Congress, NASA, Pentagon

Amendments to defense authorization bill cover export control and NASA policy

The Senate is debating this week S. 3254, its version of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, including handling a mountain of proposed amendments to the bill: more than 360 as of this writing. A couple have space policy implications, as Space News reported yesterday. One amendment deals with export control, while the other is a grabbag of provisions dealing with NASA and commercial launch.

One amendment (S.Amdt.3179), introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), is essentially the text of a standalone bill he introduced in May to return to the President the authority to remove satellites and related items from the US Munitions List. The language is slightly different from what is included in the House version of the defense authorization bill (which has some provisions that the administration is opposed to) that would need to be reconciled in conference. Bennet’s amendment has four co-sponsors: Mark Warner (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Mark Udall (D-CO).

The other amendment, (S.Admt.3078), was introduced by retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). It contains three provisions lagrely unrelated to both each other and the general defense authorization bill. The first would extend the commercial launch indemnification system by two years, similar to what the House passed earlier this month. The second would extend NASA’s waiver from the Iran North Korea Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA) from July 2016 through December 2020, allowing it to continue to purchase goods and services from Russia to support the ISS.

The third, and perhaps most interesting provision, would attempt to fix the proportional spending levels on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, and associated ground systems in the next two fiscal years:

(e) Level of Effort Assurance.–

(1) IN GENERAL.–To ensure sufficient resources for the development of Federal and commercial launch capabilities under titles III and IV of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (42 U.S.C. 18301 et seq.; 124 Stat. 2805), for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 the proportionate funding levels for the Space Launch System, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, known as Orion, and related Ground Systems and technology developments, shall be no less than the proportion as provided in the aggregate within the Exploration account for fiscal year 2013.

(2) EXCEPTION.–Paragraph (1) shall not apply if the amounts provided for the activities under paragraph (1) for fiscal year 2014 or fiscal year 2015 are equal to or greater than the aggregate amounts provided for each of those activities for fiscal year 2012 or 2013, whichever is greater, by an Act of Congress.

It should be noted that SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems account for the majority of the Exploration account already, combined in one subsection called “Exploration Systems Development”. The other two main elements of the Exploration account are Commercial Spaceflight (i.e., commercial crew), and Exploration Research and Development. Thus, this provision could be seen as an attempt to make sure that, should NASA’s budget be cut in the next Congress, NASA would not be able to shift funding from those Exploration Systems programs to commercial crew or technology development.

35 comments to Amendments to defense authorization bill cover export control and NASA policy

  • Coastal Ron

    No sane manager would lock in funding levels to percentages that have no basis in reality, which definitely applies to the SLS since there is yet to be a demonstrated need for it.

    Of course we’re talking Congress here, so sanity doesn’t enter into the equation, but apparently pork does.

  • We need the SLS Orion so that we can send our own citizens into space. Did you not see the picture of one of our astronauts going through the Russian pre-launch ritual? How someone could call money for NASA pork is beyond me.

    • Why do we need SLS/Orion or the Russians? We have SpaceX, ULA, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, etc. NASA’s own studies (as well as studies from industry and universities) show that we don’t need SLS for deep space exploration/exploitation. Once the Commercial Crew vehicles come on line in a few years, it’s goodbye Russkies!

    • Coastal Ron

      Planetary Evangelist said:

      Did you not see the picture of one of our astronauts going through the Russian pre-launch ritual?

      Apparently you are confused as to what the SLS & MPCV will be used for, and what NASA is doing with the Commercial Crew program (CCDev & CCiCap).

      Our astronauts currently use the Russian Soyuz to travel to & from the International Space Station (ISS). The Commercial Crew program is meant to replace that capability by the end of 2016 with (depending on funding) at least two service companies. Likely SpaceX will be one of the providers, and if a second is funded it will likely be Boeing. NASA would also like Sierra Nevada to come online with it’s Dream Chaser lifting body, but that will depend on funding.

      The SLS & MPCV are not being planned for use as a “space taxi” to support the ISS for a number of reasons:

      1. It will be ridiculously expensive, since even the 70mt SLS will cost around $1.5B, the MPCV only carries four people, and the MPCV is not reusable. All of the Commercial Crew vehicles will be reusable, cost significantly less, and they can each carry up to seven passengers.

      2. The SLS won’t have it’s first launch until 2017 (if then), and it’s not planned for it’s first manned launch until the early 2020’s (if then).

      3. NASA can’t afford to use such a ridiculously expensive rocket & capsule for supporting the ISS, which only gets $3B/year in the NASA budget. The current NASA budget can’t even afford to build complex mission payloads for the SLS to launch every year for decades – complex mission payloads will cost at least $10B (and likely 10 years), and NASA’s budget is only $18B/year. You do the math.

