Space Access Update #115 7/14/10
Copyright 2010 by Space Access Society
Contents This Issue:
- Space Access '10
- The New NASA Exploration Policy
- An URGENT Call To Action
Space Access '10
This spring's Space Access '10 conference was successful by a number of measures - attendance was up significantly and the program schedule was filled to near-bursting. Most important by our lights, once again a variety of players in the new-space field got together for three days to share their stories, hear new ideas, and make deals. The number and demonstrated credibility of companies started by long-time attendees is growing. We won't try to cover the conference in detail here; others have already done so. For an extensive collection of links to SA'10 coverage, see http://www.hobbyspace.com/AAdmin/archive/SpecialTopics/Events/2010/SpaceAccess-2010.html
The New NASA Exploration Policy
The new White House NASA space exploration policy looks as promising as anything we've seen come from those quarters for a long time. The core of it is a major change in national space launch policy: Getting NASA out of the business of developing and operating its own space transportation, passing full responsibility for basic space access to the US commercial launch sector. The billions freed up by doing this, and by retiring Shuttle after this year (as planned since 2004) would be used to refocus NASA on developing new technologies for future space transportation and deep-space exploration, to keeping Station (the nation's sole and dearly-bought existing space outpost) operating beyond the former 2016 shutdown date, and (once the new deep-space capabilities are available) to conducting new exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.
This plan actually gives NASA a meaningful future, as opposed to the dead end "Constellation" had become under any reasonably foreseeable budget. (See the Augustine report.) But getting NASA conclusively out of the Earth-to-orbit transportation business - going through with the long-planned retirement of Shuttle, killing the Ares (or any other) in-house NASA booster development projects, and killing the hugely overpriced Orion crew capsule - is the essential key to success of the entire plan.
Why do we say this? The short version is that overall exploration funding is limited, and likely to remain so well into the coming decade. Meanwhile NASA's space transportation development departments have over the years become dysfunctional bureaucratic quagmires, capable of absorbing massive amounts of funding with no certainty of delivering functional vehicles, but near-guaranteed to deliver ones we can't afford to operate. (Some quick numbers: Acknowledged NASA Ares I development costs have already grown to 5-to-10 times those for the roughly-equivalent USAF-developed EELV's, and to 20-to-50 times those for the commercially-developed Falcon 9. We would say that indicates something seriously wrong.) (We'll be going into the apples-vs-oranges aspects of those comparisons and the overall nature of NASA's problems in much more detail in the near future.)
This core change is one we've been pushing for a long time. NASA's building and operating of their own space transportation systems has been a money-sucking, option-limiting mess since Apollo wound down. If done right, this new policy will free up funds to finally resume significantly advancing our national aerospace technology base, radically reducing the costs of both basic orbital access and deeper space exploration and vastly expanding our future space exploration and development possibilities.
Note that word, development. These policy changes affect more than just NASA space exploration efforts. US commercial space currently adds close to $100 billion in annual revenue to the economy, all based on the limited number of space applications profitable at current high launch costs. How much more could space add to our economy if we had reliable low-cost launch? "A lot" is a safe bet. And how much sooner might we have reliable low-cost launch if NASA finally stops spending billions on high-cost in-house alternatives and instead supports the commercial market? A lot sooner, we expect.
In other words, getting this right is important for reasons above and beyond merely reforming NASA's faltering space exploration efforts. There's a significant slice of the future US economy on the table.
Yet the last few months have seen an increasingly organized effort to fatally derail the proposed NASA reforms, with much misinformation bandied about. Some of this is based on well-intentioned confusion, but more stems directly from short-term regional political self-interest - the Congressional coalition accustomed to seeing NASA exploration funds flow regardless of results is fighting the new policy with everything they've got.
We can live with minor nods to the previous status quo, like continued study of a possible future heavy-lift booster, or NASA development of a new heavy-lifter main engine. Neither is likely to suck the money from all other NASA programs over the next few years. A new US heavy-lift engine could even prove useful.
