Congress, NASA

House hearing on NASA technology and competitiveness

The space subcommittee of the House Science Committee is holding a hearing at 10 am today on “Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness Through NASA Derived Technologies”. The scheduled witnesses:

  • Dr. Mason Peck, Chief Technologist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Mr. George Beck, Chief Clinical and Technology Officer, Impact Instrumentation, Inc.
  • Mr. Brian Russell, Chief Executive Officer, Zephyr Technology
  • Mr. John Vilja, Vice President for Strategy, Innovation and Growth, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
  • Dr. Richard Aubrecht, Vice President, Moog Inc.

The purpose of the hearing, according to the hearing charter, is straightforward: to “examine the direct economic and societal benefits that investments in NASA have generated and highlight those areas where continued investments could help stimulate the pipeline for future economic growth.”

35 comments to House hearing on NASA technology and competitiveness

  • amightywind

    I am far less interested in NASA’s social benefits that cutting its payroll and reforming it to the point where it actually does something.

  • common sense

    This is a very important topic, more so than a lot of other things such as SLS that NASA is doing today. NASA needs to garner public support. It is vey important to demonstrate the relationship past, ongoing and future. The public is NASA’s customers through Congress for better or worse. Nonetheless NASA should nurture its ver special but somewhat fragile relationship with the public.

  • Speaking of competitiveness can someone with far more knowledge of the actual wording in the commercial cargo (or even crew) program answer a question for me…

    As we would say “a hypothetical”.

    Lets say company A is in the commercial cargo list of finalist (ie one of the two providers) and they have offered a turn key system…ie a platform to deliver the cargo and a rocket to boost it.

    But lets say the rocket flounders in its development or just has significant issues which push the time frame for ops back…

    Can the company “change” rockets without any serious contractual issues or is this a negator?

    Curious. Thanks to whomever picks this up and lets me know. RGO

  • Fred Willett

    @ Robert.
    The COTS agreement was for specific “milestones” and the companies got paid for reaching each milestone. Kistler failed to reach one milestone. It was a funding milestone. They had to raise “x” dollars from the market for that milestone IIRC, failed and as it seemed unlikely they would ever get the money NASA killed Kistler’s program and awarded a new COTS agreement to Orbital (I think they recompeted and Orbital won).
    SpaceX, on the other hand ran into trouble with their engine. It wasn’t as powerful as they wanted. So they decided to stop, upgrade the Merlin Engine, then go on. They went to NASA and NASA agreed to let them stop progress on COTS while SpaceX went away and re-developed the Merlin up to Merlin 1c.
    It took them 12 months.
    NASA rewrote the COTS milestones accordingly.
    So you see there is an incredible degree of flexibility in the COTS model.
    In the case of Commercial crew all the agreements are for capsules with a LV indicated. But if an issue arose with the LV NASA could (and probably would) allow the switch to a different LV.

  • mike shupp

    The usual sort of suspects will appear, in other words, to offer
    the usual set of alibis in front of the usual witnesses. Nothing
    personal against all these well-meaning people, but gosh!
    wouldn’t it have been nice to have someone with a semi-official
    position give a presentation on The One Hundred Year StarShip
    Program? Is there really some outstanding reason why a
    cmmittee of the US House of Representatives cannot listen
    to testimony from a little-known government bureau named DARPA?

  • common sense

    @ mike shupp wrote @ July 12th, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    What does your post have to do with the NASA hearing? Do you even understand what the hearing is about?

    Oh well…

  • mike shupp

    common sense — I gather people appeared to say “there was SPIN OFF”. And that several companies had collaborated with NASA to achieve Valuable Results. And that the Taxpayers had been Enriched, and this sort of thing should be continued into the future. (There’s a less snide summary at Marsha Smith’s Space Policy Online website.)

    Gosh. Wow. Gee. I’m so amazed. How startling this is, how unexpected! I’ll bet it came as a complete surprise to you too!!

    Oh well…

  • Fred Willett wrote @ July 12th, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    thank you so much Fred…it was very kind of you to take the time and to do such a splendid job on the explanation.

