Congress, NASA

Budget uncertainty weighs on NASA and space industry

“How many of you know what your budget is going to be next year? Raise your hand,” said Larry James, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and the new deputy director of JPL, in introductory comments at Tuesday morning’s plenary session of the AIAA Space 2013 conference in San Diego. As you might expect, effectively no one in the audience of several hundred space professionals did.

That uncertainty about civil and military space budgets as fiscal year 2014 approaches was a recurring theme at the conference yesterday, where government and industry officials emphasized the “changing landscape” of the industry and the need for innovation. With NASA expected to at least start the fiscal year next month under a continuing resolution (CR), one that could potentially be extended for the full year (just yesterday the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee introduced a CR that runs through December 15), plus the prospects of another round of across-the-board cuts triggered by sequestration, few at the conference expressed a lot of optimism about the agency’s fiscal situation.

“There is a rumor that some plans are being drawn for a ’14 budget that’s compliant with sequestration which may be as low as $16.1 billion” for NASA, said Roger Krone, president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems business unit, in that Tuesday morning plenary session. He didn’t offer more details about that rumor, but would be consistent with a roughly five-percent cut from NASA’s final FY13 appropriation, itself trimmed by five percent from the appropriations bill passed by Congress in March. A presentation at a NASA Advisory Council science committee meeting in late July used an estimate of $16.16 billion for a post-sequestration NASA budget in 2014.

How those cuts, or even the application of a CR, would filter down to the various programs in the agency remains to be determined. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, for example, was a beneficiary of the final operating plan released last month, seeing its budget restored to $525 million, the level approved by Congress prior to the application of sequestration. Ed Mango, manager of the program, told reporters at a briefing late Tuesday at Space 2013 that he wasn’t sure if that higher number would transfer over into 2014 if there is a CR. “If we are under a CR, we will be, unless there’s new legislation that adds to the CR, somewhere between $488 and 525 million,” he said. “A CR, and how that impacts Commercial Crew, is still to be determined.” He did add that the program is in good shape through the final weeks of fiscal year 2013 and, under some estimates, through all of 2014 as well.

“I would say the largest issue we’re facing is more of a programmatic thing, and it’s around the budget, and frankly around budget uncertainty,” said NASA’s Todd May, manager of the Space Launch System program, during a panel session on NASA’s human spaceflight programs at the conference Tuesday. Budgets are tight, he said, but that was common to past programs he’s worked on at NASA. “So far, we have met the challenge. We have done everything we can do to keep this thing on track.”

While former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver suggested upon her departure last week that SLS and Orion would likely suffer delays, May insisted SLS was remaining on schedule, even with the current budget concerns. “We just have to wait and let the appropriations process work itself out,” he said. “Every year, when all was said and done, we got what we needed to get the job done. I’m here to tell you that we’re on track for [a first launch in] ’17. We’ll see how things work out.”

43 comments to Budget uncertainty weighs on NASA and space industry

  • Jim Nobles

    SLS is still on schedule? Cool.

    On the NSF forums a guy who recently took a tour of SpaceX said they told him that if SpaceX gets 39A everyone will get to see MCT a lot sooner than expected. It would be nice to see SLS and the SpaceX BFR going head to head. If they are ready for their first flights at nearly the same time the whole contrast between Commercial and Government space will be on immediate and obvious display.

    That would be cool also.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “SLS is still on schedule? Cool.”

      Only for the first 2017 test launch. Everything else is getting pushed to the right to maintain the 2017 test launch within these declining budgets.

      • Jim Nobles

        -
        DBN said, ” Everything else is getting pushed to the right to maintain the 2017 test launch within these declining budgets.”

        Then I wonder what they are going to have to drop from the test. What will end up on the stack, a stripped Orion with mainly just a heat shield and a few avionics? No LAS or environmental systems?

        • Egad

          There is no pretense that EM-1 in 2017 will have other than, at most, a mock-up of environmental systems. The real thing is supposed to get developed in the interval 2017-2021 and tried out on the first crewed mission, EM-2, in 2021 or after.

