Congress, NASA

A full schedule of hearings next week

The week of April 7 is shaping up to be an unusually busy one for space policy, with no fewer than four hearings on various aspects of civil and commercial space, including markups of two bills.

On Tuesday, April 8, the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee is holding a hearing on NASA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal at 9:30 am. The hearing also includes a mention of “oversight of NASA security” with former attorney general Richard Thornburgh joining NASA administrator Charles Bolden as witnesses. That’s a reference to an independent report chaired by Thornburgh that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, used to criticize NASA for a poor “persistent organizational culture.”

On Wednesday, April 9, at 9 am, the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee will hold a markup session on a new draft of a NASA authorization act. Details about the bill, and how it might differ from an authorization bill the committee approved last July, aren’t yet available. The markup session will likely be brief: another Science Committee subcommittee has a hearing scheduled for the same room at 10 am.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday at 10 am on “From Here to Mars”. The hearing features a mix of witnesses broadly discussing NASA’s exploration plans and issues with international and commercial cooperation. NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier will testify, along with Susan Eisenhower, chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute; former astronaut Leroy Chiao; and NanoRacks managing director Jeffrey Manber.

That afternoon, the full Senate Commerce Committee will convene to consider a batch of bills and nominations. Among the legislation up for consideration is S. 2140, a bill introduced in March by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) that would allow commercial suborbital launch providers to simultaneously hold both a launch license and an experimental permit. Currently, a company that receives a launch license has to surrender any experimental permit it holds for that vehicles, but companies like Virgin Galactic have argued that they should be able to retain their permits for use on test flights. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Udall (D-NM) are original cosponsors of the bill, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) have signed on since then.

35 comments to A full schedule of hearings next week

  • Coastal Ron

    Just from an SLS use standpoint, this year so far is not shaping up to the be year that anything is funded for the SLS to do once it becomes operational and has to start flying at least every 12 months in order to maintain a minimum safe flight cadence.

    Whatever budget does get approved later this year would only provide 8 years to get the first operational payload ready for a 2022 SLS flight. As a point of reference, the $2.5B Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) took 7 years from proposal to launch, and the JWST is hoping to come in at $8B and 18 years by the time it launches. Those are both small payloads compared to what the 70mt SLS is capable of lifting, and neither of those needed an HLV.

    The Administration has proposed the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), but the latest studies have shown that even if funded the SLS and MPCV won’t be needed for that until at least 2024, mainly due to the length of time it will take to get out to an asteroid, grab some or all of it, and get it back to the vicinity of the Moon. So that’s one SLS launch that they are advocating to fund, but it wouldn’t be any earlier than the 3rd operational flight (2022 and 2023 being before that). And Congress hasn’t shown the ARM any love yet.

    Bolden has also stated that Congress can’t defund the ISS in order to fund SLS uses, since he maintains that the ISS is critical to developing future HSF technologies and capabilities required for SLS missions. The extension of the ISS to 2024 is in the President’s budget proposal, so it will be interesting to see what debate, if any, there is about the extension.

    The “From Her to Mars” hearing should be informative, but as currently funded others have testified that NASA can’t reach Mars. Even the Constellation program, if fully funded, would have taken 20 years until it reached the Moon, so it’s unlikely that the down-graded versions of the Ares V (i.e. SLS) and Orion (i.e. MPCV) will be able to support a Moon return by 2022, especially since no EDS or lander are currently funded.

    The clock is ticking on funding something for the SLS to do. Will it be this year? Nothing so far…

    • Hiram

      Don’t forget about Mars 2021, which is a near term mad-dash use for SLS/Orion (and a bunch of other largely undetermined stuff). One wonders if the Senate hearing will address that mission concept. Will it even come up? The witnesses do not appear, however, to be chosen to support such an idea.

      Judging from the House Science hearing a few weeks ago, they might be more accommodating to the idea.

