Space Access Update #133 6/4/13
Copyright 2013 by Space Access Society
In this Issue:
Followup: The Sequester And NASA's Budget
No sooner do we go on record in SAU #132 that NASA's FY'14 budget is likely to be cut by the Sequester to $16.2 billion from its White House requested level of $17.7 billion, than the Administrator of NASA shows up in print saying the cut will only be to $16.6 billion. See the Aviation Week story NASA Chief Repeats Warnings On Commercial Crew Delays, final paragraph.
On the theory that Administrator Bolden might know something we don't, we took a look around, and as best we can tell this is what's going on:
The House Appropriators recently set their FY'14 "Non-Defense Discretionary" (NDD) spending totals at $967 billion, the amount needed to meet the FY'14 Sequester NDD cap. They did not trim the dozen or so major Federal spending accounts equally, however. Their cuts (relative to the FY'13 budget, pre-sequester) ranged from 22.2% (Labor, HHS, Education) to 1.5% (Homeland Security). The Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) account where NASA lives did a bit better than average, with a 6.5% cut.
The Senate Appropriators, meanwhile, haven't set their FY'14 spending totals yet, but when they do, they reportedly will set their NDD accounts total at $1,058 billion - almost the same as the White House $1,059 billion FY'14 request, and 8.6% higher than the FY'14 Sequester cap. (Which should make following this year's budget process doubly fun, as Senate numbers will all be pre-Sequester, House number post.)
If we apply the House's 6.5% CJS account cut to NASA's nominal FY'13 budget, we get $16.7 billion. Not precisely the $16.6 billion Administrator Bolden mentioned, but within rounding error. Bottom line, it's closer to a 1% cut from actual post-Sequester FY'13 NASA funding, rather than the ~4% cut we'd expected. Good news, if so.
Will the House in fact give NASA that? Will the Senate go along? As we said, it's entirely possible Administrator Bolden knows something we don't. It's also possible he's being an optimist about the odds that the better-than-expected initial House numbers will survive the process intact. We'll know more later this month, when the Senate Appropriators publish their CJS numbers.
Followup: Commercial Crew
We've had some interesting responses to last issue's discussion of Commercial Crew.
First a quick technical correction: CPC, Certification Products Contracts, is only the preliminary paperwork phase for NASA certification of the Commercial Crew vehicles to carry NASA employees. CPC covers just the preliminary $10 million FARs-based contracts to the three Commercial Crew competitors that we mentioned; those finish next year, 2014. The second FARs-based phase of certification, the one intended to replace the SAA-based CCiCap optional flight-test milestones, so far is called "the second phase of certification." (The FARs are the traditional Federal Acquisition Regulations, while SAAs are more flexible and many-times lower-cost Space Act Agreements.)
We also got a pointer to a very good in-depth piece about certification at nasaspaceflight.com. It is particularly interesting to read between the lines of this interview with some awareness of the intense pressures on Commercial Crew to hobble the program in ways that will make it fit various old-NASA agendas better.
Which brings us to another correction, and also a disclaimer. Last issue, in describing various old NASA pressures on Commercial Crew, we described the source as "HSF", the NASA Human Spaceflight establishment. This is technically incorrect, as they've yet again changed the alphabet soup - it's now HEO, Human Exploration and Operations.
More importantly, it's imprecise and potentially misleading, which is why we're switching back to the term "old NASA" to describe the source of these harmful pressures. HEO contains (as do most of the diverse flock of organizations that make up NASA) numerous good people working hard to accomplish useful things for the country (often despite the dysfunctional bureaucracies they're embedded in.) We mentioned "factions within HSF" at the start of the section, but then just referred to "HSF", which is misleading. Current-day NASA HEO overlaps with but is far from identical to the problem, and we apologize for the imprecision.
The problem, now, boils down to this: We've retired Shuttle. We've laid off many (but not all) of the Shuttle contractors. But most of the federal bureaucrats who ran the Shuttle program remain at NASA (with significant regional Congressional backing) but now seriously underemployed and casting about for some way, any way, to revive and perpetuate their fading bureaucratic empire.