          (No, this is not the way things should be done.)

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “No LAS or environmental systems?”

          Both have already been deferred until after 2017.

          NASA moved the high-altitude test of the LAS (Ascent Abort 2 or AA-2) to 2018 to save budget in the near-term. So the LAS won’t be flying on Orion during SLS’s maiden launch in 2017 (EM-1).

          http://www.spacenews.com/article/orion-high-altitude-abort-test-faces-budget-driven-delay

          And NASA moved the first flight of Orion’s life support system to the 2021 mission (EM-2), also to save budget in the near-term. Needless to say, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has some concerns about aligning the first flight of Orion’s life support system with Orion’s first crewed mission (around the Moon, no less):

          “This (EM-2) is the mission that the ASAP had questions about – specifically, a first crewed flight with the first use of the ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System) and other systems onboard, (plus the) concerns about how to mitigate risk.”

          http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/09/orion-30-hour-orbital-checkout-prior-tli/

          • Egad

            Just to remind ourselves, the Orion ECLSS matter hasn’t just come up:

            http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/675947main_HEOC%20Minutes%20July%202012-508.pdf

            NASA ADVISORY COUNCIL
            Human Exploration and Operations Committee
            July 23-24, 2012
            Goddard Space Flight Center
            Greenbelt, MD
            MEETING MINUTES

            [snip]

            [Assistant Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development (ESD) William] Hill indicated that the 2017 [SLS] mission is included in the out-year profile; however, the 2021 mission is not in the profile yet because NASA is assuming flat-funding. The “tall pole” for Orion is the ECLSS, and the 2017 mission will have some of that.

    • Coastal Ron

      Jim Nobles said:

      It would be nice to see SLS and the SpaceX BFR going head to head.

      If Congress was concerned about cost, flexibility, redundancy, space exploration, etc, then they wouldn’t be mandating that NASA build the SLS.

      For that reason there won’t be any sort of embarrassment from Congress that SpaceX is able to do more with less money than what Congress is getting from the SLS, since the purpose of the SLS is to generate jobs, not to serve the needs of space exploration (or any other productive use of a rocket).

      That said, when the time finally does come where the cost of the SLS and MPCV become so obviously ridiculous that Congress is looking at cutting the program back or agreeing to cancel it, some small part of the justification would be that the government no longer needs to be a owner/operator since the aerospace industry as a whole has shown that it truly does know more than the government. SpaceX will just help reinforce that.

    • Gregori

      With what payloads? What commercial demand is there for 150MT+ payloads to LEO? MCT faces the same problems any big rocket does whether that be Saturn, Ares V, SLS or Energia. Dear Lord, get a grip!

      • Guest

        MCT faces the same problems any big rocket

        And it deftly avoids them by being fully cryogenic and fully reusable and indeed, privately funded and built. Duh.

        • Gregori

          No payloads or people that are willing to fund payloads. Just because Elon does it doesn’t make it any less of a mistake than if NASA does it. The cult of personality is strong with this one.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “With what payloads? What commercial demand is there for 150MT+ payloads to LEO?”

        Whatever Elon Musk wants to put on it. It’s about his Mars settlement fantasy. It’s not being undertaken to address the broad commercial launch market.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I agree with Coastal Ron. Barring something unforeseen emerging in the commercial sector, MCT goes into development only happens if SLS is cancelled. Even then, I’d expect it to face stiff competition from the EELV Phase II (the RP-1 fuelled version of the Delta-IV core).

  • Dark Blue Nine

    [Hit "post" too soon.]

    “It would be nice to see SLS and the SpaceX BFR going head to head.”

    Even if GAO weighs in on SpaceX’s side in the feud with Blue Origin, we probably won’t get to see that SLS/MCT matchup. The next SLS launch officially isn’t until 2021 and it’s slipping to 2022+ under these budgets. I doubt that SLS will get to that second launch before the next Administration throws in the towel and terminates the project.

