Congress, NASA, White House

Worrying about sequestration again

It was a missed deadline that was hardly noticed. Monday was the day that, under federal law, the White House was supposed to release its fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. But the Obama Administration did not release its budget proposal on the first Monday in February, as was the case last year. Officials with the Office of Management and Budget say the FY14 budget will be released next Wednesday, the day after President Obama gives his State of the Union address.

However, not many people are thinking about the 2014 budget when spending for 2013 remains unresolved, more than four months into the fiscal year. Attention is now on the March 1 deadline to deal with across-the-board automatic spending cuts, aka sequestration, a deadline that’s already been pushed back from the beginning of the year. Now, though, there’s a growing belief that the sequester, or something like it, will go into effect at the beginning of next month. National Journal reported last month that senators of both parties think sequestration could go into effect given unwillingness to either accept revenue increases or redistributed spending cuts. And POLITICO, in a piece today on the effect of such cuts on defense spending, concluded that currently “bets are on the automatic cuts taking place.”

If sequestration does go into effect, it would mean for NASA a cut of over eight percent for its various accounts (science, exploration, etc.) How those cuts would be distributed among various programs within those accounts remains unclear, as NASA has divulged few details. Speaking at the American Astronomical Society meeting in California last month, John Grunsfeld, the NASA associate administrator for science, indicated that planning for the original sequestration deadline of January 1 started less than a week before. “We never got flow down of what the sequestration would have meant,” he said, before Congress passed legislation to push back the sequestration deadline to March 1. The agency then went back to working with the administration on the FY14 budget proposal, he said.

Grunsfeld did say at the time that he made it a priority with NASA’s science program to protect funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, noting that it had been previously identified as an agency priority. But the lack of information about sequestration planning has created plenty of speculation about how those cuts would be implemented, such as in NASA’s planetary sciences program. An OMB memo to agencies last month provides only general guidance for sequestration planning, emphasizing finding “the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs” and identifying cost savings in grants and contracts, while working to “reduce operational risks and minimize impacts on the agency’s core mission”. As we get closer to the end of the month, better understanding what those sequestration cuts might entail will become more of a priority.

80 comments to Worrying about sequestration again

  • James

    If NASA SMD is left to its own to decide how to manage these cuts, I would expect that, along with JWST, any science mission already past Phase A will be protected; this avoids delaying those missions which would just increases their costs. I would expect any monies being spent this year for projects in Phase A or earlier to be terminated. R&A monies will be cut, technology development funds cut. Gonna be messy for sure.

    Since this is a cut that will be projected into future year budgets as well, I would expect the cadence of missions to be slowed.

    While the president can surely cancel civil servant pay raises, I doubt the contractor world would follow suit. So, mission costs will continue to rise, for those missions left on the books.

    The impact of all this is clearly going to be ‘too much infrastructure and people for not enough missions and money’. We may see Center closes, RIF’s, and certainly contractor layoffs. Keep in mind the Presidents FY 13 budget , while never approved by Congress, is being enacted and is already pushing out the cadence of missions.

    The trend is clear; eventually, NASA will be a place that farms what little money it has, out to the private sector. The idea that Government Labs are to do work that private industry isn’t doing , is certainly quaint, now outdated, and dying.

    Full cost accounting makes all the Centers just one more ‘contractor’ positioning themselves and competing with each other, for what little work there is left in the budget.

    NASA is entering old age, now in its mid 50’s. And I bet the average age of the NASA workforce is near 50. And like workers who are in the early to mid 50′s planning their retirement strategy has begun. NASA as an Agency, needs to begin its own retirement.

    • Coastal Ron

      James said:

      The impact of all this is clearly going to be ‘too much infrastructure and people for not enough missions and money’.

      Hasn’t that been the situation for quite a while now? Too many centers, and too many NASA government employees for what the current budget needs? Not that Congress sees it that way, since they are biased towards keeping centers open, and well staffed, regardless the waste.

      We may see Center closes, RIF’s, and certainly contractor layoffs.

      It would take an act of Congress to close centers I’m sure. Likely contractors will be reduced, even though that may not be the most cost-effective thing to do.

      The trend is clear; eventually, NASA will be a place that farms what little money it has, out to the private sector.

      NASA is already mainly a contracting organization, so I think you are being a little alarmist here.

      The idea that Government Labs are to do work that private industry isn’t doing , is certainly quaint, now outdated, and dying.

      I don’t know about that. I think there is still a place for them, but certainly they need to be focused on the right line of R&D. But there will be times that a center needs to be closed, or at least mothballed.

      For instance the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is not really being used full-time, and though it makes sense to have a national asset to help develop rocket engines, the center needs to be able to ramp down when there isn’t much new development needed (like now). But do you think Senator “SLS” Shelby would allow MSFC to lose people? Not likely.

      NASA as an Agency, needs to begin its own retirement.

      If America wants to expand it’s presence out into space, then it does need an agency to oversee that effort. NASA would be the right one if only there could be less Congressional interference and it was allowed to go back to it’s NACA roots.

      • James

        “If America wants to expand it’s presence out into space, then it does need an agency to oversee that effort. NASA would be the right one if only there could be less Congressional interference and it was allowed to go back to it’s NACA roots”.

        IMHO: very few Americans want to see America expand into space. What is the queue for Americans’ waiting on Virgin Galactic? Yes, those few Americans want to see America expand into Space. So do Space X employees, and Boeing employees, etc. Add it all up and it’s peanuts.

        Most Americans don’t care to see American expand into space unless some one else is paying for it.

        It is time to close the Centers. Keep HQ open to funnel the money where Congress tells them to. One can execute NACA functions in this way quite easily.

        Does anyone expect NASA’s performance as an Agency to get better wrt cost and schedule? It’s all a dysfunctional mess with Congress in their knickers micro managing content and chronically underfunding projects. I can’t see NASA doing any better than it is, and most likely worse, as has been the trend.

        As many on this blog have debated, there really isn’t a reason for HSF to exist and value added to American daily life. As as HSF goes, so goes the rest of the Agency.

        • Coastal Ron

          James said:

          IMHO: very few Americans want to see America expand into space. What is the queue for Americans’ waiting on Virgin Galactic?

