Congress, NASA

CCDev hearing preview

In advance of this morning’s House hearing on NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has released the hearing charter. This includes a set of questions that will likely form the basis of questions during the course of the hearing:

  • What are the major accomplishments to date by industry on efforts to develop a commercial crew launch capability? What are the remaining major technical challenges that must be addressed?
  • From industry’s perspective, what are the biggest programmatic challenges with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program regarding (1) the agency’s procurement strategy and (2) its approach to insight and oversight?
  • What are the industry’s assumptions about the size and vitality of the commercial market (non-US government) for launching astronauts to low Earth orbit?
  • What are the likely sources of non-Government passengers that are willing and able to afford the high cost of a trip to space?
  • What are NASA’s plans to acquire one or more operational commercial crew systems for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station?
  • What does NASA consider to be the biggest challenges confronting commercial crew developers as they attempt to develop and demonstrate their launch vehicle and crew systems?
  • Have clear lines of responsibility and accountability been established to ensure safe and successful design, development and operation of human systems?
  • What requirements and processes is NASA adopting to maintain the highest level of crew safety, including design and reliability standards for a launch abort system? What steps is NASA taking to coordinate requirements and regulations with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure compatibility?
  • What level of federal investment does NASA require to ensure that at least two commercial providers will be certified and sufficiently funded?

The charter notes that Blue Origin, the one funded CCDev-2 awardee not included in the list of witnesses for the hearing, “was invited but chose not to attend.” The charter also reveals that NASA has signed a third unfunded CCDev Space Act Agreement, this one with Excalibur Almaz. That agreement was signed just last week and no details about the agreement have been released, nor have NASA and Excalibur Almaz formally announced the agreement.

42 comments to CCDev hearing preview

  • Actually, the two questions the Congressional porkers really want answered are:

    How many jobs will you bring to my district?
    How much money are you willing to funnel into my campaign coffers?

    Today is all about show. The FY12 NASA budget has already moved along. We’re going to get talking points from the porkers and not much more.

    For all the puffery with Armstrong, Cernan and Griffin, they had no effect on legislation. Today will be the same.

    Enjoy the show, because that’s all it will be.

  • Jeff, this blog is mentioned in today’s Florida Today:

    http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20111026/NEWS02/310260010/Dollar-gap-may-delay-flights

    If development of commercial spacecraft is slowed, reliance on the Russians — at a cost of roughly $60 million per seat — would be prolonged.

    “That’s the choice,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said at a commercial spaceflight conference last week in New Mexico, according to the blog “Space Politics.”

  • Dennis

    I think we should all hold our breath until Mr. Musk has his next date in space. If that COTS flight is successful, it may have a much greater impact on what happens with NASA. Until then it is still up in the air. If his next flight proves unsuccessful, then that too will have an impact, one that downscores commercial space efforts. I do truly hope his next flight is as successful as the last and goes according to its agendums. Id much rather see we tax payers paying him for access to space than the Russians. However time is going to tell.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Reading the charter for the hearings gives one the distinct impression that there will be a much needed reality check of the program called commercial crew.

  • Robert G. Oler

    There are several breath holding moments coming. One is when the super committee comes back…with either success or flop (which is what I am betting on but we will see) …in any even the spending issues THEN are where we are going both from an actual spending situation and the politics of it. RGO

  • Aremis Asling

    “I think we should all hold our breath until Mr. Musk has his next date in space.”

    Agreed. SpaceX isn’t the only game in town, to be sure, but the fact that it is soldiering ahead and putting real hardware in flight is one of the biggest reasons commercial space is no longer just a powerpoint slide. Certainly their sustained progress, delayed or not, as well as their insistance on pushing the boudaries when they aren’t required by contract to do so has deflected many of the political arguments and kept the program viable.

    Beyond politicking I would also go so far as to say that while I see the other players as very real participants with as much chance as SpaceX does of flying crew, I don’t know that all or even any of their respective programs would ever have been proposed without SpaceX as a front runner. Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada may have pushed forward, albeit at likely a slower pace, but I think CST-100 would still be on mothballs and Liberty may never have been discussed at all.

