Sequestration to Squash Commercial Crew?



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — A lot has been said about “Sequestration,” which begins March 1, and there has been some coverage about the effects of sequestration on NASA’s budget. But enough has not been said about what impact sequestration will have on NASA’s space efforts. A review highlights the impacts as well as the positive aspects of the impending budget cuts. In short, the Science and Construction budgets for NASA are cut, but not severely. NASA’s current commercial crew program, CCiCap, will see a substantial cut of roughly 25 percent. By end of April or early May, just less than three months, CCiCap could be out of money.

On February 5, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden outlined the effects of sequestration upon NASA’s budget in a letter to Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski. After reading Administrator Bolden’s letter, the first thing to note about sequestration is that NASA’s Exploration budget, which includes the “Human Exploration Capabilities” and “Commercial Spaceflight” budgets, will only see a modest cut. “Human Exploration Capabilities,” which is the Orion and SLS programs, will be for the most part unaffected by sequestration. During a briefing held to discuss the future of the space agency’s human space exploration initiatives, AmericaSpace asked NASA’s Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Dan Dumbacher about what impact sequestration would have on NASA:

“Sequestration will not affect SLS or Orion immediately; we are working to the schedule. Sequestration, as we currently understand, will affect NASA to the tune of about a 5 percent hit. We’ve worked very hard to work that into the programs, to plan for it, prepare for it … there will be some impacts, as you mentioned, that will occur across the agency. But in terms of SLS and Orion, we’re working to hold schedule at least for the near term and minimize those impacts that do occur.”

The 5 percent cut in NASA’s budget due to sequestration falls heavily on the Agency’s Construction and Environmental Compliance (CECR), Science, and Commercial Crew programs. NASA has been working to modernize many of its facilities. Sequestration will see these efforts cut from the president’s proposed budget of $619.2 billion to $367.5 billion. The agency’s Science budget will drop from the president’s proposed $4.91 billion to $4.86 billion. Of all of the efforts within NASA affected by sequestration, it is Commercial Crew that receives the deepest cuts. It bears mentioning that the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees with NASA oversight had only approved roughly $5-$5.1 billion for Science and $598-$679 million for Construction for fiscal year 2013.

President Obama had requested $830 million for 2013 to enable private companies to assume the responsibility of sending crew (and cargo) to low-Earth orbit destinations, mainly the International Space Station. House and Senate appropriators had appropriated $500-$525 million for commercial crew. With sequestration, the Commercial Crew Program budget declines to $388.1 million. This dramatic cut will have a sizable effect upon efforts by NASA to promote commercial crew development.

Those promoting the efforts of commercial space have long stated that the commercial space companies were distinct from “Old Space,” in that they were using their own funds to develop the launch vehicles and spacecraft that will undertake these missions. This has since been proven to be a bit of hyperbole. Amounts vary, but estimates place the actual cost to taxpayers as high as 90 percent of total funds the commercial companies have received. During testimony in the nation’s Capitol, SpaceX stated that the breakdown of its commercial crew investments is as follows: $200 million came from the company itself while some $1.2 billion came from government. Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation have not gone on record as to how much of their total funding is from their own coffers to fund their commercial crew efforts.

There have been concrete results of NASA’s commercial space efforts. So far, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has launched two unmanned versions of the company’s Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station in the last year. SpaceX’s next cargo mission is slated to lift off no earlier than March 1 and will be the second mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. This is another commercial effort that has repeatedly worked to build bridges with the nascent commercial space industry.

Beyond commercial cargo is the dream of getting commercial space companies to the point where they can launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit. In August, NASA announced that Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX had won a place in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, or CCiCap, program. CCiCap is a 20-month program, lasting from August 2012 through May 2014, and budgeted at $1.112 billion. With sequestration, CCiCap’s budget for fiscal year 2013 will see a nearly 47 percent cut from $611.1 million to $388.1 million. According to NASA’s Administrator Charlie Bolden, none of the CCiCap milestones for the last quarter of 2013 will be funded. This might be a moot point as the CCiCap program, as can be seen from the chart below, will run out of money in about two months’ time.