          You’re confusing two issues.

          I want America to expand it’s presence out into space, but I’m not planning on spending $200,000 for 6 minutes of weightlessness.

          The real question is whether American taxpayers are willing to fund government efforts to increase our human presence in space. No timetable, no “Apollo program” type effort. Just a sustained effort of reaching for the stars. I think polls have showed that people are generally favorable to NASA, so if the right approach is taken (i.e. taxpayers see that their money is being spent wisely) I think taxpayers will be OK with it. But like everything with tax money, the perception of doing a lot with the money provided is key, which is why the SLS is such a waste.

          As as HSF goes, so goes the rest of the Agency.

          Maybe you are not aware, but NASA does more than Human SpaceFlight.

          • James

            Coastal Ron:

            Yes, I’ve seen those polls as well, that American’s generally support NASA. NASA does so many things though, and am wondering if the polling questions are specific enough for the public to distinguish thier preference for all of NASA does.

            Yes, SLS is a ‘rocket to nowhere’; the public probably does not know that SLS was hoisted on NASA. A colossal waste indeed

            I’ve heard many folks in SMD say ‘don’t attack HSF,,,as their budget goes, so goes ours’.

  • In related breaking news … The Associated Press reports that the annual deficit will shrink this year to below $1 trillion ($845 billion) and will be down to $430 billion by 2015.

    • James

      yes, and the CBO reported out yesterday that after 2015, those deficit #’s skyrocket! Too many baby boomers entering the retirement entitlement systems. And its too late to change the rules on such a large voting population. American faces a dismal fiscal future, with deficits over a $T per year, into perpetuity

  • amightywind

    The radical sequestration we hear about is for $1.2 trillion in growth over 10 years, and we are already hearing a lot of noise and ominous threats from the government bureaucracy. Obama is trying to put even this pain off with a short term spending deal to delay the sequestration which is his idea in the first place. The ratings agencies are demanding $4.2 trillion in 10 years, and government bond holders will demand more still. Expect a lot more ‘worrying’.

  • Overlooked in all the worrying about NASA’s budget and sequestration is the fact that private sector spending on space is going up, and by a lot.

    Last night I attended a presentation by a Space Florida rep, who gave an excellent insight into the commercial space game playing out here and in Texas.

    The launch facility itself, here or Texas, won’t bring many employees. But they’re looking ahead to when SpaceX has figured out reusable spacecraft and rocket stages. It’s anticipated that refurbishment will bring a lot of jobs.

    One problem is that the Webb-McNamara Agreement from the early 1960s gives the Range out here control over any launches from “federal” land. That’s why Space Florida tried to get the Shiloh property transferred from NASA to Space Florida. Commercial launchers like SpaceX don’t want to deal with the NASA/DOD bureaucracy; in fact, SpaceX launches from LC-40 will be strictly for government payloads. Commercial satellite launches will go elsewhere.

    If NASA won’t give up title on the Shiloh land, then SpaceX will go to Brownsville or elsewhere.

    Anyway, back to my original point … I’m not worrying so much about NASA’s budget any more, because space access is migrating to the private sector where Congress will be irrelevant.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    They told me that if I voted for Romney something like this would happen and they were right. It’s an incredible game of chicken that is being played because the current regime won’t address entitlement spending.

    • “They told me that if I voted for Romney something like this would happen and they were right. It’s an incredible game of chicken that is being played because the current regime won’t address entitlement spending.”
      Add that to you being a pusher for a launch system that any sane person would know will never fly. And you are a real winner.

    • JimNobles

      How can anyone who advocates for government spending fiscal responsibility support something like SLS? It defies logic.

    • amightywind

      The dynamics of the situation are simple, and must have been foreseen when the GOP made the fiscal cliff agreement. Their constituents will grudgingly take defense cuts in order to get real cuts in discretionary spending. They’re cheering at the sequester now that the pain of a tax increase has passed. Any cuts to Obama’s program will now cost him support. His support is based on a growing federal payout, which is ending. The GOP is willing to go over the cliff. Now they can entertain bids. A very cunning counter strategy!

      • E. P. Grondine

        Hi AW –

        Since the federal government has become a way of transferring wealth from other states to the “New South”, and the “entitlement” spending is not affected, perhaps Obama will welcome a sequester.

        By the way, NASA’s budget has always been perceived as being far larger than it is.

    • Bennett In Vermont (@BennettVermont)

      “They told me that if I voted for Romney something like this would happen and they were right.”
       

      How did your voting for Romney have any impact on what we’re seeing happen? What, did your vote kill Romney’s chance of being elected? You voted for Romney, thus Obama is asking for a delay to sequestration?
       

      Mark, you are so very far from the center of the universe, despite what “they” may have told you.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Mark R. Whittington
      February 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm · Reply

      They told me that if I voted for Romney something like this would happen and they were right. It’s an incredible game of chicken that is being played because the current regime won’t address entitlement spending.>>

      LOL

      you predicted Willard would win…as did the Fox News entourage..

      entitlement spending is not the problem…the problem is programs that are spending money and doing nothing.

      lets speak of two..SLS and Orion.

      The essence of federal programs are two things; one the basic jobs that they provide, mostly to red states where good jobs are hard to find…and then the “thing” that they create…because when the jobs are gone as the project is over then what is left is where the true value is.

      The federal expenditure per year on say the GPS constellation is an excellent example of “what is left”…what the Republic gets are some jobs for teh dollars but the product delivers far more jobs and profit then building the product.

      With SLS and Orion the essence of crony capitalism is at work. There is no value past the jobs in mostly red states. The rocket would never launch a payload that comes anywhere close to having any value for the dollars spent.

      The federal budget is full of these, most of which you support. F-35, that stupid ballistic missile defense that we spent already over 100 billion on…the list is endless.

      Assuming Musk/SpaceX can carry out their launch manifest; the nation has already reaped a reward for the dollars it invested in commercial cargo. The space station is being supplied at a fraction of teh shuttle cost…and the dollars that have been sown up in commercial orders by SpaceX are not only keeping people employed, but generating tax revenues.

