Congress, NASA

Senate Appropriations chairwoman “deeply troubled” by proposed NASA budget

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is one of the most powerful members of Congress given her position as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She’s used that power to help NASA—or, at least, specific programs within the agency—win funding. However, she’s not shy to speak up when she thinks the agency is off course, which is what she did on Thursday.

“I was deeply troubled to receive the President’s budget,” she said at a hearing by the committee’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee Thursday morning on the NASA budget proposal. “I was deeply troubled in the area of NASA because there was a reduction of $186 million from fiscal [year] 2014.” In addition, she said she was concerned about a $200-million cut in programs administered by the Goddard Space Flight Center (or “Goddard Space Agency,” as she called it) in her home state, as well as cuts in the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden, the sole witness at the hour-long hearing, worked to reassure Mikulski that Goddard was not being singled out. “I firmly believe that Goddard will continue to be an integral part of all the programs we have going forward,” he said.

Nonetheless, Mikulski pressed Bolden not to single out science programs—which constitute much of Goddard’s work—for cuts. “I don’t want to talk about future missions. I want to talk about now,” she said. “I don’t want science to fund, to be a bank account, for other projects that might or might not happen in the future,” she said.

Much of the hearing, attended only by Mikulski and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), covered familiar topics. Shelby expressed his worries about funding levels for SLS in particular, as well as the lack of transparency in the commercial crew program, saying that it used “the same flawed model” as the commercial cargo program.

As he has done in previous appearances, Bolden emphasized the need to fully fund commercial crew in the 2015 request to keep the program on track to start transporting astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017. “If the Congress funds to the President’s requested level in 2015, we’re on a good trajectory to get there,” he said, one of several similar statements he made at the hearing.

Bolden also, as he has done in recent appearances, sought to tamp down concerns about a loss of access to the station given the ongoing tensions with Russia. “What I am striving to do is continue the relationship I have with Mr. [Oleg] Ostapenko, who heads Roscosmos, to make sure he does everything he can in Russia to calm down the diplomats and the politicians there, as we’re trying to do here in the US,” said Bolden, who called the NASA partnership with Roscosmos “steady” and “firm.”

Bolden declined to speculate on whether the preliminary injunction filed late Wednesday against ULA and the Air Force regarding purchases of RD-180 rocket engines would affect NASA missions. Asked by Shelby if this injunction would prevent NASA from buying seats on Soyuz missions to the ISS, should the scope of the injunction expand to other Russian space programs, Bolden did say NASA had already paid for those seats through 2017 and thus he believed would not be directly impacted by the injunction.

At the end of the hearing, Mikulski said she expected that the appropriations committee would get its overall spending allocations by next week, and she said she hoped to have a CJS spending bill passed by the full committee before the Senate recesses at the end of June for the Independence Day break. “There is not new money on the horizon, so I think we have to be candid about that,” she warned. “Though we agree on the goals [of NASA], I’m not so sure we agree on some of these priorities.”

75 comments to Senate Appropriations chairwoman “deeply troubled” by proposed NASA budget

  • Mr. Mark

    Shelby says that the commercial cargo model is flawed? Last time I checked all flights to ISS had delivered cargo to the ISS both on the Orbital and SpaceX side. That’s 100% cargo delivery rate so far.

    • MattW

      Whether or not the cargo gets delivered, or at what price, is meaningless. It’s flawed because none of the money went to Goddard or Marshall.

    • The good Senator Shelby referred to the transparency of the commercial crew process. It stinks. How can NASA keep stringing three bidders along when the program is supposedly 60% funded? Why won’t they down select given the increasing risks of working with Russia.

      • Vladislaw

        NASA transparency? You are being hysterical again Windasovich. NASA has no idea on the costs from ULA, everything just seems to be a ballpark figure. They couldn’t give the exact cost of a freakin’ single screw much less a 400 MILLION launch vehicle.

        Booz Allen who did the report on SLS repeatedly pointed to NASA’s failure to provide documention so the real costs could not be calculated and by NASA’s own admission they present clueless looks when asked for REAL numbers for the program. We know were every dime when for Commercial Crew.

        “Finding: The BOEs provided by the Programs are not fully traceable or documented. An independent organization could not replicate Program estimates using the data sets provided by SLS, MPCV, or 21CGS without additional explanation from Program staff.”

