NASA

NASA’s sequestration plan would bring commercial crew to a halt

If budget sequestration goes into effect next month, NASA plans to enact a series of spending reductions that would effectively bring the agency’s commercial crew program to a halt by the summer, and delay or cancel some science and technology missions, according to a letter released by a Senate committee today.

The letter from NASA administrator Charles Bolden to Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, dated February 5, was one of many from various federal agencies that Mikulski’s committee released today as part of a hearing on the effects budget sequestration would have on the government should the automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect as currently planned on March 1.

Bolden, in the letter, said that the agency assumed that the current continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government at FY 2012 levels until March 27, would be extended through the rest of the fiscal year, and that the sequester would cut five percent from that level, or about nine percent from the remaining part of the fiscal year. That works out to a full-year budget of $16.985 billion, or $894 million below the CR level (and $726.7 million below the administration’s FY2013 budget request.) By comparison, NASA was looking at a larger cut of $1.46 billion under the original sequestration plans released in September.

Those cuts will not be distributed evenly across NASA’s various programs. Exploration would see a cut of $332.2 million from the FY13 request. Commercial crew would bear the brunt of that cut. “After sequestration, NASA would not be able to fund milestones planned to be allocated in the fourth quarter of FY 2013 for Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap),” the letter states, including a number of reviews scheduled for Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX. “Overall availability of commercial crew transportation services would be significantly delayed, thereby extending our reliance on foreign providers for crew transportation to the International Space Station.”

NASA would also cut $45 million from its exploration R&D efforts, delaying or canceling several research programs in this area. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew exploration vehicle would not be directly affected by the cuts.

Elsewhere, NASA would cut $251.7 million from the proposed $619.2 million for its construction account, affecting a number of agency construction projects, including ground facilities needed for SLS and Orion. NASA would cut $149.4 million from the requested $699 million for its space technology program, with potential effects ranging from several planned technology demonstration programs to a reduction in parabolic or suborbital flights in its Flight Opportunities program.

Science would get a $51.1 million cut from its requested $4.91 billion. That would result in potential delays or lower funding levels for new Explorer and Earth Venture class missions, and a reduction in funding of about 2% for research and analysis grants. Major ongoing programs, like NASA Mars exploration efforts and the James Webb Space Telescope, would not be affected by the cuts. Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, said during a NASA Advisory Committee astrophysics subcommittee telecon Thusday afternoon that he hasn’t seen the letter outlining the agency’s plans, but suggested one approach would be to delay the start of the next Explorer-class mission, slated to be announced this spring, until the beginning of fiscal year 2014.

The letter doesn’t identify any cuts to NASA’s space operations, education, or cross-agency support programs, suggesting that they would not participate in the cuts. In fact, the total cuts (relative to FY13) included in the letter, including the $7.3 million for aeronautics and $0.4 million for the office of the inspector general, sum to $792.1 million, more than the $726.7 million figure cited in the letter. The cause of that difference isn’t immediately clear.

62 comments to NASA’s sequestration plan would bring commercial crew to a halt

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew exploration vehicle would not be directly affected by the cuts.”

    SLS/MPCV presumably weren’t targeted because their budgets were already going down by $230 million from FY12 to the President’s FY13 Budget. That, combined with the cuts to Construction of Facilities, is already pretty crippling.

    The wise thing to do would be to put SLS/MPCV out of its misery and apply the savings to sequestration. But if the Administration is not going to put that on the table, then the only other choice within the Exploration account is to level-fund commercial crew.

    • Robert G. Oler

      The President would in my view be foolish to “single out” any one or two systems/things in any budget for zero out in the sequestration process.

      The goal of sequestration, something in my view Obama believes in, is to try and get “consensus” or what passes for it these days on a geniune federal budget…ie to restart the budget process which the GOP has mostly killed.

      To do this requires across the board “pain” and some spectaculur “Washington Monument” thing that goes nicely with Obama’s campaign themes which he wilL “Run on” should sequestration take effect and the battle become a purely political one.

      I expect Orion/SLS to succumb in the aftermath of sequestration when I think that there will be a genuine effort to draft a budget joined by members of the GOP who are not part of the Kamikaze corps.

      the flip side of course is if the notion of a “coming together” flounders ie the GOP is content to lose this one (or the President actually does something I doubt) then things are not all that bad actually; the deficit is coming down anyway; this will drive it down more…the GOP will become even more unpopular as I believe that they will be blamed for it, the GOP will become more and more extreme…and Obama will have several campaign issues.

      One of which is spaceflight particularly crewed lift if he desires it…ie “the GOP is leaving the Russians to control access to the station”…will come in handy in Blue Florida and Texas which is turning blue.

      A lot of this depends on handling and events; but I think that is where things are trending now.

      I will be entertained to see how the Tea Party in Space responds to this…as the last I checked they were pro commercial lift. RGO

      • E. P. Grondine

        Hi RGO –

        Do you think that the President may get really tired of “negotiating” with the House Majority Leader, and suggest to him to “negotiate” with the House Minority Leader?

