding limits for the MPCV in the authorization bill:

    Fiscal…..Orion in…….MPCV in
    Year……FY10 Budg…FY11 Auth…..Shortfall

    2011….$1.9B……….$1.3B………..$0.6B
    2012….$2.1B……….$1.4B………..$0.7B
    2013….$1.9B……….$1.4B………..$0.5B

    Total…..$5.9B……….$4.1B………..$1.8B

    So there’s at least a $1.8 billion or over 30% shortfall through FY 2013 in the MPCV budget alone.

    And the MPCV shortfall is actually bigger than that, since those FY 2010 Orion figures only supported a 2017 delivery date (at best) for an ISS-capable Orion, not the 2016 deadline set in the authorization bill for an exploration-capable Orion MPCV. We’re probably looking at close to a 50% shortfall through FY 2013 to support a 2016 launch date. At the funding levels in the authorization bill, NASA would be very lucky to get the MPCV flying by 2020. (Even the overall flat funding profile is goofy for a development program that has to ramp up then down — it’s a profile for a technology program, not a development program.)

    And if the MPCV isn’t adequately funded to make a 2016 IOC, why have we taken funding out of commercial crew and also reduced its chances of making a 2016 IOC?

    Hopefully, commercial crew can still deliver at least one capsule on its reduced budget by circa 2015. But with Boeing and Lockheed Martin casting a wary eye at MPCV funding and competition, it will probably be up to Space X and any other upstarts that emerge to come through on commercial crew. By making no hard decisions between the old Shuttle infrastructure and lower-cost commercial/military solutions, the Senate authorization bill runs a much higher risk of NASA relying on Russian Soyuzes for the next decade-plus than NASA’s FY 2011 budget request did. With both MPCV and commercial crew only partly funded, there’s a much bigger risk that no domestic crew transport capability will emerge. Divide the pie into too many pieces and you don’t get a meal.

    And if the MPCV can’t make a 2016 IOC, then why do we need an SLS by 2016? Why are we rushing to create an HLV with nothing to launch?

    Even if the MPCV can make 2016, it’s not going to weigh anything close to 75mT and there’s nothing in the budget for other exploration hardware. So why do we need a 75mT SLS? What is driving that requirement? Is it valid (based on our non-existent architecture, targets, and deadlines)?

    A lot of folks have already remarked about the stupidity of designing an HLV in the absence of defined exploration targets and architectures. But honestly, if/when the MPCV does deliver, its high recurring costs, combined with the recurring costs for the authorization bill’s Space Launch System (SLS), aren’t going to support exploration anyway. To represent the SLS, the cheapest recurring costs I can find for a Shuttle-derived HLV are Jupiter 130, quoted at $1.9 billion per year. For MPCV recurring, the final report of the Augustine Committee stated that Orion will cost $1 billion per mission. So just two MPCV missions per year on SLS will run $4 billion at a minimum. That’s as costly as the old Space Shuttle budget — there’s no savings from which exploration hardware can be built or operated. More likely, the DIRECT team cost estimate for Jupiter 130/SLS recurring that I’m using is highly optimistic and even a couple missions a year may be unaffordable within the Shuttle operations budget. And it’s for less capability than the Shuttle — only two LEO missions delivering 12 crewmembers per year versus multiple LEO missions per year delivering more crew, cargo, and assembly capabilities.

    And why (despite Nelson’s hypocritical statement that Congress shouldn’t dictate launch vehicle designs) does the bill assume Shuttle-based systems and the continuation of Constellation contracts? Especially when, per independent reviews, EELV- and commercially-derived systems can achieve the same capabilities for significantly less non-recurring and recurring expenses to the taxpayer?

    Not to mention the key lesson from Apollo, Shuttle, ALS/NLS, SEI, and now Constellation — that the NASA budget can’t afford much more than a LEO operation using the highly expensive and NASA-unique Apollo/Shuttle infrastructure.

    So the proposal in the authorization bill is broken in multiple ways — in terms of exploration goals/targets/deadlines (or lack thereof), logical flowdown to architecture and vehicle decisions, and an adequate development and operations budget to support those decisions. One of three things is going to happen from here:

    1) Someone on appropriations or in the White House is going to realize how broken the authorization bill is and won’t take it as input for appropriations and/or will stop the bill’s passage.

    2) If this direction is allowed to make it into law via authorization or appropriations, NASA will get creative in its interpretation, minimize spending on Shuttle- and Constellation-derived infrastructure, open MPCV and SLS up to competition and solutions that leverage commercial/military spending and infrastructure, and define SLS broadly to include in-space transportation capabilities.

    3) NASA will stagger along for a few more years trying to make a Shuttle- and Constellation-derived MPCV and SLS work on a reduced development budget that doesn’t support operations until the 2020s, someone in power (probably in this or another White House) will realize this, another Augustine-like blue-ribbon review will be conducted, MPCV and SLS will proposed for termination, and the political cycle will start anew. If the remaining funding for commercial crew and technology are protected during that time, they will have gotten far enough that maybe the old Apollo/Shuttle infrastructure and its huge costs will finally be put out of our misery. But if MPCV and SLS eat those budgets like Ares I and Orion did, then we’re going to be rerunning NASA’s version of Groundhog Day a few years from now.

    FWIW…

  • Coastal Ron

    Marcel F. Williams wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 12:05 am

    A Shuttle derived HLV to be completed by Dec 31, 2016 at a cost of $11.5 billion.

    Hallelujah!

    I can’t tell if you’re being facetious, but just in case you’re not, I think you might be disappointed with reality.