    Until we start to see other systems starting to fly, the industry very much lives and dies by SpaceX’ ability to perform. I do hope in 3-4 years we’re looking at an industry that no longer has a single point of failure.

  • @
    “Reading the charter for the hearings gives one the distinct impression that there will be a much needed reality check of the program called commercial crew.”

    For once you wrote a correct comment, but that needed reality check will be in the other direction than you think.

  • Bennett

    Based on today’s testimony, Congress would be criminally negligent if they do not fund CCDev up to the $850m mark. ULA, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX all looked good.

    Pushing for the 2015 date of crewed service instead of NASA’s ponderously slow 2017 date should cause some talk among committee members.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Reading the charter for the hearings gives one the distinct impression that there will be a much needed reality check of the program called commercial crew.”

    You have so slipped off the edge of reality. The “reality check” is about SLS and Ares the big government programs you support…”15 billion and counting and nothing to show for it” RGO

  • SpaceMan

    there will be a much needed reality check of the program called commercial crew

    You are the one that needs a reality check judging from the inane babble you post here.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Being slammed by Oler about being out of touch with reality is like being accused of promiscuity by Bill Clinton, something fraught with irony.

    In any case, one of the great takeaways from the hearings is that private markets for commercial manned space flight are a little thin. In fact they seem to consist of Bigelow’s private space station project. That is a thin reed indeed if NASA expects this experiment to pay out. Otherwise paying the Russians may be the cheaper option.

  • Coastal Ron

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    That is a thin reed indeed if NASA expects this experiment to pay out.

    If the whole premise of CCDev was to create a commercial crew industry, then yes, then the destinations in space are a little thin right now. But that’s not the problem CCDev is solving – NASA needs crew transportation, and service to non-NASA customers is a side benefit.

    If you’ve never been in management, then you probably wouldn’t understand how companies can go into a small or nonexistent market with the goal of greatly expanding it. That’s what good companies do.

    So far all we know is that there is a market for space tourists paying $20-35M for a short stay in space, and that there are seven countries that are interested in occupying a commercial space station for short periods of time. But since there are no commercial crew services available on a regular basis (none for Soyuz right now), we really don’t know the true demand.

    Time will tell how big the market truly is, and how many companies can be supported. Boeing has deep pockets, and says it’s in it for the long run, and SpaceX has said the same. Add in SNC’s long-term view and the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, and that looks like a pretty good field to start with.

    You see the glass as half empty, others see it as half full – usually the ones that see the glass as half full are the ones that succeed.

  • MrEarl

    “Otherwise paying the Russians may be the cheaper option.”

    Even if paying the Russians is a “cheaper option”, not to support the development of US commercial HFS would be penny wise but pound foolish.
    First: I would rather pay a US company $70B per seat where that money stays in this contry than send $56B out of this country. (Not that I think it would cost $70B for a seat.)
    Second: LEO manned exploitation will be a growth industry in the not too distant future and we need to be sure that US companies are leaders in that market for our own economic wellbeing.
    Third: To fully take advantage of what I hope will be the start of US space exploration beyond low Earth orbit, commercial companies need to follow close behind, leveraging discoveries made by NASA.

    This could be the start of true space exploration/exploitation but it requires the participation of both government and private industry.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Being slammed by Oler about being out of touch with reality is like being accused of promiscuity by Bill Clinton, something fraught with irony.”

    whatever, but I notice that you did not refute the claim. You are out of touch. You supported a big government program, while beating up on a true commercial effort..

    “In any case, one of the great takeaways from the hearings is that private markets for commercial manned space flight are a little thin.” Yes as YOU even acknowledged it would be at the start of any commerical operations in space…in The Weekly Standard piece that YOU ASKED to be a part of.