        • Booz Allen who did the report on SLS repeatedly pointed to NASA’s failure to provide documention…

          Would that be the same Booz Allen who gave traitor Edward Snowden a secret security clearance? They have no credibility.

          • Vladislaw

            And NASA budgets and schedules DO have credibility?


          • numbers_guy101

            Oh I can vouch that the Booz Allen report was on target. Except for all the nice lingo they used, which made the issues seem minor, when more alarms should have been sounded in the report. But hey, they want to be invited back one day for more work like this, and such frankness in a review report would mean not getting future work.

            That said – SLS management decided after Cx was killed that they would not cooperate, generate, or do any long term financials that could provide, or be leaked, as ammo for critics. To be clear-It’s not about not providing info to reviewers, or holding back on goodies like plans going out to milestones and beyond, to flights. SLS and Orion are avoiding even generating such analysis in the first place, knowing such info once generated will NEVER be good news, will never show the program positively, and these would inevitably leak.

      • numbers_guy101

        Well, lets define “transparency” nicely, shouldn’t we? Take a few recent large scale programs such the Air Force, with EELV, NASA with Constellation (Ares I), NASA with commercial cargo, NASA with SLS, and NASA with Orion. Then we can start to talk about the term “transparency” for the NASA commercial crew program.

        Most of the time an independent review party, for example an internal standing review board, an external party hired to do a review, or an outside party like the GAO, uses the term “transparency” they are referring to the ability to connect actions to outcomes. Mostly the actions have to do with spending money. Inevitably then, transparency is about having some degree of detail about the amount of money X for specific outcome, product or service Y.

        Programs like EELV have been reviewed by GAO and they have pretty much said this program lacks transparency (a report back in July 2012). No surprise there.

        A program like Commercial Cargo had fairly good transparency – by their nature being milestone based in development, and firm fixed price once a service. So the detail of specific dollars to specific outcomes is there. The negative critique usually comes from not seeing the lower level of detail about the labor, materials, etc. spent to get to that outcome. Oddly enough, providing this in a cost-plus world (like EELV) does not add to transparency if it merely is a certified cost system that says to the effect that X amount of labor, etc. was spent by these personnel, these days, for this task. That’s because of the lack of connection of any of that to the final outcome or details in the outcome.

        That’s a long winded way of saying that one model, cost plus, provides lots of detail, albeit useless, expensive detail, as far as figuring out the causal relations between money and outcomes. Another model, firm-fixed, provides less detail, but more causal relation between money and outcomes. (Putting aside the magnitude difference in costs that may occur in one model vs. another as well; cost plus being so much more expensive).

        SLS and Orion management have decided the less detail that is out there on BOTH activity and results, the better. That is the least transparency in the spectrum of measuring such a thing. Management there made it pretty clear after Constellation that prior management had shared too much, had put out too much analysis wanting to connect money to outcomes (especially anything after the current year). That was to stop.

        So it is SO ironic to see the SLS defender, Shelby, speak about a “flawed model” for commercial cargo being applied to commercial crew. He should ask what the alternative model is doing in SLS and Orion.

  • vulture4

    “I don’t want science to fund, to be a bank account, for other projects that might or might not happen in the future,” she said.

    Like…. SLS?

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “as well as the lack of transparency in the commercial crew program, saying that it used ‘the same flawed model’ as the commercial cargo program”

    Lack of transparency?

    Like the investment reports and publicly available milestones that commercial cargo and now commercial crew report on bi-monthly?

    Or the years that the SLS and MPCV projects have been operating on undefinitized contracts?

  • Coastal Ron

    “There is not new money on the horizon, so I think we have to be candid about that,” she warned. “Though we agree on the goals [of NASA], I’m not so sure we agree on some of these priorities.”

    Yet more straw falling on the back of the SLS camel. Which one will be the last one doesn’t matter, only that it now is even more inevitable.

    With no new money coming, and NASA firmly behind supporting the ISS and the commercial transportation that supports it (remember that Bolden said without the ISS we don’t need the SLS), that means there is NO money for the once a year HLV-sized payloads that have to start being funded and built so they can be ready in just 7 years.

    With no new money how is NASA supposed to afford more Orion’s to launch on joy rides around the Moon?