    If it was going to take another $20B just to finish Ares I by 2017, I don’t see how anyone can think that NASA can build a brand new design HLV for less money, and in less time.

    I know it’s possible to infer the 2016 date from the statement in Sec. 302 that says “lift the multipurpose crew vehicle”, but that doesn’t mean that the HLV would be the only way to launch the MPCV (Delta IV Heavy?).

    If you were being facetious, then I agree it’s a silly expectation from Congress, and most likely means that all they care about is the jobs part of it until the election cycle is done – then next year they can do something more viable (or not at all).

  • common sense

    Rocket design by committee, by Congress!!! Just can’t believe it. NASA is falling further down than I thought possible. I am not sure what the purpose of all this is.

    I totally am with Major Tom on that one. And my selection is #3 of Major Tom’s options, considering how stupid the overall plan seems to be, I can only assume the worst possible case. Too bad. Ground Hog Day will be with the next WH.

    Oh well…

  • DCSCA

    “Someone on appropriations or in the White House is going to realize how broken the authorization bill is and won’t take it as input for appropriations and/or will stop the bill’s passage.”

    It’s mid-July. They’re done with this. It’s not a national priority. Obama is a meet in the middle president. They’ll all crow over the compromise, the jobs saved/created for the great PR that it is –and get through the autumn election cycle. They’re not going to dicker over the crab grass growing in the front yard when the house is on fire.

  • DCSCA

    Jim Hillhouse wrote @ July 15th, 2010 at 11:12 pm –

    Jim, there’s a global economy full of capital for commercial space to tap. All they have to do is convince investors the return on investment for a limited market is worth the risk — and just get flying on a regular basis. Nothing is holding them back but the parameters of the very free market in which they want to peddle their goods and services. Someday it’ll happen.

  • Robert G. Oler

    common sense wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 1:48 am

    In a wonderful sort of way I am quite optimistic.

    There are somethings which can go wrong…Musk could flounder etc…but in my view the trends are oddly enough going all in the correct direction.

    There are some things that could have happened in the authorization effort that would have hosed a new future. Nelson could have inserted some dopy language that kept Ares alive through some shame of a test flight or flights of 1(something). He was talking about this earlier…and that would have preserved teh Ares program and a lot of the shuttle infrastructure.

    I am not at all sure the LON becomes a real launch either. There are going to have to be negotiations with the Russians and those will doubtless get expensive…

    A real debby downer would have been if say language had been developed which actually put some real milestones in the Orion program…

    As it is none of that happen.

    The heavy lift effort is going to go about like I suggested to “Mr Earl”…and developing a heavy Delta IV is in my view something we should do…the military needs it I think.

    As it is Ares is Dead, Shuttle has AIDS and is dying and those two things alone dramatically change the human spaceflight equation opening up the future to commercial ops.

    Plus there is no real “exploration” program.

    All in all…it is a solid win for the future in my viewpoint.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Neil H.

    Curiously enough, Lori Garver thinks it’s a “great start”:” We think this is a great start,” said Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator. “It accomplishes the major shifts the president set out to have for the space program.”

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7110626.html

    Like the commenter above, I also think it’s important to push for the Warner and Boxer amendments.

    (I’m going to also paste this comment over at Clark Lindsay’s blog)

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 3:06 am “shuttle has AIDS…”
    That’s a bit creepy if not over the top, even for you. Such is the delirium fever of denial. Keep telling yourself 1+1=11. It’s amusing.

  • DCSCA

    Neil H. wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 3:55 am <- She's a lobbiest. It means aerospace contracts, that's all. She really has no interest in space exploration. Her head is already looking for her next gig.

  • Brian Paine

    The future of US manned space flight (to LEO) now rests with commercial interests. Fortunately some of these interests are driven by spirit more than the desire for windfall profits which from my experience this usually means success all round.
    The political imperative however is alive and well and will be launched atop a politically correct HLV…but where to?

  • The issue of “no exploration” when condemning the original Obama Plan was just BS partisan political rhetoric, no substance what-so-ever.

    The goal was always preserving a jobs program and pork for the Red States. It’s no surprise that there’s no “job” for this politically correct HLV.

    IMHO, ‘Son of DIRECT’ has a real good chance of being the next white meat of choice.

  • DCSCA

    Some highlights from NSS summary thry posted: It’s a 3-year bill, authorizing FY2011-2013

    - “Over that period, the 3-year total funding for commercial crew is cut 66%, from $3.3B to $1.2B ”

    Excellent. Screw Warner and his socialist amendment– cut more. Commercial space can raise capital in the private sector- that’s what private enterprise is all about. It doesn’t need to be subsidized with more borrowed tax dollars in this era. Why, that’s socialism! (in case you’re wondering Ron.) Prove the technology; go operational; present a sound business plan, and a quarterly return on investment– that’s all private space ventures need to draw deep pocketed investors in. The free market will do the rest.

    - “There are at least 6 separate studies and reports that NASA must do before a full Commercial Crew program would move forward.”

    Excellent. Thorough vetting. Commercial space could use more Howard Hughes’ and fewer Preston Tuckers.

    - “Orion is fully revived as a crew exploration vehicle”

    As predicted and expected. A smart and wise investment by the United States of America for the future of manned spaceflight.

    - “An extra shuttle flight is added”

    Is this cargoed ‘nostalgia’ trip necessary? Maybe not so much in the age of austerity. Just not cost-effective for this era. It’s time to end it and stop postponing the inevitable– but after the election, of course. Jobs to consider.