Here is what that means for the three CCiCap participants in terms of how much funding each will and will not receive:

Company FY 2013 CCiCap Funding FY 2013 CCiCap Shortfall
Boeing $209.4 $109.2
Sierra Nevada $80 $12.5
SpaceX $105 $95

As devastating as the funding news for CCiCap participants is, this could, however, end up being a benefit to the companies working under CCiCap in particular and to the emerging commercial space industry.

At present, the government has provided, at the very least, 90 percent of all of the funding the commercial space companies have used to build, test, and launch their rockets and spacecraft. Simply put, nobody knows if any of the current commercial space companies can survive without government largess. Sequestration could serve to wean Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX from this dependence on taxpayer funding and incent them to fund their efforts through investors, as do commercial companies. Other companies who have undergone a loss of NASA funding—e.g. ATK, which made the shuttle’s solid motors—have emerged leaner and more efficient. At some point, when the federal government comes out of the fiscal woods, the surviving commercial space companies will be more competitive, better able to survive under government fixed-price contracts, and form a stronger foundation for a truly commercial effort to go into space.

Note: From Oct. 1, 2012, through March 1, 2013, or the first five months of fiscal year 2013, NASA’s CCiCap has been funded at $412M through a continuing appropriations resolution; where from March through Oct. 1, or the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, it will be funded at $388.1M. For more information on NASA’s budget, please see the chart below.

Missions » ISS » COTS » Missions » ISS » COTS » CRS-2 » Missions » ISS »


    • Joe2,
      Best I can figure is that back when Bolden testified he was asked what his three priorities were – he said, “SLS, Orion & JWST.” It looks like he kept his promise. Also, Commercial was supposed to be about these folks showing how much less expensive they can do it than everybody else, it looks like someone decided to test their committment. These are my personal opinions.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

    • Right now Congress is effectively running the space agency. In testimony before Mikulski’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, she reminded him, and Bolden acknowledged that, the Agency’s three programmatic priorities were Orion, SLS, and James Webb Telescope. It appears that he took that to heart.

  1. It also doesn’t help commercial crew’s case that it’s immensely difficult for NASA to fire civil servants. SLS/Orion are employing thousands of them, whereas CCDev employs zero.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to call cutting CCiCap a test of the commitment of the commercial partners. The commercial partners bid for these development contracts with the understanding that they’d receive a fixed amount of money from NASA to help them get to production. If commercial partners have to cease development work (or push the timeline out significantly), that’s a failure of NASA’s commitment which the commercial partners based their promises on, not the other way around.

    • Matt,
      The factor your ommitting is there is less & less difference between established companies (Lockheed Martin on Orion) & the newer commercial companies (SpaceX). To say that Orion/SLS runs off of primarily civil servants isn’t true.
      Moreover, companies bid for the contracts with SLS/Orion as well – so fail to see what you’re trying to say. What you seem to be unaware of is, in some cases, these new companies have received increased funding to achieve their objectives. It’s a very fair statement as these firms have been given not just help in terms of funding – but also in terms of in-kind support. Proponents of these start-ups will have you believe these companies developed their rockets & spacecraft on their own dime – when in fact it was the taxpayer who has largely picked up the tab. So, yes, it’s very fair to see if with the cuts imposed by sequestration will force these companies to stand behind their products. Proponents of this movement have been extremely vocal about their dislike of NASA. Now they don’t have to accept all that awful money the agency they don’t like has been sending their way.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

    • Matt,

      Many space endeavors have been assured of funding only to see their programs receive much less, which drew them out to the point where their opponents eventually got them terminated. Think Constellation.

      But commercial space is a reminder that even with steady funding delivered as promised does not inoculate a program. Otherwise, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences would be in their second or third year of CRS.