      A true American success story…and all you do is sulk.

      Enjoy the future Mark…I am loving it. RGO

      • Robert G. Oler wrote:

        you predicted Willard would win…as did the Fox News entourage..

        The other day, I was telling a well-meaning elderly woman about all the new programs coming at CCAFS and KSC, the ISS, commercial space, SLS, etc. She looked quite perplexed and said:

        “But they said last night on the news that Obama wants to sell Cape Canaveral.”

        I assured her that story was false, but had the good grace not to ask just what “news” told her that. I think we all know which cable news channel that was.

        • The Faux News Network, that specializes in capitalizing on the irrational fears of scared angry old white men. :) I’m glad I’m just an old white man without the adjectives added.

          But seriously, NASA not wanting to sell that part of the land for a private space port is going to be a serious blow for the commercial launch industry in Florida. Wouldn’t surprise me if Brownsville ultimately became the new “space coast”.

          • amightywind

            You ought not to be such a chauvinist. Obama’s margin of victory was the low information (Obama phone) voter. We certainly have our own. Brownsville has distinct disadvantages from the Cape, not the least of which is a launch hazard zone over heavily populated islands in the Gulf of Mexico. A Brownsville launch site is not a serious proposal.

            • Robert G. Oler

              amightywind
              February 6, 2013 at 11:05 am · Reply

              You ought not to be such a chauvinist. Obama’s margin of victory was the low information (Obama phone) voter>>

              not true. his margin was in the middle class. The bulk of Romney’s vote was the dumb class..the unskewed polls people…aka Dean Chambers. RGO

            • You accusing someone else of chauvinism. The paradox is hilarious. :)

        • I doubt if any cable news channel said that. She probably just misunderstood what was actually said.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Rick Boozer Stephen C. Smith

          It took me awhile to realize this as the years progressed from the first flight of the space shuttle…was that the only way to build a space future at all…was to find some economic reason for doing “spaceflight” that lowered the cost of human activities in space…and then allowed the value per dollar level to come down.

          On the old CSERVE forum I started referring to this as the “launch bar”…oddly enough that is starting to happen now.

          SpaceX (and maybe Orbital) if they can lower the cost of access to orbit (or even just reverse the trend for cost to go higher) will do the first step in the launch bar…which is to bring a paying industry to space flight in the US.

          This is the commercial space launch industry…

          It creates wealth real wealth (meaning not only dollars but also the incentive to make more money by improving the product) but addresses the fundamental cost driver in spaceflight right now which is launch cost.

          The second phase is when those launch cost and capability start to impact the commercial product…you can see that already in the form of secondary payloads using the excess capability of the rockets. Eventually i9f successful it will start to modify the product of the primary carrier. Ie the payloads will morph.

          The third phase is when the capability (ie the rocket launch) starts being used for something else because now its cost is affordable…

          Dale Grey (I miss him) use to call this the “frontier settlement” process and the phases are “concurrent”

          there are more but you get the idea.

          The SLS/Orion theory is that some great government breakthrough is going to enable a massive breakout…That of course is absurd on its face after multi decades of giving it a try.

          So now what we have left are just “we dont like the black guys policies”

          The process I discribe is both what changes America and revitalizes its economy and economics. What we have here are people who simply dont like the black guy and who dont see the need of a different world.

          Brownsville could end up being the space coast…unless the pols get their act together. RGO

  • James

    I wonder how exuberant Elon would be in spending his own money if there were not an ISS. As NASA’s budget shrinks and withers away, there will be less demand for Space X Falcon suite of rockets, both from NASA and DoD.

    I can’t wait to see Virgin Galactic get off the ground and into Orbit; at least his enterprise doesn’t rely on big government programs.

    • Bennett In Vermont (@BennettVermont)

      Uh, James, have you seen the SpaceX launch manifest?

      He’s in the black without the ISS cargo business, and there are plenty of uses for FH as DOD’s primary LV, plus multiple sats and entire sat constellations in one launch.

      He’d be just as exuberant. But then, he’s an exuberant kind of guy.

      :-)

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “I can’t wait to see Virgin Galactic get off the ground and into Orbit;”

      SpaceShipTwo doesn’t go to orbit.

      “at least his enterprise doesn’t rely on big government programs.”

      They’re under contract with DARPA for their LauncherOne project.

    • Coastal Ron

      James wondered:

      As NASA’s budget shrinks and withers away, there will be less demand for Space X Falcon suite of rockets, both from NASA and DoD.

      Well, maybe less from NASA, although Congress has been asking NASA what it would take to keep the ISS going past 2020, so it’s not like they have already made up their mind about whether it will continue past 2020. And as others have already pointed out, NASA is a small part of the current SpaceX backlog.

      However you are completely wrong about SpaceX and the DoD. If anything SpaceX is poised to get more and more business from the DoD as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy get more operational experience. The Air Force, which manages launches for all DoD and NRO payloads, has already laid out the path for SpaceX and whoever else wants to get some of the launch business ULA has had a monopoly on until now, and SpaceX will be in position to qualify in about a year for Falcon 9 v1.1.

      The big money on the table will be for Falcon Heavy, since ULA has been charging around $450M for Delta IV Heavy, and SpaceX prices their Falcon Heavy at $128M. Oh, and ULA gets a $1B/year subsidy that will either stop, get divided up between ULA and all the newcomers, or the newcomers like SpaceX will also get a $1B/year subsidy. I doubt the latter will happen, so ULA is poised to not only lose launch business to SpaceX, but also lose the subsidy money – that’s gonna hurt the bottom line for ULA’s corporate parents, but it will be a significant cost savings for us taxpayers.

    • Robert G. Oler

      James
      February 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm · Reply

      I wonder how exuberant Elon would be in spending his own money if there were not an ISS. As NASA’s budget shrinks and withers away, there will be less demand for Space X Falcon suite of rockets, both from NASA and DoD. >

      actually there will probably be more, at least from DoD which has to launch payloads to survive. NASA is OK with simply studying the launching of payloads, but the military grinds to a halt quickly without its “birds” RGO

      • James

        RGO
        There is movement a foot to service (first refuel, then later fix electronics) assets already in Space. NASA Goddard is at the forefront of this. ISS experiments presently validating approach. HSF is funding, DoD is watching, if not directly funding; commercial partnership aplenty here. Demo missions near end of this decade. Impact will be sustaining of on orbit NASA, commercial, and DoD assets; Impact of that will be less need for LV’s as DoD, commercial, and NASA ‘birds’ will live longer on orbit lives. Just it time too, as there is declining budgets for building new assets.