    So if OSC’s Antares doesnt work and they wanted to substitute say Athena III of ATK’s…NASA could rewrite the milestones? RGO

  • common sense

    @ mike shupp wrote @ July 13th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    It is a NASA hearing not a DARPA hearing.

    What is the relation between the DARPA 100 Year Starship and “Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness Through NASA Derived Technologies” at NASA?

    I don’t mind being wrong, just enlighten me please.

  • Fred Willett

    In the case or Kistler there was no visibile road ahead and NASA pulled the plug.
    If the SpaceX case there was a clear benefit in allowing the detour into engine development. More powerful engine and more powerful resultant rocket. Thus NASA allowed the SpaceX team the time to upgrade the Merlin for a win win result.
    In the case or Antares failing (unlikely IMO) NASA would likely allow a shift to a different vehicle as it’s really the cargo module they’re interested in, not so much the rocket.
    However given that SpaceX is now out of COTS and starting on CRS, I would think NASA would rather Orbital complete development of Antares rather than shift to a different rocket.
    I think if Antares had a bad day NASA would let the Orbital schedule slip the amount necessary for Orbital to get Antares working correctly. There is a clear benefit here in bringing a new LV on line. Particularly as under COTS any delay costs NASA nothing. They don’t pay a cent till the milestone is met.

  • mike shupp

    My thought was that the session should have focused not just on “What Nice Things Has NASA Done For Us Lately?” but one the overall costs and benefits of federal R&D in general, perhaps with the specific intent of tweaking NASA policies.

    For instance, does a billion bucks of space launch vehicle spending generate as much payoff, in terms of employment and patents and future non-NASA commerical business, as a billion bucks of say USAF fighter jet development, or a billion bucks of spending by Arianespace, or CERN? Is it more sensible to focus intently on the primary purpose of an R&D program, or should some diffusion of effort be accepted if that leads to commercial payoffs along the side? How long-range should we be in our R&D efforts, and how much should we choose to invest in them, and how might we deal with the possible social effects of future technology. Folks from DARPA ought to have something to say here, (and professional scientists and economists and non-US authorities) and I’d hope that Congress folk think about such matters when drafting legislation that affects NASA.

    We didn’t get that, I gather. We got a feel-good session,

  • Heinrich Monroe

    My thought was that the session should have focused not just on “What Nice Things Has NASA Done For Us Lately?” but one the overall costs and benefits of federal R&D in general, perhaps with the specific intent of tweaking NASA policies.

    That’s an interesting question, but it’s by no means a question for technology development managers and administrators. Their job is to develop technology that might meet needs, and not to evaluate the comparative value of those technologies. It’s not even really a question for an agency administrator. How is Charlie Boldin supposed to compare value of space launch vehicle development compared with fighter jet development? He’s charged with using the former, but not the latter. For his purposes, space launchers have vastly more value than fighter jets.

    To the extent you want an answer from the Administration, that’s a question for OSTP.

    Congress understands that. That’s why the charter of this hearing (which is what Congress wants to hear about) doesn’t ask for value judgements. To the extent that NASA does generate “direct economic and societal benefits”, we don’t need to be surprised or startled at unexpected revelations. It’s a matter of putting these facts formally in the Congressional record. There is substantial policy value in having it there. That’s the way policy sausage is made. A feel-good session? Yep. So feel good.

  • mike shupp

    Mr. Monroe, Mr. Sense — the question is actually not whether Charlie Boldin values launch vehicle developemnt more than say fighter jets; the question is which development program leads to more valuable EXTERIOR products. Is Tang doing more for the American economy than duct tape, that kind of thing. That’s what the session title implied to me.

    Otherwise, you raise excellent points. I will demur a tad by pointing out that there have been times in the past when Congress considered the sorts of isssues I mentioned. As you mentioned, OSTP looks at that sort of thing, as did OTP back in pre-Newt Ginrich days.

