Congress, NASA

Examining the Senate’s NASA funding bill

As expected, the NASA funding levels in the Senate’s Commerce, Justice, and Science funding bill are broadly similar, but not identical, to those in the bill the House passed last week. From the report accompanying the bill, here’s how the Senate’s funding levels compare to those in the House and the President’s budget request (PBR):

Account FY15 PBR House CJS Draft Senate CJS Draft
SCIENCE $4,972.0 $5,193.0 $5,200.0
- Earth Science $1,770.3 $1,750.0 $1,831.9
- Planetary Science $1,280.3 $1,450.0 $1,301.7
- Astrophysics $607.3 $680.0 $707.8
- JWST $645.4 $645.0 $645.4
- Heliophysics $668.9 $668.0 $671.2
- Education $0.0 $0.0 $42.0
SPACE TECHNOLOGY $705.5 $620.0 $580.2
AERONAUTICS $551.1 $666.0 $551.1
EXPLORATION SYSTEMS $3,976.0 $4,167.0 $4,367.7
- SLS/Orion $2,784.4 $3,055.0 $3,251.3
- Commercial Spaceflight $848.3 $785.0 $805.0
- Exploration R&D $343.4 $327.0 $311.4
SPACE OPERATIONS $3,905.4 $3,885.0 $3,830.8
- ISS $3,050.8 $3,040.0 $3,012.8
- Space and Flight Support $854.6 $845.0 $818.0
EDUCATION $88.9 $106.0 $108.0
CROSS AGENCY SUPPORT $2,778.6 $2,779.0 $2,778.6
CONSTRUCTION $446.1 $446.0 $446.1
INSPECTOR GENERAL $37.0 $34.0 $37.5
TOTAL $17,460.6 $17,896.0 $17,900.0

(Note that the House numbers above do not reflect the transfer of $7 million from Space Operations to Space Technology called for in an amendment the House approved last week; the amendment did not specify from where within Space Operations the money should be taken.)

Some details from the report language:

Science: There’s good news for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) in the bill, as it provides $87 million for the airborne observatory to continue operations, about the same as the program received in fiscal year 2014 and far above the $12 million requested to mothball SOFIA. The committee, the report notes, “believes that such [cancellation] decisions for science missions should be made only after a senior review that evaluates the relative scientific benefit and return from continued investment.”

The report doesn’t discuss the decision by last month’s astrophysics senior review to end the Spitzer Space Telescope mission, but does note language in the senior review report expressing concern about a lack of funding for astrophysics missions in general. “The Committee believes that the decision to continue supporting large-scale science missions, such as these astrophysics resources, should first be considered for their scientific merit and viability and then in the context of any fiscal constraints,” it states, directing NASA to do that.

Astrophysics overall receives $100 million above the administration’s request. However, that $100 million is more than offset by the increases to SOFIA ($75 million above the administration’s request) and $56 million for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), $42 million above the administration’s request.

Planetary science did not get the same increase as in the House, with the Senate electing to fund most programs at the PBR levels. The request does provide an additional $20 million for Discovery and $65.7 million for Mars Exploration. Unlike the House, which allocated $100 million for a Europa mission, the Senate does not earmark any additional funds for it, but does direct NASA to use the Space Launch System (SLS) for the baseline mission profile under development.

In Earth sciences, the Senate offers a slight increase for the next Landsat mission, but directs NASA to accelerate planning for that effort, noting that Landsat 7 could end its mission as soon as 2017. “The Committee does not concur with various administration efforts to develop alternative ‘out of the box’ approaches to this data collection—whether they are dependent on commercial or international partners,” the report stated, calling instead for a more conventional satellite procurement not to exceed $650 million and launch by 2020.

The bill also transfers funding for the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Jason-3 missions from NOAA to NASA’s Earth sciences program, and also adds $25.6 million for Jason-3 and $24.8 million for DSCOVR.

Exploration: The bill adds a significant amount of funding for SLS, from $1.38 billion in the administration’s request to $1.7 billion in this bill. Orion gets a smaller increase, from $1.05 billion to $1.2 billion. “The additional resources provided in this bill will ensure that NASA can make the investments necessary, including those required for risk mitigation, to maintain a 2017 launch date” for the first SLS mission, the report stated.

