Crimea crisis becomes new argument for commercial crew funding

While the Crimea crisis has been on the back burner for the last several days, the threat it has to worsen US-Russia relations has become an argument used by some to support funding for NASA’s commercial crew program to eliminate US reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for transporting crews to and from the International Space Station.

“Congress faces a choice between making an essential and overdue investment in regaining U.S. access to space, or keeping Putin in the pilot’s seat — and paying through the nose cone for it,” argued the Orlando Sentinel in an editorial Wednesday. The paper claimed that Congress had not made restoring US human space launch capabilities a priority, based on cuts it made to previous years’ budget requests for the commercial crew program, and warned that additional cuts would jeopardize the current 2017 launch date. “This shouldn’t be a tough call, especially now,” the editorial concluded. “It’s time for lawmakers to open the throttle on the U.S. commercial space program.”

In an op-ed in The Huffington Post, former astronaut Clayton Anderson expresses skepticism about claims by NASA officials, including administrator Charles Bolden, that US-Russian space relations are unaffected by the current crisis. “While 14 years of apolitical U.S./Russian operations in space is noteworthy and calming, NASA can only speculate that ‘everything’s OK,'” he writes. “On one thing we can agree: The situation clearly illustrates the need for speeding up the ability of U.S. commercial companies to ferry our astronauts to and from the ISS.” Elsewhere in the essay, though, Anderson said “it’s going to be a while” before those companies will be ready for transporting crews to the ISS.

In comments Wednesday during a panel about “new space actors” at the Satellite 2014 conference in Washington, Richard DalBello of the Office of Science and Technology Policy did not make an explicit link between the current crisis and commercial crew, but did put in a pitch for fully funding the program in the 2015 budget. “On the issue of private innovation support for commercial space enterprise, we’ve seen clear bipartisan support for a long number of years,” he said. “I think what we need Congress to do this year is to fully fund the commercial crew program. Let’s get American astronauts flying back to the space station on American launch vehicles.”

43 comments to Crimea crisis becomes new argument for commercial crew funding

  • amightywind

    How frustrating. After Georgia the US had ample warning that Putin was a rat, and Obama chose to do nothing about it. It the very least he could have extended the shuttle, as was suggested by McCain. But no, Obama and Hillary hit their moronic reset button and here we are, hostage to Putin on our own space station.

    The future course in our space relationship with Russia is obvious. Channel all CC funding to a single contractor, and accelerate the program to launch within a year. Stringing along 3 bidders for so long is pathetic. In the meantime, detach the Russian modules and mothball the station until the US can support it fully again. This is the short term plan for the end of the ISS program. Post 2016 is should be all SLS/Orion.

    • Jim Nobles

      Jeez, amightywind, all your supposed ideas involve the immediate end of the United States human spaceflight effort. Are you secretly working for China or some other nation or organization that wants American astronauts out of space? Otherwise, most of your ideas make no sense whatsoever.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I’m pretty sure that US modules physically can’t work without the Russian ones. Oddly enough, the reverse isn’t true. Learn from that what you will.

    • Dave

      I believe Russia invaded Georgia during President Bush’s administration not Presdient Obama’s.

    • Vladislaw

      If only those republicans would have fully funded Commercial Crew like President Obama originally requested. 6 billion over 5 years. All these discussions would now be moot because we would be close to launch.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “It the very least he could have extended the shuttle, as was suggested by McCain.”

      Dumb. Even if STS could have been extended, it never fulfilled the emergency crew return function for ISS, which NASA is on the hook to provide. We still would have been paying for Soyuzes.

      Think before you post.

      “Channel all CC funding to a single contractor”

      Yeah, the lack of redundant access and competition has worked out so well for the human space flight program under STS, Ares I/Orion, and SLS/MPCV. Look at all the years we’ve enjoyed uninterrupted human access to space! Look at all the savings that have accrued to the taxpayer! Look at how these vehicles hew to their schedules and deliver on their promises!

      How dumb.

      “In the meantime, detach the Russian modules”

      Zvezda provides GN&C, primary life support, and reboost. Without it, ISS is uninhabitable, tumbles, and deorbits.

      How dumb can you be?

      • amightywind

        Events will soon spiral out of control to the point you all are going to have to imagine the unthinkable. Putin will invade Eastern Ukraine. It is clear the G-7 are reluctant to end the status quo. But think war will force a change in thinking.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Events will soon spiral out of control to the point you all are going to have to imagine the unthinkable. Putin will invade Eastern Ukraine.”