    With no new money how is NASA supposed to safely operate the SLS at a rate of no-less-than a once-every-12-months launch cadence? Are they just going to launch more cement like they did on the Ares I-X flight?

    With no new money, why is it that we MUST have a government-owned HLV?

  • James

    Goddard Space Center is facing very tough times the next few years. With lots of uncovered capacity, the likes of which it hasn’t experienced in decades. And there is no real get well fix in sight. Administrator Mukulski has a right to be concerned about her Goddard Space Center

    • nom de plume

      By uncovered capacity, I assume you mean that there isn’t enough upcoming work for the current staffing level. If you’re concerned about right-sizing the workforce, I seriously doubt they will experience the trauma that KSC went through. Not that any civil service cuts were made, just contractors – lots of them. The Senator will protect GSFC like the mother hen she is. After all, as Jeff mentioned, she thinks of GSFC as the “Goddard Space Agency.” Maybe someone needs to inform the Executive Branch to expand the Org chart a little to make room for this new agency.

    • Hiram

      I’m not sure that Goddard is quite as desperate, with regard to uncovered capacity, as it was a few years ago. Before he retired, Orlando Figueroa saw to it that the Goddard technology investment funding was more aimed at long-term and early-stage investments not tied to any particular mission. That was a smart strategic move. Those investments have “legs”. Goddard isn’t quite as concerned about uncovered capacity as it was. For FY14 funding, at least, the number of civil servants there stayed pretty level. The FY15 proposed budget would be tighter for everyone, however.

      I have to wonder just what will become of Goddard when Mikulski is gone. In particular, she’ll be up for reelection in 2014, which barely gets her to the desperately hoped-for launch of JWST. Of course, the survival of JWST depends entirely on her. If she’s gone, JWST is toast if it blows budget and schedule any more.

  • Fred Willett

    Those investments have “legs”.
    No.F9 has legs.
    (sorry. A late night here.)
    Re SLS. You may have noted earlier that ECLSS for Orion has slipped to 2021 1st manned flight. A clear breach of safety rules. i.e. using new technology without a test flight.
    Well SLS has now slipped the human rated 2nd stage (ICPS) to 2021 as well. Again a breach of flight safety rules.
    But this is not a slip – we are assured – everything is still on track.

    • Curtis Quick

      It would seem that those “Rules” are meant as impenetrable barriers to keep some outside the club indefinitely, while those same “Rules” are merely suggestions easily ignored for those that are already inside.

  • Senator Mikulski is deeply troubled by the lack of pork coming to her state.

    If you listen closely, you can hear the grunts and oinks coming from Mikulski and Shelby.

    • James

      Yes. And given JWST performance, and need for extra monies, one has to wonder does her Goddard Space Agency performance justify more pork? JWST performance has already made it ‘mission suicide’ to use the term ‘flagship’ to describe future missions

      • Hiram

        “JWST performance has already made it ‘mission suicide’ to use the term ‘flagship’ to describe future missions”

        At least for NASA, you’d think so. Congress doesn’t hesitate to use the term, however. The NASA Auth markup authorizes a “at least one Flagship-class mission per decadal survey period, starting with a Europa mission with a goal of launching by 2021.”

        • James

          Are you saying that each Space Science Division, per decadal review, can expect a FlagShip to be funded? Or only that SMD can have one Flagship, from among all it’s divisions, per decade?

          A problem I see here is, with declining buying power, if each Division is allowed 1 Flagship per decade, there isn’t any money left over for anything other than small explorer type missions.

          Do you see it that way?

          • Hiram

            Those words are contained in the SMD/PSD section of the bill. The reference is explicitly to planetary science programs. That those words don’t appear anywhere else suggests that the authorizors aren’t that excited about, say, new Astrophysics flagships starting this decade. No surprise. Hard to believe that House leadership is going to get behind any Earth Science flagship mission in any case. Of course, it’s well understood that no new start in astrophysics is going to happen at least until JWST gets off the ground (for better or worse).

            One $2B flagship per decade works out to $200M/yr, which isn’t an overwhelming sum for SMD divisions, in part assuming the JWST line is going to get given back to Astrophysics after it is launched.

  • MrEarl

    NASA is planing to meet with all three funded participants of commercial crew to discuss what is needed to accelerate their programs. SpaceX is first next week. I don’t know when the other two meeting are scheduled.
    I’m guessing NASA is looking for a trampoline.