    - “A shuttle-derived heavy-lift development is called for, starting immediately”

    Anything will be better than Ares. Means work for somebody- Hatch thinks Utah but perhaps not.

    - “To pay for these additions, exploration technology is cut 90%. OCT technology is cut 50%.”

    Ugh. Boxer can bargain. Fiorina sure wouldn’t. Robotics and exploration has been fairly cost-effective and could use more funding– maybe wrestled from the $1.2B penciled in for commerical space. The folks around CalTech around JPL, for starts, might just show their appreciation with votes this November.

  • Bennett wrote:

    The rest of the crew will be fine until the next Soyuz or Dragon launches in a month or two.

    The flaw in their thinking is that a crippled orbiter is capable of reaching the ISS. What if it can’t? Then there’s no place to go. They may have only a few days, and without an emergency backup vehicle they’re history.

  • Dennis Berube

    Mr. Oler, doesnt the proposed HLV keep the shuttle infrastructure? With Ares NASA was still attempting to keep the thing running and allowing jobs to stay. It still appears that is some of the goal with the HLV. At least for once you sounded a bit happy over what has taken place and that is good. Im happy because Orion has survived. How it is put into space with all the options available, even Delta is great. It wasnt about Ares so much as a manned craft capable of getting us beyond LEO. The apparent plan for an asteroid mission is with two launch vehicles. Even today Russia could launch a Soyuz out to the Moon with a kicker stage placed first in orbit. I above all wish private companies success with their goals, and indeed NASA should help, as they have the experience. Orion also is necessary if private companies do not deliver on their respective promises. America needs a way to get into space, without relying on the Soviets. Oh there I go again, calling them Soviets. Sorry….

  • Dennis Berube

    I for one do not think an added shuttle flight does that much for us. If they were being extended until Orion flew, that would be a different story. I wonder if Bolden got his wish to fly the last shuttle? As to the risk factor, we have for the most part launched shuttles without back up the biggest percentage of times. It is called an acceptable risk. I personally think that money should go to getting further development going into Orion for perhaps an earlier timetable. I heard this morning that many of the astronauts informed Congress that they feel the entry of private companies into this is a plus and that they can launch safe reliable craft, with NASAs help… So with all this plan of action, lets light the fuse and get crackin!

  • NASA Fan

    Old paradigms do not like to be replaced with new ones. This bill from the Senate is a testament to business as usual. And we have seen how business as usual has impacted NASA over the years.

    The appropriations bill will not have enough funds to cover all the activities this bill calls for, and NASA will again be left to over promise and under deliver. This is exactly what happened with Cx.

    The future sure looks a lot like the past: The CAIB pointed to Challenger and said ‘not much has changed here, and NASA is not a learning organization’

  • Bennett

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 6:59 am

    What if it can’t? Then there’s no place to go.

    There’s that. But hey, “acceptable risk” means your Senate seat isn’t on the line if something really bad happens.

    We’ll see what appropriations does (although with Shelby in there, little hope for significant reversal), and then if Boxer and Warner can get CCV and more of the Flagship Demos put back into the bill.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    With referenct to STS-135 (now all but a certainty, IMHO), it should be noted that NASA is looking seriously at makign the other remaining tank, ET-94, IIRC, flight ready. This means that STS-135 would be backed up by LON-336 (ET-94). There has even been suggestsions that the psudo-LON plan for STS-135 be moved to STS-136!

    FWIW, I am not in favour of the latter part for the same reasons that I am against the pseudo-LON STS-135. The rescue element relying on the Russians being willing to have two Soyuz with their expensive crew-unique seats on launch standby just isn’t realistic.

    That said, if ET-94 can be made flyable for LON-336, then I have no problem with STS-135 going ahead. Every bit of extra consumables and spare parts that NASA can deliver to the ISS increases its chances of survival until CRS is fully up-and-running.

    What is my view of the SD-HLV? Well, call me agnostic. I certainly understand the political imperitives here. As a DIRECT fanboy of long standing I am also more than a little pleased to see the underlying philosophical concept (and more than a little of the hardware proposals) adopted. That said, I’m increasingly worried that the missions won’t justify the cost of building the HLV.

    Look at it this way: The approximate payloads for in-line designs are as follows:

    * Ares-II-120H (2 x SSME & 5-seg SRM) – 40t IMLEO

    * Ares-III-231H (3 x SSME & 5-seg SRM + 1 x AJ-10 upper stage) – 75t IMLEO

    * Ares-IV-241H (4 x SSME & 5-seg SRM + 1 x J-2X upper stage) – 110t IMLEO/45t TLI

    The Ares-II would probably ultimately fall foul of commercial crew and the Space Act provision that forbids NASA from having launchers capable of taking jobs from commercial providers. Ares-III, as described here, is for ISS logistical support. This system is essentially pointless if one does not build what DIRECT call the ‘SSPDM’, a cargo cradle to carry ISS logistics such as MPLMs, ULCs and ORUs in the LV’s PLF. Does the budget exist to develop this key mission module? Obviously the Ares-IV would require the development of the deep space hab/lunar lander to have any mission. I notice that it is not in the near-term (<2016) objectives of the vehicle, which is a good thing as the chances of any worthwhile payload before 2020 is just about null.

    Overall, I suspect that, by 2020, NASA will be preparing for the first NEO encounter flight but budget issues will probably be making them wish that they went with Atlas-V Phase 2.

    All purely IMHO at this point.