  • Vladislaw

    “There is a rumor that some plans are being drawn for a ’14 budget that’s compliant with sequestration which may be as low as $16.1 billion” for NASA, said Roger Krone, president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems business unit

    So we watch as the pork premium gets wrung out of the system and NASA will be forced to use more commercial alternatives.

    Hope the dog SLS/MPCV is defunded altogether in the 2015 budget as SpaceX has a shot at having the Falcon Heavy and Commercial crew ready in 2015.

  • Hiram

    “So we watch as the pork premium gets wrung out of the system and NASA will be forced to use more commercial alternatives.”

    That may be wishful thinking. The recent congressional history of NASA funding is that when the bottom drops out, you preserve SLS at all costs. The “pork premium” is the last to go, I’m afraid. But that’s exactly right that if SpaceX continues with its successes, the SLS strategy will be increasingly indefensible.

    • Vladislaw

      Personally, I do not see the next President funding SLS. From what Garver alluded to, a President in 2016 would be looking at first crewed launch in like 2023, I just do not see it getting funding by the next president. At that time commercial crew and cargo should be online or very close.. those will be the cheap alternatives.. the pork will move to high speed rail or some other porkfest.

      • Hiram

        “Personally, I do not see the next President funding SLS.”

        Well, let’s face it. This administration supports ISS only because Congress told it to. Remember — “Senate Launch System”. As discussed well here, Ares V was properly thrown off a cliff by this administration, and the plan was for major investments in technology development instead. Why should the next Administration be any more in control of NASA expenditures than this one is? If in 2016 Congress wants to thumb it’s nose at commercial, they could probably get away with it. Remember that by 2016, the sunk cost in SLS will be enormous.

        The “out” for Congress has to be better than “oops, excuse us, we really screwed this up!” Congress works that way. Congress does very little “because it’s a cheap alternative”. No, whatever happens to SLS, Congress has to come out of it smelling like they were wise leaders all along.

        • Guest

          This administration supports ISS only because Congress told it to.

          Last I recall the president has an option called ‘veto’.

          • Guest wrote:

            Last I recall the president has an option called ‘veto’.

            Apparently you don’t follow federal politics.

            The NASA budget is lumped in with about half of the federal government into one bill. The President doesn’t have a line-item veto, so he would have to veto half the government budget just to protest one line in the NASA budget.

            That isn’t going to happen.

            Amazing that people who post here criticizing the President, the NASA Administrator, the recently departed Deputy Administrator, etc. seem not to have the faintest clue about how government works.

            • Guest

              I know how veto works. The threat of it works to change the things a president feels most strongly about. Apparently this president didn’t feel very strongly enough about vetoing a bill that included a rather large pork item for Alabama and Utah as well, to the detriment of a generation to come.

              • Hiram

                “I know how veto works. The threat of it works to change the things a president feels most strongly about.”

                Oh, so Obama threatens to veto the $53B Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill in order to get his way on a $3B SLS? I had no idea that Obama felt so strongly about SLS. From the White House perspective, $3B out of $53B is in the noise. Obama has two Congressional bill vetoes under his belt (one of which, on Continuing Appropriations for Defense, was done because the full appropriations bill made it irrelevant). The other was about impediments to interstate commerce. Which one are you talking about?

                You may know how a veto works, but you have no concept of vetoes as political strategy.

              • Hiram wrote:

                You may know how a veto works, but you have no concept of vetoes as political strategy.

                Well, “Guest” has shown s/he has no concept of most things when it comes to space advocacy and to how government works.

              • Coastal Ron

                Guest said:

                The threat of it works to change the things a president feels most strongly about.

                You obviously weren’t paying attention to the FY11 NASA budget battle. Obama won most of what he wanted, so why not book the winnings and work on the rest later?

                In case you can’t remember back that far, Obama saved the ISS, started the Commercial Crew program, and cancelled the Constellation program. The SLS and MPCV were unlikely to survive long-term, so most of us called it a win. Too bad you don’t have realistic expectations for politics…

          • Guest

            space advocacy and to how government works.