      But for those hankering to see non-NASA spacecraft launch into orbit, there is good news. Sequestration doesn’t mean that the commercial crew program has to stretch-out first flight to sometime in 2018-2019 as is the case with sequestration. CCiCap funding is through a Space Act Agreement. While NASA likely will not have sufficient funding for three participants in CCiCap regardless of sequestration, it does for 1 to 1 1/2 participants. And with a Space Act Agreement, NASA can change the number of CCiCap participants at the Agency’s own discretion. So NASA has the flexibility to make changes as the budgetary environment dictates. It just has some hard choices to make of which commercial space company lives, and which dies.

      Karma, the three Fate sisters, someone has a very brutal sense of humor. The commercial partners are about to understand, on a level I’m sure they never imagined, the pain and agony felt by those on NASA’s Constellation, Orion, and SLS programs. Welcome to aerospace.

  2. The answer is not to slim NASA but to close it. As Oliver Cromwell told our all-too-similar Rump Parliament, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

    While NASA is not without value, this bureacratic monstrosity is grossly over-staffed, grossly over-complicated and grossly inefficient for these very reasons. Cromwell again: “A few honest men are better than numbers”. Cherry-pick the best for a new hundredth-as-big organisation and sack the rest.

    • Noel,
      Thanks for submitting the irrational “I hate NASA” post for today. Your comments are based off of emotion – NASA has seen it’s “grossly over complicated” way of doing things streamlined (a process I saw yet again yesterday) & it’s workforce is comprised mainly of contractors – not federal employees. Also, organisation – are you a U.S. citizen? If not, why should anyone listen to what a foreign national thinks of a U.S. agency?
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  3. Is there any reason why Boeing get’s twice!! the amount of money actually funded? To me it looks like spaceX is the one suffering most of the budget cuts?

    • Looking at the chart of CCiCap milestones, it just looks like that’s the way things broke, the luck of the draw so to speak. Don’t forget that NASA has paid SpaceX over $1.2 billion so far, so it isn’t as though the company can claim poverty. To me, the only company that deserves some sympathy is Sierra Nevada in that it has worked steadily like the “Little Engine That Could” and is about to see its progress seize-up.

      I hope all of these companies are able to find outside investors to supplement the coming governmental funding shortfall. Everyone will be better-off for it, as noted in the article.

  4. Space base businesses have not gotten to point that they don’t need the government to run. Until SpaceX or Boeing willing to build the own launch facility and run their own programs it is not going to happen. Let this companys team up with Sea launch and bypass NASA all together.

    • Laurence,
      Sea Launch? The company has already filed under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (in 2009) once before & within the past month or two? They sent a customer’s spacecraft to the bottom of the ocean – and one of the company partners – sued the other partners. Before you post – you might want to brush up on that which you’re posting about.
      As to the NewSpace firms getting to the point where they can leave government behind? Facts on the ground don’t bear you out. While we understand that the “NewSpace” movement is filled with youthful optimism & loves to bad mouth NASA – the fact is, NewSpace wouldn’t have accomplished half of what it has – without the agency.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

    • Laurence,

      NASA doesn’t just give the commercial space businesses money, they fund the companies to very nearly 100%. The commercial space companies are solvent only so long as NASA is funding them. This is unprecedented.

      In Aviation’s early days, it existed outside of gov’t support. Yes, the Airmail act allowed aviation to flourish. But it was surviving before, and would have done so absent, that. Commercial space is nowhere near that level of self-sufficiency.

      Which begs the question; if commercial space cannot fund itself, why does it, or its supporters, believe that it will be able to fund down the road when ISS is no longer there?

  5. I am no huge fan of some of NASA efforts in the past, but they are still doing a huge amount of endeavors with basically shoe string budgets.