      Does that help explain the situation better?

    • It depends on what NASA is directed to do with the money. Throwing more money at bad policy, will not magically make it good policy.

  • We need SLS and Orion so that the necessary resources can be expended to develop the complex missions that the private firms simply cannot afford.

    • Coastal Ron

      Planetary Evangelist said:

      We need SLS and Orion so that the necessary resources can be expended to develop the complex missions that the private firms simply cannot afford.

      We need to spend resources on an unneeded rocket so we’ll have resources left over to spend on complex exploration hardware? That makes no sense.

      And what are you saying “private firms simply cannot afford”? A rocket like the SLS, or to build “complex missions”?

      Let’s get back to basics – what is the funded need?

      Do we have any programs that are currently funded for beyond LEO exploration? No.

      What is the payload requirement for possible beyond LEO exploration? Unknown. However we already know we can build a 450mt space station using rockets we have today (less than 20mt mass components), so as long as we use the same assembly techniques we probably are not limited in what we can do for beyond LEO complex exploration hardware.

      And if there was a known, sustained need for payloads larger than 20mt to LEO, then the U.S. has at least two rocket companies that have said they can build larger capacity rockets. For instance, ULA announced a roadmap for their Atlas & Delta rockets that take them up beyond 100mt. SpaceX already has a 53mt rocket that is in development – AT NO COST TO THE U.S. TAXPAYER – and Elon Musk has offered to build a 140mt rocket for less than $3B and $300M per flight. We don’t lack choices from U.S. private firms.

      NASA does not need the SLS, and it’s funding is taking away funding for “complex missions” we could launch today using existing rockets. So far your arguments are not persuasive.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      Government funding probably is needed to execute most human space exploration missions for the foreseeable future. But government launchers, like SLS, and government capsules, like MPCV, are not. As evidenced by the almost order-of-magnitude lower costs for industry vehicles like Antares, Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9, Falcon 9 Heavy, EELV Phase 2, Falcon Superheavy, Dragon, Cygnus, Dragon Crewed, and CST-100, the private sector is much more efficient at developing new launch vehicles and capsules. The much greater efficiency of private sector-led design and development efforts in human space flight vehicles has been known for almost a couple decades now, all the way back to SpaceHab, as this article describes:

      NASA’s human space flight budget is limited and becoming more so. The government has a choice. It can either spend all of the available budget to field a new government heavy lift vehicle and government capsule sometime in the 2020s, with no budget leftover for actual exploration hardware, like service modules, landers, and transit stages. That’s the path we’re currently on with SLS/MPCV.

      Or the government can spend a fraction of the available budget to procure industry launchers and industry capsules sometime this decade, with budget leftover to build the other exploration architecture elements necessary to get astronauts to the Moon, Lagrange Points, and NEOs. That’s the path we could be on.

    • Fiscal Realist

      Nice try Emily, but SLS/Orion is a program that not even NASA or the US can afford anymore, and it’s not even the best use of funds for cosmic evangelism.

    • PE, you’re making the assumption that SLS and Orion are the only, or even the best way for NASA to achieve those ‘complex missions.’

      They aren’t.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      The key flawed assumption in Planetary Evangelist’s post is that NASA planetary exploration missions can only fly on a NASA launcher. This is demonstrably untrue – the private ULA launch services company currently launches all exploration missions on vehicles to which NASA has virtually no input. The current generation of 25-50t IMLEO launchers in development or seriously proposed are sufficient for any reasonably-designed planetary mission (even crewed ones) so long as you do not rule out multi-launch and Earth Orbit Assembly.

      Launch services are, in fact, the ‘grunt work’ of space exploration and don’t require any expensive technical finesse. If anything, it is the commercial companies that could teach NASA efficiency and economy, not the other way around.

      However, there is a second way to take this post that occurs to me. It is indeed plausible that Congress will not fund human planetary exploration unless there is a government launch system like SLS to use simply because of the desire to channel public funds into certain companies’ coffers. However, this argument simply lends weight to the allegation that SLS is merely a political precondition for supporting NASA, not something that is “needed” in any practical way.

    • josh

      please do your homework, then come back here. you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape on Hutchison’s last gasp. S.Admt.3078(e) on SLS/MPCV funding levels is a throw-away amendment with no constitutional force of law on the Administration, and it’s enforcement would actually be illegal under the Anti-Deficiency Act with respect to future Congresses.

    Congress can’t tie the White House’s hands on future budget proposals. The President is free to submit whatever budget proposal he wants. It’s a fundamental constitutional principle called separation of powers. The President has the power to propose and Congress has the power to dispose.

