Clarifying NASA's Budget Regarding Orion, SLS, and SpaceX / Boeing Commercial Crew

 

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

As next year’s NASA budget is being written by the House and Senate appropriations committees, a potential fight is brewing between the White House and NASA. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has, on several occasions over the past three months, publicly taken the position that proposed congressional appropriations bills will do real harm to the ability of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) before 2018. These same concerns were raised in a recent veto threat by the White House.

Some in the commercial space activist community have responded to the congressional funding bills with dismay, claiming that money is being removed from the CCP for the benefit of the Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs. And a few such activists have ascribed congressional funding levels as purely political.

A mockup of the Orion capsule. Photo Credit: NASA

A mockup of the Orion capsule. Photo Credit: NASA

Looking at the White House’s proposed funding levels for key programs such as Orion and SLS in light of current authorization levels provides clarity to funding decisions by congressional appropriators. And the contrast becomes even more sharper when unilateral actions undertaken by NASA senior management to negate sections of public law covering the Orion and SLS program are taken into account. The result is a situation much less black-and-white than may first appear.

Governing all things NASA is the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which emerged in Congress as a response to the Obama Administration’s decision to cancel Constellation, NASA’s then Moon program. The 2010 Authorization was, after several public hearings, overwhelmingly approved by veto-proof, bipartisan majorities in the Senate and House in late-September 2010. Once signed by President Obama on Oct. 11, 2010, the Act became Public Law 111–267 (42 U.S.C. 18323). Within the Act are several provisions that specified funding for key NASA line items for fiscal years 2011 through 2013 as well as key capabilities for the Orion and SLS programs.

Which brings us to the fight over the current fiscal year 2016 NASA budget. On June 10, the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee approved the FY 2016 markup, which includes NASA funding. The Subcommittee appropriated $1.2 billion for the Orion crewed spacecraft, $1.9 billion for the Space Launch System, and $900 million for Commercial Crew. The response to this appropriations markup from commercial space activists was as predictable as it was strong. Many claimed that Congress had increased the Orion and SLS budget to the detriment of commercial access to ISS and in order to keep space jobs in their states.

But in the FY 2016 budget for the Orion and SLS programs, appropriators did not give Orion an extra $104 million, SLS an extra $544 million, nor Commercial Crew a decrease of $300 million. Instead, appropriators established funding to these programs of record from amounts proposed by the Administration to something closer to authorized levels, as mandated in (42 U.S.C. 18323) PL 111–267 Sec. 103 (1) (A, B, E).

FY 2013 authorizations in Sec. 103 (1)(A) for Orion and (B) SLS are $1.4 billion and $2.64 billion. The White House requested for Orion $1.096 billion and for SLS $1.3565 billion in FY 2016. That leaves a deficit of -$0.304 billion and -$1.284 billion from authorized funding levels for each of Orion and SLS. In requesting only 78 percent and 51 percent of authorized funding for Orion and SLS respectively for FY 2016, the Administration did not “fully” funded either program.

The currently authorized level for FY 2013 of $500 million for commercial crew is certainly due for an increase. H.R. 810, NASA Authorization Act of 2015, which passed the House by voice vote on Feb. 10, 2015, would authorize $805 million for Commercial Crew. The White House’s request for Commercial Crew of $1.2 billion represents a 140 percent increase over the last authorized levels and a 49 percent over proposed House authorized funding levels. The House and Senate appropriations levels for Commerical Crew represent an increase of 24 percent and 11 percent respectively. From the viewpoint of Senate appropriators, they have only brought proposed funding for Orion and SLS back up to what it should have been while giving Commercial Crew a large increase.