    I want to see commercial space succeed, NASA have manned flight, and the military have their manned needs meet. Yet all of the above must be done under budget. It honestly appears that the NASA culture has returned to more long sighted views of things, much as during the Apollo days. Build a system, test the hell out of it, improve it, move on to the next step–but always keep your end goals in mind. I think we are finally getting that again.

    The cuts will hurt, but I expect to see things just drawn out not canceled. This whole effort is a marathon to get us toward a true spacefaring infrastructure, not a sprint.

  6. I’m really sorry to hear about the sequestration effects on commercial crew programs. I have nothing against NewSpace efforts, I really love them, and on the same time, I really love NASA and what it stands for! I choose the middle ground that says ’embrace both NewSpace and OldSpace, let them work together and the space program as a whole will be the clear winner of all this!’

    But in all fairness, NewSpace firms are about to be exposed to the same financial ‘angst and suffering’ that plauged government space agancies all along and stopped them time and again from achieving their goals. If they’re smart and with a little luck, NewSpace firms can come out of this stronger and better, finding their own means of funding, and finally giving true meaning to the word ‘commercial’ at the same time.

    What doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger!

    • Leonidas,
      Precisely, the problem is, supporters of NewSpace have had to deal with an elitist attitude that is within NASA. However, in recent years the company has been incredibly supportive of these efforts. So, while NASA might have changed – NewSpacers haven’t. They still are behaving as they did when NASA had its hand in their face. Now? The hand is still there, and, until sequestration, it was palm-side up – with cash in it.
      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • It seems to me Jason that when you’re doing the same thing as the ones you are accusing of doing, then you’re no better. And many NewSpacers are just proving that, with their own elitist attitude towards others, the same attitude that NASA had in the past.

        I never could understand this whole ‘either/or’ mentality. It seems to me that whoever displays this ‘everything’s mine or nothing at all’ mentality is not trully a supporter of the space program as a whole. In fact he’s a danger to it. I don’t understand why so many people in the US can’t think reasonably about what’s best for their space program.

        But then again, I’m not even an American citizen, what do I know? I’m just a foreigner. Why do I care? Maybe it’s that I care for space exploration and the space program..

        • Leonidas,
          Exactly. In fact NewSpace companies, the more they build & fly hardware, the more they become like OldSpace. So what is really happening is one side of the political spectrum supports one type & the other side the other type – but there is getting to be less & less that differentiate these companies other than the terms new & old.
          Also, I must own my own shortcomings. My patience with people has never been incredibly extensive. When people go on rants & they’re filled with inaccuracies & accusations – my patience evaporates. Everyone is entitled to their opinion – but how you express it is incredibly important. Noel’s fictional comments rubbed me the wrong way & as you will see in an upcoming Op-Ed – I’ve had just about my fill of people coming into a rational conversation & filling it with bile. Let me correct my statement – foreign national’s opinions of U.S. agency’s do, in fact, matter – unless they go on shrill emotional rants. I hope this is an improvement over my earlier post.
          Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Jason, the sarcasm to my post above wasn’t targeted towards you and I’d really like to apologise if I have sounded offensive. My sarcasm and my whole post was targeted towards the people with the elitist attitude I was describing and there seems to be plenty of that in many discussions here.

            I deeply value your work and articles on AmericaSpace!

            With kind regards,

            • I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer on my points. Thinking something in one language and writing it in another, doesn’t always come through.

              And you’re right, clear-headed thinking is so lacking many times. And it’s really nice to know that as someone outside the US, I can freely express myself on things concerning the space program on this site as I have done in the past and read quality articles on the same time. It doesn’t happen on every space-realted site you know! If you go other places and raise any (legitimate) concerns at all about NewSpace, you’re sure to recieve a bashing!

              • Leonidas,
                We know, other sites, tolerate even encourage that sort of thing. We – don’t. There’s nothing for you to apologize for, you’re always courteous and we love having you visit us and add your thoughts to the conversation.
                Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  7. Penny wise, pound foolish and myopic.