      But yes, uses for SLS are definitely an Authorization responsibility, and both House and Senate auth committees don’t appear headed for any consensus on it.

    • James

      Whatever grandiose plan NASA has on power point charts showing the usage and benefits of an SLS launch every 12 months…will never materialize.

      NASA has no credibility with Congress, or the American public anymore.

      • Coastal Ron

        James said:

        NASA has no credibility with Congress, or the American public anymore.

        Well to be fair, Congress mandated that NASA build it yet has failed to fund a steady stream of uses for it (actually any uses of it). Remember it was Michael Griffin whispering in certain Senators ears that the U.S. needed an HLV, and no doubt Boeing had their lobbyists supporting that view in the halls of Congress.

        And of course, many jobs were at stake from the Constellation cancellation as we were still deep in the depression, so there were a lot of reasons to build the SLS – but none of them had to do with any known or funded need NASA had.

        NASA is not to blame for this situation.

        • Vladislaw

          I just do not see it like that, I see as congressional members whispering in Griffin’s ear.. keep all the shuttle workforce in place, what do we have to say we are funding to be built?

          Griffin didn’t want to use solid rocket boosters in his FLO design and the SRB’s had already been flying for a decade yet he choose NOT to use them. To me it was congress doing the whispering on which contractors hardware and workforce had to be utilized.. now come up with somthing. And he did .. he kept his thumb on the scale and had the EELV’s tossed out as to expensive and unsafe.

          • Coastal Ron

            Vladislaw said:

            I just do not see it like that, I see as congressional members whispering in Griffin’s ear..

            The time period I was referencing was when the SLS was created, which was the post-Griffin era.

            Regarding the Griffin era though, apparently he didn’t mind SRM’s for the Ares I/V.

            • Vladislaw

              Coastal Ron wrote: “Regarding the Griffin era though, apparently he didn’t mind SRM’s for the Ares I/V.”

              That is why I believe it was congress doing the telling. Griffin, didn’t want to use SRB’s when he was doing the designing away from NASA, but on his return suddenly he was an ATK supporter? Didn’t wash for me, the UTAH delegation probably made it pretty clear, you want your monster rocket then you utilize this hardware.

    • amightywind

      The clock is ticking on funding something for the SLS to do.

      Build it and they will come.

      • As big a fantasy as the movie from which that quote came.

      • Malmesbury

        You mean that if they build SLS, dead baseball players will turn up?

        Not sure if that is really the way forward…..

        I wonder when Congress will work out that ARM is an attempt to *help* the SLS fans?

      • Michael Kent

        “Build it and they will come.”

        You want to spend $38 billion to develop the SLS and $16.5 billion to develop Orion — $54.5 billion of taxpayer money — based on a fantasy movie?

        We know you’re not a fiscal conservative, but the real question is: Are you insane?

    • The clock is ticking on funding something for the SLS to do. Will it be this year? Nothing so far…

      Build it and they will come.

      • Matt McClanahan

        Build it and they will come.

        This sentence right here succinctly describes the entire answer to everyone’s question, “What are they actually going to do with SLS?” This little bit of wishful thinking is the entire foundation upon which tens of billions of dollars are being gambled. “Maybe a mission will appear after we build it.”

        There is not and never has been a defined, funded mission for SLS, just things that could be done with it. Of course people can come up with conceptual missions, it’s as easy as playing KSP. But until the funding can be identified, SLS’s utilization future is just a catch phrase from a cheesy movie.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        Build it and they will come.

        Anybody that would have a reason to use the SLS already know it’s coming, so there is no reason to hold back on announcing they intend to use the SLS.

        But since no one has yet to step forward to say they need the SLS, it’s pretty apparent that the better statement would be:

        “Just because you build it doesn’t mean it’s needed”.

      • Vladislaw

        They did build it, the saturn v … then .. they canceled it …
        They did build it, ALMOST the Ares V …. then .. they canceled it…
        They did build it, ALMOST the SLS … then … it will be canceled..

        you are an illustration of insanity.. banging your head into that same brick wall expecting a different result.