Some might claim that funding space programs at those amounts legislated for fiscal year 2013 as inappropriate since that was three years age, but until subsequent authorization or reauthorization, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 remains in force.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon engineering test article taking flight for its Pad Abort Test (PAT) on May 6, 2015. The PAT demonstration was a critical milestone in the company's aim to begin transporting astronauts to and from the ISS safely in the next couple years. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The SpaceX Crew Dragon engineering test article taking flight for its Pad Abort Test (PAT) on May 6, 2015. The PAT demonstration was a critical milestone in the company’s aim to begin transporting astronauts to and from the ISS safely in the next couple years. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The space program budget battles of the last five years have created a deep divide between congressional space supporters of both parties and the White House. In its Views & Estimates of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology U.S. House of Representatives For Fiscal Year 2016, House Science, Space, and Technology Commitee Chairman Rep. Smith notes:

“For the fourth budget request in four years, the Administration has set a budget for the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle which are inadequate to support the original launch date for these systems. Last year, NASA completed a key decision point that delayed the launch of these systems in favor of funding other less important Administration priorities. For the past several years, Congress has authorized and appropriated more funding for these systems than the Administration requested because Congress believes in the importance space exploration in spite of the President’s budget request. The Administration has routinely sought to undermine this priority, and does so again with its FY 2016 budget request. The Committee does not support the Administration’s request for the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle as it is insufficient to accomplish the stated goals and milestones for the program.”

Artist's concept of NASA's Space Launch System launching at night, with Orbital ATK's SRB's turning night to day. Image Credit: Misho Katulic / www.TerraBuilder.com

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Space Launch System launching at night, with Orbital ATK’s SRB’s turning night to day. Image Credit: Misho Katulic / www.TerraBuilder.com

Regardless of specified FY 2013 or FY 2015 funding authorization for Commercial Crew, NASA Administrator Bolden has gone on a publicity effort claiming the agency needs the $1.2 billion the White House recommended in order for both Boeing’s CST–100 and SpaceX’s Dragon 2 to be operational at the same time for purposes of ISS access redundancy. But by law, a backup for ISS crew access already exists in Orion and SLS. And NASA leadership’s efforts to circumvent this law has only created another flashpoint between the White House and congressional space supporters.

During hearings before the House and Senate in mid–2014, NASA Administrator Bolden admitted that, on his own, he made the determination that the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, Sec. 303(b)(3) and Sec. 302(c)(1)(D) specifying that Orion and SLS are the backup for ISS crew access did not fit with NASA’s efforts to encourage commercial crew contractors participation. His reason for making this decision was that neither Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, nor SpaceX would be willing to accept NASA commercial crew funding if Orion-SLS was available as a back to get crews to-and-from ISS.

AmericaSpace has repeatedly sought comment from NASA regarding the agency’s effort to ignore Sec. 303(b)(3) and Sec. 302(c)(1)(D) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, all inquiries have been ignored.

NASA’s unilateral and legaly questionable act has had real effects upon the Orion program in particular. In order for the Orion spacecraft to fulfill its Sec. 303(b)(3) responsibility to serve as a backup to ISS crewed access, a trajectory or mission design for ISS approach and docking is needed. Yet, most significantly, the spacecraft has no GNC sensor suite to allow docking with ISS. Sensors needed for docking with ISS on Orion are: a set of cameras (visible and IR) and a set of laser ranging/imaging sensors that will be needed to safely approach ISS and dock. Also GN&C system software will needed to be developed for Orion to dock with ISS. None of this is planned for Orion. To gain this capability would take at a minimum of a year.

A clear and firm congressional response to NASA’s efforts to negate sections of current law requiring SLS and Orion be the backup to crewed access to ISS can found in Sec. 203(a) and Sec. 204(a-b) of the NASA Authorization Act 2015, H.R. 810. Sec. 203(a)(1) states,

the Space Launch System is the most practical approach to reaching the Moon, Mars, and beyond, and Congress reaffirms the policy and minimum capability requirements for the Space Launch System contained in section 302 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010.”

Sec. 204(a) affirms that,

[t]The Orion crew capsule shall meet the practical needs and the minimum capability requirements described in section 303 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010.”

But it is Sec. 204(b) that puts NASA, and particularly the Administrator, under the microscope by requiring,

(b) Report.–Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall transmit a report to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate–

(1) detailing those components and systems of the Orion crew capsule that ensure it is in compliance with section 303(b) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 18323(b));

(2) detailing the expected date that the Orion crew capsule will be available to transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station; and

(3) certifying that the requirements of section 303(b)(3) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 18323(b)(3)) will be met by the Administration.