But we must vehemently oppose development of any new NASA-designed launcher, continued development of the Orion crew capsule (almost as expensive as the Ares I it was to ride on) or funding of any additional Shuttle flights beyond the one extra supported by in-stock components. Given likely constraints on NASA funding in the coming decade, and given the known huge costs involved in these options, keeping NASA doing its own high-cost space transportation would cripple advanced space technology development at the agency and destroy the agency's chances of moving out beyond low orbit in any meaningful way for a generation to come.
An URGENT Call To Action
There is a NASA Authorization bill up for vote tomorrow (Thursday July 15th) in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, in a session scheduled to start at 10 am Eastern time. This draft NASA Authorization makes drastic cuts over the next three years in both Commercial Crew development (and also sharply constrains that program) and in new space exploration technology, in order to pay for 2011 startup of a new NASA Shuttle/Ares-derived heavy-lift booster program plus continued development of the Orion crew capsule.
Our immediate options are limited. There are two amendments already prepared for tomorrow that would reduce the damage. The Warner Amendment would restore Commercial Crew funding and remove restrictions. The Boxer Amendment would restore some of the new space exploration technology funding.
If you are reading this before east coast close-of-business July 15th, and you are from one of the states listed below, please call or fax your Committee Senator. (If at all possible, make contact well before 10 am eastern.) If phoning, let the person who answers know you're calling about the NASA Authorization. They may switch you to another staffer (or that staffer's voicemail) or they may take the call themselves. Either way, ask them to support the Warner and Boxer Amendments to the NASA Authorization. Give one or two reasons briefly (EG, to support the US commercial launch industry, to enhance our national technological competitiveness, to support the President's NASA policy, to address the NASA problems pointed out by the Augustine Commission and restore NASA's ability to usefully explore, etc - see previous piece) then politely sign off.
If you are reading this piece a few days later, or if you aren't from one of the Committee member's states, there's still something very useful you can do. (Even if you are from one of those states, you still have a second Senator.) This NASA Authorization bill will need to go to the full Senate at some point. We recommend that you look up contact info for both your Senators then let them both know that you support full funding for NASA Commercial Crew, and full funding for NASA space exploration technology, and that you are very much against any new NASA heavy lift booster development as very likely being a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
Sooner is better, even if you have nobody on the Committee - Senators talk to each other.
We will likely be seeing more action on this as the year goes on. Keep an eye out for further Updates. Thanks for helping!
Senate Commerce Science & Transportation Committee
Majority Members (Democrats)
DC Phone DC FAX
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) 202-224-6472 202-224-7665
Dan Inouye (D-HI) 202-224-3934 202-224-6747
John Kerry (D-MA) 202-224-2742 202-224-8525
Byron Dorgan (D-ND) 202-224-2551 202-224-1193
Barbara Boxer (D-CA) 202-224-3553 202-224-0454
Bill Nelson (D-FL) 202-224-5274 202-228-2183
Maria Cantwell (D-WA) 202-224-3441 202-228-0514
Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) 202-224-3224 202-228-4054
Mark Pryor (D-AR) 202-224-2353 202-228-0908
Claire McCaskill (D-MO) 202-224-6154 202-228-6326
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) 202-224-3244 202-228-2186
Tom Udall (D-NM) 202-224-6621 202-228-3261
Mark R. Warner (D-VA) 202-224-2023 202-224-6295
Mark Begich (D-AK) 202-224-3004 202-224-2354
Minority Members (Republicans)
DC Phone DC FAX
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) 202-224-5922 202-224-0776
Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) 202-224-5344 202-224-1946
John Ensign (R-NV) 202-224-6244 202-228-2193
Jim DeMint (R-SC) 202-224-6121 202-228-5143
John Thune (R-SD) 202-224-2321 202-228-5429
Roger Wicker (R-MS) 202-224-6253 202-228-0378
George S. LeMieux (R-FL) 202-224-3041 202-228-5171
Johnny Isakson (R-GA) 202-224-3643 202-228-0724
David Vitter (R-LA) 202-224-4623 202-228-5061
Sam Brownback (R-KS) 202-224-6521 202-228-1265
Mike Johanns (R-NE) 202-224-4224 202-228-0436
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"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" - Robert A. Heinlein