The Senate is slightly more generous than the House for commercial crew, providing $805 million versus the $785 million in the House bill, although both fall short of the administration’s request of $848 million. The Senate report does not include language calling for a downselect to a single company, as the House report does, but does require “certified cost and pricing data for prime contractors, for any contracts entered into to support the development of a commercial crew vehicle.” The report would also require NASA to provide Congress with quarterly reports “that detail the funds invested by NASA and by the awardees during the previous quarter and cumulatively, including legacy launch systems that may be integrated with the crew vehicle.”

That language has generated opposition from commercial space advocates, like the Space Access Society, which sent out a notice yesterday in opposition to that provision of the report. “‘Certified Cost And Pricing Data’ is a totally inappropriate requirement for commercial fixed-price vendors, such as the Cargo Resupply Services companies and the Commercial Crew bidders,” the organization argued, fearing those provisions could increase costs for those provides by a factor of 1.5 to 3.

Space Technology and Space Operations: The bill provides $580.2 million for Space Technology, below both the administration’s request and the House bill, which was already below what NASA requested. It directs NASA to put “an increased focus” on Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) awards to companies with fewer than 50 employees. It also specifies $17 million be spent on the Flight Opportunities program for flying experiments on parabolic aircraft or suborbital vehicles.

The report also directs NASA to spend $130 million on satellite servicing efforts, using a combination of funding from Space Technology and Space Operations. That funding would support a “Restore Pathfinder” technology demonstration mission to test servicing technologies on a satellite in LEO or GEO by 2017. “Given constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act, satellite servicing offers a unique and valuable means to stagger the capital requirements for new missions by significantly extending the useful life of existing ones,” the report states.

The report also directs NASA to consider the requirements of the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia as part of the agency’s “21st Century Launch Complex Program”, which has been focused on the needs of the Kennedy Space Center. “There are now growing capacity issues at WFF that, if not resolved, could soon prevent the center from taking on small and large missions due to limitations associated with spacecraft processing and fueling facility and associated facilities that need to be addressed,” the report states. The bill includes $8 million above the administration’s $25.9-million request for the program.

59 comments to Examining the Senate’s NASA funding bill

  • yg1968

    I completely agree with the Space Access Society, “Certified Cost And Pricing Data” is an inappropriate requirement for commercial fixed-price vendors. I would have prefered less money to commercial crew than this increased bureaucracy requirement. This is sure to slow down commercial crew (CCtCap) and cargo (CRS2) and make it more expensive.

  • Moose

    Somewhat comical that they scare up half a billion for SLS/Commercial but won’t meet that last 40 million to fully fund Commercial Crew. Trying to think of a better word than Petty but just keep going back to Petty.

  • Nice to see exploration systems ramping up and ISS ramping down, through not enough for either in my opinion.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      Nice to see exploration systems ramping up…

      The more money that goes to SLS, the less there is for things for the SLS to launch.

      And notice there is ZERO funding for missions or payloads for the SLS to launch once it becomes operational in 2021, which means funding for SLS-sized missions and payloads will have six or less years to go through proposal, RFQ, bid award, build, test, and be ready for launch. And since the SLS has to launch at least once every 12 months to maintain a safe cadence, Congress is going to have to be spending A LOT of money on SLS missions and payloads to avoid mothballing the SLS for lack of need.

      As a reminder, the 1mt Mars Science Laboratory took 7 years from proposal to launch, and cost $2.5B. If anyone thinks SLS payloads will be less expensive and take less time to build they are living in a land called “denial”.

      The lack of anything for the SLS to do is becoming more and more apparent, which will make the eventual cancellation all that more painful for it’s supporters…

      • Hiram

        “The more money that goes to SLS, the less there is for things for the SLS to launch.”

        Whoa. But wait. The Senate report *specified* that the Europa mission would go up on an SLS. That must be scaring the bejesus out of SMD. It’s going to be HOW big?

        Of course, one strategy is to get a modest payload there REALLY FAST, and brake it REALLY HARD when you do. You could use up SLS payload space on propulsion without an uberexpensive science payload.

        Of course, we could also ship a few tons of concrete to Europa. You know, to help build a habitat there? Maybe SLS could mix it while it flies?

        But seriously, asking for a science payload to go up on SLS is going to end up making it FASTER. Because it’s not going to end up being BIGGER. SMD can’t afford BIGGER.

        • James

          Does anyone know the cost cap on the Europa Mission? Do they get to save LV costs (because launching on the SLS) and apply that monies to the science?