The vehicles which will fill the void left by the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet for low-Earth orbit and ISS crew transport, the Boeing CST-100 and Dragon V2 space capsules. Photo: Boeing / Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

The vehicles which will fill the void left by the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet for low-Earth orbit and ISS crew transport, the Boeing CST-100 and Dragon V2 space capsules. Photo: Boeing / Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

Much of the disagreement between Congress and the White House over the Administration’s proposed NASA budget for 2016 can be chalked up to the Obama Administration’s decision to fund key space programs at levels far below those outlined in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 while funding to a surplus programs it prioritizes, a pattern that stretching back to 2011. Efforts such as a June 14, 2011, letter from then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to President Obama requesting that the proposed NASA budgets reflect funding levels outlined in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 apparently fall on deaf ears, as the White House has never submitted a NASA budget in-line with funding levels in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. Instead, the White House’s annual efforts to cut programs of record such as Orion and the Space Launch System have only led to annual congressional appropriations reversing such proposed cuts.

In the eyes of congressional appropriators, regarding funding for Orion, Space Launch System, and Commercial Crew Congress is balancing the requirements of current law and the budget act. A reading of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 would appear to support that point of view. And the House-passed NASA Authorization Act of 2015 is but the latest chapter in this struggle that the Obama White House is unlikely to win.

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32 comments to Clarifying NASA’s Budget Regarding Orion, SLS, and SpaceX / Boeing Commercial Crew

  • Joe

    “But in the FY 2016 budget for the Orion and SLS programs, appropriators did not give Orion an extra $104 million, SLS an extra $544 million, nor Commercial Crew a decrease of $300 million. Instead, appropriators established funding to these programs of record from amounts proposed by the Administration to something closer to authorized levels, as mandated in (42 U.S.C. 18323) PL 111–267 Sec. 103 (1) (A, B, E).”

    Actually following the law (as passed by Congress and signed by the President) what a reprehensible concept.

    Now awaiting the responses from the SpaceX supporters as to why this is an evil conspiracy by the evil “Old Space Mob”.

  • Frank

    “Some might claim that funding space programs at those amounts legislated for fiscal year 2013 as inappropriate since that was three years age, but until subsequent authorization or reauthorization, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 remains in force.”

    The policy elements of the authorization act remain valid, but the spending levels do not. And anyone who has a modicum of experience in legislation knows that appropriators routinely ignore the advice of authorizers when it comes to actually funding NASA. It didn’t get that $20 billion authorized for fiscal year 2013, after all.

    Having SLS/Orion as a backup to commercial crew may be in the law, but even folks in Congress realize it’s not a particularly cheap or speedy alternative. If the goal is return American human spaceflight capability to American soil as quickly as possible, a far more effective way is to fully fund commercial crew. You can pour billions of extra dollars into SLS and Orion and not accelerate their in-service date by any meaningful amount.

    You can separately make the case that SLS and Orion could use some additional funding to support their beyond-LEO missions (I won’t do that here, but can understand others who make such arguments) but pitting them against commercial crew is a lame old argument.

    • I agree that during the late 90’s through 2010 appropriators didn’t seem to care what authorizers had legislated. That congressional appropriators have adhered to the funding levels of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 in funding Orion, SLS, and their associated program support costs is proof positive that, as promised when the Republicans retook the House, the days when authorizers and appropriators weren’t on the same frequency were to be at an end. In so far as NASA funding goes, the last 5 appropriations bills back that up.

      The Budget Act is what for the most part prevents NASA from getting the $20B expected in the authorization act. Congressional appropriators last year made sure NASA got more than what the Administration proposed. And this year, we almost have regular order. But until the Budget Act is altered or done away with, I don’t think that the gross funding level for NASA is going to change enough for NASA to do all that it’s authorized. Aside from the Congressional Study Group, it seems like everyone wants to move beyond the Budget Act in writing the fiscal year 2016 budget, so we’ll see what happens.

      The goal is not to return to human spaceflight ASAP per se. It is, as laid out in section 301, to explore cislunar space with Orion and SLS, while keeping those systems as a backup should all of the commercial crew partners face the same problem they now do with launching, or rather none being able to launch.

      I agree that pumping billions in additional funding in a short time will not move the needle in a huge way, but neither would such funding to Orion and SLS hurt. Especially in light of Administration efforts to withhold funds to both Orion and SLS.