    • Jim Nobles

      Bigelow may be looking for a trampoline as well. He said he needs two commercial companies to provide rides to his proposed orbital facilities. If Atlas 5 is out of the picture he’s back to one. Assuming Falcon passes muster.

  • josh

    Shelby is so full of sh*t, it makes me laugh. Cots has been the biggest success for nasa in decades and this is not an exaggeration. But in bizarro shelbyworld it’s “flawed”. Has to be cause it makes his pork projects look bad. Can’t have that. Lol.

  • josh

    It’s sad that billions more will be wasted on sls and orion before both will be inevitably canceled having contributed nothing to progress in space. Oh well, at least these are not my tax dollars paying for this corporate welfare…I’m german:D

    • amightywind

      No, you get to pay for Ariane. I’ll never understand why the heck you people don’t you put a spacecraft on top that?

      • Hiram

        “I’ll never understand why the heck you people don’t you put a spacecraft on top that?”

        They put loads of spacecraft on top of Arianes. Smart Europeans, aren’t they? They don’t launch without payloads, as SLS may well have to do, because such payloads will be largely unaffordable.

        But yes, they don’t launch with humans in their payloads. It may be because humans can’t do the useful stuff they want their payloads to do. I can see it now, humans in GEO, acting as comsats. “OK, repeat after me …”)

  • I can’t bring myself to watch, but for those who like to watch porking pols lie through their teeth the hearing is on YouTube at:

    • Robert G Oler

      Stephen…it is pretty clear that cracks are forming in the old space foundation. an amazing week…more is to come. Robert

      • MrEarl

        You’ve been saying that for 10 years Oler. Eventually it will come true. Lol

      • The irony is that ULA and Russia are now de facto allies against SpaceX and other NewSpace enterprises.

        ULA was created for a different place and time. It’s not like they didn’t know NewSpace was coming — it was part of President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, and commercial cargo began in 2006.

        Like older automobile companies who didn’t foresee the demise of gas guzzlers, ULA was quite happy with its government-funded business model. That was, after all, why it was created in the first place.

        It remains to be seen if Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK can change their corporate cultures. The ULA argument that their track record is perfect won’t matter much if SpaceX can do it for a third of the cost. After a while, SpaceX will have a track record too.

        We are watching economic natural selection at work. The horseless carriage replacing the stagecoach. The jet engine replacing the prop. The boat motor replacing the sail.

        Sure, the next Falcon 9 could blow up and change the course of history again. But people have been claiming for years that Falcon 9 would blow up, and it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, no vehicle launched at the Cape has blown up since August 1998, which suggests to me that launch technology has progressed to the point that catastrophic failures are increasingly unlikely.

        If SpaceX can bring back a first stage to land, if they can demonstrate the crew Dragon can fly safely, if the Falcon Heavy launches successfully in the next year or two … that’s pretty much the end for OldSpace. Like the meteor wiping out the dinosaurs.

        • MrEarl

          Aren’t you a little old to be a SpaceX fanboy? Lol

          • Hiram

            That’s a fair point. Older people, with their heads stuck in the sand hole created by Apollo, really ought to be fanboys for legacy aerospace. You know, that’s how we used to do it in the good ol’ days when America was great, and we were spending huge sums of money to thumb our nose at the enemy. How dare older people look to an upstart company to revolutionize aerospace, when the old guard can charge an arm and a leg to preserve the honorable status quo?

            Moreso, how can an older person have any respect for economic natural selection? Their generation was the BEST generation (and the Earth is only 6000 years old anyway, so there is no natural selection). The holy spirit created legacy aerospace to do what it does, and his will shall prevail.

            But no, it’s not like a meteor wiping out the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs didn’t do anything to deserve being wiped out.

            • Hiram, people who hurl personal insults are tacitly admitting they’ve lost the argument. They cannot win on the merits, so they sling mud.

              Otherwise, I ignore them. They’re irrelevant and history has left them behind.

            • MrEarl

              He was being a little pompous and I was trying (and apparently failing) to be funny. Note the lol.

              As for pompous, Stephens reply speaks volumes for itself.