    The more Congress under funds commercial crew, the longer the program stretches out. That means saving a small amount of money now that would be spent on American companies while sending even more to the Russians down the road for Soyuz flights. It means the entire International Space Station hangs on the reliability of an increasingly creaky and accident prone Russian space program. It continues to limit American access to a space station that we primarily funded. ISS is a very valuable asset that we’re not able to fully utilize due to the gap in American human space flights.

    The sooner we get commercial crew operating, the quicker Bigelow can launch a private space station into orbit. If that effort succeeds, then we’ll have multiple destinations in orbit and space really opens up. I don’t know if Bigelow will succeed. It’s a risk like anything else. But it’s worth a try, and the sooner the better. The benefits would be tremendous.

    At this point, human spaceflight into Earth orbit isn’t a purely commercial venture that can be funded privately by investors. The commercial sector needs that sort of government investment. That’s the reality we face now. It would be nice if things were different, but they’re not.

    So put aside all the ideological arguments about NewSpace and Old Space and NewSpace people say this and that. Look at the practical realities here. The companies involved in commercial crew can do the job, and they can do it under a program that is comparatively modest in cost.

  8. Doug,
    Couldn’t agree more about getting away from the Russians.
    As for the ideological argument. It doesn’t seem to be the company’s that are behaving this way – just their supporters. I think this has to do with the branding NewSpace companies have done, they market themselves to a younger, and therefore less-mature, demographic.
    To be honest the only thing you posted that I would raise a point about is the plural use of “companies” SpaceX & Bigelow seem to making good progress, I think the jury is still out on SNC & Orbital. Having said that, the more companies that are competing – the lower the cost to orbit – and that is a very, very good thing.
    Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

    • You left Boeing and ULA off the list. That a couple of big companies with long experience in the business are involved in commercial crew is a very comforting things to those skeptical about this endeavor. They’re more expensive, but folks I know are more comfortable with their potential safety. SpaceX is still proving itself — and that’s fine.

      Orbital started with COTS well after SpaceX, so schedule wise it’s not really that far behind where Musk and Co. are now. (Both ventures are well behind the original schedules, of course. But, we are where we are, which is on the verge of the first Antares test flight.) Orbital also had delays in getting the launch complex ready to go, something it didn’t have control over. There’s skepticism about the Antares, so we’ll see how well that works. The components of Cygnus (cargo and service modules) have actual orbital flight experience in different forms.

      NewSpace folks tend to see plenty of hypocrisy in the way NASA and traditional aerospace works. I won’t go into all that here, because the arguments really don’t get us anywhere. We’ve got a commercial crew working with Space Act Agreements, and a long-range solar system exploration program using traditional FAR contracting. Neither side fully won the argument.

      The reality you need to understand is if the commercial crew works and we’ve got competitive ways of getting crews and cargo into orbit, and multiple private space stations up there, then all the beyond Earth orbit projects that have been announced become that much more feasible. And NASA and the country have an industry that knows how to make money in LEO. And you can extend that partnership out beyond Earth orbit. And puts America in a position to dominate the next phase of space exploration.

      But, commercial crew needs to work first. And if Congress wants to nickel and dime the thing to death, then we don’t get there. So, instead of directing all the complaints about the hypocrisy of New Space supporters, you should be chastising Congress for being so short sighted.

      • Doug,
        ULA & Boeing saw the writing on the wall and decided if you can’t beat em – join em.
        As for the reality of commercial crew working. Sorry, but it hasn’t happened yet so I don’t see how you can base that statement with any verifiable data.
        NewSpace fans aren’t directing their anger at Congress they’re directing it at NASA – who is trying to help them. So why should I chastise Congress when they’re busy chastising NASA? Given the tone & length of time they have been behaving this way? I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for them now. I’ve been saying for a while now that, sooner or later, their antics would come back to bite them. I asked a while back if it made sense to “Bite the hand that funds you?” They had it coming & I’m not sorry it happened. It should serve as a cautionary tale. Treat those who are paying for your movement with respect or they might just stop paying you. Sorry, I don’t want to be argumentative with you, but I respectfully disagree.
        Sincerely and with regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

        • Congress’ shortsightedness in cutting the Administration’s commercial crew requests has resulted in lengthened programs, a longer gap in American human spaceflight, and hundreds of millions more sent to Russia down the road instead of being paid to U.S. companies up front. We’d not only send more to U.S. companies now, we’d also be paying them sooner for crew transport. Instead, we end up subsidizing the Russians.