      Congressional appropriators have year-after-year made sure both OF THE Orion and SLS programs are funded as authorized. It’s unfortunate that for several years NASA allowed both programs to be charged 17-20% of their total budget for termination liability , which Commercial Crew was immune from, even though, as programs of record, neither Orion nor SLS could not be cancelled without authorization from Congress. I don’t know anyone who thinks Congress would allow Orion or SLS to be terminated.

      It isn’t so much that Orion-SLS are being pitted against Commercial Crew, except on the Internet and NASA OTC’s Emerging Space Office. Part of the problem regarding CCP funding stems from perineal slips in CCP schedules. In that, CCP hasn’t exactly helped itself.

      Congressional appropriators are well aware that SpaceX still has three milestones to complete on CCiCap, which was to be completed over 16 months ago and is now unlikely to finish before 2016; that both Boeing and SpaceX are already slipping in their CCtCap milestones, although SpaceX’s slippage is more severe; and that NASA recently purchased Soyuz seats for 2017 and 2018, indicated that the space agency knows full-well that neither Boeing nor SpaceX will be ready in 2018. Even were it fully funded to the Administration’s requested level, CCP would be falling behind to the point that even a 2018 launch date is debatable.

      Appropriators have made clear for years that the commercial crew program needs the focus that a leader-follower would force. Paraphrasing what one person said, if NASA needs more money, it can take it from the Soyuz purchase.

  • Tim Andrews

    Great article Jim. Thank you for for more detail for the full picture of the politics involved.

    “Sensors needed for docking with ISS on Orion are: a set of cameras (visible and IR) and a set of laser ranging/imaging sensors that will be needed to safely approach ISS and dock”

    Are those specific to ISS docking, or will this limit Orion’s ability to dock with things like another Orion, a hab module for the fabled (touted but not planned/funded) Mars trip, etc. as well?

  • Joe

    Hi Tim,

    Viewing cameras a range/range rate sensors are standard for any rendezvous/docking operations.

    In the past, for instance, there was a (cancelled of course) vehicle called the Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV). I actually got to fly the OTV(on simulator) for rendezvous/docking maneuvers with notional target payloads.

    For Orion to work with “another Orion, a hab module for the fabled (touted but not planned/funded) Mars trip, etc.” it would require those vehicles rendezvous/docking hardware to be compatible with the Orion, but as long as it was there should be no problem.

  • Tim Andrews

    That was my impression. So am I correct in the take-away from this, that NASA us building Orion with a docking port, but without the necessary hardware to be able to safely dock with anything?

    Brilliant.

    • Joe

      That is certainly the impression I get from the article.

      Did not know about that, but there are similar shortfalls in the life support/crew accommodations area.

      That “brilliance” is not the fault of the Orion Team. The current administration is using the budget process and internal orders out of NASA headquarters to assure that is the case.

      There are similar things being done on the SLS side. Limiting the ability to produce first stage tankage and giving away one of the two available launch pads being two examples. Then they can go the congress and say that the SLS can only fly twice a year.

      Brilliant indeed.

      • john hare

        I suppose I’m the designated SpaceX supporter here. Until the commercial companies find ways of moving forward without government money via some profitable reason to expand operations, these discussions/arguments will continue. Until it reaches the point that space companies get off the government payroll, there will be very slow progress in LEO and BEO. Flat budgets and the fights about them are an artifact of not delivering value for value in a way that customers will pay for. I will be happy when people are claiming that SpaceX and it’s competitors aren’t paying enough taxes, rather than them not getting their ‘fair’ share of other peoples’ taxes.

        I still have a very negative view of SLS and Orion. I just don’t think bringing it up at every opportunity is useful. I think most of the conspiracies are actually just various groups of people trying to move their own agenda forward at the expense of others, which is what normally happens in zero sum games.

        • Joe

          Hi John,

          All fair enough, except that the only connection between SpaceX and the administration “slow walking” SLS/Orion is speculative.

          I (at least to a degree) know what they are doing, but why is another matter.

          The administration never wanted SLS/Orion, they were forced on them by congress. Therefore my opinion is they are attempting to slow their development down as much as possible and make them look as bad as possible. A part of that is probably to make SpaceX look better than it otherwise would.