            Space advocacy and government doesn’t work in the US, so why should I imagine otherwise? And why do you people continue to do the same thing over and over again when it has demonstrated itself to be dysfunctional and ineffective?

            Time to either give up, or change tactics. I have simply changed tactics here.

            • Hiram

              If by “change tactics” you mean spreading nonsense about space advocacy and government, then I wish you luck. Let us know how it goes.

              When you’re ready to start spreading dollars, you might get some results, because that’s the problem.

              By the way, people who “change tactics” in government advocacy are largely dysfunctional and ineffective themselves. But they have a big grin on their face the whole time. Kind of strange.

              • Guest

                You will be informed, but not by me. I do remind you that Lori Garver resigned her position as deputy administrator of NASA. Abruptly.

                If what I am doing this month doesn’t work, I’ll try something else next month, and again and again, until I see progress towards cancellation.

              • Coastal Ron

                Guest said:

                I do remind you that Lori Garver resigned her position as deputy administrator of NASA. Abruptly.

                Just because you weren’t made aware of her decision until it was made public does not mean it was done “Abruptly”. Since she was one of the longest serving NASA Deputy Administrators, I’d say it would have been more surprising if she would have stayed on longer.

                …and again and again, until I see progress towards cancellation.

                Oh, now you’re back on the cancellation effort again? It’s hard to keep up with you since first you wanted Congress to spend more on the SLS to make it reusable (amongst other things).

                But hey, you want to help us cancel Constellation? Great. Just don’t act like a wacko and cause a distraction.

      • Matt McClanahan

        Presidents don’t fund things, Congress does. That’s how we ended up with SLS in the first place.

    • Hiram wrote:

      The recent congressional history of NASA funding is that when the bottom drops out, you preserve SLS at all costs.

      Something else to consider … If the Republicans wind up taking the Senate majority in the November 2014 elections, it’s entirely possible that Dick Shelby will chair the Senate appropriations subcommittee that controls NASA’s budget.

      He would indeed protect SLS at all costs, no matter the damage to American space exploration.

  • amightywind

    I’m here to tell you that we’re on track for [a first launch in] ’17.

    Such can do spirit is good to see at NASA in these dark days.

    • James

      If I have read the above posts correctly, the 2017 flight is preserved by delaying non essentials to the right freeing up the funds in hand now to meet the 2017 launch. This is the recipe that gave us the JWST fiasco. In the end costs will rise and history will repeat itself.

      • Coastal Ron

        James said:

        If I have read the above posts correctly, the 2017 flight is preserved by delaying non essentials to the right freeing up the funds in hand now to meet the 2017 launch.

        That’s the way it looks.

        It also means there will be a heck of a shock when it becomes apparent how much they have affected the schedule for all post-2017 flights in order to keep the 2017 date from slipping.

        I wonder when the next GAO report will be coming out that will highlight this situation (again)?

  • Hiram

    Actually, it occurs to me, the Congressional “out” on SLS isn’t that hard. Just blame it all on NASA. We had a great concept for a profoundly capable launcher, Congress will say. But NASA HQ just blew it. All those costs are sunk because of what this stupid administration did with those dollars, adding years on to what should have been a fast-track effort. Congressfolk will nod, sigh, and sagely pronounce that while SLS was a epochal strategy, the mishandling of it by NASA gives us, as wise and trusted leaders protecting federal funds, no choice. We must fall back on those naive, incompetent, glad handing commercial folks. Oh, by the way, we’ll redo commercial crew contracts to make sure it’s run out of Alabama and Texas! That will instill real expertise and credibility in what would otherwise be a playground, and preserve the porkification of the whole shebang.

    Gosh. The simplicity of it! I’ll bet Shelby’s got staff working on this right now.

  • We have no money for for payloads for SLS, let alone the rocket. What I find hilarious now is space staffers and other public forums are trying to minimize this.

    Todd May is correct when he says “they have done all they can”. Todd may not want to talk to people like me but we find out anyway – and they all see and say the same thing.