Forty years after imposing crippling overhead on Shuttle by keeping as many of themselves as possible on the payroll post-Apollo, this entrenched "old NASA" carries a heavy burden of institutional prejudices and impossibly expensive operating procedures. It is a mature bureaucracy, powerfully resistant to making any real changes in its organizational structure or operational approach. Its remaining flagship programs, SLS and MPCV, barely support its overhead, with little prospect for the billions a year in new funding needed to fly actual useful missions. SLS in particular is in growing danger of being seen for the dead-end jobs program it is.
The success of COTS and soon CCP in flying new commercial ships at a tenth or less old NASA costs is a deadly threat to this remnant bureaucracy's future. Old NASA depended for decades on the defense that "space is hard" (true) and that all the billions they consumed every year to produce a handful of missions were the essential minimum to do the job (false, but hard to prove.)
COTS has now provided graphic proof of old NASA's obsolescence, and CCP will soon provide far more if not contained and controlled. In order to understand the growing fight over CCP funding and policy, we think it essential to understand old NASA's not very hidden CCP agendas:
- To avoid CCP conspicuously and embarrassingly flying commercial test pilots (as called for in the CCiCap options) years before NASA astronauts are allowed on board.
- To downselect CCP early, so old NASA can more easily capture the one "winner" as their next massively overstaffed meal-ticket, and so there's less danger of any purely commercial rivals surviving to show up how badly old NASA capture then works.
- In support of that same goal, to attempt to capture the commercial human spaceflight regulation job away from FAA AST. (We'd overlooked this one in our last Update, as being such a blatant conflict of interest with such huge scope for old NASA bureaucratic turf-defense mischief-making that nobody could possibly take it seriously. We've now been reminded that far too many don't yet understand this.)
- To avoid any more conspicuous demonstrations that the new COTS/CCP approach is ten or more times cheaper than old NASA's traditional development process, by imposing as much of that process as possible (FARs-based contracts) as soon as possible.
So, that's who we are unhappy with at NASA, and why. Anyone else hit with our overly broad brush last issue, no offense intended.
New ITAR Reform Problem
We've been supporters of ITAR reform for a long time now. The State Department-administered International Traffic in Arms Regulations export-control rules were expanded to include just about anything space-related in the late '90s. The results were to cripple US satellite hardware exports, and to make international commercial space cooperation of any sort extremely difficult for US vendors.
A set of proposed ITAR rules modifications has been published now at federalregister.gov that finally removes some of the satellite export restrictions. At the same time, however, it adds new items to the export-restricted munitions list. One of these items is "man-rated suborbital spacecraft."
This is, we expect, causing consternation at Virgin Galactic and XCOR, both US suborbital spacecraft developers that have been counting on overseas-based commercial suborbital flight operations for significant slices of future business. (We first saw this issue mentioned in twitter coverage of XCOR COO Andrew Nelson's talk at the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference yesterday.) It's worth pointing out that while the US currently has a lead in developing vehicles for this market, it's not that much of a lead. Credible foreign competitors exist, and could quickly dominate world markets if US suborbital companies are held back by ITAR the same way US satellite exporters have been.
It strikes us that most of the military-related things a manned suborbital RLV might be used for (chiefly regional reconnaissance) require additional hardware that's already on the munitions list separately, and thus including the vehicles themselves on the list is overkill. The public comment period for the new proposed rule runs through July 8th 2013, and comments can be submitted via this link on the above website.
For considerably more detail on all this, see Jon Goff's post at Selenian Boondocks.
Final thought: The proposed new ITAR munitions list also includes "Man-rated orbital spacecraft", which seems likely to create pointless difficulties for the US Commercial Crew competitors in any future commercial operations involving foreign customers, or eventual foreign-controlled orbital destinations. (ITAR restrictions go well beyond just physical export of hardware, to cover all sorts of interactions with foreign persons.) Whoever came up with this one may have just sold more Russian Soyuz seats than the entire Roscosmos sales staff...
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