  • common sense

    @ mike shupp wrote @ July 14th, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Possibly BUT solely as it relates to NASA products, not USG products. It is a NASA hearing. The problem is with NASA, not DARPA, not DoD, not DoE, etc. NASA. The agency at risk *is* NASA.

    I hope you understand now. But thank you for giving it more thoughts.

  • Aberwys

    Moog? Really? I’m not of the Moog generation, isn’t NASA dating themselves by having Moog there? A lot more innovative electronic music technology exists out there…#panderingtotheOldGuard

  • vulture4

    I have a different viewpoint. I think the concept of “spinoff” was a major error. It introduced the idea that anything NASA did that was of practical value was a “free” inadvertent byproduct of the human space program, that could then be used to justify its extraordinary cost. Everything NASA does with tax dollars should have practical value for our country, not as an inadvertent byproduct, but as a primary goal.

    OSTP and Congress should set broad goals, not specific strategies or tasks. Solving practical problems so as to create jobs, protect the environment, and improve the lives of Americans is one of those broad goals. But OSTP and Congress do not micromanage DARPA, NSF, DOE or NIH, and they should not micromanage NASA. Unless NASA has the flexibility to respond to specific research opportunities it will accomplish little of value.

  • vulture4 wrote @ July 15th, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I have a different viewpoint. I think the concept of “spinoff” was a major error. It introduced the idea that anything NASA did that was of practical value was a “free” inadvertent byproduct of the human space program, that could then be used to justify its extraordinary cost. Everything NASA does with tax dollars should have practical value for our country, not as an inadvertent byproduct, but as a primary goal.”

    yes. Spinoffs started late in the Gemini program and continued on through Apollo and now are all that is sold, because they became the only way to justify the money spent; as the notion of the cold war competition ended.

    NASA more or less has three explanations for spending 1) spinoffs, 2) all the money is spent here on earth, and 3) employment.

    The problem is, as you point out that none of the programs have a primary goal which supports them. The shuttle did for a bit; ie cheap access to space…and it was sold on that…but as that floundered we went back to the “sainted three”…and the reality is that those three dont really sell anymore.

    Programs should be able to justify themselves on a cost/result benefit. But when the cost are literally astronomical then its hard to find anything that makes them worthy. All you have to do now is watch the debate over SLS…

    none of the three really work anymore…RGO

  • Heinrich Monroe

    the question is which development program leads to more valuable EXTERIOR products.

    It’s a good question, but that wasn’t the question House Space was asking, and it wasn’t the right people to ask that question of.

    Moog? Really?

    Moog Music isn’t Moog Incorporated. The latter is a control systems innovator and authority. It’s the wrong Moog. See the Moog Inc. web page explaining that.

  • Aberwys

    Oops. I didn’tt do my homework. This is quite a different Moog.

  • vulture4

    I did not realize it was so bad. Of course I had a weekend job. But the worst of it is they were the only people in the world with practical experience maintaining a reusable spacecraft.

    I do feel that ISS can have a very practical geopolitical value. The US and China will be the world superpowers for the next generation. After that it may be China and India, with the US down a notch. If the US-China relationship becomes driven by suspicion and determined by military power, we may be plunged into another cold war. Inviting China to join the ISS would be a powerful motivation for both sides to learn to resolve differences without the threat of violence.

    Of course, if our goal is to spend another twenty years building nuclear bombs and fallout shelters then it may well serve a purpose to continue to forbid American and Chinese astronauts to work together.

  • common sense

    This is not, or at least should not be, about spin-off. That would be way to short-sighted. It is about “Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness Through NASA Derived Technologies”. And it comes in many different flavors. Unless you assume that spin-off is solely limited to direct commercial application. Technology transfer is much broader than that. It also encompasses education, knowledge transfer. One may argue it is not enough but don’t limit it to some gizmo that was transferred to a company for commercialization.

  • Call me Ishmael

    But the worst of it is they were the only people in the world with practical experience maintaining a reusable spacecraft.

    No, they weren’t. Any maintenance cycle that begins with “give us a billion dollars after every flight” is in no way “practical”.