  • I’m going to be in D.C. next week and would love to attend at least one hearing. Alas, I’ll have the spouse with me so I’ll have to heckle in spirit. :-)

  • Frank Wolfe criticizes, the man who helped make US dependent upon Russia for manned spaceflight be repeatedly fighting against commercial crew. You are part of the NASA problem Frank!

  • Egad

    It will be interesting to see if NASA provides numbers to put in the numerous blanks in the SLS budget it submitted a couple of weeks ago. Or if any of the Members ask about them.

  • Neil Shipley

    And in the meantime, SpaceX continues to beaver away at FH, reusability, a new Methalox engine (replacement for RD-180?), and, wait for it, MCT. All on their own dime while the traditional U.S. launch companies lobby for more money to spend on their jobs programs. LOL. What a circus?

    • Malmesbury

      “And in the meantime, SpaceX continues to beaver away at FH, reusability, a new Methalox engine (replacement for RD-180?), and, wait for it, MCT.”

      The fun will begin when the congress critters make the connection between the tests at Stennis and a the light at the end of the tunnel. My guess is that they will wake up after the first big audio visual presentation of what Raptor will power – that or a full engine test. Even running part cycles at Stennis won’t impinge on their world.

      The joke is that they are angry with NASA – who are pushing ARM project (something for SLS to do) and going for the largest possible SLS as quickly as possible (so there is a chance that SLS can survive, in legal terms).

  • Andrew Gasser

    It will be interesting to see if Congress will realize that only Commercial Crew Program can get us back into space within about two years.

    Stay humble but do not capitulate either.

    • All of the commercial crew first flight dates have been 2017 for years, full funding or no. I have seen no proposal for accelerating one of the three entrants. Don’t you find it strange that NASA stays wedded to its plan even when a disaster brewing with Russia? You’d think they’d be in a hurry to deliver commercial crew before a GOP President and congress can kill it.

      • Hiram

        “All of the commercial crew first flight dates have been 2017 for years, full funding or no.”

        I don’t believe commercial crew has *ever* gotten anywhere near full funding. So the fact the first crew flight dates haven’t changed much is pretty understandable. The 2014 dates we used to hear about are what they COULD do, if properly funded. But they weren’t. I’m sorry to break it to you, but NASA would LOVE to deliver commercial crew early. It’s Congress that won’t let them. Can’t find it too strange that NASA stays wedded to a plan that Congress is imposing on it.

      • “All of the commercial crew first flight dates have been 2017 for years, full funding or no.”
        Nope, 2017 was the original target date for flights to ISS via Ares I and Orion under Constellation.

        2015 was the original target date for Commercial Crew before Congress started cutting the proposed yearly budgets for it and put the difference to SLS. Then changed to 2016, then 2017 as the underfunding continued. If you had watched the video of Bolden confronting Mo Brooks you would have heard him say this to Brooks’ face.

        • Reality Bits

          A bit of historical info ….

          In 2008 the thought was for commercial providers to close the gap to 2014

          “I’m less and less inclined to think that’s the right thing to do, because the closest we could close that gap in 2014, and that doesn’t do much for station,” said Jeff Bingham, a staffer on the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. “So COTS D becomes the next candidate on the table.”

          “The COTS conundrum”, 28 JUL 2008 ( )

          And from the same article to close the gap to 2011 if possible:

          The Senate version of the NASA authorization legislation currently under consideration, S. 3270, does contain language specifically directing NASA to move ahead with a version of COTS D. It calls on NASA to enter into Space Act Agreements with at least two teams to develop commercial crew capabilities that would be available by the end of fiscal year 2011 (“or as soon thereafter as is practicable”), and authorizes $150 million in fiscal year 2009 for starting that effort. Similar language was included in the version of the bill that the House passed in June.