  • Justin Kugler

    Ben,
    We were just talking about the “spares” argument yesterday, actually. This additional Shuttle flight is entirely political. It is not justified by programmatic need.

    There are only two ORUs that could only be flown on Shuttle and, even then, those would be tertiary or secondary backups. All of the other spares can be flown on some combination of the other visiting vehicles.

  • richard schumacher

    This is a jobs and votes program, pure and simple. It would be better merely to extend unemployment benefits for redundant NASA and ATK employees; that way there would be no astronauts killed by the failure of an idiotic rocket design, and no private sector efforts killed by competition with the government monopoly.

    The real “heavy lift” we need is to get legislators out of the socialist aerospace mindset.

  • richard schumacher

    If this thing passes as-is:

    - What will the Senate do when it discovers that $1 billion is not enough to buy one more Shuttle flight? The assembly line for external fuel tanks has been closing down for almost two years. There are no spare tanks, and lots of people, tooling and materials are already gone. It would probably take one year and most of $1 billion simply to build one more tank, never mind any of the other preparation needed for a launch.

    - If NASA has the sense to pour pee from a boot they would learn from the Shuttle’s design flaws. For a new launcher they would specify:
    no solids
    parallel staging
    no solids
    flyback first stage
    no solids

  • That NASA Engineer@KSC

    I believe the “compromise” Senate bill is a step backwards. Indulge me step-by-step observations leading to this conclusion:

    1-Judging from the Senate/Compromise bill, sometime in the 20-teens there would be in Human Space Flight certain elements that hold RECURRING costs. These would be the International Space Station, still in orbit, some commercial crew capability to LEO and to ISS, a heavy lift vehicle of some TBD design, also incurring recurring production and operations costs, and an Orion-like spacecraft also incurring recurring production and operations costs.

    2-Notably, the multi-purpose-crew-vehicle (MPCV) definition will inevitably lead to a set of beyond-Earth-orbit requirements similar to the Constellation’s Orion. The mass / weight will then be just high enough to assure no existing US launch vehicle (Atlas, Delta, Falcon, Taurus), and no envisioned US commercial launch vehicle, can launch it to Low Earth Orbit, EXCEPT the heavy-lift launch vehicle being developed in tandem.

    3-Judging from past data, the RECURRING cost of the elements in Human Space Flight in the 20-teens (ISS, heavy-lift vehicle of TBD design, Spacecraft/Orion/MPCV, space flight support, and commercial crew to LEO) will use up near all the funding in this HSF bucket.

    4-Once operational, systems tend to take on needs for funding. They exist, making a stronger lobby than systems that do not exist. The prior RECURRING elements have no beyond-Earth-orbit (BEO) capability. No departure stages, no propellant depots, no landers, no payloads to go on the heavy (like in-situ stations, etc). It is a plausible risk then that:

    —–4a-R&D funds will be transferred again to support the operation of this LEO set of systems and then to the development of the elements necessary for BEO (EDS, Depot, Lander, etc). But the remaining funding transferred from what remains of R&D will be insufficient. So-

    —–4b-Human Space Flight will repeat the Cx assumption of waiting on the ISS de-orbit in 2020+ in order to use those funds (in the range of $2-3B/year) for further BEO transportation capability development, then recurring operations.

    5-Inevitably though, less R&D now, and seizing more later, sets the stage for RECURRING costs of the basic LEO elements to be HIGH, as by definition these seize on near term technology to get going now vs. later. More importantly, the RECURRING posture is a result of choices now, rather than some value in the future which is set as a goal in order to guide current R&D and create the future posture consistent and in balance with other limited funds.

    So assuming success, sometime in the 2020s or early 2030′s we have no ISS (deorbited), and can do some Lunar missions / sorties a year, but with no money left for payloads (habitation, power, etc), and the commercial sector provides a smattering of launches of Crew to LEO as a service. All this using systems not too much different from today.

    Think of it this way -

    If Commercial Crew to LEO was difficult before, in the compromise it has even LESS funding to address R&D among many industry players. The MPCV and heavy would be in a race with this lesser LEO Commercial Crew capability, but by definition it can only come in as very expensive crew seats to LEO because of the basis in existing and expensive Shuttle technology. Technology not-improved by any new R&D, emphasis on affordability, or change in approach. By definition.

    So the gap just got larger. And the opening of space by more R&D that could spread in the private sector also just got sent back to existing Shuttle and Cx contracts. The remaining R&D will inevitably get hijacked too.

    As deficit reduction gets going eventually, the prior R&D focused plan would have prepared the agency to do more with less, to invest in industry to make them less dependent on NASA funds, and would have fostered capabilities we could use in a bind. Now when deficit reduction gets going we will be in the midst of programs using existing technology that have expensive operational outcomes. The combination will be disastrous.

    At the end of the day it all has to add up long term, the RECURRING production and ops costs, leaving money for R&D as well as for development at higher test and demo phases. When the RECURRING by PLAN uses up all the foreseen funding, and the funding is likely to decline too, we have abdicated planning to doing, and will suffer consequences rather than create outcomes.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Dennis Berube wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Mr. Oler, doesnt the proposed HLV keep the shuttle infrastructure? …

    it uses those words but it doesnt do it. When the last shuttle flies (and that will be in this budget) then the shuttle infrastructure goes away.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Kelly Starks

    > DCSCA wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 5:56 am

    > Some highlights from NSS summary thry posted: It’s a
    > 3-year bill, authorizing FY2011-2013

    > – “Over that period, the 3-year total funding for commercial
    > crew is cut 66%, from $3.3B to $1.2B ”

    > Excellent. Screw Warner and his socialist amendment–
    > cut more. Commercial space can raise capital in the private
    > sector- that’s what private enterprise is all about.==

    There’s a catch 22 here. Commercial crew advocates see it as contracting for a launch from a commercially available launch provider. The problem is there ain’t no such animal on going, and they wanted customizations. Given the small size of the market, adn fairly good chance the NASA customer could bail on you – investors were not pounding no the doors. It killed one of the COTS bidders.