    As we (or I, all you did was get your name attached to it) acknowledged in the piece that going from a command totally government style system, where NASA dictates everything and discourages private operations to one based completely on the free market, will be hard and initially (again you agreed to this notion) that the only customer for such actions might be the government.

    Still the notions of efficiency cannot be ignored. Your program Cx and SLS have spent nearly 20 billion dollars for no flight hardware. Falcon9 came in for under 1/2 billion.

    The scheme is working just as we predicted…to bad you have lost touch RGO

  • John Malkin

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    20+ Billion

    Constellation
    1 Ares I-X: Snicker
    3 5 segment demostration motors ground tested
    Several Orion test articles that have had everything done to them except launched into space

    Snicker, snicker

  • common sense

    I think the questions are reasonable BUT since when is it any one in Congress business to know whether a company has a market? I think Mr. Hall has a problem again making the difference between subsidy and commercial services.

    NASA needs a service: Cargo and crew servicing to the ISS.

    NASA is not licensing technology to any of the commercial provider and hope for some return as far as I know. So what is Congress’ business asking those questions? What is Congress business to know the financial arrangement a company has to develop their products.

    I never saw Steve Jobs testify in Congress he had a market for his computers, yet we can find quite a few of them at NASA…

    Congress is trespassing here again.

  • common sense

    And since a lot like to talk about law, let me remind you the law. Below, THIS is THE LAW.

    Embarrassing.

    http://www.nasa.gov/offices/ogc/about/space_act1.html#NASA

    FUNCTIONS OF THE ADMINISTRATION

    Sec. 20112. Functions of the Administration

    (a) Planning, Directing, and Conducting Aeronautical and Space Activities.–The Administration, in order to carry out the purpose of this chapter, shall–
    (1) plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;

    (2) arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through use of aeronautical and space vehicles, and conduct or arrange for the conduct of such measurements and observations;

    (3) provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof;
    (4) seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space; and

    (5) encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware, consistent with the requirements of the Federal Government.

  • Vladislaw

    Mark “The pathological fibber” Whittington wrote:

    “Otherwise paying the Russians may be the cheaper option.”

    Elon Musk, today at the hearing, stated that he would guarantee a 20 million a seat price for a ride to LEO. This is an American company using all American made parts. So on planet whittington you believe paying the Russians almost 60 million a seat is cheaper option than paying an American company 20 million a seat.

    I wish all of us could visit planet whittington sometime. It must be an interesting place.

  • Aberwys

    Along the lines of what common sense posted, perhaps NASA should ask for donations:

    “(d) Gifts.–In the performance of its functions, the Administration is authorized to accept unconditional gifts or donations of services, money, or property, real, personal, or mixed, tangible or intangible. ”

    From: Sec. 20113. Powers of the Administration in performance of functions

    I know plenty of people who have offered to donate to NASA. Maybe we can hold a bakesale to get us to the moon…

  • Coastal Ron

    In his closing comments Chairman Hall said that it’s an emergency situation for NASA to get a commercial crew system in place before 2017. We’ll see if his deeds (i.e. NASA’s commercial crew budget) matches his apparent concern.

  • common sense

    @ Aberwys wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Yeah. Gifts would be nice.

    How about ATK donates back some of the cash they got for Ares I… err.. Liberty? Maybe there is a market here? Liberty is all commercial after all, right?

    A new market is born today. Great.

  • common sense

    @ Aberwys wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    BTW, I think NASA can accept, not ask for gifts…

    Oh well…

  • We’ll see if his deeds (i.e. NASA’s commercial crew budget) matches his apparent concern.

    He has no control over appropriations.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I was doing a few things while listening to the hearings…but did Elon say that he was going to test the LAS by the end of the year ? RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    but did Elon say that he was going to test the LAS by the end of the year?

    He said they would be testing a LAS motor by the end of the year.

    What he also said was that they could be ready for commercial crew flights within 3 years (which he’s stated before), and that he would charge $140M for a 7-person capsule ($20M/seat for 7 crew, or $70M/seat for 2 crew).

