Congress, NASA

CJS report offers more details on proposed NASA spending

In advance of Thursday morning’s markup of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill by the full House Appropriations Committee, the committee released the report accompanying the bill, which offers more details on the spending levels for NASA and other agencies in the bill. First, an updated version of the table comparing the President’s budget request (PBR) for fiscal year 2015 with the spending levels in the bill:

Account FY15 PBR House CJS Draft PBR-House Diff
SCIENCE $4,972.0 $5,193.0 $221.0
- Earth Science $1,770.3 $1,750.0 -$20.3
- Planetary Science $1,280.3 $1,450.0 $169.7
- Astrophysics $607.3 $680.0 $72.7
- JWST $645.4 $645.0 -$0.4
- Heliophysics $668.9 $668.0 -$0.9
SPACE TECHNOLOGY $705.5 $620.0 -$85.5
AERONAUTICS $551.1 $666.0 $114.9
EXPLORATION SYSTEMS $3,976.0 $4,167.0 $191.0
- SLS/Orion $2,784.4 $3,055.0 $270.6
- Commercial Spaceflight $848.3 $785.0 -$63.3
- Exploration R&D $343.4 $327.0 -$16.4
SPACE OPERATIONS $3,905.4 $3,885.0 -$20.4
- ISS $3,050.8 $3,040.0 -$10.8
- Space and Flight Support $854.6 $845.0 -$9.6
EDUCATION $88.9 $106.0 $17.1
CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT $2,778.6 $2,779.0 $0.4
CONSTRUCTION $446.1 $446.0 -$0.1
INSPECTOR GENERAL $37.0 $34.0 -$3.0
TOTAL $17,460.6 $17,896.0 $435.4

What attracted the most attention was the funding for planetary science: $1.45 billion, an increase of nearly $170 million over the administration’s request. “NASA’s request for Planetary Science once again represents a substantial decrease below appropriated levels and would have a negative impact on both planned and existing missions,” the report states. The report calls on NASA, which is ramping up plans to issue an announcement of opportunity (AO) for its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions later this year, to plan to release another Discovery AO during fiscal year 2016.

The committee is also skeptical of NASA’s interest in a lower-cost (no more than $1 billion) Europa mission, for which NASA issued a request for information (RFI) last week. “[T]he Committee has not seen any credible evidence that such a cost cap is feasible and directs NASA not to use further project resources in pursuit of such an unlikely outcome,” the report states.

That proposed increase was warmly welcomed by The Planetary Society, which has been lobbying in Washington this week for more planetary science funding. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, also praised the increase in a statement. “With this funding increase, we will be able to keep Mars 2020 on track and begin an exciting new mission to Europa, two of the science community’s highest priorities,” he said. “We should also be able to continue the operation of craft that have exceeded their estimated lives but continue to produce valuable science,” a reference to the pending senior review of ongoing planetary science missions, including Cassini and Curiosity.

In astrophysics, the bill provides $70 million to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an airborne observatory that the administration sharply cut in its FY15 proposal, threatening to put the aircraft into mothballs. The $70 million provided is less than the $84.4 million SOFIA received for FY14, but the committee said in the report that the funding it offers should be enough to support its fixed costs and “a base level of scientific observations” while allowing NASA to continue seeking new partners to fill in the rest.

Elsewhere in the NASA section of the report, the committee criticized NASA for “requesting arbitrarily reduced funding levels” for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, resulting in “an inefficient flat-line budget profile.” The committee rectifies this by funding SLS at the same level as the final FY14 appropriations bill: also a flat line, but at a higher level.

The committee continued its skepticism of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plans, arguing that it “still has outstanding questions and concerns about the ARM’s costs and feasibility, as well as its strategic relevance and potential to generate external support from the public and international collaborators.” The bill directs NASA to spend money appropriated for ARM only “on those portions of the ARM mission that are also applicable to other current NASA programs, clearly extensible to other potential future exploration missions, such as to the Moon, Phobos/Deimos or Mars, or have broad applicability to other future non-exploration activities, such as in-space robotic servicing.” In a provision similar to one in the NASA authorization bill recently passed by the House Science Committee, the report calls for a study of the “Mars Flyby 2021″ concept for the EM-2 mission, currently the first crewed SLS/Orion flight.