          Jim Hillhouse knows a lot more about the politics of all this and I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong.

          • Joe

            An update without Jim even having to correct me. I just noticed this part of the article concerning Bolden’s congressional testimony:

            “His reason for making this decision was that neither Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, nor SpaceX would be willing to accept NASA commercial crew funding if Orion-SLS was available as a back to get crews to-and-from ISS.”

            I an reeling at the thought Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX refusing money if Orion can dock with the ISS. Sure, they would have all just quit. 🙂

            Every time you think you’ve heard the most disingenuous statement on a subject, somebody comes along and tops it.

            • Jim Hillhouse

              I know. When Charlie admitted this in what I think was a May 2014 hearing before the House CJS Subcommittee, I texted a staffer with something to the effect of, “Are you kidding me?” I think people just thought Charlie was babbling as he sometimes is prone to doing. But he’s repeated this point in successive hearings in the House and Senate.

              The notion that the companies wouldn’t take money, which came with little or no strings attached, is laughable. Just 15 months til he and his are effectively out.

          • Jim Hillhouse

            Well, I had a beautiful comment all ready to go and then my iPhone 6 running iOS 9 Beta 4 restarted Safari. Son of a gun…

            Joe, you’re spot-on. John, I don’t think the difference in the manner in which Orion and SLS vs. commercial cargo and crew have been treated by NASA is just rumors. Here’s just a little bit of the struggles the Orion and SLS programs have encountered.

            Starting as soon as the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was signed, NASA’s Deputy Administrator, CFO, and their staffs worked to prevent the SLS program from even getting off the ground. Inclusive of the 2010 Act is Sec. 309 that required…ok, it’s TL;DR and at the bottom. But essentially the Sec. 309 report was required within 90 days of enactment of the Act and its submission would more or less start the SLS program.

            For nearly half-a-year, NASA refused to submit the required Sec. 309 report. Charlie would occasionally make statements to the effect that ultimately the decision of whether to even begin the SLS program was his, regardless of what Congress legislated in Sec. 302. Deputy Administrator Garver never missed a chance to state that the SLS program was simply too expensive to undertake.

            In May 2011, the Democratic-controlled Senate Commerce Committee sent the first letter warning NASA Administrator Bolden that the report was required. Eventually, in a letter in June 2011 the Commerce Committee demanded that its staffers be at any Sec. 309-related meetings at NASA HQ. But even that wasn’t enough. In early July, the Commerce Committee warned NASA that it would be subpoenaed unless it complied with Sec. 302, which resulted in…nothing. Finally, on July 28, 2011, in a first for the space agency, NASA’s Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and others within NASA were subpoenaed by the Democratic-controlled full Senate Commerce Committee. In a subsequent meeting at the White House, Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller made clear that he had the votes needed for an indictment and that such would be forthcoming. So, the White House told Garver and Robinson to knock it off.

            But it didn’t stop there. While congressional appropriators worked hard to ensure that Orion and SLS were funded as authorized, between 2010 and 2014 OMB’s Science and Space Branch Chief Paul Shawcross sanctioned efforts by NASA Deputy Administrator Garver and CFO Robinson to penalize SLS and Orion 17-20% respectively of their total budget for termination liability as required to adhere to the Anti-Deficiency Act. All of this occurred even though, as programs of record, neither Orion nor SLS could not be cancelled without authorization from Congress. And Congress was at that time, and continues, to maintain strong support for both programs.

            Meanwhile, Commercial Crew was immune from such termination liability withholdings.

            It is this reason that NASA’s Headquarter’s credibility is with the House and Senate subcommittees with NASA oversight is darn near zero, why the appropriators don’t even really look at the budget submission for NASA.

            The crowning achievement of the Obama Administration and its NASA appointees, along with their staff, will the a space agency politicized as never before in its history and with divisions within that run deep. It’s really sad.