    NASA’s Gerstenmaier testified later that they were budgeting $80M/seat and 6 seats per year ($480M/year) after 2016, which someone else had said was equivalent to two flights per year (not sure how the math really works since we don’t fill a Soyuz today with 3 U.S. astronauts).

  • Bennett

    Robert, I believe he said they were going to test the LAS motor before year’s end.

  • @Robert G. Oler
    “I was doing a few things while listening to the hearings…but did Elon say that he was going to test the LAS by the end of the year ? RGO”
    He said he was going to test the LAS engines by the end of the year.

  • SpaceColonizer

    @RGO

    I don’t think it’s a full/flight test of the system. Just sounded like a ground test of the engine I believe. At least that’s what I recall.

  • MrEarl

    “I was doing a few things while listening to the hearings…but did Elon say that he was going to test the LAS by the end of the year ? RGO”

    No

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    Have the hearings been posted anywhere? Would be great to hear this testimony.
    Btw, I indicated some time back, that NASA could potentially get left behind if they didn’t come to the party so far as CCDev goes. I was referring to SpaceX in particular since they’re the only ones on public record as saying they’d go it alone. Interesting to actually have Elon come out and say it, even if it was outside the hearing. Must be getting pretty frustrated with NASA.
    Wonder if a contract with Bigelow’s next on the horizon.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    RGO. Believe the milestone for this is much later but wouldn’t surprise me. Time’s money for commercial particularly for a company like SpaceX with relatively low capital backing (compared with say Boeing that is).

  • nom de plume

    I caught the end of the hearing, but according to Musk’s written comments, SpaceX just completed the preliminary design review (PDR) milestone for the LAS. Musk went into a lot of detail in his 12 page written remarks found at the House Committee’s link (top of Jeff’s post). Descriptive, but a little short on timelines, but I heard his response about schedule slips – SpaceX’s delays are minor compared to government-run space programs. He could have but did not rub salt in the wound by mentioning the huge government cost over-runs.

    Written comments also described SpaceX’s plan to use similar components for cargo and crew (major advantage) and the comparison of Soyuz and Falcon/Dragon was insightful.

  • Mr. Right

    A few points.
    CxP was not a waste. That’s an unfair criticism. It’s like you go to build a house, pay cash along the way, then stop. Yeah, if you had finished the house the investment works out. If not, you blew it. The Ares I avionics and software will be used on Boeings CX-100 spacecraft. Good reuse. The 5 segment boosters will fly on SLS as will the J2-X, good investments. We now know who to fly people on a solid 1st stage. Good science, other applications. ATK will use a vast amount of existing infrastructure for Liberty. Good reuse. The Orion Abort capability will be awesome. Yeah, Orion will fly on an EELV in 2013. Lastly on the SLS side, found out today a contract is going to be let for the core stage in Jan 2012. Open competition. Ares I Upper Stage becomes the SLS 2nd stage. Boeing gets to write the flight s/w. Not NASA. The IUA transfers to SLS. Let’s hope commercial works out and congress does not seek a few pounds of flesh for how NASA was run the past 3 years.

  • Mark R. Whittington wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    In any case, one of the great takeaways from the hearings is that private markets for commercial manned space flight are a little thin. In fact they seem to consist of Bigelow’s private space station project. That is a thin reed indeed if NASA expects this experiment to pay out. Otherwise paying the Russians may be the cheaper option.

    Mark, you’re operating from a mistaken premise. Do you really think Bigelow started his space company just to build one space station? Only one? Recall that this is a guy who has built hundreds of hotels.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ RGO,

    Yes, and that raised eyebrows at NASASpaceflight.com too. Nonetheless that’s what he said and we’re all waiting to see if that was a misstatement, misspeaking or another finger in the eye of the super-slow NASA dev process being used on Orion/MPCV.