              • Hiram

                I didn’t sense any pomposity, though the bit about dinosaurs, as I pointed out, was probably somewhat inappropriate. The examples he gave about economic natural selection may also have been too generous. New technologies replacing old ones are one thing. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on here is a business model that is collapsing. SpaceX isn’t doing anything that ULA shouldn’t have been able to do themselves. I think Stephen took a step back and accurately painted a larger picture. You can argue with it, but just calling it pompous isn’t constructive.

                No, you weren’t funny. Lol doesn’t mean “I’m funny”. It means “I’m laughing”, which doesn’t really interest us much.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “SpaceX isn’t doing anything that ULA shouldn’t have been able to do themselves.”

                Actually, as a joint venture, ULA lacks the investment capital that SpaceX has. All (or most all) of ULA’s profits go back to Boeing and LockMart. ULA’s managers have no significant warchest of their own. Otherwise they would have undertaken some of the development proposals in the white papers on their website (instead of publicly advertising their IP in the hopes that some government manager with a checkbook is paying attention).

                Boeing and LockMart could in theory fund ULA to develop a new engine or vehicle upgrade. But it will probably be a cold day in hell before that happens, given that:

                1) Boeing and LockMart were stung badly by their investments to develop their respective EELV families. (It wouldn’t surprise me if Boeing and/or LockMart exit the launch business after ULA’s dissolution, whenever that is.)

                2) Boeing and LockMart are diversified aerospace/defense companies with lots of other, better (higher margin or larger payoff) options for their investment capital than the launch market.

                3) If Boeing or LockMart had a breakthrough launch concept or technology, they’d want to develop and field it themselves, rather than share the profits with their competitor through ULA.

                Just due to ULA’s corporate structure, it’s hard to see them winning out against SpaceX (or Orbital ATK or anyone else) over the long run. It really doesn’t matter whether ULA can or wants to innovate — absent government development contracts, they just don’t have a kitty with which to invest.

              • Hiram

                “Actually, as a joint venture, ULA lacks the investment capital that SpaceX has.”

                That’s a fair point. I should have said that Lockheed and Boeing have this capability. But that may well be an important lesson about collapsing business models. Such joint ventures are perhaps not in the interest of a developing field, but more in the interest of preserving the status quo.

                That Boeing and Lockheed were “stung badly” makes you wonder why SpaceX took the plunge.

              • Dark Blue Nine

                “That Boeing and Lockheed were ‘stung badly’ makes you wonder why SpaceX took the plunge.”

                If the “plunge” is getting into the launch business in general, that was driven by Musk’s Mars vision/goal/interest. Whether other companies had failed to recoup launch development investments didn’t figure into the calculus.

                If the “plunge” is breaking into the national security launch business, SpaceX is in a different position now than Boeing and LockMart were at the beginning of the EELV program. The bulk of SpaceX’s LV development to compete in this market is behind it. The investment in F9 is sunk, and it’s just a matter of fully monetizing it by expanding into the defense launch market. Boeing and LockMart, however, had to make major, multi-billion dollar investments to stay in the defense launch market at the outset of the EELV program. It took a lot longer to recoup those investments than they had planned, something that by definition can’t happen to SpaceX at this point relative to the national security launch market.

              • Robert G Oler

                Hiram. the problem with Boeing and Lockmart other then what DBN noted is that they cannot envision a market outside of the government RGO

              • Hiram

                “Whether other companies had failed to recoup launch development investments didn’t figure into the calculus.”

                I just find that somewhat remarkable, and tip my hat to Musk for trying to look beyond that calculus. The same can be said for sunk costs. If SpaceX had stockholders to please, there would never have been such enormous sunk costs in the first place.

              • Michael Kent

                Good grief, Robert. While Lockheed is primarily a government contractor, the vast majority of Boeing’s business — probably more than 3/4 of it — is not with the U. S. gov’t.

          • Robert G Oler

            Mr. Earl…I am not for sure if that is to me or Stephen..but you took a shot at me so I’ll answer.

            I am a “fan boy” of the future. It is hard to be that because the future in a progressive society is about change to new things which open greater potential, just as the “things” that are current and soon will become old did. People who cannot accept change or embrace it hold on to what is current and soon will become old because at their basic foundation they are lazy.