          The NewSpace who I know realize this and largely blame Congress for it. They understand that the Administration has been much more supportive of this program, and more willing to get Americans back into space on our own, than those on Capitol Hill.

          They also understand that the cuts NASA made under sequestration were the ones required by law. The space agency didn’t have any real choice in it. That fact is pretty clear regardless of where you place the most blame for sequestration itself.

      • Doug,
        Not to belabor the point. But if NASA has to experience budget cuts? I’d rather they not hit the agency’s exploration initiatives. So, the only cuts I’d chastise Congress for would be those to NASA’s Planetary Missions. Sorry, but it seems incredibly selfish of NewSpace supporters to demand that NASA hinder its ability to explore just so their companies can be paid to reach Earth orbit.
        Sincerely and with regards, Jason

        • The reality is that we’re in a position of not being able to get our own astronauts to the space station we primarily funded using our own vehicles. And the more the commercial crew program gets cut, the longer that will take and the more it will cost and the more the Russians will benefit at the expense of our own companies and capabilities.

          So, yes we can preserve the planetary exploration program and lavish billions annually on SLS and Orion programs that won’t fly human in space until the 2020’s, but should those be NASA’s highest priority right now given the situation it is in with manned spaceflight?

          You say yes. Congress says yes. I say it’s shortsighted and myopic and reflects a lack of ability to prioritize and grapple with the human spaceflight gap.

          • Doug,
            I haven’t used that type of condescension when responding to your comments & would’ve appreciated the same courtesy. My point is this. I say the people you support have displayed a type of behavior that indicates they’re not ready to be handed such a responsibility. They’ve shot their mouths off for years & now guess what? it’s coming back to haunt them.
            I strongly support the concept of commercial access to orbit. However, of the current batch of contenders, only SpaceX appears to be pulling it off. They’re getting their head in the game & are behaving more & more like a mature aerospace firm.
            To use your own terminology your “myopia” stems from your willingness to turn a blind eye toward two things:
            1. These companies haven’t done…much of anything. Excluding SpaceX, Orbital & Bigelow. How long do we prop up the others? Doug, how many of them will turn out to be Rotary Rocket Companies? Kistlers? SpaceDevs? How many of them will turn out to be more wasted funds? NASA has seen its funding cut again & again and lets face it – we’re not living in the best of economic times.
            2. NASA has bent over backward to support commercial space. Commercial crew, commercial cargo on & on. But NewSpacers never laid off their NASA slam fest. I asked the question – Why are you biting the hand that funds you? I wanted NewSpace to grow up, to show a little appreciation & to become the commercial space industry we so badly need. They never did. All I got was: “NASA sucks.” (Michael Mealing) “We should only rely on commercial & defund NASA.” (To paraphrase Neil Shipley) & enough vitriol & bile from the likes of Ferris Valyn, Robert G. Oler & their ilk to nauseating a combat marine. Doug, please don’t get upset with me for pointing out the invonvenient truth & shame on you for trying to guilt me into supporting a cause that will keep us locked in low-Earth-orbit. A journalist’s job is not to prop up one side or the other – it’s to tell the story. What you seem to imply is that we should support a side. If I’m going to pick a side (I’d like to say I’m an unbiased journalist – but I prefer honesty) – I’m going to support exploration. ISS will be deorbited in 2028 – possibly sooner. So the way I see it – my “myopia” is that I’d rather support an initiative to get us beyond LEO – rather than support a group of people who have been disrespectful, arrogant, selfish & obnoxious since it has been my displeasure to know them. NASA is taking it slow, because it knows that another accident could see the end of the human space flight program & because it has to work with the very limited funds at its disposal.
            People won’t always agree on everything & I hope that we can depart this discussion on friendly terms.
            Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