          And doesn’t SMD have a requirement that SMD missions can not ride on a new LV? That the LV has to have demonstrated Ps. of .98? Something like that?


          • Dark Blue Nine

            “Does anyone know the cost cap on the Europa Mission?”

            There is none. JPL is still (after several years and several hundred million dollars) at the design phase. In an attempt to get the cost down after they didn’t win the last planetary decadal survey, the team is trading an RTG-powered orbiter for a solar-powered multi-flyby. In theory, solar might get it into the $1B to $2B range, but that’s an estimate, not a cap. Here’s a couple relevant links:



            “Do they get to save LV costs (because launching on the SLS) and apply that monies to the science?”

            Historically, science mission launches on STS didn’t have to pay for (most of) the launch. No one has any idea whether that will still hold true in the era of SLS, but if it doesn’t, there’s no way Europa Clipper will launch on SLS. SMD isn’t going to pick up the $3 billion-plus pricetag for an SLS launch.

            If the SLS launch is “free” to SMD, the savings to SMD are significant but not substantial — a couple hundred million for an EELV launch will only be about 10% of the total Europa Clipper cost. But the costs to NASA are very high — NASA will lose about $2.8 billion going with SLS over an EELV. Keeping the SLS marching army for a launch every couple years produces a cost of about $3 billion per launch.

            “And doesn’t SMD have a requirement that SMD missions can not ride on a new LV? That the LV has to have demonstrated Ps. of .98? Something like that?”

            SLS is exempted from NASA’s launch services rules. But if it wasn’t, it would have to launch 14 times (or have the equivalent analytical confidence from a smaller of launches). Obviously, that ain’t gonna happen, which is why SLS is exempted.

            At NASA, there are different rules for LVs developed by NASA. It’s two-faced, risky, asset- and life-threatening, and expensively stupid. But it’s the way it is.

            • Hiram

              “Historically, science mission launches on STS didn’t have to pay for (most of) the launch.”

              I believe that SMD didn’t pay for ANY of the STS launch, but it did pay for astronaut training on the SMD jobs, and likely special equipment needed to fulfill those jobs.

              Not sure why SLS would be made free to SMD for Europa. It wouldn’t be for the same reasons as STS. For the latter, it was less about using STS and more about using astronauts.

              To the extent that an RTG will be needed for a Europa mission, SLS will not be certified to launch it until after a lot of launches proving reliability. There are other RTG issues for SLS as well.

              Of course, pegging a Europa mission to fly on an SLS, to the extent it takes advantage of the SLS capabilities, is going to introduce a devastating delay and wholesale redesign when SLS is shelved. The outer planets science community should recognize this risk. Because a lot of lunar science had been depending on Constellation, that community is in really bad shape.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Nice to see exploration systems ramping up”

      What “exploration systems”? A hyper-expensive 70’s-era launch vehicle that we can only afford to put up once every four years? An 60’s-era capsule retread that — surprise, surprise — can only repeat Apollo 8?

      There’s no “exploration” in any of this.

  • Will

    The poison pill wording by Senator Shelby is very disappointing. I hope the wording gets removed and that commercial crew survives this attack.

    • Dick Eagleson

      I think this would be a good time for Orbital’s execs to explain the new facts of life to their recently acquired ATK brethren and have them call Sen. Shelby and explain the new facts of life to him. They already have his number.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        Excellent point.

      • red

        I wonder why Mikulski let the Shelby cost/pricing data language apply to CRS2. Orbital is probably in a good position to be a winner for CRS2, and the requirement seems like it would bog them down, too. Orbital and Wallops are both in her region (Orbital HQ and Wallops are just outside MD and Wallops is run by GSFC).

        • Dick Eagleson

          Yeah, that’s why I mentioned Orbital. By going after CRS as well as Commercial Crew, Shelby puts his foot squarely in Orbital’s rice bowl. ATK used to be an unconflicted attack dog for Shelby’s SLS team because, no matter how attenuated the SLS development and launch schedule got, the SLS 5-segment solid was the only big program ATK had left. Hence the erstwhile junkyard dog act.

          Now ATK belongs to Orbital. Orbital needs to re-engineer Antares to solve their Russian engine and Ukrainian first-stage structure supply chain problems (Yuzhnoye is in eastern Ukraine, Putin’s probable next “bite”). They’ve been making noises about having ATK do a solid first stage for Antares 2.0. Not ideal engineering, but it sure solves a lot of problems for them including finding something useful for ATK’s large-diameter solids operation to do besides the increasingly problematical SLS strap-ons.