        • Neil Shipley

          Hi James. I’m a bit surprised that this is so ‘new’ to NASA and DoD. After all, Progress provides fuel and water to the ISS and has from basically day one, and in-flight refuelling of aircraft is nothing new to the military. The principles are the same. Seems like NASA just overdoes things and spends needlessly.

        • Robert G. Oler

          James
          February 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm · Reply

          RGO
          There is movement a foot to service (first refuel, then later fix electronics) assets already in Space….. Demo missions near end of this decade. Impact will be sustaining of on orbit NASA, commercial, and DoD assets; Impact of that will be less need for LV’s as DoD, commercial, and NASA ‘birds’ will live longer on orbit lives>>

          not really, and really this is old news.

          DoD birds “age” well. I could walk through the average constellation age, but the satellites generally “last a long time”. This is true of commercial satellites.

          What happens with DoD birds is that mostly they get old because the stuff on them gets dated. Technologies improve and new technologies come on line…the GPS constellation is an “open” version of this. The early birds were mostly position only but now the satellites have a “cornucopia” of capabilities on them, and thats not to mention the improved GPS “signals”.

          The Phoenix etc programs are interesting but they dont negate the need for launch vehicles…and as the cost of the vehicles go down the users will go up.

          Right now one of the big pushes inside DoD is to try and replace the “drones” with satellites at least in terms of comm and picture capability.

          I honestly dont see a role for NASA in doing anything in human spaceflight (other then maintaining ISS) but I will bet you money that 10 years from now the DoD and other folks are launching more not less. RGO

    • Fred Willett

      I came across a speech Gwynne Shotwell gave July last year where she spelt out the progress of SpaceX in the market. last year the US got exactly 0% of the international commercial launch market. right now SpaceX is winning 20% of competed new launches and expects to ramp that up to 50% by 2015.
      She went on to compare the launch costs of various LVs
      Ariane $220M
      Proton $100M
      Chinese $75M (F9 equiv)
      Falcon 9 $50M
      Falcon H $85M
      other US LV’s are just not competative

      • Fred Willett

        Sorry I meant to give the link to the video
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPq0QN-J724

      • That’s exactly what the Space Florida rep said Monday night. In the early 1980s, 100% of the global commercial launch market was in the U.S.. Now it’s down to zero. SpaceX is trying to bring that back to the U.S.

        Funny how people who wave the flag and beat their chests proclaiming American exceptionalism curse Musk for trying to do that. But then I guess hypocrisy will always be illogical.

        • Neil Shipley

          It’s interesting that so many will not admit that cost is the major factor for the loss of commercial launch business from the U.S. Over on NSF Forum, I’ve tried to have this conversation but was basically told that I didn’t know what I was talking about by several apparently well-respected industry experts and however no alternatives were provided. Oh well!

        • Robert G. Oler

          .S.

          Funny how people who wave the flag and beat their chests proclaiming American exceptionalism curse Musk for trying to do that. But then I guess hypocrisy will always be illogical.>>

          Musk and SpaceX are American exceptionalism RGO

    • yg1968

      New Mexicans had to pay more than $200M for Spaceport America. In general, I am not in favour of increasing spending. However, from an economic point of view, spending on infrastructure (airports, spaceports, etc.) is the best kind of spending given that it provides long term benifits. It is essentially an investment in the economy.

  • James wrote:

    I wonder how exuberant Elon would be in spending his own money if there were not an ISS. As NASA’s budget shrinks and withers away, there will be less demand for Space X Falcon suite of rockets, both from NASA and DoD.

    Apparently you’ve never heard of Bigelow Aerospace or the SpaceX partnership with Bigelow to fly customers to the Bigelow inflatable habitats.

    Not to mention that NASA’s budget has nothing to do with Defense Department payloads.

    By the way, you might want to look at the SpaceX manifest to see how many clients have already paid for commercial satellite launches. None of those have anything to do with NASA or DOD.

    As Hillary Clinton recently said, some people refuse to live in an evidence-based world.

    • Bennett In Vermont (@BennettVermont)

      Well done, and you beat me to it…

      • And I overlooked the fact that Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, two years before the Bush administration proposed what would eventually become the commercial cargo program. He was trying to reduce the cost of commercial satellite delivery to space. NASA and ISS had nothing to do with it.

        • James

          I had conversations with Larry Williams, VP of Space X, in 2004 or 2005; can’t recall which year. NASA was always in their plans. Would they have not moved forward in 2002 had NASA not been around? Probably as Elon’s interest in saving humanity certainly transcends the existence of any one particular Federal Agency.

          So far Elon’s manifest hasn’t flown too many of his paying customers; I hope he eventual does, for his sake, as well as the nations.

          • Coastal Ron

            James said:

            NASA was always in their plans.

            This surprises you?

            Why wouldn’t NASA have been a target customer? They have a lot of launch needs, and they pay good money. If you would have asked Musk, he would have said the DoD, Intelsat and many others were “in their plans” too.

            I don’t understand how this “revelation” changes anything?

  • Aberwys

    I disagree with the poster who said that anything past Phase A would be safe. Legally, there are no binding ties until just after Phase C starts, so Phase A – B offer plenty of opportunities to save…a little bit here and there…

    • James

      It is true that legally NASA can cancel contracts at any phase of mission development. Its also true that Congress looks at the confirmation review, KDP C, for the baseline costs of a mission and begins their concern for overruns, which could lead to cancellation. This is the law of the land now.

      Its also true that when missions are cancelled, Congress always wants to know ‘how many people are being laid off’. In Phase A or earlier, its easy to say ‘not many’ and after phase A, and beyond, it’s harder to impossible not to have layoffs. I know because I was laid off. NASA will do it’s best to satisfy sequestration demands while limiting the negative fall out from lay offs; hence, the focus will be on missions early in their development, i.e Phase A or earlier.