    @ Vladislaw,

    Of course, if SpaceX can meet Elon’s promise that that would be great and a big leap forward. That said, the per-seat cost is only a part of the story. The big advantage of using Soyuz is that it is a mature product. The USG isn’t having to (directly) pay for R&D, vehicle testing and the like, although I bet there’s margin in Roskosmos’s prices that go towards their next gen projects. I suspect that Mr. Wittington’s concerns lies with the risk that the commercial crew vehcles will end up costing more on a lifetime basis (including R&D, infrastructure and ground ops).

    What’s my position on this? I don’t pretend to be an expert who can make a prediction. However, so far none of the commercial providers have broken the bank to get to where they are. Indeed OSC has got some political praise for its low-cost solid-only sat launchers built from recycled ICBMs. There is also the issue of the benefits from creating US-based jobs and encouraging skill development in the US. Both of these things generate tax revenue, something that buying a foreign product off-the-shelf does not.

    My own hope is that the commercial companies will provide cheaper tools that will enable NASA to carry out launch services more cost-effectively. This will mean more money for missions rather than developing bespoke LVs. Ultimately, I would hope that we see something not unlike how airlines do it: buy an existing basic vehicle and then fit it out for your needs. That’s still a long way off – I don’t think any commercial launch company except ULA and possibly EADS Astrum could build an HLV-class launcher as a commercial product. However, what the coming decade will prove is whether it is possible to do this on the smaller scale of crewed MLV to LEO.

  • Fred Willett

    The bottom line is that NASA needs commercial crew, so somehow they’re going to have to make it work. Inspite of congress.
    It might be that they will down select to a single supplier, say CST-100. Boeing would be happy to do that reguardless of whether it was FAR or SAA. But NASA has to make something work. If commercial fails totally then all that NASA is left with is MPCV and they’re grounded, relying on the Russians for the better part of 10 years.
    Then again reguardless of what NASA does SpaceX will push on. On their own dime if necessary. So will SNC and Blue Origin. They’ve all said so. Only Boeing has said they won’t procede without NASA.
    So commercial space will get here. It may be slower if NASA stuffs it up, But it likely to happen anyway. We’ll see.

  • BeanieCounterFromDownunder

    Mr Right, totally wrong. SLS will never fly. Liberty will remain a paper rocket. MPCV will likely also never fly. There, fixed that for you. Why? Too costly, no missions. No customers. CHeck the DoD if you don’t believe me. They have monster budgets compared to NASA and they are getting very worried about cost of U.S. launch vehicles so where do you think NASA is going to get funding for more Cx-type programs?

  • John Malkin

    Since Challenger, the DOD has stayed away from using NASA for launch vehicles. They have relied directly on Boeing, Lockheed and ULA for big stuff. I doubt that will change. Liberty is a paper rocket with no payload i.e. capsule (cargo or crew). Maybe ESA will use it. Orion MPCV will not launch on it because they are going to use a Delta IV for early orbital flights and SLS Mini aka Ares V Lite (Augustine) for CIS-Lunar mission.

    SLS may fly but it won’t be affordable or cost effective for its 30+ years of life. Sounds familiar…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mr. Right wrote @ October 27th, 2011 at 1:04 am

    “CxP was not a waste. That’s an unfair criticism. It’s like you go to build a house, pay cash along the way, then stop. Yeah, if you had finished the house the investment works out”

    It all depends on your notion of value for cost…if something cost far more then its value then completing it wont make it less of a waste. If something is being built at a cost that is several times what the same capabilities can be achieved at, then completing it wont make it less of a waste..

    The SLS is the XC-99 of the space age…and the only reality is that building more of the 99′s would not have made the investment “valuable”.

    nice words but you are trying to justify what is not justifiable. 20 billion dollars so far on Ares/SLS and thats a waste RGO

  • Aberwys

    common sense wrote @ October 26th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    NASA doesn’t need to ask. I knew/know plenty of folks who have asked if they can donate to NASA. I always echoed the party line: “no, they can’t”.

    Um, I was totally wrong about that.

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