    And a sitting Congress (or Administration) cannot tie the hands of a future Congress with respect to appropriations. There is a law, called the Anti-Deficiency Act, which ensures that the government never enters into a contract that is not fully funded by appropriations. The FY13 Defense Authorization Bill is not going to provide any appropriations for NASA in FY14 and FY15. Appropriations levels in those years will be set by the next Congress, not the current lame-duck Congress.

    Finally, even if S.Admt.3078(e) had any legislative teeth and even if SLS/MPCV were good projects, it’s very bad policy. The outcome of FY13 appropriations will almost certainly cut NASA’s exploration account (along with every other discretionary account) between 5% and 10% from FY12, depending on whether sequestration goes through or what budget deal gets done in place of sequestration. The FY12 appropriations for SLS/MPCV are already more than a billion dollars off what was needed for these projects in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Setting another cut in FY13 in stone proportionally through FY14 and FY15 just ensures that SLS/MPCV will never get the funding they need to meet schedule. If S.Admt.3078(e) became law and was actually followed, it would just delay the initial milestones on SLS/MPCV by another 2-3 years, at least.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb…

    • Egad

      Over at Forum > General Discussion > Space Policy Discussion > Topic: Does Bolden remain NASA administrator in a 2nd Obama term? message #75 et seq. provide some discussion of S.Admt.3078(e) and what it’s meant to achieve. As one of the posters likely had something to do with drafting the language, the thread is worth reading.

      • Technical Realist

        As the NSF poster in question is the single individual most responsible for the debacle known as the continuation of the Constellation program (SLS/MPCV) can you explain to me why any ‘American’ should be interested in his comments?

        • Egad

          Assuming the premise contained in the first part of your question is true, isn’t the answer fairly obvious? A “know your enemy” sort of thing, if you think that poster is the enemy.

          • Scientific Realist

            Having published numerous NASA proposals with the sole purpose of salvaging and/or redirecting (via rational and credible fully reusable alternatives) the Constellation program and the ‘Program Known as the Continuation of the Constellation Program’ using the hardware, resources, equipment and manpower of the dysfunctional program, I guess I already know who the perpetrators of this debacle are, and how they go about their ‘business’. Since these people have no intention of ever implementing the easily executed modest changes of direction required to salvage the said program, nor changing the manner in which they encode their ‘beliefs’ into law, then I long ago learned that it would be a waste of time, money and resources to continue to inform them of the fiscal insanity of fully expendable heavy lift launch vehicles, such that they might change their minds.

            There are only a dozen SSMEs left. These people haven’t got a clue.

            • Egad

              There are only a dozen SSMEs left.

              And it isn’t clear, per some recent postings on NSF, that the RS-25E follow-on engines are programmed to appear until after 2025, if then. Lack of money again, I suspect.

              • Pragmatic Realist

                And it isn’t clear, per some recent postings on NSF, that the RS-25E follow-on engines are programmed to appear until after 2025

                And the logical and rational disconnect of discussing events that wont occur until after 2025 in the year 2012 doesn’t occur to you? That’s how delusional SLS advocates are.

                Lack of money again, I suspect.

                Well they just go ahead and throw more money at a program with a 15 year development period (starting in 2005) that consumes tens of billions of dollars, has no actual mission and plans on flying a test flight every two or three years a decade in the future at a cost of upwards of a billion dollars per flight and where the hardware is immediately discarded. Surely more money is the solution to the Constellation (SLS/Orion) problem. A couple hundred million transferred OVER from Commercial Crew should do it, no?

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi SR –

              “the easily executed modest changes of direction required to salvage the said program”

              Which are??

              • Space Architect

                This isn’t a space technology blog, Ed, this is a space policy forum, so this will be my last post on this subject. Look at what SpaceX is doing and is intending to do. Given a dozen throttleable SSMEs and Merlin 1Ds with 150K lbf of thrust and a 150/1 T/W ratio (1000 lb engines), four meter robotic friction stir welded tanks with no deep milling (built up ribs), single piece spin formed domes, with booster attachment points (clusterable) and a mass ratio of 30 to 1 (easily 10 to 1 for hydrogen), 1000 lbf Dracos and 15K lbf Super Dracos, then I personally can think of a dozen or so simple core and booster stages configurations for a fully reusable and scalable heavy lift launch vehicle – with single stage to orbit performance capabilities in both the boosters and the core stage, which still satisfy the criteria of the congressional legislation and can be fielded in less than five years, and most importantly, are thought by my rocket scientist collaborators to be nothing less than awesome launch vehicle designs. That’s not including methane.

                No upper stages required. I hope that clears it up for you.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “As one of the posters likely had something to do with drafting the language, the thread is worth reading.”

        I read Jeff Bingaham’s latest over there. I think he continues to deal in piddling tit-for-tats between the commercial programs and SLS/MPCV while ignoring the bigger and much more worrisome picture about SLS/MPCV viability given its budget.