    So yes you wind up with several billions in “support funds” added to a program to “commercially purchase” 10 flights?

    ;/

    ==
    > – “Orion is fully revived as a crew exploration vehicle”
    > As predicted and expected. A smart and wise investment by
    > the United States of America for the future of manned spaceflight.

    Having worked no it – I REALLY wish Orion was died. I guess its not worth killing NASA over … but still.

    >- “An extra shuttle flight is added”
    > Is this cargoed ‘nostalgia’ trip necessary?

    This one – or two – interest me. I think they are keeping shuttle flying to at least keep the staffs busy until HLV ramps up – but there has also been and still is talk to keep shuttles going rather then using the Soyuz. $300M-$400M a year for Soyuz flights – plus COTS cargo fights, vrs $1.5B-$2B for shuttle – and a lot of those costs are shared with the HLV (which Nelsen made a point of saying should use shuttle parts).

    There are a lot of practical and political advantages to keeping shuttle flying, and some political support. Don’t know how likely it is – but how I’ld give it better odds then I gave this compromise passing.

  • Kelly Starks

    > richard schumacher wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    > – What will the Senate do when it discovers that $1 billion is not
    > enough to buy one more Shuttle flight?

    Highly unlikely – but what it would cost for more shuttle flight – especially on going shuttle flights, is likely to be a point of serious interest.

    > The assembly line for external fuel tanks has been closing down
    > for almost two years. There are no spare tanks, and lots of people,
    > tooling and materials are already gone.==

    There is a extra tank. The tooling and equipments still in the NASA facility outside of New Orleans, same place its been since they built it and the tooling in the ‘60’s. Frankly getting any jobs started around the Gulf coast, ESPECIALLY around New Orleans, would be a big political plus. Doing it before those folks split adn drag New Orleans population down more would be a plus.

    On the practical side – there’s a lot of pressure to build HLV stage cylinders there on the same tooling (hence shuttle derived HLV). Which would lower costs for HLV and Shuttle.

    > – If NASA has the sense to pour pee from a boot they would
    > learn from the Shuttle’s design flaws. For a new launcher they would specify:
    >no solids
    >parallel staging
    >no solids
    > flyback first stage
    > no solids

    That pretty much gets you to a RLV shuttle possibly with a HLV configuration.

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 3:06 am

    “In a wonderful sort of way I am quite optimistic.”

    There are somethings which can go wrong…Musk could flounder etc…but in my view the trends are oddly enough going all in the correct direction.”

    I don’t know. I don’t like the overall trend of all this. I don’t like “design by Congress”. Maybe in the end the rocket should have such a sticker “Designed by US Congress”.

    “There are some things that could have happened in the authorization effort that would have hosed a new future. Nelson could have inserted some dopy language that kept Ares alive through some shame of a test flight or flights of 1(something). He was talking about this earlier…and that would have preserved teh Ares program and a lot of the shuttle infrastructure. ”

    Oh boy! Talk about a calamity! I wonder if Nelson will still be in Congress when the show goes down. Because this HLV-w/o-requirements nonsense has a good chance of bringing the NASA house down. A very good chance.

    “The heavy lift effort is going to go about like I suggested to “Mr Earl”…and developing a heavy Delta IV is in my view something we should do…the military needs it I think.”

    See I have a problem with the military need thing. They have the cash they can develop it. OR they should come out of the wood and describe the HLV they need. And why it is applicable to NASA’s mission. It may make sense in a sort of very tortuous way but until they come out in the daylight we will not know. Unless you know things like Stephen does ;)

    “As it is Ares is Dead, Shuttle has AIDS and is dying and those two things alone dramatically change the human spaceflight equation opening up the future to commercial ops.”

    I agree it is like very expensive life support to wait until some of the workforce retire or something.

    “Plus there is no real “exploration” program. :

    Never was after Griffin.

    “All in all…it is a solid win for the future in my viewpoint.”

    I don’t know because we’re putting the tech development on the back burner yet again for a stupid HLV no one knows anything about. Very scary management from Congress. I think Constellation management pales compared with Congress.

  • Kelly Starks

    > That NASA Engineer@KSC wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Have to agree with your points. At best we havn’t lost much. We have the capacity to develop BEO or better launchers, and the commercial industry supporting such systems doesn’t get trashed like under Obamaspace; BUT were not moving forward. Could be shuttle will be extended to close “the gap” and HLV and shuttle systems and support help keep each others costs down. Or could be they’ll dump money no comlpetly new more “excitnig” (to Washington) options.