The bill would provide commercial crew with $785 million, less than 10% below the administration’s request of $848 million. That generosity, though, comes with conditions, notably, a call for NASA to select only a single company in the next round of the competition, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), for which NASA is now evaluating proposals with a selection due in August. “The Committee believes that this recommendation strikes the appropriate balance between support for the program’s underlying goal and caution against management approaches that many in the Congress do not endorse,” the report states, also pressing NASA to “incentivize further private investment in the program” and provide the committee with the prices the companies would charge NASA for ferrying astronauts to and from the station once the contract selection blackout ends.

20 comments to CJS report offers more details on proposed NASA spending

  • MattW

    “Finally, each CCtCap proposer has now provided NASA with the flight price that would be charged if that proposer ultimately were to conduct missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Those prices will determine how much, if any, savings the CCP will generate compared to Soyuz transportation prices.”

    So basically the appropriations committee sees no value in a domestic crew launch capability. They’d rather pay the Russians to do it if it cost less.

  • Hopefully the Senate side doesn’t whack commercial crew, and ignores the onerous anti-competition mandate, so this can be fixed when the two houses go to reconciliation.

    • josh

      hasn’t the senate been a bit more sane on this in recent years? i mean not sane sane, after all they’re wasting 3 billion on a make work project every year but a little less crazy than the house?

  • Fred Willett

    Musk has already quoted $20M a seat which works out at $140M a launch, quite in line with the cost of cargo flights ($133M a flight) and way below the cost of Soyuz ($70m a seat). This cost seems likely as we’re taking about essentially the same Dragon and exactly the same Falcon 9. But bear in mind that this does not take into account reusability.
    If the Dragons start being reused expect much lower prices More likely this time around as SpaceX should have a very good idea of the cost of refurbishing a Dragon now.
    And if the Falcon 9 starts getting reused…

  • Neil

    $785 million is up on previous years. Think they’ll be quite happy to get this amount given the history and no one ever suggested that Congress would fully fund CC even with the Crimea situation.

  • Andrew Swallow

    … a call for NASA to select only a single company in the next round of the competition, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), …

    That is Boeing out, since the CST-100 was the outsider and they have just lost their engine supplier.

    • Neil

      That implies DC as well.

    • Hiram

      “That is Boeing out, since the CST-100 was the outsider and they have just lost their engine supplier.”

      Atlas was simply the “initial launch supplier” for CST-100. It is well understood that multiple launchers, including Falcon 9, are suitable. In fact, I believe a special adapter will be needed for an Atlas. AvWeek reported last year that Boeing was talking to SpaceX, and concluded that if the price point was right, Falcon would be the best choice.

    • Michael Kent

      No. This, with the recent push to make safety the top criterion for Commercial Crew, strongly suggests that key House members expect Boeing to be the chosen contractor. I don’t know that NASA will play along, but that’s what the House expects.
      If you think back a few years, there wouldn’t even be a Commercial Crew program without Boeing.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Economies, nations and governments flounder when failure is tolerated and even sustained by government policy and success is hard to reward. This is one reason that NASA is doing a slow spin in. Since the last administration (and continued into this one) failure (CX, now SLS/Orion, Webb) have been not only tolerated but sustained…while success is villified. The process is more important then what the process does. RGO

  • josh

    “management approaches that many in the congress do not endore”

    yeah, management approaches that actually deliver results. on schedule and within budget. can’t have that. what a f*cking joke this is.

    if they really have to mess up ccicap by forcing a downselect i say go with spacex. boeing should be thrown out anyway, their proposal is inferior to dragon and dreamchaser in evey way. and snc…well, i hope they find a way to continue with their project anyway, maybe by stretching out the schedule a couple of years.

    • Michael Kent

      “Inferior”? As in, “most likely to actually work, on time and on budget”?
      That’s a strange definition of the term, but alright, I’ll go along with that.