          • Doug,
            According to Bob Cabana this discussion might be moot as there appears to be efforts underway to reallocate funds for the CCiCap milestones. However, to tell someone who has had to tolerate the rampant disrespect these people have displayed that he should charge to their defense to Congress – is more than a little insulting. They’ve done nothing to deserve that kind of reaction from me – they’ve only encouraged the opposite.
            Perhaps explaining it that way will better help you see my point of view.
            Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  9. Jim:

    Your estimate on how often we will be able to launch SLS is optimistic. Probably more than every two to four years given the cost of the thing.

    ISS could well last until 2028, not 2020.

    You ignore Bigelow’s plans for private space stations, which would help make commercial crew viable.

    More fundamentally, if we can get commercial operations in Earth orbit, you’ll have a much more nimble aerospace industry able to partner with NASA in going into deep space. You’ll also have more private investment in space.
    Both those things would vastly help NASA as it goes out into deep space. The space agency would have much stronger partners. I don’t know why anyone would not want that.

    • Doug,
      I think Jim will agree that we love what Bigelow is doing.

      We’ve heard that some of the international partners are losing interest in ISS & might even pull out. While optimism is a good thing, given the current nature of the economy, politics, etc – don’t you think that a little pessimism might also be healthy?

      I think, that we all agree that having a robust commercial industry is a very good thing. However, I don’t think that funding a handful of commercial companies to provide access to the ISS, which could be deorbited as early as 2020 – is a good investment.

      Do you know if NASA has any plans to pull commercial companies into exploration efforts? Golden Spike has issued interesting plans and I was wondering if NASA hasn’t look at them for some of its own efforts. While I support SLS/Orion, I also hate it when we have all our eggs in one basket. I’d rather see the commercial companies focus on exploration efforts than see them work on LEO-based initiatives (we’ve been stuck in LEO long enough).

      What do you think?

      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

      • I don’t agree with you about station.

        I believe commercial crew is the best way to start because it gives the commercial sector the chance to prove itself doing things we’ve been doing for decades. It’s the best way for NASA to learn how to do things a bit differently. And it would allow private stations like Bigelow to be launched, which would need to be serviced whatever happens to ISS. I see that as win-win-win.

        The biggest drag on commercial crew has been Congress’ unwillingness to fund it properly. That extends the program and then it’s, “Oh, gee, this doesn’t seem useful since station might be de-orbited in 2020. Gosh, how did this happen?”

        You also assume that the only thing you get out of commercial crew is Earth orbital transport. Bigelow will get experience operating facilities in Earth orbit that will applicable to deep space, the moon, wherever we go. Earth orbit is a better environment in which to learn those lessons. Easy to get home, you’re protected by the Van Allen Belts.

        Another example: Dragon was designed for crew, and it’s got a heat shield capable of re-entering at high speed. My guess is that Musk will send a crew out into deep space using a modified Dragon, Falcon Heavy and hab module before SLS/Orion ever flies with people. That would really embarrass NASA.

    • The only way station survives beyond 2020 is if NASA foots that portion of ISS funding that the International partners are currently contributing. The international partners have been saying for quite awhile that they don’t want to spend what precious few euros and yen they have for human space flight on maintaining ISS but want to go to the Moon. And just as the partners are trying to exit ISS financially, and NASA is trying to fill that gap, we’ll see costs to maintain the 20+ year-old orbiting facility increase. I hope it’s possible that private sources of funding can be found by 2020 that will allow NASA to free up funds for returning to the Moon. But after engineering and 23 years in the oil & gas business, I put very little stock in hope. Time will tell.

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