      • Andrew Swallow

        COTS was announced eight years ago in 2006. We are near the end of Commercial Crew now. So sticking to the plan is the way to hurry.

        “Order Plus Counter Order Equals Disorder.”

    • Neil Shipley

      A commercial crew vehicle (perhaps more than one) will fly full up well before MPCV to LEO. Milestones for this year are launch pad and in-flight aborts.
      In addition, Elon has actually mentioned doing a DragonCrew Lunar fly around just to demonstrate capability again well before MPCV. That’d sure stick it to Congress pork lovers.

      • The pork lovers will blame Obama for supposedly “underfunding” Orion, even though it’s already had a decade and $10 billion.

        Congress will never, ever accept blame for screwing up human spaceflight.

  • Hiram

    With regard to the markup, we should bear in mind that the demise of a NASA Authorization bill last year was a MAJOR embarrassment to the Science Committee. That was probably the first time that raw politics and partisanship derailed such a bill. It will be interesting to see how leadership approaches this bill to ensure that doesn’t happen again. With regard to NASA, congressional consensus used to be a given. Last year, that consensus fell completely apart. That is, NASA used to be handicapped by just not having enough congressional money. But it is now handicapped by having serious congressional arguments about long-range policy. That’s where NewSpace is really starting to shine. It not only can survive without serious congressional investment, but it can certainly survive without serious congressional agreement. Congressional disagreement, however, is just a recipe for a floundering NASA.

  • Malmesbury

    2017 isn’t an accidental date – it was politically agreed. Funding was deliberately cut (reduced to the level required, if you think that way) do that first flight would be after Orion. Well, at least the coming test if an unmanned, overweight Orion on a launcher if will never be allowed to use again.

    Congress wants the gap. No launch before Orion. No launch manned before the next presidential election.

    The anger when one of CC entrants engineers was noticed to be working on a docking adapter concept to allow early access to ISS was proof of that if nothing else. Not SpaceX, incidently….

  • Coastal Ron

    Watched part of the House hearing today – Bolden was being very clear about the need for Commercial Crew for transportation to anywhere in LEO, and how in no way does the SLS & Orion satisfy that need.

    One other observation is that Congressman Wolf tends to ask a lot of questions based on things reported in the media. In other words he doesn’t know enough about NASA to ask questions of his own, and he’s not interested enough in NASA to be focused on the future of NASA.

    That to me verifies that at least the House is not interested in pushing for an expanded budget for NASA so they can use the SLS. It was asked about using the SLS for the proposed Europa mission, but as Bolden stated the Science Directorate has to make the decision on that, and they are still evaluating the use of the SLS. And of course that is only one mission for the SLS at some indeterminate point in the future – where is the preponderance of payloads that require the SLS and only the SLS? Did I miss something at the hearing?

  • Hiram

    It’s worth a look at the NASA auth bill that will be marked up tomorrow. Somewhat unusually, it is posted well before the markup hearing, at the House Science website.

    Of some interest is that the bill, unlike most NASA auth bills, considers only ONE YEAR — 2014, for which money is already appropriated. Most auth bills develop long-range strategy for three years that can be used to guide appropriators. Not here. That says to me that this particular bill will be next to worthless for setting longer range goals for the agency, and they’ll just end up doing another one next year with a new congress.

    No big surprises, though the legislation makes explicit a plan for human exploration that is NOT critically dependent on the achievement of milestones by specific dates. Of course, having said that, the bill then specifies the first crewed mission of Orion on SLS will happen “as close to 2020 as possible”.

    The bill carefully spells out the need for a Mars Human Exploration roadmap (due in 1 year and to be updated every 4 years) to define specific technologies and capabilities necessary. This roadmap constitutes what they call a “stepping stone approach” to space exploration.

    A curious proviso on commercial crew. NASA is instructed to provide the committee with details about different cost options for commercial crew support. The implication is that they’re reaching for how little they can get away with spending.

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