  • NeilShipley

    Guess it’s time to eat some humble pie James and admit that you have it wrong. Clearly a little bit of research wouldn’t go astray. It’s all just waiting there for you to discover.

    • James

      I’ll take humble pie over starvation any day.

      Most of what goes on in these blogs is that ‘facts’ are posted and distributed – very well researched I might add – then opinions and assessments are offered up for digestion.

      Some opinions and assessments are grounded in these facts. Many aren’t. Some opinions and assessments are ground in experience; which is where mine come from.

      In the end, it’s all just a story. Some sound better than others. Some have facts behind them others don’t. I’m new to story telling, and eating some humble pie with my stories is not a bad suggestion. :)

      • Bennett In Vermont

        I really like your tone and approach, and I’m sure you’ll bring a perspective worth reading to this conversation.

        • Neil Shipley

          Yes I’ll second that. Too few posters are prepared to be open to new information or info’ that conflicts with their personal views. Well done.

  • Scott Bass

    JimNobles
    15 hrs, 16 mins ago
    How can anyone who advocates for government spending fiscal responsibility support something like SLS? It defies logic.

    We would probably never have had a national space program with logic ingrained as a core mission, I fact going forward that word will limit the horizons of all commercial space companies.

    Big expensive projects will always remain with big government bases on things that defy logic… And that includes all those intangibles like national pride, exploration for explorations sake etc etc, whether it be US or china. If/when SLS flies it will be a symbol of national pride to most as well as a colossal waste of money to some just like Apollo and the space shuttle was

    • Coastal Ron

      Scott Bass said:

      We would probably never have had a national space program with logic ingrained as a core mission…

      We had Apollo because of a political need, and that is entirely logical.

      Just because something is challenging or dangerous doesn’t mean it’s not also logical. The Hoover dam was both challenging and dangerous, and it was very logical. Our military routinely asks our soldiers to do challenging and dangerous missions, and they are very logical too.

      Your premise is not valid.

      If/when SLS flies it will be a symbol of national pride to most as well as a colossal waste of money to some just like Apollo and the space shuttle was

      The difference here is that the Shuttle and Apollo had very specific uses in mind when they were proposed – the SLS doesn’t. Other than pushing the Orion/MPCV to orbit, no one can identify a single customer for the SLS, much less identify a whole decades worth of payloads that it would take to truly justify spending $30B worth of our tax money.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Scott Bass
      February 6, 2013 at 9:31 am · Reply

      Big expensive projects will always remain with big government bases on things that defy logic…>>

      that is only narrowly accurate.

      in the US big expensive projects THAT DO NOT PERFORM and Continue have become the norm only with deficit spending.

      Big expensive projects that can be justified and work have and are the work of a great power. The interstate highway system, the atomic bomb etc are all things that are to expensive for anyone or any other group but are continued only as long as they work.

      They had to work because if they did not then they had to be cancelled for something that did work.

      Today with deficit spending not so much. If we HAD to go back to the Moon or do any of the things SLS/Orion is suppose to do we would not allow the project to continue with the same management eetc because we have to have it

      now who gives a frack. If it flies in 2021 or 2025 or 2031 no one cares it is just spending to spend…

      Thats new, the US didnt do that before 1980, even in war time…and it just got out of control in the Bush43 years. RGO

  • JimNobles

    Big expensive projects will always remain with big government bases on things that defy logic… And that includes all those intangibles like national pride, exploration for explorations sake etc etc, whether it be US or china. If/when SLS flies it will be a symbol of national pride to most as well as a colossal waste of money to some just like Apollo and the space shuttle was

    I can see your points and agree with almost all of them but in the case of SLS I think your observations and determinations may be misapplied. I think SLS is an obvious misuse of taxpayer funds. My confidence is high that commercial could provide a similar of superior heavy lifter with significant savings to the taxpayer. In my opinion NASA should not be building Earth to LEO lifters at all (unless they are truly experimental) as the private sector now wants to take on that role.

    I think the problem is that many people, including myself for a long time, thought of NASA as a rocket building space transportation entity primarily. Indeed, that’s what it was for many, many years. But now that commercial wants to take on that role I think NASA should let it go and concentrate on actual space exploration.

    Because of the tremendous institutional and political over-head costs that come with any operations conducted by NASA almost anything they build is going to cost the taxpayer a lot more than if it could be acquired commercially. Thus it makes sense to have NASA work on things that only it can realistically pursue and let commercial provide the rest.

    As I stated, I think the problem is psychological. People have got it into their heads that NASA is, and must be, in large part a Earth to LEO rocket building agency. That was true when no one else could design and build the rockets needed. It looks like it may not be true now and almost certainly won’t be true before too long. I submit that it makes no sense for NASA to build SLS since they can likely acquire the same capacity at a more realistic price from commercial companies.

    If NASA buys a launcher they can put a NASA logo on it if the want. They buy a lot of other stuff from commercial vendors. Why should they not buy lifters as well?

    Now, what’s wrong with my logic?

  • Scott Bass

    I would not have a problem contracting out SLS to space X….. Nothing wrong with your logic in saying cost plus contracts suck….. Nothing wrong with using Lockheed or Boeing either on a fixed cost basis. But it kind of applies that fixed cost should come after development …. It would be very difficult for even spaceX to realistically bid on SLS…. But after design and testing fixed cost is a no brainer.
    That is a side note to the argument of whether SLS should be built at all.

    I continue to have an open mind, obviously people like me where in love with the idea of the constellation project… Just not its architecture or implementation……. SLS may be no better but it does somehow keep that window just slightly open….. The conversation of what to do with it once it is built will be interesting, obviously many here see it cancelled….. But there is another path… A decision to be made by future leaders

    • Coastal Ron

      Scott Bass said:

      I would not have a problem contracting out SLS to space X

      This has nothing to do with the contracting method – the SLS lacks any identified need, no matter who builds it.

      Spending $1 on it is wasteful if there isn’t a market need for something, and there is no customer base crying for a rocket larger than the Delta IV Heavy. None. Nada. Zero.