          Orbital also intends to follow in SpaceX’s footsteps and get Antares certified for the EELV new-entrant program. They see a niche in going after NASA/DoD/NRO/USAF payloads that are smallish for a Falcon 9 and which ULA used to launch on Delta 2’s before those went away. That puts Orbital up against Shelby in his other capacity, namely as Senator from ULA as well as Senator from SLS.

          I think all Orbital has to do is hint to Shelby that ATK might do Antares 2.0 first stages instead of, rather than in addition to, the one SLS strap-on per year they’re currently on the hook for and he’ll back off. Bailing on the SLS contract would scupper the whole SLS effort at a stroke as there is no alternate source of supply for the SLS strap-ons.

          The bill will have to go to conference for reconciliation anyway as there are many differences between the House and Senate versions besides Mr. Shelby’s little poison pill. That’ll be where the real wheeling and dealing gets done. It would certainly be nice if Orbital could lean on Mikulski. She usually logrolls with Shelby so even rendering her neutral would be a big help. Switching Orrin Hatch – still the Senator from ATK – from an SLS partisan to an ISS/CRS partisan would be useful too. He doesn’t serve on any of the relevant space committees or subcommittees, but he’s got influence with people who do and ATK has his phone number.

          The fat lady ain’t sung yet folks.

          • Bennett In Vermont

            Your take on the matter is the best news I’ve read/heard since the story broke. Thank you!

            • Dick Eagleson

              Just calling ‘em like I see ‘em. The old-boy, results-free space establishment has enormous inertia, to be sure, but they’ve taken some major hits lately. Some of those hits, like the Russian counter-sanctions, have even impinged on the awareness of ordinary Americans to a degree not seen in a long time where space-related inside baseball is concerned. The tectonic stresses in the space establishment have been building for decades. The “Big One” is in the early stages of shaking down a lot of legacy players. I think that in three years or less, the space world is going to be vastly different – and better.

          • red

            ATK already supplies Orbital’s Antares with the Castor 2nd stage. Maybe as you say they’ll ultimately do the Antares first stage as well given the long-term Antares first stage question. ATK also supplies the GEMS-60 booster to ULA for the Delta IV.

            It would be an interesting situation if Orbital-ATK starts competing for some currently-ULA missions with Antares or the Stratolaunch Pegasus II, while at the same time being a ULA supplier.

            • Dick Eagleson

              Yeah. Real interesting. I think the whole basis of the deal that spun ATK’s space and defense business off to Orbital was that Orbital was already its biggest and most stable customer, therefore having the most to lose if ATK went pear-shaped. I think the increasingly problematical future of the deal to supply SLS solid boosters was probably the major factor in this calculation. That particular soup bowl is looking increasingly watery and nutritionally questionable with every passing month.

              Strategic acquisitions of major suppliers by major customers has been a long-standing and common occurrence in the mergers & acquisitions world. Now that ATK is Orbital’s, the latter are clear to devise a composite strategy that optimizes the future prospects of the combined enterprise. The SLS booster deal will not benefit from such an exercise.

              More to the point, I think Orbital smells a real opportunity to supplant a blind-sided ULA along with SpaceX. Between Antares and their deal with Stratolaunch, they could, at a minimum, wind up a strong number two in the launch services market within five years. That’s a big step up in class from their long-time position as a second-tier scrounger and builder of Franken-rockets.

              They may well be able to step up their game in comsat design and construction too, relative to Boeing and Loral. Google’s new constellation will place a premium on smallness of the LEO birds involved. Orbital’s GEO birds are already smaller than those of their competitors. Google looks to be staffing up to do their satellite development in-house, but there will likely be other competitors in the LEO broadband comsat services market shortly, notably Facebook. Orbital hasn’t had such ripe prospects for growth and diversification in decades. They look to be getting their entrepreneurial mojo back.

              Fun times ahead.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Meanwhile…the FAlcon9 first stage did apparently come down pretty straight and true.