  • vulture4 wrote @ July 16th, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Anything is possible in the totality of this century; but I cannot see for the next 20-30 to almost 50 (but not quite) how history evolves to where the US and PRC are “toe to toe for nuclear combat”…there is no point in it…there is no historical example of a country or countries that are economically as link as the two of us are having significant “fights”…we have disagreements and one could see them flashing at points…but nuclear exchanges…no

    What is far more likely on the foreign policy scale as well as the domestic areana is a competition to rival the cold war in terms of what economic system is the most stable and exporting those notions to the rest of the world. Where India (and in my view a few others) come into the picture is that THEY are also working on an economic social model that is coherent to the realities of this century and to their people.

    THe US is in my view some peril here. WE have an economic model that is very broken and really doesnot offer much for people unless you are in the “annointed class”…this is why the story on space coast jobs is so important.

    What galls those people is that their gravy train ran out.

    it is not thatwe have as a nation lost some significant capability that without it changes the very fabric of American lives or life…it is that without their federal “rice bowel” then their lives have taken a hit. What was most noteworthy is the notion of high salary expectations. All these people got use to ACA type health care (because as a federal contractor, at least first tier those contracts had this), high salaries and good benefits…and now they are finding the type of economy that GOP policies have built everywhere else but some few (and shrinking industries).

    China is not imune to the social problems either…at least in terms of making the economy work for the average “family”

    SpaceX (and others) are a case study in how the American economy triumphs in this decade. SLS is a case study in how it flounders. We will see which vision is embraced in the election RGO

  • Heinrich Monroe

    But the worst of it is they were the only people in the world with practical experience maintaining a reusable spacecraft.

    As has been said, they did an awesomely inefficient job of it. But practical experience in maintaining technologically sophisticated airborne flight systems is something that relates pretty strongly, and there is a lot of that done these days.

    It’s interesting to speculate on why these shuttle workers have had such a hard time finding work. If they want to remain in central Florida, that would explain a lot. But it gets back to my first point. If they were trained to maintain a reuseable spacecraft in a manner that was awesomely inefficient, their skill set may just not be what military or commercial aviation or even newspace wants.

    I really have a hard time sympathizing with these workers. Their jobs were on the line a decade ago. That would have been the time to start scoping out other opportunities, and perhaps even doing some retraining. Employers can’t look that favorably at workers who didn’t show initiative when they should have shown it.

  • common sense

    @ vulture4 wrote @ July 16th, 2012 at 1:59 am

    I think you are being very naive wrt ISS and China.

    The shuttle workforce is in trouble? Well that is everyday life to a lot of people in this country. Why would they be spared – to be blunt? Why? What national need they provide is so important? Why did they all blame and vote against Obama who wanted to give them free money to transition with less drama?

    Sorry but there this guy who is rejecting an $11/hr job just because it is 40 miles away. How arrogant! Why not?

    The shuttle was cancelled back in 2004, they had what 8 years to find something else. It is kind of a good advance notice don’t you think? What is the average advance notice to those who work in the private sector? Any idea?

    So enough with the lamenting of the shuttle workforce.

  • pathfinder_01

    “Sorry but there this guy who is rejecting an $11/hr job just because it is 40 miles away. How arrogant! Why not?”

    I agree with much of your points but that depends on a lot of factors. Cost of gas and time it takes to get to work do factor into the equation as well as any other responsiblities. I am a Chicagoan and if I had to drive 40 miles to a job in the north burbs (say Skokie) through downtown rush from the south side, it wouldn’t make much sense. I have a pretty reasonably fuel efficient car but I would burn a lot of gas sitting in traffic and it could easily take me well over an hour to get to work one way in good weather and lord help if there is snow storm. If I went south to the south burbs the same distance it might make more sense. Esp. as the traffic would not be so heavy.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    I think that people who have had, well let’s face it, a cushy job for a number of years, get lulled into a sense of ‘it can’t happen to me’. 8 years is plenty of time for retraining, reskilling, and so on even if you are getting on a bit in years. It’s going to be tough and there are going to be people hurt but this isn’t new and it’s not the last time it will happen. All business goes through periods of upheaval. Guess it’s now time for the space coast.
    And btw, there was nothing in the shuttle program that was new. That’s simply a myth and perhaps has lead to the mistaken belief by some of the displaced, that they had unique skills that could be utilised elsewhere.
    I’m reminded of the saying ‘ there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ and similarly ‘the world doesn’t owe you a living’.
    However, that said, my sympathies where they’re due.