  • Brian Paine

    A mother of a mess dressed up as a political success if all is to be believed. Above all it describes an administration that is failing NASA hands down which in turn has opened the door for the politically expedient. Bolden riding the last shuttle flight is the sort of crass selfish exercise that plays into the hands of NASA critics and underwrites that mans’ blind political ineptitude.
    The administration failed to enthuse almost everyone regardless of the value of it’s space policy, and that is called political failure. Considering what is at stake it is a crying shame.
    Perhaps it is time that the space budget of the real sacred cow of politics is examined (DOD)
    and a small readjustment made from the science of oblivion to the science of enquirey. Of course such sanity will not be countenanced which is perhaps a good reason to quarantine us on this planet…

  • DCSCA

    Kelly Starks wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 11:27 am <- Well, Orion as configured now may not be 'perfect' but the idea of a 'general purpose' spacecraft being stamped out by the U.S. a la Soyuz is long overdue. Imagine if the U.S. had kept stamping out a Gemini-styled spacecraft for decades just to have a get-you-up-and-down basic transportation craft along with the other advances. But that's not the American way– it's the Russian way. You make a fair political and argument to keep shuttle flying, given they were designed for 100 flights a piece anyway, and they're no where near that threshold, but whether its 'practical' is less convincing. If they can hold the costs or even trip a few million and fly it quarterly, that might be acceptable, but it is inevitable that it has to end and the workforce supporting it should have been peeling off now for a feew years. It's a tired technology that failed to deliver on its cost-effectiveness, which is getting worse, not better. The resusability aspect aside, lofting wings, a tail and engines used in the launch is deadweight payload for this era, the age of austerity. But it is what it is.

  • DCSCA

    That NASA Engineer@KSC wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 11:04 am <- Pretty good analysis. #4 makes a lot of sense.

  • DCSCA

    Kelly Starks wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 11:27 am <- Don't misunderstand- they should have zeroed out completely any funding for commercial space using borroed tax dollars in this era. The capital markets are where commercial space should go for investment. In the long run, they'd probably be happier they did, too.

  • Major Tom

    “You make a fair political and argument to keep shuttle flying, given they were designed for 100 flights a piece anyway, and they’re no where near that threshold”

    Only the airframe is qualified for 100 flights. All other subsystems require additional qualification/investment.

    FWIW…

  • SSME_Guy

    To all of you wondering about the additional shuttle flight:

    In order to make it a Launch On Need vehicle, they already have to do a LOT to get it ready to launch, so the obvious thought is you might as well launch it if its good to go. Really wouldn’t need that much more money.

    As for the “what if they don’t make it to the ISS” question, currently our Launch On Need requirement doesn’t protect for that anyways. All it really protects is if you get some kind of structural / tile damage on the way up that prevents you from coming back down.

  • Nothing in the bill optimizes a return to Human Space Flight or provides for US-HSF-capability at all beyond a potential heavy lift capability in 2016.

    HSF will be better served by human rating an Atlas V or Delta IV and it will happen faster and chaeper.

    Obama’s vision of tech development coupled with the smaller creative commercial corporations is progressive and promising. This bill is neither.

  • DCSCA

    Major Tom wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 4:47 pm <- Right. It's a tired technology. To label it 'middle aged' would be kind.

  • Mike Snyder

    Major Tom wrote:

    “Only the airframe is qualified for 100 flights. All other subsystems require additional qualification/investment.

    FWIW…”

    That would be quite INcorrect.

  • Mike Snyder

    DCSCA wrote:
    “Right. It’s a tired technology. To label it ‘middle aged’ would be kind.”

    What specifically is “tired” about it? Why, specifically, is it “kind” to call it “middle aged”?

  • Kelly Starks

    >DCSCA wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    > Well, Orion as configured now may not be ‘perfect’ but the
    > idea of a ‘general purpose’ spacecraft being stamped out by the
    > U.S. a la Soyuz is long overdue. Imagine if the U.S. had kept
    > stamping out a Gemini-styled spacecraft for decades just to have
    > a get-you-up-and-down basic transportation craft along with the other advances. ==

    Well you’ld never have a ISS, Over half the people who flew in space wouldn’t have. We’ld never have developed any of the on orbit repair and construction abilities. We’ld have lost a bigger % of crews.

    Not sure what the cost per fight would have been – certainly the cost per person flown would be higher then in shuttle.

    Were never going to do much in space if all we have is capsules on boosters.

    > == But that’s not the American way– it’s the Russian way. ==

    Which is why Russians have accomplished so much less then us in space.

    >==You make a fair political and argument to keep shuttle flying, given
    > they were designed for 100 flights a piece anyway, and they’re no where
    > near that threshold, but whether its ‘practical’ is less convincing.==

    Thanks. As for practical. The costs per flight for commercial crew (depending which signs and portents you assumed for it) were looking to be higher then shuttle.

    >== It’s a tired technology that failed to deliver on its cost-effectiveness, ==

    Now that’s the real question. NASA has worked to keep the shuttle costs up preflight – but if they weer under pressure to lower them – say a real budget pressure?

    Doesn’t seem to likely

    If your doing a SD-HLV that would share most of the program costs of shuttle…

    Just a thought.

    > The resusability aspect aside, lofting wings, a tail and engines
    > used in the launch is deadweight payload for this era, the age
    > of austerity. ==

    Lifting extra weight doesn’t cost anymore.

    Bottom line –

    > DCSCA wrote @ July 16th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    > The capital markets are where commercial space should go for
    > investment. In the long run, they’d probably be happier they did, too.

    Problem is, no market. NASA 10 fights are a joke and one NASA can cancel at a whim, after making folks jump through hoops. Not something you can close a business case on.