    • DCSCA

      “The wise thing to do would be to put SLS/MPCV out of its misery and apply the savings to sequestration.”

      Wrong. SLS/MPCV is a valid geo-political strategy for the United States that will presss on. The ‘wise’ thing to do is apply commercial crew subsidies/funding to sequestration- it will only delay something for a short time that’s inevitably going no where in the long run anyway.

      • Coastal Ron

        DCSCA opined:

        SLS/MPCV is a valid geo-political strategy for the United States

        YOU think it is, but no one else. Those that support it actively in Congress do so because it benefits the citizens (and likely voters) of their states and congressional districts – not because of some nebulous “geo-political strategy”.

        You have been asked by many to support this supposed theory of yours, but you consistently fail to describe what it means. Time to put up or shut up… Tick, tock, Tick tock… ;-)

      • “Wrong. SLS/MPCV is a valid geo-political strategy for the United States that will presss on.”

        Valid? ‘Geo-political strategy’ supportive of, or against…whom?

        Exactly who is it meant to help, deter, impress, embarrass, or otherwise provide leverage? and how?

        “it will only delay something for a short time that’s inevitably going no where in the long run anyway.”

        I’m sure Bigelow and other interested parties would be quite surprised to hear that.

        It would sit well with the Russians and their current monopoly on ISS access, however. They know we’ll never use Orion/SLS as an alternative to them…or for much of anything else. No ‘strategy’ there…

  • A M Swallow

    CCiCap, which is being cut, is the follow on to CCDev which was initially funded using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 money. Ironic if NASA has to use 2013 Recovery Act money to complete it.

  • amightywind

    This is logical. NASA cannot afford to string along 3 commercial crew projects. That is nutty, considering the 3 year duration of the mission. Time to get it down to 1. BTW, I have been enjoying Elon Musk’s public relations struggles with the NYT immensely.

    will come in handy in Blue Florida and Texas which is turning blue.

    The dems have made some inroads in the Rio Grande Valley, but they are still pretty much a coastal political party. Texas remains one of the reddest states, and a last redoubt of American capitalism. Florida has red tendencies but that is balanced by an elderly population that has been utterly enslaved by entitlements. Definitely a swing state with Marco Rubio around.

    I will be entertained to see how the Tea Party in Space responds to this

    Me too. I wonder what they think of the wildly popular Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. My guess is that 3 astroturfers in a basement just decided to hijack the name.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “This is logical. NASA cannot afford to string along 3 commercial crew projects. That is nutty”

      Is it logical or nutty? The program is a year away from its downselect, so the “reduction” from the President’s FY 2013 Budget Request is causing the commercial crew milestones to be dragged out. That reduction is either good or bad, logical or nutty. It can’t be both.

      “considering the 3 year duration of the mission”

      The ISS parters are extending that “mission” to 2028, at a minimum. And some of the commercial crew performers will be ready before 2017. So the “mission” is more like 11-13 years in duration.

    • josh

      texas will turn blue, you can deny it all you want. just as you denied the possibility of obama being reelected:) florida already voted for obama, so that’s a mute point. and rubio? his sotu rebuttal was pathetic. i have rarely seen a politician that is so obviously uncomfortable speaking in front of a camera. totally overrated. if he is stupid enough to enter the primaries in 2016 he will crumble like perry and all the other empty suits.

      enjoy some more government hand-outs before sls is shut down. it won’t be long now.

    • JimNobles

      .

      NASA cannot afford to string along 3 commercial crew projects.

      They need to keep supporting at least two in case, after they become operational, one of them has downtime for one reason or another. If there was only one and it went down for some reason we’d be right back where we are today, having to buy rides from other countries. If NASA is forced to support only two it would probably be SpaceX, because they are well ahead of the others, and Dream Chaser because it is photogenic as hell, its design screams re-usability, and NASA really, really wants a space plane. But of course you already know this. You are just having problems accepting it. I don’t know why.

      That is nutty, considering the 3 year duration of the mission.

      I presume you are talking about ISS. The ISS partners are planning on extending its life as long as they can. Most everyone believes it will be in orbit and active many more years than you suggest. If Bigelow’s modules turn out to be useful and not crap I would supect we would see more of them on ISS or its replacement. Right now it looks like there is going to be a manned orbital facility for a long time to come. Your idea that we should ditch the space station seems to have very little traction with the people who are actually doing human space flight. I’m sure you know this as well.

      BTW, I have been enjoying Elon Musk’s public relations struggles with the NYT immensely.

      Me too. I think he’s winning and it’s all publicity for Tesla. I don’t understand the problems some people have with the idea of electric vehicles. I don’t care what powers my personal transportation as long as it’s there when I need it and it is not a hassle to maintain and operate.

    • “This is logical. NASA cannot afford to string along 3 commercial crew projects.”

      Why not? So far the annual expenditures on it have been what, about the equivalent of seven weeks of the SLS/Orion annual bite?

      A perfectly acceptable price for domestic, competitive, triple-redundant human LEO access that NASA can use now, and commercially, soon after.

      What existing, or explicitly funded (for it has no commercial value, and only one possible government user) need will SLS serve?