            Sec. 309 Report

            Within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, or upon completion of reference designs for the Space Launch System and Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle authorized by this Act, whichever occurs first, the Administrator shall provide a detailed report to the appropriate committees of Congress that provides an overall description of the reference vehicle design, the assumptions, descrip- tion, data, and analysis of the systems trades and resolution process, justification of trade decisions, the design factors which implement the essential system and vehicle capability requirements established by this Act, the explanation and justification of any deviations from those requirements, the plan for utilization of existing con- tracts, civil service and contract workforce, supporting infrastruc- ture utilization and modifications, and procurement strategy to expedite development activities through modification of existing contract vehicles, and the schedule of design and development mile- stones and related schedules leading to the accomplishment of operational goals established by this Act. The Administrator shall provide an update of this report as part of the President’s annual Budget Request.

            • Joe

              “In a subsequent meeting at the White House, Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller made clear that he had the votes needed for an indictment and that such would be forthcoming. So, the White House told Garver and Robinson to knock it off.”

              Jim,

              That is incredible. I know enough to know that Rockefeller is a loyal and liberal Democrat. Additionally he has never been a supporter of HSF. For him to have gone to that extreme has to mean he felt that the Administration was really over the line in trying usurp Congressional prerogatives.

              • On top of surprising many of us, I’m sure this surprised the White House. And just to be clear, I have also heard that it was Sen. Rockefeller’s Chief-of-Staff who attended that meeting.

                The person who really led the fight was former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

                • john hare

                  Jim,

                  I appreciate the steps you have taken to return this forum to one that allows civil disagreement. It is important that people on opposite sides of the spectrum, as we are, to be able to communicate without the insults and bitterness of a few months ago.

                  To me, the history you clarified here is an indictment against SLS. It seems from your account that NASA didn’t want it and congress forced it on the agency. In other forums the SLS is referred to as the “Senate Launch System” which I agree on. If NASA, the rocket and space agency, doesn’t want a system, shouldn’t that be a warning that something is seriously wrong here? Shouldn’t it also be an indication that there will be extra problems in the development, such as half the tank facilities and launch pads becoming unavailable? I don’t follow the political side as you do, so I can’t argue the points on your level. This is just the way I see it from the outside.

                  Again, I don’t expect agreement, just calling it the way I see it.

                  Joe,

                  From a commercial viewpoint, I can see the companies declining participation if they are facing the possibility that they would be competing against a fully subsidized SLS/Orion offering ‘free’ launches to the station. It is possible that they would spend a lot of time and effort reaching the point of having an operational vehicle only to have it parked due to the ‘zero’ cost of the SLS. This is a major reason I would like to see the commercial companies be commercial companies getting paid on delivery, and only paid what that delivery is worth.

                  I do see the various entities as competing for the NASA pork. Much of the competition will be out of our sight. I was quite disturbed last year when the commercial crew awards put a boatload of money into commercial crew when the hype was that the cargo Dragon was practically ready to fly crew Real Soon Now. Takes a lot of RAH RAH out of SpaceX cheer leading. I found that much more disturbing than a launch failure during the infant mortality stage.

                  • Jim Hillhouse

                    I didn’t include enough context about the origin of the SLS design.

                    NASA did not reject SLS–the design came out of MSFC and then center director Lightfoot was, and remains at least as of last spring when I saw him, gung-ho for the program. The people who were and remain against SLS at NASA are primarily Obama Administration political appointees and their staffers. As for how NASA feels about Orion and SLS, of every 10 NASA people I meet who are for the SLS program, maybe 1 is against it.

                    If you’d take a vote of NASA astronauts, engineers, and other civil servants, Constellation would never have been canceled and the Orion, SLS programs would be getting more funding.

                    In closing, I’ll admit that I’m more or less a simple-minded, rule of law kinda guy. NASA, as part of the Executive Branch, is to execute the laws enacted by Congress through authorizations and appropriations. There are times when executive departments and agencies don’t like what Congress authorizes, tells really, them to do. I don’t mean to be too harsh, but that’s just too bad. Policy is set by Congress through its authorizations. It’s the executive agencies jobs to execute those laws, per their oath of office.

                  • And thanks, by the way, for what you opened your comment with. Mike Killian and the team have worked hard to make AmericaSpace a No-AssClown-Zone. I hope I don’t offend anyone with that term, and if I do, please except my apologies. I stole it in part from the movie, “Office Space”, which btw I cannot recommend enough. Mike Judge is a genius.

                  • Joe

                    John,

                    Jim handled most of your points, but I will drill in on two others.