          How out of touch with reality. Putin has invaded Chechnya. Putin has invaded Georgia. Putin has now invaded the Crimea and western Ukraine. Maybe they should have, but the reality is that none of Putin’s invasions have had any impact on any civil space program.

          Get a grip, chicken little.

        • GG

          Having a voice doesn’t make your opinion equal to others with voices. You are always wrong. What you say has no value because you are always wrong. You are nothing but entertainment for web forum masochists.

        • Mader Levap

          almightywind uses nonsequitur! It is not effective at all. :)

    • Neil Shipley

      SLS/Orion can’t be ready post 2016 even if you threw more money at them so your ‘solution’ is as usual, just wind.

    • @Almightywind,…..We don’t agree on much, normally, but I will concur with some of what you said, in your opening statement on this discussion thread. Yes indeed, extending the Space Shuttle by say, another two, three or four years more than they did, would’ve done us a lot of good! It would have been real easy to do, plus we’d have had the longer borrowed time-span to have reconsidered the hasty decision to scrap away all of the Shuttle industrial production lines & facilities—–and we could’ve reversed course, during any of those extra years that the winged orbiter still flew. Relations with Russia were bound to hit sour times, eventually! How we, as a supposed space super-power, could’ve let ourselves get trapped into a Russian module-launch dependency for our astronauts is one of those hugely bizarre turns in history!!
      But our government was naive & deluded into thinking that Russia would never turn into a cold-war opponent again, and so we made this stupid move——deliberately shutting down our own manned launch capabilities, just to fall into a foreign-country dependence, for Lord-knows-how-long. Now we futiley wait to see if for-profit commercial entities can rise to the occasion, and rescue us, with some new man-rated vehicle——but they won’t!!
      Once the early Shuttle-termination decision became inevitable, we should have focussed fully on building the [eventually Lunar-capable] Orion, AND focussed on building the smaller rocket that would carry it to mere LEO——-this could’ve been either an Ares 1 or another such lighter type of launcher. (It could’ve been a new Shuttle-derived rocket or some already existing one, of which man-rating would not have been difficult). Hence Orion & some small-sized rocket, as the intermediate game plan, and voila!—–we could have been back in the manned launch business. Constructing the Ares 5 & designing the Altair lunar lander, of course, might’ve taken a bit more time, to come to fruition, in this alternate time-line scenario, but at least you’d’ve had an independent American manned space-launch capability way sooner, than the quagmire that’s happening now!
      I still believe that a Heavy-Lift rocket should be built in conjunction with a manned Lunar program; AND that the ISS is a very wasteful & distracting extravagance that should be de-orbited as soon as feasible! The ISS should be dumped into the Pacific Ocean by 2020!

      • Coastal Ron

        Chris Castro said:

        Yes indeed, extending the Space Shuttle by say, another two, three or four years more than they did, would’ve done us a lot of good!

        Good for what? Since the Shuttle can only stay in space for two weeks, and can’t perform the lifeboat function that the Soyuz does, the Shuttle would not have been any help in this situation. NONE.

        And since NASA’s budget would likely have remained flat, no doubt it would have slowed EVEN FURTHER the Commercial Crew program that is the solution for this situation.

        As to what else the Shuttle would have done, other than taking joy rides there was nothing else left for it to lift to the ISS. And since it would have flown so infrequently, it would have been a poor choice for doing cargo runs, as the current Commercial Cargo system provides much more frequent supplies and replenishment, and if something important is needed it can go up in just a few months on the next cargo run.

        Face it, it was time for the Shuttle program to end, and too expensive and limited to keep going.

        • @Coastal Ron;….The Commercial Crew program is a big, laughable joke—–a solution for nothing! The Commercial “providers” are little more than a gargantuan money drain, in which to toss away billions of precious federal government cash—–and in the end, America will gain nothing! I say go ahead and delay Commercial Space——-astronautic flight is way too fraught with risk & danger to be entrusted soley to the private sector. Just look at this latest move by the Inspiration Mars people: they now fully concede the need for government partipation & involvement. Private entities could never raise the necessary capital, with which to carry out a manned deep space flight.