    • E. P. Grondine

      Hi AW –

      You don’t get it. Musk intends to do what he set out to do, regardless of Federal funding. Take a look at the cash flow and his deep pockets.

      Of course, you undoubtedly realize that when battery technology improves, Musk will be well positioned with Tesla?

      You should be thankful that Obama is not Nixon. You ever seen the vote counts in the Saturn shutdown papers? How about Obama saying, “Well, they’re not going to vote for us in those districts, so no problem”?

  • DRMuse

    Folks need to slow down for a minute when talking about cuts to commercial crew. The letter compares funding under a post-sequester full year CR to the President’s budget request for FY2013 – not actual obligated funding for the program. Commercial crew received $406M in FY2012, which would be amount the program would run under a full year CR for FY2013. Then you subtract the sequester cuts on the $203M from second half of the year.

    Let’s say that leaves you at about $185M for commercial crew for the second half FY2103 CR – add $185M to $203M ($388M) and subtract that number from the President’s FY2013 request of $830M – you get a “cut” of $442M. Which is very close to the number in NASA’s letter. (Otherwise, it makes no sense to “cut” $441M from a program that is only funded at $406 under a full year CR even if sequester is averted.)

    The big number for crew is the result of a much larger difference between the President’s request and what the program is running under the CR. I haven’t seen evidence that the commercial crew program is taking a larger percentage cut than any other program.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “I haven’t seen evidence that the commercial crew program is taking a larger percentage cut than any other program.”

      Your assessment on the commercial crew dollars is correct. Compared to FY 2012, commercial crew is only taking an $18 million hit in FY2013, even after the sequester.

      SLS/MPCV is going to take a much bigger dollar hit in FY 2013 because the President’s FY 2013 Budget Request was cutting those projects by ~$230 million before the sequester. Their ground construction is going to take another large fraction of a ~$200+ million cut from the sequester. So the total hit to SLS/MPCV going from FY 2012 to FY 2013 is in the neighborhood of $400-500 million.

      What’s interesting (and sad) is that NASA can quantify the impact of what is a small year-to-year cut to commercial crew. They know what milestones are going to move to the right from only an $18 million year-to-year reduction.

      But there is no such impact for SLS/MPCV in the letter, even though it’s getting a much larger cut dollar-wise going from FY 2012 to FY 2013. A half-billion taxpayer dollars can disappear from the SLS/MPCV projects and nothing changes — no milestones, no content, no nothing. It’s a joke of a program. Everyone stays employed, but nothing else changes, no matter the funding level.

      • Jim Hillhouse

        True, the $18M hit is from the FY12 appropriation of $406M. But that’s only part of the picture. Bolden states that Sequestration will cause a $441.6M budget cut off the President’s FY13 CCP budget request of $850M, leaving a CCP budget of $388M. In FY12, $406M was appropriated for CCP, which is the program’s current working budget under CR funding. For FY13, the House and Senate appropriated $500M and $525M respectively for CCP. That means that, based on House and Senate appropriations, CCP has been looking at a $325M to $350M budget haircut no matter what. But if the Sequestration sticks for long, that $441.6M budget cut will, as Bolden points out, cut nearly 38% of the CCiCap budget of $1.2B, obviously impacting CCiCap in a big way.

        Bolden mentions no cuts to Orion, SLS, or the SLS ground systems budgets, nor am I able to devine any, in his letter. In FY12, Orion, SLS, and SLS ground systems were appropriated $1.2B, $1.544, and $317M respectively. For FY13, for Orion, SLS, and SLS Gnd Systems the House appropriated $1.025B, $1.544B, and $454M; the Senate appropriated $1.2B, $1.482B, and $394M; the final FY13 NASA Appropriation will likely budget $1.2B, $1.544B, and $394M respectively.

        • Coastal Ron

          Jim Hillhouse said:

          Bolden mentions no cuts to Orion, SLS, or the SLS ground systems budgets, nor am I able to devine any, in his letter.

          Then you must have missed it, or maybe he didn’t mention it, but there are cuts to the infrastructure account the SLS depends upon for launch.

          Now maybe they will still have time to catch up so it is not a major impediment to launching the SLS on schedule (which it likely won’t do anyways), but the same could be said for Commercial Crew – that these impeding cuts are just temporary slowdowns.

          In fact, the commercial folks are more able to make up these types of slowdowns than government programs, so sequestration is less of a danger to Commercial Crew than it is SLS, which is already behind it’s budget curve to meet the current public schedules.

  • josh

    trust in nasa and congress to do the dumbest thing possible. in this case cut commercial crew while continuing to shovel money into a make work project that will never get anywhere (sls)…

  • Cdub

    I was under the impression that the sequester cuts were across the board, and there wasn’t any leeway to decide to take more from one program than from another – that’s one of the reasons it’s considered such a bad way to cut. So, how does SLS escape being cut? Is my understanding just incorrect?