    Anonymous SLS Engineer somewhere at NASA: “Andrew, we all see the same thing. We all press on with our work like everything is fine but you feel it. You know that this just isn’t going to happen. The funding streams just are not there.”

    (I asked for permission to quote said engineer above)

    So Carry On Senator Nelson. Carry on Senator Shelby. Carry on Congressmen Smith, Aderholt, Posey, Olsen, and Brooks. By you ramming SLS down the throats of NASA you are doing more damage then good. And outside of the 495 everyone sees it.

    • Hiram

      Let’s not forget that Todd May was Associate Program Manager for Constellation. So he brings with him, to SLS, a lot of skill in advocating a fiscally questionable program. That’s “can-do spirit” for you! Of course, his former boss, Jeff Hanley is now DPM for JWST verification, I believe. He brings that skill to that mission as well.

  • A_M_Swallow

    The SLS is a backup for Commercial Crew to the ISS. With 2+ manned craft a government supplied back up is no longer needed. Get on with ISRU on the Moon and catching that asteroid.

    • Matt McClanahan

      It’s not likely that Congress will permit more than one commercial crew partner to be awarded a service contract. Forcing a downselect has been the objective of some committee members (Frank Wolf) virtually from day one.

      That being said, even if we do end up with just one commercial crew provider, SLS as an ISS crew backup was never an idea to be taken seriously. It’s not like there will be SLS cores sitting around in inventory, available to swap in if/when a commercial crew or Soyuz isn’t available. NASA would need to know years in advance of such a flight that an SLS needed to be built. And of course the cost for an SLS launch to ISS would make Soyuz per-seat costs look like a bargain.

      • Coastal Ron

        Matt McClanahan said:

        The SLS is a backup for Commercial Crew to the ISS. With 2+ manned craft a government supplied back up is no longer needed.

        I agree with Matt that the “SLS is needed for backup” argument was always a poor one, since it would cost far less to fund a second Commercial Crew provider.

        And unlike the few in Congress that are obvious SLS supporters, I have no doubt that the private sector can provide safe crew transportation to the ISS – likely far safer than what the government-run SLS/MPCV will be able to provide.

        Ignoring the SLS/MPCV, the Soyuz continues to be the backup for NASA’s Commercial Crew if they only are able to contract with one provider. I hope that doesn’t end up happening, since demand for transporting people to LEO will appear much quicker if there are at least two providers. Two providers tells the potential market that they have options and redundancy, both of which make it more likely that new entrants will want to test out new space-related business ideas.

        • Coastal Ron wrote:

          I agree with Matt that the “SLS is needed for backup” argument was always a poor one, since it would cost far less to fund a second Commercial Crew provider.

          NASA has stated many times that Orion/MPCV is not compatible with the ISS docking ports. The “backup” argument is a figment of Congress.

          • Matt McClanahan

            To be fair, that’s not a deal-breaker. The Shuttle wasn’t “compatible” with the ISS either, that’s why PMAs exist. And if ULA man-rates the Delta IV, Orion could indeed go to ISS if the adapter was built. There just wouldn’t be any point in doing so unless all other manned spacecraft were grounded at the same time.

            • Vladislaw

              Why would they man rate the Delta IV? Do they have a paying customer for using it? I have not seen anything in the NASA budget for funding that… and ULA would not pay to do that on a hope and prayer.

              • Coastal Ron

                Vladislaw said:

                Why would they man rate the Delta IV?

                There are a lot of “what-ifs” that would have to happen to get to that point, but I would imagine the only way it would come about is if there were an agreement to cancel the SLS and fall back on using the “proven MPCV launcher”, which would be the Delta IV Heavy (used for the 2014 MPCV test).

                Totally made up reason, of course, since in a fair competition the Falcon Heavy would provide more mass margin and cost less, but hey, if that’s what it took to cancel the SLS, I’d vote for it.

                As to human-rating Delta IV Heavy, ULA stated back in 2009 that it would cost $1.3B.

  • Jim Nobles

    This is spam for a clothing retailer, correct?

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