          Further, having had the Space Shuttle continue flying, for longer, would’ve solved plenty of problems. Large cargo runs, even at a reduced flight rate, would’ve kept the holding-out operation going with the ISS—–that is until we got to the smart crossroad of terminating it. Orion would NOT have “needed a place to go”. Until the Skylab was launched in 1973, did the Apollo CSM have “no place to go”? Of course not: Apollo flew a short list of LEO missions in order to test capabilities for its higher Lunar purpose. So too, would Orion. But of course, as a minor diversion, some temporary target vehicle docking run could have been worked out into the flight manifest. Much like how China does not appear to intend a re-doing of the ISS, on their way to cislunar space. Certainly some unmanned version of the Orion could have served as a second cargo-lifting vehicle, for a hypothetically extended ISS, anyway. So some sort of cargo-ferrying system would’ve been put into effect, even without the Commercial boys.

          • Hiram

            “Just look at this latest move by the Inspiration Mars people: they now fully concede the need for government partipation & involvement.”

            Nope. Inspiration Mars just fully concedes that they can’t raise the money they need to pull it off themselves. They are also smart (inspired?) enough to realize they have an ace in the hole with the feds. It’s a *deadline* that the SLS advocates desperately, desperately need to keep their project afloat. 2021 or bust. Elon doesn’t need a deadline, so Inspiration Mars finds him an unlikely target. Commercial space is ideally based on sound business propositions, and flinging two people around Mars is not anywhere close to being one of those.

  • Twiddely Twinklebert

    Post 2016 is should be all SLS/Orion.

    Now that’s what I call ambition! You will just have to forgive me if I would prefer a million lbf full flow gas generator engine on a reusable 200+ ton to low earth orbit commercially available launch vehicle. Sooner than you think too. Much sooner. Thanks.

    • Neil Shipley

      Well that would be nice but sooner is open to interpretation. For example, an agreement has only just been signed between SpaceX and Stennis for future testing of components of the Raptor engine. We may see a full engine in 2015. Guess that’s quick compared with other engine developments.
      Raptor’s a Methalox fuel/fuel staged combustion engine, not a gas generator like the Merlin so it’s a step up in complexity.

  • Time for America to have its own larger and more spacious space stations. These can easily be derived from the SLS hydrogen fuel tank technology or from Bigelow inflatable technology at a fraction of the price of the $3 billion a year ISS program. Time to move on!


    • Jim Nobles

      Marcel, a few months ago, at a press conference with Bigelow, Gerst talked a little bit about NASA’s plans in regard to a future space station. As of the time he spoke NASA’s plans were that they would not have a NASA operated space station again after ISS. He indicated that if they needed something done in an earth orbiting facility they would probably lease the capacity from a civilian station. Same thing in regards to a moon base.

      If I was reading between the lines correctly I think it was there attitude that they would almost certainly never be given the money for a new station or a moon base so they were going to use the money they did get to head outwards into the solar system. Mars, the asteroids and etc. That “We Are The Explorers” thing.

      I think that if they realistically thought they were going to get the money they would be more than happy to do a new station and settle the moon and etc. but these days I don’t think anyone sensible believes that’s going to happen.

      It’s too bad really, all that cool moon equipment they’ve worked on not going to be built. At least not by them. The NASA Moondreams bubble burst. Some of us have faced that fact. Some of us have not.

      Thanks for indulging me.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    If I recall correctly, the current NASA contract with Roscosmos for the use of Soyuz to get to the ISS ends in October 2016. I think that this should be the deadline for getting CCT fully functional. If that means short-changing SLS…? Well, that wasn’t going to be flying in any meaningful way before next decade anyway so I think that the program can deal with that.

    • Vladislaw

      I agree and with at least two service providers. The last thing the Nation needs is another single string fault system so that the entire Nation’s ability to access LEO is compromised when a accident occurs. Yes accidents WILL occur and we have to start treating space accidents like automobile accidents.

      • amightywind

        You know we are currently relying on such a system, right? Redundancy doesn’t mean good engineering. Amazing NASA has gotten so much mileage off of this ridiculous idea.

        • Andrew Swallow

          The previous redundancy was Shuttle and Soyuz. Shuttle stopped flying so NASA astronauts transferred to the backup Soyuz.

        • Ben Russell-Gough

          Because NASA has done so well with having a single human launch system in the past; there were no previous major gaps in US space access because they only had one human launch system… oh… wait…

        • Vladislaw

          Yes I know we are relying on the soyuz family that has launched like 1500 times. It was the republican house that put us here because they refused to fund AMERICAN companies to provide domestic commercial services in a timely manner. All because they refuse to allow this President any successes. The President wanted it fully funded from the get go, along with new domestic engines to replace our reliance on russian engines as well.