    • Dark Blue Nine

      The cuts are across-the-board by appropriations/Treasury account, and each account has multiple programs within it. So in the case of the Science account, it’s up to NASA, OMB, and the White House whether to take the cut from JWST, the Mars Program, or other projects or research (or some combination thereof). And in the case of the Exploration account, which has SLS, MPCV, SLS/MPCV ground systems, and commercial crew, it’s up to NASA, OMB, and the White House which of those programs (or some combination thereof) takes the hit.

      Hope this helps.

    • Nemo

      I was under the impression that the sequester cuts were across the board, and there wasn’t any leeway to decide to take more from one program than from another – that’s one of the reasons it’s considered such a bad way to cut. So, how does SLS escape being cut? Is my understanding just incorrect?

      The cuts are across the board, when compared to actual appropriated funding levels (the FY13 Continuing Resolution). The administration is making them look uneven by comparing them to the FY13 Presidential Budget Request.

  • Robert G. Oler

    A classmate of mine from college days, who was chief of staff to what seems to have been Texas last sane senator for now…is now a lobbiest on K street representing several high powered groups and makes a pretty good living at it (Whittington and Kolker have met him when he was in “the big office”) describes sequestration as “the death of a terminally ill patient”…the patient is the way that politics is being done right now on the budget issues.

    He compares sequestration actually happening to the death of a terminally ill patient (as opposed to the death of a healthy person in their prime)…as a terminally ill person nears the end the grieving by those all around actually grows worse until the “end” when there is a sense of release and relief…and the funeral becomes a “period” on all of this…as opposed to a healthy functional person where the funeral and aftermath is just tragedy that “grows numb with time”.

    If sequestration happens (and my friend thinks it does) then we have a funeral of a process that is simply terminal. Every deadline the two sides pull out their talking points and on a seemingly predictable basis mouth them…sequestration actually implements pain, particularly in the GOP supported groups and then allows the political process to work which pushes public support behind either of the two groups (the GOP/Tea party or the Administration). Once it happens the political blocks dissapear and it becomes “every girl/boy for themselves”

    It is kind of like letting the tax cuts expire…it was bad until well they did and now its a dead issue.

    If there is sequestration I predict a very short period where there is some movement in the political “magma” and then there is a budget for real, and it looks more like whatever the President wants then the GOP, politics will likely move to his position RGO

    • It is kind of like letting the tax cuts expire…it was bad until well they did and now its a dead issue.

      The “tax cuts” (they were tax rates, not tax “cuts”) didn’t expire, except for those making over $400K a year.

      • Robert G. Oler

        The “tax cuts” (they were tax rates, not tax “cuts”) didn’t expire, except for those making over $400K a year.>>

        even on Fox News they were commonly referred to as the “Bush tax cuts” not tax rates; and while I appreciate the difference and agree notationally with your statement I dont think it makes a lot of difference. the salient feature is still correct.

        The predictions that those who supported NOT allowing the Bush43 (tax rates/cuts etc) expire for the upper income class were wrong.

        So will be sequestration. When sequestration occurs and defense cuts ensure we will find 1) The Republic still has the most powerful military on the planet, 2) nothing bad happens because of the cuts internationally and 3) the GOP groups because of the pain to the corporate interest that they serve will all of a sudden find emphasis to compromise.

        that is true with space policy as well, and when that happens SLS/Orion will perish. RGO

        • even on Fox News they were commonly referred to as the “Bush tax cuts”

          Yes, it’s wrong even when your evil nemesis, Fox News, does it.

          It’s kind of stupid to think that invoking Fox News continually is going to have an effect on any intelligent person’s opinion.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    This is an interesting attempt at inoculation – proposing a total disaster to persuade those who control the purse strings to show mercy and accept what would otherwise be unacceptably small cuts.

    However, it only works if Administrator Bolden reminds Congress that crewed SLS still happens around 2020 so all killing Commercial Crew does is leave NASA reliant on Russia or even China (won’t that make Rep. Wolfe happy!) for a further four years (or more). I’m pretty sure some of the Wise Men inside the Beltway probably think that next year’s EFT-1 flight will mark Orion as ‘operational’ and they need to be disabused of that notion.

    • Justin Kugler

      Desperately so. EFT-1 will not have any crew systems on-board. I’ve heard from my contacts in MPCV that they don’t expect to fly people before 2020 because the teams and technical capability have been so gutted.

  • DCSCA

    “NASA’s sequestration plan would bring commercial crew to a halt”

    Good.

  • As I’ve written many times, NewSpace needs to run as far away from Congress as possible.

    Once Bigelow is operational, once their partners SpaceX and Boeing are operational, then Congress becomes irrelevant.

    Who knows, maybe NASA will turn around and lease a complex of BA-330 modules. It’s about $30 million per person to fly up to Bigelow on a SpaceX Dragon, then another $30 million or so to lease the BA-330 for 60 days.

    Figure eight U.S. astronauts in a year (8x$30M=$240M) and year-round use of the BA-330 (6x$30M = $180M) and you have a new space station with a crew of four and two crew rotations every six months for under $500 million a year.

    • Coastal Ron

      Stephen C. Smith said:

      As I’ve written many times, NewSpace needs to run as far away from Congress as possible.