    The future keeps coming as the past tries to hang on RGO

    • Fred Willett

      The future keeps coming as the past tries to hang on
      Robert is so right.
      The key is investment in technologies that can reduce the cost of getting to space and eventually to Mars.
      SpaceX has already significantly reduced the cost of launch. So much so they currently have captured 30% of the global launch market and in 2011-12 captured 100% of the launches for which they were able to compete.
      But that is just a beginning. Already they have landed a Falcon 9 1st stage on the ocean.
      By next year they expect to be re-flying first stages and have already signaled a 25% cost reduction for flights on pre-loved stages. A 25% price reduction on the cost of the lowest priced LV in the world is revolutionary.
      Eventually SpaceX thinks they can get the cost of a F9 flight down to something like $5-7M. That price point is way beyond revolutionary. Then the game has irrevocably changed.
      If only NASA was spending it’s time and effort persuing lower costs as SpaceX is we would indeed be on the path to Mars.

      • Dick Eagleson

        Agree with both you and RGO. SpaceX simply needs to keep putting new facts on the ground and in orbit. Their job for the remainder of this year is to work down their manifest as quickly as possible and perfect 1st-stage flyback/reusability, plus get at least the pad abort test of Dragon V2 checked off their to-do list. They need to boost their production rate and demonstrate they can maintain a mission-per-month or better tempo of flight ops.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Fred and Dick are right on here

          SPACEX has to get the launch tempo up nothing else has any real meaning for them at this time. If they dont get the launch tempo up and maintain their safety record then they are in trouble.

          But if they do that then coupled with the first stage reuse the future is amazingly bright…and at some point soon it will, with or without NASA include people.

          If they are able to get their launch rate up and at some point soon reuse first stages with the massive price point drop, then it is all over.

          SLS/Orion and ULA collapse of their own mass and the reality that at some point, and probably soon the entire notion of the federal government and its spending is about to collapse RGO

          • Dick Eagleson

            I’m optimistic they will do so. Every F9 1st stage will be getting even more fabrication care and QA attention to its helium plumbing than previously in light of recent events. As for the launch tempo, SpaceX’s original schedule for the Orbcomm launch was just 22 days after launching CRS-3 from the same Canaveral pad. Then the helium leaks happened. Given that SpaceX has a track record of not repeating mistakes, they would appear to have excellent prospects for finishing out the remainder of 2014 with a mission ops rate of better than one per month. Here’s hoping.

    • amightywind

      Yeah, they’ve only had 6 weeks to doctor the video. There is a huge difference between a ballistic trajectory controlled crash in the ocean and a fly back uprange to the pad.

      • Jim Nobles

        “There is a huge difference between a ballistic trajectory controlled crash in the ocean and a fly back uprange to the pad.”

        Christ, you’re embarrassing. America is advancing and you are being left far, far behind. Don’t you anything positive at all to contribute to your country’s technological advances? What is behind your desire to end America’s human spaceflight effort and return us to the 1960s?

        • amightywind

          You don’t advance space technology making a symbolic demonstration followed by a triumphant tweet. SpaceX counldn’t even properly record the event. If they want to fly a first stage back to the pad, design the first stage to do it and stop talking. SpaceX’s ‘demonstration’ amounted to nothing. We don’t need to be distracted by this hype for the next 10 years.

          • Jim Nobles

            SpaceX’s demonstration showed the first stage of an EELV class launch vehicle approaching the ocean in the correct attitude and probable speed for landing and showed the landing gear deploying. That’s major. That’s something. That’s American ingenuity at work.

            Get a grip.

            • You continue to ignore my main point, which is not surprising. F9 needs to conduct a hypersonic pitch over to accomplish the mission. Musk conveniently ignores the most difficult problem, as usual.

              • Jim Nobles

                ” F9 needs to conduct a hypersonic pitch over to accomplish the mission.”

                Okay, that maneuver, needed to return to the launch site, is certainly going to be challenging. When they do it will you then give them the credit they deserve?

                Or will you just find something else to complain about?

              • amightywind

                Of course. I would have given Musk great credit if he could have crashed the first stage a few miles of shore, much less land it. Why? Nobody has done anything like it before. I scorn these ‘innovative’ Grasshopper missions you and your buddies drool over because they are so similar to the Delta Clipper missions of the 1990’s.