                    “Shouldn’t it also be an indication that there will be extra problems in the development, such as half the tank facilities and launch pads becoming unavailable?”

                    You seem to think that those are technical problems and they are not.

                    (1) The tank manufacturing facilities in the shuttle program allowed for the manufacture of at least 8/year. The restriction to 2/year for SLS is strictly a political decision.

                    (2) Likewise the giving of the second launch pad to SpaceX. Blue Origin also wanted the pad, but wanted to share it with NASA; so it was given to SpaceX who insisted they have sole use.

                    If your point is that due to administration political maneuvering bringing the SLS up to a full operating capacity will require extra effort on the part of a successor administration, you are of course correct.

                    Maybe that dodge will be successful and any successor will simply give up, maybe not. However, I am not willing to just give up at this point and reward the current administration for their – well lets just call them less than honorable actions.

                    As for Orion being free competition to the “commercial” program if it had a ISS docking capability, Jim can correct me if I am wrong but that was not the intent. It was to be back up in case
                    the “commercials” did not deliver. I was working on Constellation Systems at the time and I can tell you nobody wanted Orion resources diverted to ISS support.

                    • Joe,

                      You’re correct; regarding the portion of the 2010 NASA Act, covering Orion-SLS as a backup to ISS, it was only for occasions such as we currently find ourselves with CRS, when none of the commercial crew services companies could service ISS.

                    • john hare

                      Joe,
                      I did mean the political maneuvering on the tanks and pads. I see this sort of thing as an ongoing problem for any program dependent on political support, not just this one. I feel that there have been irregularities in most of the programs going back years. I think Aries was the worst, with SLS/Orion and various commercial entities trying for a shot at the title now. Since we’ve chased this dog around the house before, I’ll leave it there.

                      My belief that commercial will be the way space is developed does not, at this time, have a strong company that I can point to and cheer on from my perspective. Blue might be there, though I don’t have enough details to know. I want to cheer on companies that post a price list and fly for the customer without lobbying.

                    • Joe

                      John,

                      We have “chased this dog around the house before” so I will keep it short also. Anybody who has worked in the business shares your frustration with the political process. It is just that I do not believe there is a current path independent of government involvement that will develop a market allowing a true commercial program. That is especially true of HSF which is my primary interest.

                      On a brighter note, it is (I believe) a mistake to take the current situation as the norm.

                      I have been involved since the 1980’s and while there was always irritating in-fighting trying to obstruct certain efforts, it was always from the opposing party in Congress trying to interfere with an Administration supported initiative.

                      This is the Administration itself using questionable tactics to obstruct a program it supposedly “owns”.

                      I have been told (by others who were involved) that there has not been anything like this since the Carter Administration when Vice President Mondale was working to sabotage the Space Shuttle from within the Administration.

                      That changed with the 1980 election. Maybe this situation will change with the 2016 election, maybe it wont.

                      It is a cliché, but only time will tell.

  • karol

    Thank God for Jim Hillhouse. As you stand “a crier in the wilderness”, may you always have the courage to speak truth to power.

  • Jim Hillhouse

    Thank you Karol. I deeply appreciate your comment.

  • Tracy the Troll

    Wow
    What a mess …I am surprised that this infrastructure built Apollo ..So I am confused where does the money come from for our other Space Program that we pay for…. the Soyuz and Progress ships?

    • Gary Church

      “I appreciate the steps you have taken to return this forum to one that allows civil disagreement.”

      “Mike Killian and the team have worked hard to make AmericaSpace a No-AssClown-Zone. I hope I don’t offend anyone with that term,-”

      Good ole boy clubs never change.

      • For the record Gary, I wasn’t referring to you but to previous management of site. It was for that reason that I complimented Mike Killian.

        • Tracy the Troll

          Jim,
          Where does the money come from to pay for Russian ships…DOD, CCV, SLS…?

          • I’m pretty sure the Soyuz money comes from the ISS operations budget.

            NASA has discretion to transfer up to 10% of that budget to other areas of the Agency.

            However, NASA may not transfer any more than 5% of Orion or SLS funds without explicit approval from the House and Senate appropriations cardinals.

      • Gary's Drinking Game

        Gary feels oppressed! Drink!

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