      Having worked for both large and small DoD contractors, and commercial companies, I have a slightly different perspective.

      Providing products and services to the government through competitive means is not a bad thing. The Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs are competitive, and they provide not only a vital service, but they create an American capability that allows America to be self-sufficient. While that sounds patriotic (and it is), it’s also good business – as long as the companies are not dependent on the government, but that the government is just another customer. So it is with SpaceX, Orbital, Boeing and Sierra Nevada.

      But I think the SLS & MPCV programs are a temporary but large distortion. For most of the history of NASA, it has had large concentrations of contracts for “Old Space”, even when “Old Space” was the only “*** Space”. Apollo was dominated by the big aerospace companies, and so was the Shuttle, ISS and Constellation program.

      Now with the Shuttle gone, the ISS construction-complete, and the Constellation program recognized as too expensive, “Old Space” has few options for big NASA contracts. The SLS and MPCV are it, since without them the alternative is open competition for smaller contracts. But since the SLS and MPCV don’t serve any known function, other than some nebulous notion of “exploration”, and the designs are too ambitious to be constructed on time & budget, they will inevitably be cancelled.

      Once the SLS is cancelled, then I see very little chance that “Old Space” will be able to get SLS/MPCV-sized sole-sourced contracts. Any new programs will require competitive contracting, and that should reset the playing field, and allow the “new” innovative companies to compete with the “old” innovative companies. That’s about as normal as we can expect and hope.

      With competition the way companies get contracts, the power of Congress to meddle with NASA will be diminished enough that NewSpace will have a competitive chance to participate in NASA’s future exploration plans.

      My $0.02

    • DCSCA

      “As I’ve written many times, NewSpace needs to run as far away from Congress as possible.” whined Stephen.

      Exdept it doesn’t. Because it needs government to exist. And if you review your own postinngs, you spend more time trying to stop SLS from getting off the ground than to start flying crews. NewSpace needs government for subsidies, as a customer, and to maintain a market. Without the ISS as a faux destination/market to aim at, NewSpace HSF is doomed to goin in circles, no place fast.

    • Googaw

      NewSpace needs to run as far away from Congress as possible.

      That’s like saying the antelope are getting scarce, so the lions should turn vegetarian.

      Chasing NASA-inspired dreams has been the whole driving force behind NewSpace. Space stations (Bigelow), space capsule to supply space stations (Musk), propellant depots to fuel grand manned Mars mission, etc. Chasing NASA contracts has been the only way they could even start to accomplish this, since these NASA dreams are preposterous economic fantasies. The only way they can be seriously funded is through the politics of fraudulently central planning our supposed space future. About as far from real free enterprise as you can get.

      To run away from NASA you’d have to focus on actual, boring space businesses, such building and launching communications satellites. You know, like Elon’s side business when he isn’t chasing NASA space capsule contracts and selling electric cars with batteries that die in the rain.

      Making and transporting boring old unmanned machines (not even robots, just glorified iPhones in the sky) that do nothing except sit in GEO and actually do useful things for paying customers. Somehow I don’t think Rand is going to sell very many magazines with that kind of story.

  • JimNobles

    I think it’s fair to say that commercial space has a good reputation within (most of) NASA and they’ll try to protect it as much as they can when the cuts come. SLS, although it has a bit of a tarnished reputation due to its polics, will not get slashed anymore than can possibly be avoided. There are still too many powerful people that support it although, in my opinion, not for the right reasons. Plus the general public, I think, still has the impression that big expensive government space programs are really the only way to do it.

    I don’t expect commercial space to get zeroed out or anything like that. I don’t even expect there will be a down-select to two providers. It could happen but I don’t expect it. Not this year anyway. It might happen later as part of a compromise deal to start de-emphasizing SLS. SLS protectors might demand some blood from commercial, their enemy, as they tend to see things that way and can be quite immature.

    It has been said that a pack of dogs is only as smart as the stupidest dog. There are some truly stupid dogs in that pack in congress. So there’s really no telling what will happen. But I don’t think this is panic time.

  • Kelly Starks

    Certainly not a surprize. Given Congress and Senate have repeatedly stated the Space Launch System is their highest priority for the agency, and NASA and CBO has been saying for years how COTS CRS turned out to boost cost per pound to ISS, and SpaceX proves commercials not viable – CC being cut to support SLS was virtually certain regardless of sequester.

    • JimNobles

      Hello Kelly. I haven’t heard you on The Space Show recently.

      …NASA and CBO has been saying for years how COTS CRS turned out to boost cost per pound to ISS…

      No they haven’t. That’s simply not true. I know that you have to believe this but it’s completely non-factual.

      …and SpaceX proves commercials not viable…

      That is completely the opposite of what’s actually true. SpaceX is proving that commercial works and works well. It’s astounding what they have managed to do on what little money they have spent. When it comes to the economical use of resources in building and launching space hardware they have set the new standard.

      …CC being cut to support SLS was virtually certain regardless of sequester.

      Commercial space is not going away. It is the future. NASA might have to cut some of their programs that are empowering commercial space in its early stages but they are certainly not going to abandon it. They’ll do anything the can to keep it viable, they know how valuable it is.