              • Dick Eagleson

                What the F9 actually needs to do is accomplish a rough reversal of course in order to return to launch site. “Hypersonic pitchover”, if I correctly understand what you mean by that term, is one potential maneuver that might accomplish this, but it hardly seems the one to pursue given the very high off-axis lateral loads this would appear to entail. Booster efficiency is not enhanced by prescribing a flight profile necessitating structural rigidity and resistance to lateral loads akin to a radio mast or bridge pylon. I believe what SpaceX has in mind for operational reusability is to, as they have successfully done at least three times already:

                1) Let the ascending booster stage scrub off most of its own upward and downrange velocity, which should occur pretty quickly given the blunt upper end of the booster stage exposed once the 2nd stage separates. Simply use the attitude control system, if necessary, to maintain attitude during this interval.

                2) Relight three of the F9’s engines and, in concert with the attitude control system of the F9v1.1 1st-stage, kill and reverse remaining vector along the boost flight path. Accumulate enough opposite vector to let ballistics get the stage back to the vicinity of its departure point.

                3) Adopt and maintain a suitable tail-directly-into-the-wind attitude as the new ballistic trajectory descent proceeds first through near-zero air, that lets the terminal velocity ramp back up into the supersonic regime, then into thicker air that drops the terminal velocity again to well below Mach 1.

                4) Relight one engine late in the game to ease the descent all the way down to – initially – the water, but soon – perhaps as soon as August – the land. Deploy landing legs in the last few hundred feet of controlled descent under power.

                In other words, my understanding of the Falcon 9v1.1’s reusability maneuvers involves doing as much as possible at relatively low airspeeds and simply maintaining appropriate attitude during the hypersonic/supersonic regimes of upward velocity vector scrubbing on ascent and downward velocity vector accumulation followed by scrubbing again on descent. At best, the maneuver required near the top of the booster stage’s trajectory might be described as a far sub-sonic slow tail wag in two parts, but not a “hypersonic pitchover”.

                I am no aerodynamicist and have no insider access to SpaceX internal technical documents, but what I just outlined has been my long-standing layman’s understanding of what Falcon 9v1.1 does to get itself back home. Of course, anyone with genuinely superior knowledge of the details of this vehicle’s flight profile is cordially invited to put me straight about anything I’ve erroneously assumed here. Always happy to learn from those with something genuine to teach.

              • Jim Nobles

                ” I scorn these ‘innovative’ Grasshopper missions you and your buddies drool over because they are so similar to the Delta Clipper missions of the 1990′s.”

                I am pretty sure most interested people would consider the efforts to land and learn how to re-use the first stage of an actual F9 class vehicle to be quite a bit more challenging and important the the tests involving the Delta Clipper test bed those years ago.

                I think “drool” is a bit childish but I have to agree that commercial space supporters in general and SpaceX supporters in particular have much to be pleased about. We have an actual space program we can cheer for. One that seems to be producing good results with prospects for a better future. The people in commercial space are actually trying to open space to the American dream.

                Not everyone has that.

          • Fred Willett

            You don’t advance space technology making a symbolic demonstration
            Nope. You do it methodically.
            For a start you don’t let a rocket with unknown capabilities fly back to a highly populated coast until you’re perfectly sure it’s going to land where you want it to land and not on someone’s house.
            SpaceX have a clearly laid out path to reusability.
            1/ Slow stage down and land on water. Done it.
            The poor quality of the video was because it landed in the middle of a storm. Ships couldn’t sail and planes were grounded by the weather, but SpaceX still got most of the data they wanted using Musk’s private jet and a jury rigged antenna made out of a pizza dish.
            2/ step 2 is to fly back and land near the coast on a pin point target. (Up coming flight)
            Step 3 (by the end of 2014) is land on land.
            There is a huge difference between a ballistic trajectory controlled crash in the ocean and a fly back uprange to the pad.
            Yes there is.
            SpaceX are working on it. Boeing & LM with 50 years in the rocket game have yet to start.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Seems likely we’ll find out exactly how much “hype” is involved in the next four or five days when Orbcomm’s mission launches and SpaceX tries “soft-splashing” their F9 1st stage again. Per past experience, I’m guessing the telemetry infrastructure in place for this next mission will be beefed-up and double-bagged compared to CRS-3. There’ll be a lot more to be “distracted by” in the next ten years than the maunderings of SpaceX “deniers” and “truthers.”

          • So. I guess the phrase ‘incremental testing’ means nothing to you? Is there some degree of envy in the fact that more people seem interested in even the relatively small stuff SpaceX does, than in Orion?