            In the 1930’s the main line of the USN was envisioning a war with Japan, but because the promotion and industrial path was “the gun club” they ridiculed and tried to stop the advances in aircraft carriers and submarines…the two major weapon systems that eventually swept the Japanese Navy from the seas.

            SLS and Orion and ULA are legacy programs whose main goal is to support the process not what the process does; because the process is important to the industrial base and the politicans that support them. This perpetuates old thinking; the US military needs to keep building the various satellite programs it has, NASA keeps hunting to redo Apollo….when neither of these things are any more viable then the US Navy building its own massive fleet of Yamato look alikes and having a massive Jutland sytle battle in the western Pacific.

            If SpaceX (and its eventual competitors) lowers the launch price point then what will happen will be the same “change” In vector of history as the Pony Express giving way to the telegraph or wagons giving way tot he Railroads…or fleet carriers replacing BB’s in the 40’s…everything will change AND the ones left out in the cold will be those who cannot change (see Admiral Pye)

            Change is coming…Airbus is looking at airplanes using “electricity” for propulsion…yes the steps now are overshawded by the current technology but people who can summon the future can see the potential just as in the 30’s when Lexington and Saratoga “bombed” Pearl Harbor…and even though the planes were so puny they could not carry real ordance and short ranged that they had to land at the base they had just destroyed…and the gun club mocked…history was waiting.

            You are a fan boy of the past. and ULA and Orion/SLS will vanish there. I may have missed the time period, but only because I could not imagine that people like “Babs” would be so stupid. RGO

            • amightywind

              Airbus is looking at airplanes using “electricity” for propulsion

              And Boeing is looking at using green unicorns under the wing. This is the silliest thing you’ve said in a long time. Airbus is getting their butt handed to them because they wasted so much capital on the Old School A380 that only the Arabs like. Meanwhile Boeing has been killing it with the 787, and will do so again with the 777X. I bought in at 70!

        • Robert G Oler

          Stephen…that is well said. we are coming to a moment in history where change and evolution accepted or not will occur. the problem is that we have people and a political party who are determined to resist it RGO

        • numbers_guy101

          Is the question for ULA like asking back in the day if that typewriter manufacturer can weather the storm of that new thing everyone’s buying, that PC and word processor thing, or is the question more like asking if IBM can reinvent themselves against the same storm, given smarts and time?

  • Curtis Quick

    I would not be surprised to hear SpaceX announce an accelerated schedule for their Falcon9/Dragon abort tests (especially if increased NASA funding is forthcoming). The launch pad abort and MaxQ abort were to be scheduled for summer and fall this year. Perhaps they can do both this summer. After this, crewed flights are next on the list.

    • Neil

      NASA’s apparently holding urgent meetings with the Cc participant companies this week IIRC. SpaceX first so acceleration may well be on the agenda. SpaceX is furtherest along but again I seem to recall Gwynne or maybe Elon making some comment about not being able to do much to accelerate their program. Perhaps NASA is thinking about relaxing some of their requirements. Maybe a LAS? LOL. Or maybe it’s about the new docking mechanism that’s in play. How to accelerate manufacture and testing?
      Really there’s any number of reasons that could be behind the meetings.

      • Jim Nobles

        From the rumblings I’ve heard the bottleneck to manned commercial ISS recrew and resupply is, as far as SpaceX is concerned, the docking adapter. Everything I’ve heard points to SpaceX being ready to fly crew before NASA is ready to install the docking equipment.

        I will go out on a limb and say that I think, if everything goes well with the testing, SpaceX could probably be launching people 12-16 months from now. Maybe not NASA crew but their own test pilots.

      • The docking mechanism is only need for the lifeboat function. They could berth with crew any time they want.

        • Rand, since I’m not all that familiar with NDS … Essentially you’re saying that we could do crew as we do cargo today — use the Canadian arm to grapple Dragon and berth it at an existing docking part, correct?

          NDS is necessary only if Dragon were to come in directly and attach, correct?

          Thanks in advance.

          • Jim Nobles

            I think if Dragon is going to replace a Soyuz it at ISS it has to be able to dock there for six months to provide the lifeboat functionality. Probably have to be able to release and depart ISS without help from the station as well, although I’m not sure about that part.

            If they just want to haul people up and down then, yeah, they could basically do that now.

            That’s the way I understand it anyway.