      I think SLS has a couple of more years in it. The only that is really keeping it going now is politics. Look for the first successful Falcon Heavy launch to signal the start of the serious effort to ditch SLS. As a system it really doesn’t have much to offer. Commercial can probably provide the same capability without wasting so much taxpayer money.

      This is about the private sector taking over from government as the private sector becomes equal to that task. It’s free enterprise, it’s the American way, it’s how things are supposed to work.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Given Congress and Senate”

      The Senate is part of Congress.

      “have repeatedly stated the Space Launch System is their highest priority for the agency”

      No, the priorities are ISS, followed by SLS, then JWST.

      “NASA and CBO has been saying for years how COTS CRS turned out to boost cost per pound to ISS”

      Reference? Where have NASA or CBO stated this?

      “SpaceX proves commercials not viable”

      How? Most of the SpaceX manifest is commercial payloads.

    • Coastal Ron

      Kelly Starks opined:

      and NASA and CBO has been saying for years how COTS CRS turned out to boost cost per pound to ISS

      Wow, you’ve been absent for so long, and then you come back and say the weirdest things!

      Considering that the Shuttle averaged $1.5B per flight over the history of it’s life, and it could only carry 9mt of pressurized cargo to the ISS, that is $166,667/kg. SpaceX, through a $1.6B CRS program contract, will be delivering 20mt of pressurized cargo for the $/kg cost of – carry the one… – yep, that equals $80,000/kg. Half the cost of what the Shuttle could do, and that is using a new Dragon vehicle for each flight.

      So much for that “theory”.

      SpaceX proves commercials not viable

      As DBN pointed out, the SpaceX manifest is dominated by commercial payloads, so that destroys your argument from that aspect. And for NASA work, since SpaceX completed the COTS program without going over budget, and has already performed it’s first CRS delivery successfully, that destroys any other part of your argument you may have sought to make.

      I hope you weren’t spending all this time away dreaming this “stuff” up… ;-)

      • Kelly Starks

        Again sorry I didn’t here the question. As to “..COTS CRS turned out to boost cost per pound to ISS”

        http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings/052611_Charter%20CommCargo.pdf

        page 1 goes over the budget numbers for the COTS/CRS program totaling $5.119 billion.
        Page 5 shows cost per pound to ISS of $21,268 for shuttle, and $26,770 for Falcon/Dragon

        As to “SpaceX proves commercials not viable”

        SpaceX launches to ISS have high cost per pound compared to traditional NASA bureaucratic heavy hand gov acquisition process providers, higher problem and accident rates, needed NASA to pick up their R&D costs, etc. So “clearly” this “proves” they can’t cut it without NASA carrying them.

        Hey they killed RLV work that way.

  • Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

    Whatever happenened to previous legislative action that specified how exploration spending should be divided between commercial crew and SLS/Orion? I recall it wasn’t as disastrous for commercial crew as what the administration is now proposing. I don’t understand their motives either, since these actions would mean giving up all that remains of their original plans, little as that was after their disastrous “compromise” with the porkers, and giving up on commercial crew and probably the ISS in favour of just SLS/Orion.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      You’re thinking of the Space Exploration Sustainability Act. It basically states that a reduction in SLS can’t be used to fund commercial crew and vice versa. I don’t think that applies here. Even if commercial crew got a bigger cut, that money isn’t going to SLS — it’s just less that U.S. Treasury has to pay out to NASA overall. And when you compare to FY 2012 enacted, instead of the President’s FY 2013 Budget as the NASA Administrator’s letter does, SLS/MPCV does take a bigger hit in absolute dollars than commercial crew, by a lot.

      Regardless, commercial crew won’t be able to ramp up as planned in the President’s FY 2013 Budget due to the sequester, getting a small cut instead of a near-doubling in budget, and the impact of that on commercial crew milestones is what the NASA Administrator’s letter describes. The program is still getting ~$400M/yr. But it won’t ramp up to ~$800M because of the sequester.

      Between what was already planned in the President’s FY 2013 Budget request and the impact of the sequester on the Construction of Facilities account, SLS/MPCV is taking about a ~$400 million hit. But because the programmatics of SLS/MPCV are fuzzy (at best), the impact of that cut is practically undefined in the NASA Administrator’s letter.

    • Googaw

      More generally, Congress can’t pass a law or a budget that stops a future Congress from changing the law or the budget.

      Also, a law that says you can’t take from X to fund Y isn’t worth much, even if it could be enforced on future Congresses, because this can always be done indirectly: take from X to fund Z, then take from Z to fund Y (insert as many Z’s as needed — not very many — to confuse the public about what is going on).

      • Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

        That’s true, but they can make a preventive law to deal with a situation like sequestration, and that’s what they did. Nothing would stop Congress from passing a totally new budget, just as the sequestration legislation couldn’t, but it can provide for automatic stop-gap measures until Congress does actually pass new legislation.

  • A big plug for an article in Florida Today:

    “Is Kennedy Space Center Ready for the Future?”