  • DCSCA

    @Kelly Starks wrote @ July 17th, 2010 at 12:07 am

    You’re too dismissive of the Russian space program. It has a proud heritage. This writer has lived through the space race of the Cold War and seen some of their space hardware in Moscow. Your dismissiveness smacks of an attitude one would expect circa 1970. They’ve done quite a lot. For starts, they were first– something Americans measure many things by in life. First w/Sputnik, first w/Gagarin, Leonov, Terreskova, not to mention their early lunar probes, Luna sample return and Lunakhod, etc. And Salyut; and MIR. The hardware, though spartan by American standards, was pretty robust. And Soyuz is still flying after 40-plus years. They deserve credit for their successes- and respect.

  • DCSCA

    “Problem is, no market. NASA 10 fights are a joke and one NASA can cancel at a whim, after making folks jump through hoops. Not something you can close a business case on.”

    Then they’ll have to create a market for their products and services, won’t they. Wall Street managed to do that w/derivitives. Destination Moon becomes Destination Hotel or such. In the Age of Austerity there is no way to justify subsidizing the ‘luxury’ of commercial space ventures with money borrowed from a foreign power by a government so deep in debt, it’s headed for bankruptcy. Those days are over.

  • Kelly Starks

    > DCSCA wrote @ July 17th, 2010 at 1:03 am

    > You’re too dismissive of the Russian space program. It has a proud
    > heritage. This writer has lived through the space race of the Cold War
    > and seen some of their space hardware in Moscow. Your dismissiveness
    > smacks of an attitude one would expect circa 1970. ===

    Look I’ve you want to se Mir2, its in a amusement park in Wisconsin’s Dells. I’ve watched the space race to.

    Look they do quick rough gear, and haven’t put much into the space program. Hence why they are still flying Soyuz. Their Saturn-V equivalent blew up, and they never followed up with it. Did several short service life space stations (including a armed mil version with a self defence cannon of all things).

    80

    They just never did as expansive and sophisticated a space program as the US did. We flew shuttles for 30 years and over 130 flights, they did Soyuz for 40. (At one point they accused the US of building shuttle to steal Russian space stations and return them to the US.) We’ve flow robots to most of the planets, and landed a couple on Mars, the deep observatory sats, etc. Granted we’re shutting most of ours down now, and moving to a more limited space program, but we put a lot more into it.

  • Kelly Starks

    > DCSCA wrote @ July 17th, 2010 at 1:10 am

    >> “Problem is, no market. NASA 10 fights are a joke and one NASA
    >> can cancel at a whim, after making folks jump through hoops.
    >> Not something you can close a business case on.”

    > Then they’ll have to create a market for their products and services,
    > won’t they. ===

    That’s like creating a market for taxi service to a place no one goes to.

    >== In the Age of Austerity there is no way to justify subsidizing the
    > ‘luxury’ of commercial space ventures with money borrowed
    > from a foreign power by a government so deep in debt, it’s headed for
    > bankruptcy. Those days are over.

    That logics not going to get a pension fund manager to cut you a check. Right now the market for commercial crew gear looks to be 10 NASA fights from 2015-2020, and theylikely will demand some custom gear – they just always do.

    Now their might be another Bigelow customer carry market that might be a flight or 2 a year – or dozens of flights. No one knows now.

  • DCSCA

    @Kelly- “Look they do quick rough gear, and haven’t put much into the space program. ”

    They’ve always done that. That’s they’re way. From cars to TV, fridges, radio sets and vending machines on Moscow street corners (where, if you’ve never see it, they dispensed beer in ‘community’ glasses every one shared, not in individual cans.)

    Their Saturn-V equivalent blew up, and they never followed up with it.

    So? The N-1 was a nightmare design but the R-7 ‘family’ of LVs is pretty reliable. And we’ve seen the PBS piece on their armed ‘MOL’ too. So what. The fact they’ve spent less and done a lot with a little is worthy of respect.

    Don’t underestimate the capacity of Wall Street to create crap and a market to sell deriviative crap to and profit from the transaction. It’s a model that works for them. ;-) Commerical space may just take note of it.

  • Kelly Starks

    > DCSCA wrote @ July 17th, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    >==
    > The fact they’ve spent less and done a lot with a little is worthy of respect.

    What have they done really? Yeah they got the first guys up, but never did much there.
    And lets remember they hardly spend anything on space. Buildings in ill repair, staffs unpaid for long periods of time, etc.

    I mean our space program is grossly under performing due to stupid politics (like never fixing shuttle to keep the labor costs up, deciding to increase costs and lower flight rates for political reasons, turning off rovers and space probes when they lose PR value, hardly even looking at the data they return, etc). And we’ve still launched the most people probes, freight, etc.

  • Lovely Rita

    I am not having any luck finding the text on Thomas – does anyone have the bill number? Thnx!

  • Mike C.

    @Kelly Starks: “Which is why Russians have accomplished so much less then us in space.” — I don’t know how do you measure “much less”. The Russians haven’t got to the Moon, but they built the first two long-term operational space stations. Now, did the Americans get to the Moon on a Space Shuttle? It did not exist in the 1960-ies, but if it did, could it get there? No, it can only hang out for a week or two on the LEO, with its reusable wings, tiles and huge cargo bay. What hardware was used to get to the Moon? A Gemini-derived capsule and a huge liquid rocket. Looks just like the Shuttle, except being different in every detail. What was the point of the Shuttle? Space wars? Dropping bombs from the 25-ton-capable payload bay? The X-37B will do it more efficiently and without humans on board. I don’t know whether the Americans knew true purpose of the Shuttle when they designed it, but the Russians surely could not grasp it, which is why they made a carbon copy. If they knew the purpose of the Shuttle they would likely reply with an “asymmetrical” solution, but no intelligence could find out what the Shuttle was for, this was the only reason why the Buran looks exactly like the Shuttle. Have America got clearer on the Shuttle purpose? Is it only because it looks cool, lands like a plane and oh, right, reusable? The Russians dropped their Buran program not just because of USSR collapse, but because they could not see a point. Their recent Kliper (which they also dropped, at least officially) looked like a much smaller and cheaper vehicle for 6 astronauts and half ton of cargo. This is the vehicle that seems reasonable to me: send the crew in an elegant small reusable spaceplane, and sent cargo separately in a big box, shot into the sky with the solids.