      Until you have a recognized need for a service, you can’t design a solution for it. That is why the SLS is wrong on so many levels.

      It would be very difficult for even spaceX to realistically bid on SLS

      You seem to think that the current design of the SLS is the only solution to putting 70-130mt of mass in orbit. You are wrong.

      SpaceX has already identified the architecture that they would use for their 140mt rocket, and it doesn’t look anything like the SLS.

      The way things are supposed to work is that NASA should put out an RFQ for it’s forecasted transportation needs, and the aerospace industry will respond with their proposals for how they will satisfy NASA’s needs, both in hardware and in cost. This is how the vast majority of transportation services are taken care of for the government, including the NASA Launch Services (NLS) II Contract.

      The specs for the SLS were not based on any known requirements, they were just estimated based on what could be built using the leftover Ares I/V facilities and contractors. Which is the worst way to build something.

    • JimNobles

      But it kind of applies that fixed cost should come after development …. It would be very difficult for even spaceX to realistically bid on SLS…

      I don’t disagree. What I’d wish for is for NASA (or anybody!) to cut lose with enough money to get companies to submit proposals for a 75+mt lifter. The proposals would have to present enough technical detail to allow NASA engineers to realistically access the credibility of the proposals. There’s been a lot of talk about the advantages of commercial but I’d like the engineers to have a chance to look at the technical details.

      I am a SpaceX fan and Elon is my hero but I am not comfortable with the idea of SpaceX being the only game in town when it comes to buying economical launchers. Of any size. I am a little discouraged by the fact that other more established companies haven’t announced much in the way of plans to compete economically with the costs SpaceX has quoted. I think most of them have the engineering talent but I am truly beginning to doubt they have the business talent. Or maybe they are just waiting to see how the wind blows before jumping into this thing. I hope that’s it.

      Some people say that we don’t need a heavy lifter to explore space. I agree that we certainly don’t need one real soon but I’d still like one to be in-work and coming down the pike. Even Elon thinks we need a heavy lifter. But I think the biggest dangers to keep that from happening are costs and politics. That’s why I push ways I think may reduce costs and reduce the effects of politics on our efforts to get into space.

      • vulture4

        Boeing and Lockheed have talent, but they do not see profits in competing with SpaceX on price as long as they can protect their market with the US Government. If SpaceX can really take away government sales they may change their strategy.

        • common sense

          Yes they both have talent. However I doubt Lockheed can adapt since they don’t have any fiber of commercial left in their corporate bodies. Boeing still sell commercial airplanes so they might but it is far from a done deal – at some point in the past there were talks about letting go of commercial airplanes at Boeing. They would have to build a separate and I mean separate company with no relationship to the Boeing corporation and that is a long shot. But they might. Actually it’d be great.

          FWIW.

      • Coastal Ron

        JimNobles said:

        I don’t disagree. What I’d wish for is for NASA (or anybody!) to cut lose with enough money to get companies to submit proposals for a 75+mt lifter.

        ULA and SpaceX has already publicly shown off their upgrade paths for payload sizes up to 140mt, so there is no lack of capability in the American aerospace industry.

        What is lacking is a need for lifting more than 20mt of mass, much less 75mt. In other words, having a 75mt-capable rocket sitting around is not going to generate payloads, a need generates payloads. There is no need for larger rockets at this time.

        I am a SpaceX fan and Elon is my hero but I am not comfortable with the idea of SpaceX being the only game in town when it comes to buying economical launchers.

        Were you comfortable with ULA having a monopoly?

        Look, I like competition, and I would prefer not to have anyone have a monopoly on the U.S. Government launch market, regardless how benign they may be. But ULA and it’s parents already know which way the market is going, and they have had a heads-up on Musk’s plans for quite a while now, so there is no excuse for them not trying to be more competitive on price. None. If they can’t make a successful & profitable business in a competitive market, then they should sell off ULA to someone that can.

        Some people say that we don’t need a heavy lifter to explore space. I agree that we certainly don’t need one real soon but I’d still like one to be in-work and coming down the pike.

        Until you have a defined need, spending any money would be a waste.

        Even Elon thinks we need a heavy lifter.

        Maybe so, but not for the same reasons people think NASA should have one. Apple and oranges.

        Musk is also only building what he can sell, even though he has outlined his plans for the future. For instance, Falcon Heavy won’t be successful because it addresses a known need to put 53mt of payload into LEO, but because it only costs $128M to launch the same payloads that cost twice as much to launch on Ariane 5 and Delta IV Heavy. At that low of a price, who cares if they aren’t maxing out the payload capacity?

        The SLS is the opposite situation, in that it is being built before there is an identified need or customer, and it will be the most expensive option for getting mass to orbit.

        • JimNobles

          Coastal Ron

          Are you sure your thinking on this matter isn’t too government-space oriented?

          SpaceX has indicated they believe a heavy lifter is needed. Bigelow will need a large lifter if he is ever going to get his biggest modules into orbit. That’s two companies that have indicated they feel there is a need. The people who want to try and do ISRU on the moon are going to need economical transport for the equipment and etc. (IMO more than they think they are going to need.)

          If you are saying that there is no need for a heavy lifter because NASA doesn’t have a proposal which needs a heavy lifter and which has been approved and funded by Congress then you are obviously correct. But NASA now doesn’t only build equipment for expensively large approved and funded government programs, it also is to help build an industry by enabling commercial enterprise. SLS is ridiculously over-priced for that type of effort. But if NASA can get a commercial heavy-lifter at much more reasonable prices it helps the company or companies that made the rocket by letting them retain the IP and seek other customers. It can help NASA try to sell their proposals to Congress and the American people because of the lower costs. And it helps every person in America who thinks they have an idea for a service or a product which requires economical heavy-lift at some point in its development or operation.

          The idea that a heavy-lifter is a waste of money because Congress has not funded a mission that requires it is in my opinion a bit short-sighted. And applicable mainly to SLS because it is just too damn expensive. But, for example, if Elon goes to NASA and says, “I need a heavy-lifter. You want a heavy-lifter. Maybe we can work out a cost sharing arrangement. One that helps SpaceX and one that allows you access to a heavy-lifter at a very reasonable price.” That would work wouldn’t it. SpaceX could get what they believe they need. NASA could get access to what they want even though they don’t have any funded missions for it. And the lifter becomes available for anyone else in business (or even government) who thinks about it and decides they might can make use of it.