    It’s a state-of-the-center article that covers all the bases, including what sequestration might do to the 21st Century Space Launch Complex. It’s well worth the time to read. It was on Page 1 of the Sunday paper, in the print version.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Stephen…thanks I;ll put it on the facebook page RGO

    • Coastal Ron

      Interesting article Stephen. It really does show how the money that is supposedly for preparing for the “commercial use” of KSC is being channeled into SLS, hiding some of the true cost of the SLS program.

      And as is pointed out in the article, it remains to be seen who would want to use the KSC facility for commercial space launch. SpaceX has talked about using one of the old Shuttle launch pads, but it wouldn’t use the VAB since they do horizontal integration, and would only add payloads requiring vertical integration once the rocket reached the launch pad. ULA won’t use KSC, since they haven’t run out of capacity where they currently are, and Orbital is fine being up in Virginia.

      As far as I can see, the VAB is destined to be no more than a historical building, and might even face the sad future of being torn down for lack of need.

      • Coastal Ron wrote:

        And as is pointed out in the article, it remains to be seen who would want to use the KSC facility for commercial space launch.

        At one time, SpaceX was looking at 39A for Falcon Heavy, but I think they’ve decided to move up the coast to Shiloh if they can work out a land deal via Space Florida.

        Every once in a while I hear a rumor that NASA will force ULA to use 39B for commercial crew, but I think that’s just wishful thinking. Boeing and LockMart are government porkers, and would do it if they got a fat government monopoly like they did with ULA, but as we know that monopoly will vaporize as SpaceX takes over the market.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      You gotta love the idiocy on p. 5-6:

      “NASA’s ability to develop a multi-user spaceport is important in part because the SLS and Orion will fly so infrequently, and their infrastructure is costly to maintain.

      After a four-year gap between the first launches in 2017 and 2021, current plans call for missions every other year. Processing time in the VAB before launch is expected to last three months, leaving High Bay 3 vacant the rest of the time.

      NASA will bear the entire cost of maintaining the little-used infrastructure unless more users materialize.”

  • vulture4

    I agree. The VAB is old and has high maintenance costs. The crawlers and one of the MLPs are being refurbished for SLS but are expensive to operate and maintain and relatively slow (a full shift for rollout) compared with the rail-based mobile launch platforms used for vertical processing with the Atlas at Cape Canaveral and the Long March 2E at Jiuquan or the rail-based erector systems used for horizontal processing with the Falcon and Soyuz. LC-39 as it will operate with SLS has a launch umbilical tower with swingarms on the MLP but (apparently) no capability for providing either servicing access or weather protection on the pad to many parts of the booster; compare this to the standard Chinese fixed launch service tower with swingback access stands, providing (at Jiuquan) full weather protection until about an hour before launch. Moreover there is the thorny question of whether the VAB could be configured for multiple launch vehicles. The cost of building a launch complex is relatively low as a percentage of total program cost and yet it has a major impact on launch processing costs, so the likelihood is that new operators like SpaceX will prefer dedicated pads tailored to their launch vehicles. Absent a major subsidy it does not appear likely to me that a commercial operator would use LC-39.

  • THE JIMP

    You really have to laugh at the state of the U.S. space effort today. Crony capitalists like Musk reinventing 1950′s ICBM’s and 1960′s space capsules to ride on them. American astronauts bum rides from Russia and soon Iran may be able to orbit humans, something America can no longer do.The Senate wants to build another low exhaust velocity, very expensive to operate, oversized ICBM. After the economy collapes and the Marxist in the White House is driven out by a battered enraged public, mabe then it will be time to look at exploring and colonizing our solar system again.

    • Coastal Ron

      THE JIMP opined:

      You really have to laugh at the state of the U.S. space effort today.

      Plenty of good and bad everywhere, but isn’t that normal?

      As to whether it rises to the level of laughing at it, what is your basis of comparison? America of the 60′s? Russia of today? Iran or North Korea?

      Not sure if you’re just a “drive by” poster (i.e. one that will never come back), but if you want to persuade, you’ll have to do better.

      Crony capitalists like Musk

      It’s obvious you don’t know the definition of “crony capitalism”.

      reinventing 1950′s ICBM’s and 1960′s space capsules to ride on them.

      As compared to what? Flying saucers from the 60′s?

      Are you still driving a ground vehicle that uses an engine invented in the 1800′s? Or flying in vehicles pioneered last century?

      Come on, again you provide no basis of comparison to bolster your point… which means it’s pointless.

      Try again.

    • “…reinventing 1950′s ICBM’s and 1960′s space capsules to ride on them.”

      One could say this of SLS, too…and it’s true that they’re all tall cylinders with pointy tops, and flamey stuff coming out of the bottom, but that disregards any differences in technology inside.

      However…

      “American astronauts bum rides from Russia and soon Iran may be able to orbit humans, something America can no longer do.”

      And yet you can say that (and you don’t ‘bum’ paid-for rides), in the same contradictory ‘breath’ as disparaging a near-term means of fixing that situation? (And Iran? Seriously?)

      “After the economy collapes and the Marxist in the White House is driven out by a battered enraged public, mabe then it will be time to look at exploring and colonizing our solar system again.”