    Now, it is interesting that Buran flew attached to a real rocket, not to a booster. So the Russians have improved the American concept, which allowed them to lift pretty much anything attached to the launcher or to use just the launcher with a capsule on top. This was quarter a century ago. Now the Americans reinvent Shuttle-C for mere $11B.

    @Kelly Starks: “Look [the Russians] do quick rough gear, and haven’t put much into the space program. Hence why they are still flying Soyuz. Their Saturn-V equivalent blew up, and they never followed up with it.” — It blew up because they could not consolidate all the efforts in one place, like the Americans did for the Lunar program. They had several competing design bureaus, something that one would not expect from a centralized Soviet economy. But even consolidated, the funding was not nearly as lavish as in the States, and they started late. Now, if you look at the current state of affairs in the American space programs, you can see competing companies, trying to acquire programs and funding. Very similar to what the Russians had in the 1960-ies. They failed. Do you think that NASA et al will succeed?

  • Kelly Starks

    > Mike C. wrote @ July 21st, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    >>@Kelly Starks: “Which is why Russians have accomplished
    >> so much less then us in space.” —

    > I don’t know how do you measure “much less”. The Russians
    > haven’t got to the Moon, but they built the first two long-term
    > operational space stations. ==

    The stations were so small, Russian said the Shuttles were built to steal them. (Like a old James Bond movie.)

    ;)

    No development of space construction, no deep space probes, no upgrades of the Soyuz. NO people past LEO or in and spacecraft bigger then the cramped Soyuz from 45 ish years.

    > Now, did the Americans get to the Moon on a Space Shuttle? It did
    > not exist in the 1960-ies, but if it did, could it get there?==

    Wasn’t built to get there. It was built to carry up Lunar craft – or build really big lunar or Mars craft in peaces.

    Could the Saturn-V lower stages get to the moon?

    >== What hardware was used to get to the Moon? A Gemini-derived
    > capsule and a huge liquid rocket.==

    ?
    No, The Apollos were not derived from the Gemini’s.

  • Mike C.

    > The stations were so small, Russian said the Shuttles were built
    > to steal them.

    Quite possible. What are you saying the Shuttle was built for? Was it ever used for intended purpose? It is obviously not needed for simply delivering payload to LEO. Considering that the Shuttles are (were?) always landed by a pilot, one might indeed think that they were to be used as a weapon, to make a sudden drop from the sky with deadly payload. But in time of powerful computers and remotely controlled systems it looks as old as a steam engine. X-37B is a better solution for a military problem, while Delta/Atlas is a better solution for sending stuff to LEO.

    > NO people past LEO or in and spacecraft bigger then
    > the cramped Soyuz from 45 ish years.

    I guess it is better to remain alive in a cramped capsule than to burn alive in comfort.

  • Kelly Starks

    >Mike C. wrote @ July 21st, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    >== What are you saying the Shuttle was built for? Was it ever used
    > for intended purpose? ==

    yes.
    It was designed to be a do anything “space truck” that could serve about any need for any major customer they could think of. A means of moving beyond occasion stunts in space to real utilization, and offering routine safe access to space, and allowing very large scale operations and construction in space…. Then the politics gumed things up.

    It functions as temporay space stations, bringing up and returning modules and forming a temp station biger then the Russian stations.

    Diominated launches in the world, etc.

    > Considering that the Shuttles are (were?) ==

    Still are, they’ll be flying for about a year it looks like

    >==always landed by a pilot, one might indeed think that they
    > were to be used as a weapon, to make a sudden drop from the
    > sky with deadly payload. ==

    ;)

    Not damn likely!

    >> No people past LEO or in and spacecraft bigger then
    >> the cramped Soyuz from 45 ish years.

    > I guess it is better to remain alive in a cramped capsule than
    > to burn alive in comfort.

    The Russian safety record is worse then ours too — though both our records are really insanely bad.

  • vulture4

    Apollo was cancelled for a very good reason. Expandable spacecraft and launch vehicles are much too expensive to be practical for human spaceflight. Conseqently Constellation was certain to fail, and HLV will fail.

    That’s why we built the Shuttle. Ideally a fully reusable RLV needs only fuel, and fuel costs are insignificant (LH2 is 98 cents a gallon at LC-39, LOX is only 60 cents!) Most of the cost of a mission is building the spacecraft and launch vehicle (or rebuilding in the case of the SRBs).

    Shuttle operating costs are much higher than predicted, but not because it is reusable. The main reason was the lack of real engineering prototypes that could test the critical new technologies in repeated spaceflight. Consequently there was no way to make accurate predictions of reliability, maintainability, and operating cost. That’s why the RLV program was started in the 1990s; to test the technologies for a new generation of fully reusable launch systems. Unfortunately Bush cancelled all RLV development by NASA, although the DOD kept the X-37 alive.

    The Obama plan provided modest support for RLV development but this new compromise has apparently reduced it in order to keep Constellation going in some form. This is an error. NASA does not have a dime to waste on anything that doesn’t provide practical benefits for America.

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