            Yes, Orion will get significant and deserved attention for the re-entry test, and that’s fine. I’ll be watching. I’d much rather see it work than not, as well. And then what? Elon keeps doing cool stuff, out in the open (which means if something goes south,we’ll see that too), on a regular basis.

            If you’d prefer that they ‘shut up until they put up,’ fine. That’s what Blue Origin does, and it’s their call. (But it makes it easy for critics to disregard them totally, except to speculate on unconfirmed failures.) It’s not what Orion/SLS does, however. They self-promote too. But they have less to talk about, less often.

            What’s that? They should have that Commercial Crew funding squeezed dry and transferred to them, then they’ll have more to talk about? Sure. Out of X number of years, that’ll bring them few months closer to doing…something.

            • Malmesbury

              “So. I guess the phrase ‘incremental testing’ means nothing to you?”

              He’s probably not aware of the fact that Yeager broke the sound barrier by increasing the max speed on each successive flight by a couple of miles per hour.

          • Robert G. Oler

            Wind the only reply to your comment that has any merit is to suggest that you get a grip on your version of reality/ I think that Dick is correct they are about to try it again and if they have similar results then you can go to another theory RGO

      • Reality Bits

        so the folks over at doctored the video? Have you been hanging around in Colorado a lot lately? Surely you are smoking something.

      • MattW


        Are you really saying that you think the SpaceX ocean landing was a hoax?

  • John Malkin

    I hope Congress realizes that the commercial companies could walk away. Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada don’t need NASA to survive as companies. At this point I have more faith in them than NASA to go anywhere with Humans BEO. The people that want to see ISS dumped into the ocean would get their wish. SpaceX is already planning Mars trips in the next 20 to 30 years for $500K or less per person including living quarters per Elon Musk.

    Sad state for sure. It’s not money it’s the mindset.

  • Rocket Realist

    SpaceX might walk away. Sierra Nevada, who knows – they already do considerable traditional government cost-plus work.

    As for Boeing, there’s a theory floating around that Boeing is set to benefit from the combination of making Commercial Crew cost-plus and down-selecting it to a single bidder.

    Coinkydink? Boeing did move its HQ to Chicago a few years back. Could be they’re picking up on the Chicago Way.

    It’d explain why Shelby also supported an increase to $805m for CCrew this year, right alongside poison-pilling it.

    • Andrew Swallow

      As for Boeing, there’s a theory floating around that Boeing is set to benefit from the combination of making Commercial Crew cost-plus and down-selecting it to a single bidder.

      On a cost-plus contract every meeting and report increases both the cost and the plus (profit). In a fixed price contract the company has to increase its bid price to pay for the extra bureaucracy and may include additional profit. On a 50% reimbursed contract* the company pays for the reports and meetings, reducing the profits.

      * In Europe there are a lot of 50% reimbursed contracts that are priced as twice the 100% reimbursed contract price. The tax man does not allow that trick in Britain and the USA.

    • Regardless of who gets cut, they’ve still benefitted from a great deal of milestone awards to this point.

      None of these companies believes that ISS is the primary destination. It’ll be the Bigelow habitats. SpaceX and Boeing already have deals, and a Sierra Nevada employee told me they planned to go to Bigelow too.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I have no inside info, but the visible politics of all this do not look nearly as favorable for the “Forces of Darkness” as they were in previous years. The absorption of ATK by Orbital changes the political calculus of most major government space initiatives quite a bit – and positively, in my opinion (see my 6:11 AM reply to red, above, for more details).

    If the NASA budget bill comes out of conference with Shelby’s poison pill language intact, then my analysis is wrong and both CRS and commercial crew are in big trouble.

    The other major indication of whether or not the ancien regime of old-boy-network-business-as-usual-pork is still in place or is in trouble will be the decision about which players continue on commercial crew. If your rumored downselect-to-one-company-and-it’s-Boeing scenario comes to pass, then the Dark Lord of Alabama is still firmly ensconced in his tower. The polar opposite outcome would be if SpaceX and Sierra-Nevada are dealt in for full shares and Boeing is cut entirely. If that’s the way the decision goes, the old guard is truly swept away.

    I await developments, but am hopeful they will be good ones.

  • Malmesbury

    What you are seeing is fight between the government procurement empire and the fixed price hands off approach.