  • common sense

    @ pathfinder_01 wrote @ July 16th, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Sorry but if you do not make any money, 40 miles is a little price to pay. Ever been in a situation like that?

    Further they are in Florida, not Chicago. No snow storm. These are excuses from people who think they deserve better based on past work.

    This is NOT the way it works in the private sector. You get what you deserve and sometimes you do not even get what you deserve yet you may be working odd hours, in traffic or anything.

    There is NO excuse to refuse a work when you are out of one, while millions wait for a job.


    the individual launch cost are “entertaining”…if these hold Musk will own the launch industry RGO

  • Re the article about the unemployed space workers …

    I had to laugh at the part about local employers saying they don’t want any references for space workers because their compensation demands are unreasonably high. They’ve been used to fat government salaries for so long that they just can’t grasp what it’s like in the real world.

    At my current job, I make about $11/hour but my commute is 10 miles one way. I have health coverage which is more important at my age. Unlike some of these space workers, I actually planned for an economic downturn and was frugal with my money. I paid off my mortgage, not spending the equity to buy a Corvette or a speedboat or more housing than I could afford.

    Some of these workers have skills that were unique to Shuttle but don’t really apply anywhere else. Okay, so you sewed together thermal blankets for an orbiter. That doesn’t translate to the private sector, unless you want to work in a sweatshop somewhere sewing garments for minimum wage. They just don’t seem to grasp that in the real world these skills aren’t worth what they were paid by the government.

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ July 17th, 2012 at 1:54 am

    Just the beginning of what I said would happen winning the launch market worldwide. Of course it comes with caveat. Europe is a protected market and probably Russia and China. However there are a lot of countries that need LVs. These countries are in Asia and Africa, possibly Eastern Europe. And that is a lot of people that will suddenly be able to afford a launch that they were not before. And of course if the price holds at SpaceX.

    A big IF but so far so good.

    Let’s watch in amazement.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert G. Oler wrote:

    “the individual launch cost are “entertaining”…if these hold Musk will own the launch industry”

    As much as I am a self admitted fan of the work SpaceX is doing, I am actually glad they decided on the Delta II for the OCO 2. The loss of climate sats, when they can definitively give us better data for how the climate is changing, is something that can be avoided by utilizing a launch vehicle with a great track record.

    I am fine with a premium over Falcon 9 costs if it gets those birds in the sky and doing their job.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    Vladislaw wrote @ July 17th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    So far SpaceX has not had a failure of their F9 and it is not yet operational. 3 for 3. In fact, it’s actually 5 for 5 if you include the last 2 flights of the F1.
    So why is NASA prepared to pay around 20% more for the Delta II, a vehicle that they decided not to support any longer? Apparently it’s a premium for reliability. The facts don’t support that argument.
    Other posters have made much of the forthcoming SpaceX price increases. Frankly, blowing in the wind. The basic launch vehicle is complete. It follows, therefore that SpaceX will know exactly right down to the last dime, what it costs to produce and fly one. I don’t foresee any price increases over perhaps normal inflation. Additionally SpaceX has most of the production and launch costs within their control which will majorly assist in price stability.
    As Robert says, it’s going to be interesting watching the fight for the scraps.

  • Vladislaw

    Bean counter.

    I am not suggesting that the Delta II parts lines get restarted. What I am saying is there are some important sats needing to be launched. There has been past failures that added years to the date the data can start to be collected.

    The Delta II are there, they are the most reliable rocket in the US inventory, and that extra reliabilty ( 96 successful launches in a row) is worth that premium, for these couple flights.

    After, I am more than comfortable with SpaceX being utilized.

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