Space Access Update #123 4/14/11
Copyright 2011 by Space Access Society
Contents This Issue:
- NASA FY'11 Exploration
Funding: A Setback
- Space Access '11 Conference
NASA Exploration Funding: A Setback
When NASA questions come up
in the US Congress, there is an unfortunate tendency for the majority to defer
to a handful of their colleagues who sit on the various NASA oversight
committees. Unfortunate, because
recently that handful seems to be abusing the majority's trust to advance its
own short-term regional advantage.
They've been trampling the national interest in a viable affordable NASA
space exploration program and in overall national technological
competitiveness. They're trading both of
these for never-fly home-town jobs programs.
Which is another way of
saying that, despite growing public (thank you!) and media pressure, the FY'11
fund-the-whole-government-through-September Continuing Resolution (CR) that the
House passed today earmarks over three quarters of NASA's Exploration funding
for SLS and MPCV. You may recall (see
our Updates #121 and #122 at http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau121.html
and http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau122.html for more background) that
"Space Launch System" and "Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle" are
thinly disguised no-bid revisions of the massively unaffordable Constellation
program's Ares 5 heavy-lift booster and Orion crew capsule.
We do have to admit we're
impressed, though. Most Congressional
earmarks are for a few millions, but these guys think big - out of $3.8 billion
total for Exploration, $1.8 billion is earmarked for SLS and $1.2 billion for
MPCV. In a year of tight resources and
fiscal strain, this earmark is so large that apparently the rest of Congress
are having a hard time understanding (or believing) what they're seeing - so
far, at least.
Put another way, SLS and MPCV
are being earmarked nearly 80% of the NASA Exploration total, leaving only a
small fraction for what Exploration *should* be doing - finishing Commercial
Cargo (COTS), getting Commercial Crew (CCDev) well
started, supporting a robust Exploration technology program, and beginning the
serious planning to do, you know, some actual exploration. This bill also essentially zeroes out the
more general Space Technology item that had been slated for half a billion
under the Aeronautics line.
The importance of these
shorted technology programs is much larger than meets the eye. Bloated never-fly megaprojects
have been eating NASA's new-technology budgets for decades now, and the
technology cupboard is bare. One
example: The same type of medium-performance storable-toxic-propellant rockets
used to return the Apollo crews from the Moon had to be baselined
for Constellation forty years later, because forty years later NASA still
hadn't funded development of modern higher-performance alternatives. Some hasty attempts were made to catch up -
but these too ended up starved to help pay for Constellation's massive
This has been going on
agency-wide, for decades, and is a major reason why the rest of the world has
pretty much caught up with the US in aerospace technologies. This loss of high-tech edge has a major
ongoing impact on US economic growth, on the trade balance, and on defense
preparedness. A few hundred million
annually for Exploration Technology, for Space Technology, and for NASA OCT's (Office of the Chief Technologist) new Technology
Roadmap could make a huge positive difference for this country going
forward. Hijacking that money to
continue never-fly home-town jobs programs for another few years is a crime
against the future of this country that we can no longer afford.
Mind, some who've supported
these earmarks are well-intentioned.
There's a widespread belief that in order to have a space exploration
program, NASA must operate its own large boosters and manned capsules. No big boosters, no exploration, so the
unthinking belief goes.
The facts are otherwise: NASA
at this point is no more capable of building its own boosters at any sane price
than it is of building its own custom airliners. If it tries, it will fail, protractedly and
expensively. If it somehow eventually
succeeds, it will at that point be utterly unable to afford anything to launch
on those boosters, because the in-house booster program will have eaten all
available funding and more.
The belief that if NASA just
builds a large new booster, a viable exploration program will somehow follow,
is unfortunately no more rational than the Pacific Islander belief after WWII
that if they just cleared runways and built faithful-enough wood-and-thatch
duplicates of the old US supply-base control towers and radars, the airplanes
full of cargo would return. To be blunt,
in both cases we are talking about a "Cargo Cult". Building a
new Saturn 5 will not bring back the glory days of Apollo, no matter how hard
anyone wishes otherwise.
NASA's only rational alternative
is to build its future exploration around the vastly cheaper available
commercial boosters, plowing the savings into resuming advanced technology
developments which will then feed back into both further savings in exploration
costs and into improvements in the nation's overall technological
http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau122.html for background and further
Unfortunately, once the House
reported out this version of the FY'11 CR Monday night, it was too late to get
this fixed. The NASA oversight porkers
got their way behind the scenes, at a time when most in Congress just want to
get the FY'11 CR done so they can move on to all the other issues they have
stacked up waiting. Absent an unlikely
last-second hitch in the Senate, NASA will have to continue trying to make
sense of a nonsensical policy for the remainder of FY'11. Money tweet: " Congress demands NASA
build 130 ton HLV by 2016. In related news Congress demands rainbow farting
unicorn super soldiers with laser horns."
This doesn't mean that
there's nothing we can do, however.
FY'12 starts October 1st, and the debate on the FY'12 budget will go
into high gear the instant the FY'11 CR is passed. These SLS and MPCV earmarks will be back -
and we intend to be there ready and waiting.
We ask that those of you who
are with us in being seriously angry over these earmarks make the time in
coming weeks to engage your local Congressional delegation - Representative,
Senators - and let them know in no
uncertain terms that deferring to their colleagues on the NASA oversight
committees is no longer acceptable, that some of their colleagues are selling
out the future technological competitiveness of the country for short-term
home-town jobs programs, and that the SLS/MPCV earmarks must be stopped so that
NASA has a chance to provide this nation the vigorous affordable exploration
program and the fast-paced broad-front advanced technology development it deserves.
Call, write, buttonhole at
local political events, engage staffers and build relationships - whatever it
takes to get the message across in the coming weeks: Kill the SLS/MPCV earmarks and let NASA do
the jobs the American people need and expect it to be doing. We may not be able to stop this nonsense for
the remainder of FY'11, but FY'12 is only months away and the debates are
already starting. This time, let's not allow
undeserved deference to the NASA committee porkers let them get away with it.
Space Access '11 Conference Successful
Our latest Space Access
Conference wrapped up last Saturday evening with the awe-inspiring sight of NewSpace notables singing rocket-margarita-propelled
karaoke in the hotel bar. Only one
speaker in the final published agenda had to cancel, and his reason was
impossible to argue with - his Zeppelin was running late. (Seriously - choppy weather had delayed his
space observation instrument test on a modern Zeppelin airship flight out of Moffet Field.)
Speaking of weather, a number of guests from places like the UK and
Seattle said we'd gone overboard on the Arizona hospitality, importing a day of
their native climates Saturday (forties and raining) but we strive to make
everyone feel welcome! (The rest of the
conference was more spring-like.)
Seriously, we state in our
program book that the goal for our Space Access Conference** "..is to get
industry, political, and entrepreneurial players together in a relaxed informal
atmosphere to trade ideas, make deals, and move this fledgling industry
forward." Our latest conference
seems to have accomplished that once again.
Watch for news of next year's Space Access '12 as we start organizing it
in the coming months.
For one wide collection of
links to coverage of the conference, see
** Not to be confused with the "First Conference on Space Access" someone is putting on this fall in Paris (at ten times our price.) We're glad they think it's a good idea, even if it did take them nineteen years since our first conference to catch on.
Space Access Society's sole
purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space.
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"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"
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