    The old way is to control every minute detail of every contractor. This gives lots of opportunity for jobs and empire building in the civil service. It also allows the politicians to micro-manage. They can “push” sub contracts to the “right” companies. If the wrong company wins the sole source program by mistake, they can cancel the program and start a new one designed so that the “right” company wins. See military procurement as far back as you can go…

    Truly competitive fixed-price-hands-off with multiple providers *at the end* breaks all of that. There is very little paperwork to push. It is very hard for the legislative branch to get their oar in. Multiple providers destroys their usual argument – “preserving the industrial base” – for controlling exactly who gets what. Without FAR they can’t micro-manage the subcontracting.

    As they see it, they are being asked to vote money to programs and give up control over how the money is spent. All they can do is vote to cancel the entire program – which contains all the alternatives.

    If they give up the power to control the money, why should the lobbyists give them money, after the initial “get-the-program-started” stuff? How can they tell their constituents that they are bringing home jobs etc? How can they feel powerful?

    • James

      Its post like this that lead me to conclude that 21st Century Democracy is a failure.


      Also, what’s happening at Wallops that reflects the language in this report? (below) Is KSC feeling threatened you think? Does Orbital have their hooks into Mukulski?

      Is this Shelby scratching Mukulski’s back as a quid pro quo for her support on ‘poison pill’ language?

      Sausage making at its worst.

      The report also directs NASA to consider the requirements of the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia as part of the agency’s “21st Century Launch Complex Program”, which has been focused on the needs of the Kennedy Space Center. “There are now growing capacity issues at WFF that, if not resolved, could soon prevent the center from taking on small and large missions due to limitations associated with spacecraft processing and fueling facility and associated facilities that need to be addressed,” the report states. The bill includes $8 million above the administration’s $25.9-million request for the program.

      • Malmesbury

        This is the system as it is. Controlling the detail of how the money flows is the life blood of American politics. Each tiny tributary of the money river is bartered for and with.

        What you are asking for is a world in which the executive branch requests a bunch on money for a program. Congress can say yes or no. Then the executive branch gets the spend the money exactly as it sees fit, without real input from the legislative branch. At least, that is how the legislative branch sees it.

        • Dick Eagleson

          Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty. Corruption and self-dealing are endemic to politics and government contracting. That means they have to be constantly fought. After the next election we may have an opportunity to dump FAR and all of its appurtenances for a more rational and COTS-like default system of procurement contracts in the space, defense and other sectors of the U.S. government. That should be the goal. When the ship of state accrues too many barnacles, it’s time to careen the hull and scrape them off.

  • Hawthorne crowd needs to lean on Feinstein, HARD! ..for Senate/House Reconciliation.

    • Dick Eagleson

      They, and Orbital, need to lean on entire delegations as hard as they can. Shelby is essentially drawing a ring around NASA and status quo EELV and saying, “This is mine! The rest of you, keep your hands off!” Not sure there are enough colleagues, even in his own party, willing to grant him the title of Duke of Space, but he’s going for it anyway.

  • Neil

    IMO SpaceX can work within FAR if they have to however the cost of the program, as has been noted by other posters, goes up so the timeframe extends as there won’t be sufficient funding for even one to meet the timeframe.

    Is that something Congress can accept. Seems like they have so the Russian issue is actually a non-issue.

    The question really is who will win the down-select. When you read the COTS final report you get a lot of info’ on how NASA views these programs, both COTS originally and now CC. My take, FWIW, is that SpaceX will win. But if they don’t they’re well positioned to do it themselves.

    What if they lost and do it themselves? Well that relieves them of a lot of paperwork for starters and they can focus more on their hardware and safety redundancy. CC slows down so that gives them more time to complete DV2 and when they’ve tested it there’s Bigelow and still potentially NASA ISS crew contracts waiting for them.
    They’ll also have a crew / cargo spacecraft for the future which is what they want. NASA contracts being a means to an end and not an end in themselves.

    I’m not terribly worried by this development. SpaceX have shown persistance and dedication to their cause and they’re not reliant on NASA for their survival.

    • Dick Eagleson

      Nice summary. I agree that SpaceX’s two paths forward seem to be:

      1) Go to orbit with people soon (24 months) within the CCDev rubric.

      2) Go to orbit with people even sooner if NASA/Congressional old-guard succeed in bouncing them from CCDev.

      The “Powers That Be” would regret any political maneuver that put SpaceX on the outside even more quickly than their only alternative of leaving them in. SpaceX is going to eat their lunch, regardless. It’s just a question of how soon and how fast.

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