  • josh

    Dragon has been to space several times, all that’s left is the las. Meanwhile Boeing got the most funding to develop a capsule that unlike Dagon can’t handle interplanetary reentry speeds, runs on battery power (lol) and uses a ridiculously overpriced launcher. It’s still sitting on the ground.
    You have no argument.

    • Michael Kent

      First off, the CST-100 has solar panels. Second, Commercial Crew is designed to service the ISS and LEO, neither of which require interplanetary re-entry speeds.
      But the main point is that Boeing has done manned spacecraft before many, many times.
      They built Mercury, Gemini, the Apollo CSM, and the X-15. They were the prime contractor on Skylab. They designed & built the Space Shuttle orbiter. They are the prime contractor for the International Space Station, having developed both the truss backbone and the American pressurized modules.
      In fact, every single vehicle NASA has ever used to launch a crew into space was designed and built by Boeing.
      SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon is a good start, but their experience absolutely pales in comparison to Boeing’s.
      And thus far, Boeing’s capsule development is both cheaper and faster than SpaceX’s. If you’re going to use the unmanned Dragon capsule as a basis to compare the two contractor’s, then you also have to include Dragon’s $400 million development cost and its 2006 start date.
      Personally, I hope Boeing and SpaceX get a full-size CCtCap award. Boeing is the low-risk provider, and in the end, SpaceX will be the low-cost provider. But if there must be only one, NASA should go with the low-risk provider. Commercial Crew is too important to do otherwise.

      • Jim Nobles

        NASA is not going to choose Boeing over SpaceX for commercial crew. Not unless something terrible happens anyway. If it comes to a 1.5 award I expect the 1. to go to SpaceX and the .5 to go to Boeing.

        SpaceX offers the whole package. Boeing, talented as they are, looks like they will have an adequate capsule but they have a launcher problem. Those Russian engines could evaporate at any time given Vladamir’s tantrums. Or given politicians tantrums in Congress.

        It is possible that Boeing’s superior lobbying power could help them but I don’t think they can beat out SpaceX on the merits of their system. They need to fly one of their vehicles and let us all have a look at it.

      • Robert G. Oler

        almost none of the Boeing experience in legacy programs is useful. First it is from an era long gone in technology and none of it was done for any particular price point, which is a main selling point of commercial crew.

        Boeing is in my view one of the high risk providers. RGO

      • josh

        cst-100 doeesn’t have solar panels according to the latest info i could find. it runs on batteries. but please, show me i’m wrong and provide a link to more recent information if you have one.
        cst-100 can’t handle interplanetary reentry speeds which makes it clearly inferior to dragon in that regard. doesn’t really matter if it’s required for commercial crew or not, the fact remains that dragon can be used for beo missions while you’re stuck in leo with cst-100.
        and boeing has done impressive stuff in the past but that doesn’t really matter today. it’s like comparing 60s nasa to today’s nasa.

        • Michael Kent

          First of all, interplanetary re-entry speeds are not a requirement of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will not be among the source selection criteria NASA uses to determine a winner. Using non-requirements to determine a winner will lead to a protest that would easily be upheld and will result in substantial program delay.

          Second, there are at least two configurations of the CST-100 in-work. Here is the NASA version with recently added solar panels. If it is chosen, it will be the version NASA uses to fly crew and some cargo to the ISS.

          In addition to NASA’s version, here is a commercial version being designed to ferry a ten-man commercial crew to and from a proposed Bigelow space station.

          Boeing is also partnering with Space Adventures to offer the CST-100 for tourist flights. It’s unknown at this time whether Space Adventures would use the commercial version above or a third configuration.

          Boeing doesn’t have a customer for it yet, but seeing as they are the only one in the world who have ever designed and built a manned BLEO spacecraft, they could easily develop a BLEO CST-100 (CST-200?) for a small fraction of the cost of an Orion. NASA won’t be the customer, though, since they are committed to spending more money for an Orion. Unless, of course, if CST-100 flies and certain presentations are made….

          The point is that Boeing is moving in the commercial manned space arena on multiple fronts. It shouldn’t be surprising. In their history they’ve done more commercial space than anyone else, including SpaceX. In fact, they’re probably done more commercial space than everyone else combined.

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