          The Nation is about to have multiple commercial carriers and by 2020 America will dominate the commercial human spaceflight transportation sector, commercial cargo to LEO stations sector and domestic commercial spacebased facilities in LEO sector.

  • seamus

    “It’s time for lawmakers to open the throttle on the U.S. commercial space program.”

    Austerity is the policy of the Republican/Libertarian clown show.

  • As I mentioned on page 95 of The Plundering of NASA (which I wrote over a year ago):
    “While Russia and America are no longer as antagonistic as they were during the Cold War, their interests and ours often do not coincide. For instance, they sometimes intimidate their immediate neighbors and, as their invasion of Georgia in 2008 illustrates, are not above doing so militarily. What if another such incident occurs? Would the U.S. protest it as vigorously as it should with the threat of Russia cancelling our taxi service to ISS? Given that propensity, how can any responsible American politician prefer giving more money to SLS over Commercial Crew when keeping the latter at a minimum budget amount irresponsibly increases the time we precariously rely on the Russians?”
    Well, such an incident has reoccurred and certain members of the legislature aren’t concerned enough to do something sensible about it in regard to Commercial Crew.

  • amightywind

    their interests and ours often do not coincide

    Deep. Trees were felled for that book.

    Given that propensity, how can any responsible American politician prefer giving more money to SLS

    Your reasoning is perfect, then you draw exactly the wrong conclusion, which is not surprising.

  • red

    Of course we should change to adequately fund Commercial Crew to remove the Soyuz dependency.

    However, I think transitioning away from RD-180 is a higher priority because of its national security implications. That could mean a mixture of fast-tracking F9 and FH for Atlas V launches, switching some Atlas V missions to Delta IV, and/or developing U.S. RD-180 production capability or a U.S. RD-180 replacement.

    Two of the commercial crew providers use Atlas V, so getting commercial crew working is only a partial improvement over the current situation for crew access. If commercial crew ends up with an Atlas V winner, we will still need to bring on Blue Origin, a rocket carried by Stratolaunch, or some other non-Putin crew solution.

    Antares should also be considered.

    It would be good for NASA to start a COTS-like program for various kinds of U.S. commercial space station capabilities so ISS isn’t a single point of failure in terms of Putin’s involvement. These stations would not need to have the same capabilities and characteristics as the ISS as long as they could keep some sort of useful U.S. HSF foothold in space.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Antares is too small to launch any of the CC entrants; only Falcon-9, Delta-IV and Atlas-V are large enough and Delta-IV is not considered human-safe due to the way gaseous hydrogen pools around the vehicle before launch.

      I agree that finding an alternative to Russian-supplied RD-180 is vital for national security reasons right now (indeed, always has been). Rocketdyne (or whoever now has responsibility for the US license for building RD-180) should be required to report to Congress within 14 days as to whether US-built RD-180 is practical in a reasonable time-frame. If not, money must be thrown at Aerojet to get AJ-26-500 into production and Congress should also consider funding the SpaceX Raptor project (which has even more powerful target performance figures than AJ-26-500) as another redundant option.

      • red

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear about what I meant with Antares. I didn’t mean it should be considered as a commercial crew launcher, but rather that its use of Russian NK-33 engines and possible future use of RD-180 should be considered in the whole review of dependence on Russia. That’s a lower priority concern than the Atlas V RD-180 dependence given the Atlas V national security role, but it’s a factor.

    • Vladislaw

      There is a two year stockpile on engines, the Airforce has the option of slowing down those launches, utilize other launch providers, in the short term, cancel some of the flights. So there is nothing russia could do today that would effect tomorrow with the Atlas V launching military.

      Russia could cancel (claim a launch “problem”) for rides to the ISS today and that WOULD effect tomorrow. Faster we get domestic service the better.

    • The White House should ask NASA what the probability of loss of crew is on Falcon 9.1/Dragon without a launch abort system. Seems like it would be a useful number to have if you’re deciding how important it is to end dependence on the Russians. Also, they need to accelerate the new docking system.

  • James

    Lets see now. Fully funding Commercial Crew seems like a prudent, common sense, risk mitigating course of action, given the recent actions by Putin.
    Lets see now. Congress doesn’t operate from common sense.

    I see a problem here.

    • Andrew Swallow

      Fully funding the development of 3 CCDev manned systems can be described to the general public as betting on all 3 horses in a 3 horse race. Providing someone finishes the United States wins its own transport to the ISS.

      As COTS showed there is a big risk that at least one firm will fail. Sod’s law says that if the government picks one that is the firm that will fall.

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