          • pathfinder_01

            Berthing requires the use of the robot arm. In an emergency the robot arm could be nonfunctional or way out of position (the ISS’s robot arm can be moved). A berthed vessel cannot arrive or depart the ISS without the arm. Berthed spacecraft are basically temporary modules of the ISS and use the CBM. As you can imagine this is a real safety concern.

            A docked craft does not need the robot arm. The robot arm can assist, but if needed they can both arrive and depart without it. If needed you can just get in, close the door and go. There are specifications for how fast the craft should be able to depart and if I recall correctly the shuttle could leave in 15 mins if needed.

            The plan is to convert the shuttle’s docking port’s into ones for the crew craft. The shuttle’s docking system is kind of heavy for a capsule (it was designed to hold an 100MT space plane in place). The parts for the NDS still need to be sent up. The plan was to outfit one of the shuttle’s ports this year (2014), but I do not know how far along that plan is and if it is still on time. The other port would be converted either next year or 2016.

            In theory one might be able to jury rig something to go on the CBMS to allow emergency escape, but it is best just to install the docking adapters.

          • And as one colleague pointed out to me … If everyone is trying to leave the ISS, someone has to stay behind to operate the robot arm.

            Same problem if you’re returning to an abandoned station.

            • Neil

              Now then we would have a ‘real’ hero/ine.

            • Hiram

              “If everyone is trying to leave the ISS, someone has to stay behind to operate the robot arm.”

              It should be understood that, as of a few years ago, at least Dextre is NOT operated locally. It’s actually quite fascinating. In fact, by the time Dextre was launched in 2008, the “ROBO” flight control team already had several years of experience doing ground-ops with Canadarm2. Dextre had such complicated control software that it was simply impossible for the on-orbit astronauts to maintain proficiency with it. The tasks were detailed enough that they took several days to perform, making it impossible for an astronaut to be responsible for them. The astronauts are there pretty much to fix “oops” moments. Not sure how often that actually happens.

              I believe an on-orbit astronaut needs to be in the loop when Canadarm2 is servicing an EVA, however. But that’s rare.

              Canadarm2 and Dextre are now largely operated telerobotically from the ground.

              • That doesn’t help if the station has lost power, though. Also, for berthing, I think that someone has to be aboard the ISS to deal with the hatch opening/closing. I discuss this in the book.

              • Hiram

                That’s a good reason to have one body on board. How many times, now, has the station lost power?

                And I’ll buy that. You need a body on board to open doors for people. They could even wear a real-life doorman cap, with some gold tassel on it.

                Look, I think having astronauts on ISS is great, and it’s teaching us a lot about human factors that are essential for spaceflight. But it’s increasingly about those human factors as remote control gets more sophisticated.

                Excellent book, by the way.

              • Thanks. When will I see the review at Amazon? ;-)

  • josh

    @windy: ariane gets about 100 million in subsidies pet year and has pretty low prices considering they have to make sure all countries involved get a piece of the pie. ula gets one billion per year and still they’re the most expensive launch provider in the planet.

    • Michael Kent

      That’s just the operating subsidy. Ariane has all of its development cost paid for by ESA. That saves them both the cost of development and the cost of capital during the amortization period.

  • Jeff, if you’re out there … Do you know who on the House Armed Services Committee added the provision for the government to subsidize an RD-180 replacement?

    I noticed that Mo Brooks is on the committee, but would prefer to rely on fact and not suspicion. :-) Thanks in advance.

    • Jeff Foust

      Sir: I am unaware of the identity of the representative(s) who included that provision, and feel it would be unprofessional to speculate in the absence of such information.

      • Jeff, I always respect your professionalism. :-)

        I read the amendment and watched the hearing video.

        Overlooked is another provision which says the USAF “should” — not “shall,” but “should” — continue to use block buys. Given the current legal circumstances, I found that wording very curious. Why include it unless the committee was trying to protect the status quo?

        In the hearing, the amendments were offered for markup without any presentation or discussion. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Sacramento) questioned why there were no details, no debate. The chair ignored him. Garamendi seemed mostly interested in plutonium and didn’t mention the RD-180 provisions, but it did raise the question of how these amendments magically appeared.

        I’ll keep digging.

  • josh


    Wow, is that windy’s looney little homepage? Let’s say it wouldn’t surprise me at this point…

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