          This seems reasonable to me.

          • Coastal Ron

            JimNobles said:

            SpaceX has indicated they believe a heavy lifter is needed.

            At some point, but obviously not now.

            Bigelow will need a large lifter if he is ever going to get his biggest modules into orbit.

            Bigelow will build whatever the market wants. If the market wants a module that fits on a 20mt launcher, he’ll build a 20mt module. Keep in mind that we have a 450mt space station in LEO that was built within the 20mt mass constraint, so we have not run into any real limits on what we can do with the rockets we already have.

            Bigelows proposed BA 2100 module is in the same category as Musk’s Falcon XX – concepts that show what direction the companies would like to go. Kind of like concept cars at auto shows – some get built, most don’t because they didn’t resonate with the public, or they were mainly showing off pieces and parts of ideas that the companies plan to use later.

            That’s two companies that have indicated they feel there is a need.

            They have indicated where they could go, what they could offer in the future. That’s not to say when that future is, or who the customers will be. For instance, who needs to lift 140mt of mass in one launch, and who needs one or more 2,100-cubic-metre (74,000 cu ft) habitats? No one today, but maybe in 10 or 20 years? No one knows.

            But, for example, if Elon goes to NASA and says, “I need a heavy-lifter. You want a heavy-lifter. Maybe we can work out a cost sharing arrangement. One that helps SpaceX and one that allows you access to a heavy-lifter at a very reasonable price.”

            Musk has already done that – he offered a 140mt launcher for $3B in fixed-price development cost, and guarantees the launch price will be $300M. The SLS consumes $3B per year, yet no one in Congress has said “Hey NASA, what do you think? More launcher for less money, you want to do it?”

            The power of pork is greater than clear thinking.

            • Bennett In Vermont

              “Musk has already done that – he offered a 140mt launcher for $3B in fixed-price development cost, and guarantees the launch price will be $300M.

              The SLS consumes $3B per year, yet no one in Congress has said “Hey NASA, what do you think? More launcher for less money, you want to do it?

              The power of pork is greater than clear thinking.”
               

              This absolutely encapsulates my frustration with our so-called elected representatives. If their decision making is so corrupt over a non-mainstream issue like a damned rocket design (or a comprehensive approach to using the thing for exploration), we of the space advocacy subset must necessarily cringe at the logical extension of our experience as it relates to the grander picture of decisions that effect an entire country’s population.

              It seems that we are truly screwed.

        • Fred Willett

          “Even Elon thinks we need a heavy lifter.”
          I’m not sure that’s true.
          The Falcon Heavy is just a logical upgrade of the F9. The reason?
          F9 only covers about half the commercial launch market. Elon needed something bigger to cover the other half of the commercial (mainly GEO) launch market. The fact that FH will lift 53t is beside the point in terms of servicing that market.
          What all that extra capacity on FH does give SpaceX is a lot of margin they can use in chasing reusability.
          For the same reason you will likely see Elon develop a high energy upper stage. Not to push FH past 70t (which it will) but to giver extra margin on the second stage which can be used to defray the penalty of reusability on the 2nd stage.

          • Coastal Ron

            Fred Willett said:

            For the same reason you will likely see Elon develop a high energy upper stage. Not to push FH past 70t (which it will) but to giver extra margin on the second stage which can be used to defray the penalty of reusability on the 2nd stage.

            Nailed it. That is what I think confuses people, in that they see Falcon Heavy as meaning that there must be 53mt payloads coming soon, but really what it means is that SpaceX can implement less efficient reusable boosters for current sized payloads, thus lowering their prices even more.

            If everyone were to go back and read what initially drove Musk to start SpaceX, it was the lack of affordable transport to space. Everything he is doing with SpaceX is focused on dramatically lowering the cost to access space, and by doing that “humanity” (including Musk) will be able to reach the Moon, Mars and beyond for far less money than it costs today.

            Unfortunately that goes against the incentives Congress is used to, which is to have MORE money spent on their constituents, not less, so of course they want the most money possible spent on a NASA owned rocket – which explains the SLS…

    • I continue to have an open mind, obviously people like me where in love with the idea of the constellation project… Just not its architecture or implementation

      That makes no sense. The architecture and implementation defined Constellation. A different architecture and implementation wouldn’t have been Constellation.

    • pathfinder_01

      Design and testing are very integral to costs. NASA does not need to design SLS. It can offer test facilities if needed but that is a different story. Private space has been building and launching rockets since the 80ies and therefore they have the greatest amount of knowledge about how to design and build a rocket. In terms of design Delta III, Delta IV; Altas II, III,V; Pegauses, minotaur, Titan IV, falcon 9 were all designed by industry.

      IMHO building on space shuttle left over parts was a bad idea. The parts were designed for a reusable space plane not a disposable heavy lift rocket not to mention the fact that technology has advanced since the 70ies and we might not do many things the same way. Mandating the use of shuttle technology is only slightly worse than attempting to build an airplane out of helicopter parts…..

      • common sense

        “IMHO building on space shuttle left over parts was a bad idea. ”

        It’s because it was a political decision that had some sense. Look where Griffin ended up after his job as NASA Admin.

        Need any more evidence?

  • Scott Bass

    Ron…. Politics is logical? …. Depends where you sit….was Hubble logical….the mars rovers? Webb?
    What’s the pay off? What portion of the engineering that will be learned by designing SLS has value, 1%… 10%?