        For example, per his last few posts at NSF, he’s worried about the Administration proposing another increase in commercial crew that comes at the expense of SLS/MPCV in FY14 or FY15. The most that increase would be is a few hundred million dollars.

        SLS/MPCV, meanwhile, is already more than one billion (with a “b”) dollars off the funding required in the FY 2010 NASA Authorization Act (that Jeff helped author) in FY12 alone. Based on the existing appropriations marks and the coming sequestration or budget deal, FY13 is going to be even worse than that.

        By around New Year’s, the appropriated SLS/MPCV budget is going to be well over $2 billion (or 30%+) behind the authorization plan in only its first three years of existence. You can’t keep meet requirements on schedule or safely when programs are that far out of their budget box. And Jeff is worried about whether commercial crew is going to take another $2-300 million the following year? That’s not going to change the fiscal train wreck that SLS/MPCV is headed towards.

        If I were Jeff, when those FY12 marks came out, I would have been counseling a way off SLS/MPCV towards some rational and affordable exploration lift capability that fits the budget with margin and budget for exploration hardware to spare. Instead, he’s wasting his time nickel-and-diming the commercial programs.

        But I’m not Jeff, who is blinded by Shuttle astronaut worship (hence his moniker “51D Mascot”) and constrained by parochial needs of his political masters to keep money flowing to Shuttle jobs and votes.

  • amightywind

    We need SLS and Orion so that the necessary resources can be expended to develop the complex missions that the private firms simply cannot afford.

    Seems logical to me.

    Did you not see the picture of one of our astronauts going through the Russian pre-launch ritual?

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who bristles at the sight of our astronauts wearing commie spacesuits.

    We have SpaceX…

    SpaceX performance is still a little dicey for my comfort.

  • Kay Bailey Hutcheson trying to protect her pork from beyond the political grave.

  • vulture4

    Do not underestimate the power of organizational inertia. There are thousands of people, some in powerful positions, convinced that SLS/Orion/Constellation represents the forces of political virtue and that its lack of funding, or any viable mission, is the fault of the reprehensible Obama Administration. I hope things will change, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • nom de plume

      Yes, some of the same cast of characters moved from Constellation to SLS/Orion and are no fans of Obama, Bolden, and Garver. Some of those with power, influence, political connections will fight any notion of reducing SLS funding or outright cancellation. Tie this to the Jeff’s previous discussion of Charlie Bolden’s future. Mr. Bolden needs to show more USMC backbone and go after those who actively work or are passive/aggressive about criticizing & undermining NASA administration and the President because of support of SpaceX and other potential commercial launch providers. They know the support is a threat to SLS.

      Dilemma: there are some competent NASA and Contractor people working SLS. They just want NASA to set a goal and stick with it. Hopefully Mr. Bolden can tell the difference between the competent team players and one’s who aren’t.

      • Coastal Ron

        nom de plume said:

        Yes, some of the same cast of characters moved from Constellation to SLS/Orion and are no fans of Obama, Bolden, and Garver. Some of those with power, influence, political connections will fight any notion of reducing SLS funding or outright cancellation.

        Certainly someone needs to come to grips with what the fiscal reality is with the SLS program.

        For instance, I could make an argument that it has been taking two years to figure out what the SLS was going to do and what missions it could be used for, since it was a major change from the Ares V. But if NASA wants to start launching important missions with the SLS once the 130mt version comes online, Congress has to start funding those missions pretty soon. They can’t wait 4 years.

        I can also make the argument that Bolden was brought in to clean up the programs NASA had, and not to necessarily to be “a space visionary”. I think he’s done a good job of doing that, so if Obama replaces him I think that will be a signal that the administration is looking for a different skill set for the NASA Administrator, whatever that may be.

        Then we’ve also been having a battle over the budget, both national and NASA, so it hasn’t really been the right time to be proposing mega-dollar exploration programs that utilize the SLS. However, once the current budget crisis is over, I think we’ll see some attention being put on the SLS program, whatever form that may take. Probably in the next budget cycle – summertime or so.

        But Congress can be pretty firm on things they really want (just ask former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney about the V-22 Osprey), however I don’t think this next Congress will be as caring about the SLS as the 2010 Congress was, especially when they see the price tag for fully utilizing it. In particular I think Rep. Paul Ryan (Chairman of the House Budget Committee & former Republican Vice Presidential candidate) will look forward to boosting NASA’s budget for the sake of an Obama space exploration legacy, so that could work against current Republican support for the SLS. We’ll see.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Every passing day brings the “joy” that the wonderful GOP idea of sequestration will actually happen. Aside from the deliciouis irony of the GOP actually having been the originators of the idea…

    1. it cuts defense
    2. raises revenue
    3…the GOP can get blamed for it…

    and along with this should come heavy cuts in SLS and Orion..


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