      Another contradiction. ‘Collapsed economies’ don’t do much exploring, do they? And it’s still going to involve those 60′s reminiscent, tall firey cylinders when they finally do, unless you’re hiding some sort of single-stage spaceplane or ballistic vehicle in your pocket.

    • Robert G. Oler

      “Jimp” wrote


      the Marxist in the White House is driven out by a battered enraged public”

      it is babble like this where I usually just lean back and laugh for a bit and then dont reply…Sorry I have been to the PRC and The Soviet Union (while it was still the Soviet Union) and I know Marxist; you apparantly dont

      (and I supported Howard Dean so I know Liberals so dont go there)..

      but in the rhetoric that is right wing nuttery I found this to laugh at

      “Crony capitalists like Musk reinventing 1950′s ICBM’s and 1960′s space capsules to ride on them”

      Crony capitalist is a goofy right wing phrase that is like the Marxist comparison…but “reinventing 1950′s ICBM’s blah blah blah” is just nuts

      other then the fuel, there is nothing similar to a Falcon9 and an Atlas…and other then the fact that they carry passengers there is nothing similiar between a Gemini and a Dragon…

      however in the world of the right wing a sound bite is what replaces facts. RGO

  • THE JIMP

    I assume that the collasped economy will be rebuilt in 20 years or so, I could be wrong. The society that exists, I hope will be far more rational and intelligent, again I could be wrong. Lets say Iam right on both counts, a return to exploration and a move toward colonization would have to be based on using nuclear powered reusable vehicles. Chemical rocketry can never provide low cost access to space due to the low exhaust velocity of chemical reactions. While the nuclear engines tested in the 1960′s and early 1970′s lacked the thrust to weight ratio to power a vehicle to LEO, a design of the reactor fuel elements needed to achieve this was carried out in the late 1950′s.

    • Coastal Ron

      THE JIMP opined:

      The society that exists, I hope will be far more rational and intelligent, again I could be wrong.

      No doubt corrupt politicians will still exist, since they know how to survive. If that’s the case, then I wouldn’t describe the civilization that is around at that point as “far more rational and intelligent” than what we have today.

      Chemical rocketry can never provide low cost access to space due to the low exhaust velocity of chemical reactions.

      “Low cost” is relative. So far chemical rockets are what we have, and the economics of them are understood. Besides, SpaceX is significantly lowering the cost to access space, and if SpaceX is successful with their Grasshopper initiative, costs will go down even more.

      Regardless the propulsion method, volume is what’s needed to drive down the cost to access space, since that creates competition, and competition more than anything determines the best technologies to use.

      Besides, the anti-nuclear sentiment world-wide won’t allow nuclear rockets here on Earth, and it would even be hard to send up the fuel for in-space only nuclear engines. I doubt that will change in 20 years, no matter what “far more rational and intelligent” people are around – and who’s to say they’ll want to do space exploration?

  • R. J. Halyard

    All the NASA Sequestration cuts should be applied to NASA’s subsidies to the Commercial Crew Projects. Aren’t these projrcts just another example of ‘Big Government’? Shouldn’t risk capital be providing all the funding for these commercial projects? Looks like Sequestration is a good oportunity to put NASA funding of Comercial Crew projects out of their misery!

    • Coastal Ron

      R. J. Halyard said:

      All the NASA Sequestration cuts should be applied to NASA’s subsidies to the Commercial Crew Projects.

      Since the Commercial Crew program is not a subsidy, then I guess that would result in $0 cuts.

      Shouldn’t risk capital be providing all the funding for these commercial projects?

      If you had a background in business you would understand that the customer who wants a custom service needs to bear some portion of the risk of developing the custom service.

      And if you’ve ever been a private company that does work for the government, then you’d know how flaky Congress can be in providing any long-term guarantees that the government will actually buy government-specific services from you in the future.

      However the Commercial Crew participants are risking their own money, which is why the program is called a public/private partnership.

      Looks like Sequestration is a good oportunity to put NASA funding of Comercial Crew projects out of their misery!

      Are you Russian? Only Russia wins if the Commercial Crew program fails. I would rather that the U.S. gains a robust, competitive crew transportation system, wouldn’t you?

  • JimNobles

    Shouldn’t risk capital be providing all the funding for these commercial projects?

    Not necessarily, Public/Private partnerships (commercial companies and government agencies) have been around almost since America was formed. They’re not new.

    Aren’t these projrcts just another example of ‘Big Government’?

    No, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Constellation, and SLS are examples of big government. In those programs the taxpayers had to pay the whole bill. Companies in the NASA commercial crew and cargo program(s) are risking their own capital in the endeavor. The taxpayers are risking some as well but they are not paying for the whole thing.

    I noticed that some people get upset because some companies are getting money from the government. If you have a business then anyone who wants the products or services you provide is a legitimate potential customer. Even if it’s the government. Government money usually spends like private money. What is a business to do if the government wants to purchase their product or service? Say, “No! We’re not going to do business with you ’cause you’re the government!” Be sensible people.

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