    Sometimes the value of things are not readily apparent….. SLS? Just the capability opens many unseen possibilities, worth the money? Not from an investors standpoint but neither was Hubble …… Anyway just saying SLS value is yet to be determined…. But yeah you can label it a failure today as a capitalistic venture

  • Scott Bass

    Don’t get stuck on the name constellation….it’s just a mars goal with the moon as an interim destination….. It could have been modified instead of cancelled, commercial space could have contracted/replace Ares1/Orion with NASA tasked to concentrate on Ares V and the lander…. Could have easily done a restart a stead of canceling the whole shabang….. Even if they had to move the goal post out a decade or two it would have been better than what we have on the books now. I think I will always believe it was short sighted to cancel constellation…. The Augustine committee should have been tasked to look at ways to make it work instead if exploring other paths …. It could have been fixed with a major over haul and also could have provided much needed funds to keep newspace viable while they find their way

    • common sense

      “Don’t get stuck on the name constellation….”

      You know the problem is accuracy. Constellation was the architecture implemented to respond to the VSE the one plan you actually refer to. The first architecture was the spiral approach by O’Keefe/Steidle, the only architecture that had a chance, even if slim, to work. Constellation destroyed all hopes of the VSE ever becoming reality. Flexible Path only is the re-thinking of the spiral approach with more emphasis, possibly, on the commercial providers and fixed-proce contracts.

      Anything ele you mumble about Constellation is only that. Nothing could be modified about Constellation. But if you know something we don’t about budget/engineering please enlighten us. Rather than spouting mundane assertions. Please.

      Did you follow/read the Augustine Committee reports? They did try exactly what you blame them not to do. One of the results was that Constellation needed another $3B/yr to survive, another result was that if we could build the darn things then we would not be able to operate them.

      Please make an effort. A little one, reading is not that difficult you know?

      Etc. Etc.

  • Scott Bass

    SLS lives partly because some members of congress hold out hope that it will bring about constellation 2.0 under future leadership…. And yeah before you say it that mean pork and jobs too lol
    …… Really deep I am sure that is my hope too….yeah I want us to and on the moon and do the other things…. I want it really really bad…. SLS is the only plan on the books with an even remote possibility of that happening…. New space will not do it unless it somehow became profitable.

    • Scott Bass wrote:

      I want us to and on the moon and do the other things…. I want it really really bad…. SLS is the only plan on the books with an even remote possibility of that happening….

      Not to be blunt, but why should the taxpayer foot the bill for fulfilling your personal dreams?

      The government already went to the Moon. Six landings. Lots of Moon rocks in the museums.

      Why should the taxpayers pay for you to do that again?

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “yeah I want us to and on the moon and do the other things…. I want it really really bad…. SLS is the only plan on the books with an even remote possibility of that happening….

      You’re mistaken. There is no “plan on the books” to go back to the Moon’s surface with SLS. The second test flight of MPCV does an Apollo 8-type flight around the Moon. But NASA has no program, budget, or plan to build a lander or related hardware to enable a lunar landing with SLS.

      “New space will not do it unless it somehow became profitable.”

      Since NASA can’t do it, one company is actively attempting to develop a lunar landing architecture using less expensive launchers:

      http://goldenspikecompany.com/

      http://goldenspikecompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/French-et-al.-Architecture-Paper-in-AIAA-Journal-of-Spacecraft-and-Rockets.pdf

      It’s true that Golden Spike can’t carry through on their plans if they don’t attract enough customers to fund the development of their architecture. But unlike NASA, they are spending real money and making real progress on actual lunar hardware plans. For example, Golden Spike is holding a review today with contractor Northrup Grumman on lander design progress:

      http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/01/golden-spike-northrop-grumman-lunar-lander/

      Other organizations in industry and academia have shown how to return to the Moon and reach NEOs much less expensively and more sustainably than could be done with SLS:

      http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/AffordableExplorationArchitecture2009.pdf

      http://nasawatch.com/archives/2011/03/using-commercia.html

      NASA would have to fund these plans, but that will become possible when SLS collapses. Or sooner if the White House, or, less likely, Congress, come to their senses.

    • Coastal Ron

      Scott Bass said:

      SLS lives partly because some members of congress hold out hope that it will bring about constellation 2.0 under future leadership

      No, Nelson and Shelby were quite clear why they wanted to create the SLS – to save jobs being cut from the cancellation of Constellation. No one has mentioned going back to the Moon as a reason for the SLS, nor any other specific destination.

      Oh sure, they talk about “needing” the SLS for NASA’s future, but that is vague justification for the SLS as a jobs program.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Scott Bass

      …… Really deep I am sure that is my hope too….yeah I want us to and on the moon and do the other things…. I want it really really bad…. SLS is the only plan on the books with an even remote possibility of that happening…>>

      SLS and Orion have really no chance of ever making it back to the Moon, even if it survives which it will not.

      SLS cost to much to develop, takes to long, and then cost to much to operate. Same with all its payloads…

      The US will never go down that road again, ie another Apollo “lets just go there to go there”

      RGO

  • JimNobles

    Scott Bass said,

    …yeah I want us to and on the moon and do the other things…. I want it really really bad…. SLS is the only plan on the books with an even remote possibility of that happening…. New space will not do it unless it somehow became profitable.

    Don’t give up hope. If SLS crashes and burns (and it truly might) we still have a couple rich Mad space cadets on our side. Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk appears to truly want to go to Mars and appears determined. Bigelow appears to truly want to build space stations and appears determined. I would also mention that, before he bought the rights to Transhab, Bigelow had the idea of a space cruise ship to go between the earth and the moon. I don’t know of any of these dreams will be realized but I have to say that I honestly don’t believe that doing things the old way is going to work anymore. At best, if commercial gets prices down low enough, NASA might be able to squeeze enough money out of Congress for manned moon, mars, and asteroid missions. Right now the big launcher project is doing for HSF what JWST did for astronomy missions.

    That’s the way it looks to me anyway.

  • E. P. Grondine

    Here’s an idea: What about NASA “relieving” people if their work is “not adequate”?

  • Scott Bass

    Just a couple of responses, first Im a taxpayer so I can advocate any direction I see fit, second…. If I am reading the tea leaves right then SLS will continue development until at least April of 2017 regardless of anyone’s opinions here…. Prediction…No one will speak of cancelation during the 2016 campaign

    • JimNobles

      I agree. I don’t see anyone making much political hay over cancelling SLS. But we should watch the money. What happens there will probably telegraph the shape of things to come.

  • Aberwys

    Has anyone calcuated how much this entire charade as cost the US?

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