Congress: May 2011 Archives

SMD Budget Update

Update from NASA SMD Planetary Science Division

"As you know NASA received a passed budget on April 14th. However, after passage we first received only a 30-day allotment. Funds for all of FY11 arrived late in the second week of May. Starting on Monday May 23rd access to these new funds for our Program Officers who run the ROSES programs began. Even by the end of the week on May 27th, some of the Program Officers did not have access to all their funds. Jon Rall and all the R&A Program Officers are working as fast as they can to complete the panel reviews, evaluations, selections and awards. This includes going back to many of those that received 'selectable' letters this year for funding."

Subcommittee Democrats Seek Assurance of Reliable and Timely Commercial Cargo Capability for the International Space Station, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"In 2006, NASA laid out a two-phase plan to ensure that vital equipment and supplies could be delivered to the ISS after the retirement of the space shuttle. In phase one, companies would be required to develop and demonstrate the capability to safely deliver cargo to the ISS. In phase two, when confident that commercial cargo sources were available, NASA would sign long-term CRS contracts with commercial cargo providers. However, NASA signed long-term resupply contracts with SpaceX and Orbital before either company had successfully demonstrated a commercial cargo flight. Furthermore, in 2010, NASA canceled the Constellation Program, which would have served as a contingency backup in case commercial cargo services were delayed or failed. Commercial providers are now fully responsible for the critical task of resupplying the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires in July."

Critical Questions Remain on the Viability of Commercial Cargo Efforts to Support the Space Station, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) noted that Congress has generally been supportive of NASA's commercial cargo efforts. However, he said that "Too often, requests for information have been met with a veil of secrecy and claims of company proprietary information." Subsequently, Palazzo said, "I want to remind NASA and the commercial partners that you are spending taxpayer money, and lots of it. So you will not be exempt from oversight and financial scrutiny."

Keith's note: When a witness testifies before this committee they are required to sign a "Truth in Testimony" from which the committee now posts on its hearing website (just look uner each witness' name for links). Yet the hearing charter that the committee posts on its site does not seem to be held to the same high standards. One glaring example:

"The terms of the contracts awarded to SpaceX and Orbital call for delivery of at least 40 metric tons (approximately 88,160 pounds) of cargo to the space station between 2010 and 2015 for $3.5 billion. SpaceX was awarded $1.6 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 12 cargo resupply missions. Orbital was awarded $1.9 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 8 cargo resupply missions. The following chart lists approximate costs to deliver one pound of cargo to the ISS under various programs. Development costs are not included in these calculations, and are considered proprietary information by the COTS partners.

Approximate cost per pound to ISS

Space Shuttle* - $21,268
Russian Progress - $18,149
Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) - $26,770

*Calculated assuming four missions per year with a capability to deliver 16 metric tons (35,264 pounds) to the space station at a total annual program cost of $3.0 Billion. $3,000,000,000 (4 flights 35,264 pounds/flight) = $21,268 per pound. Assumes no additional cost to transport 28 astronauts to the space station and return.

Costs for the Russian Progress and the Commercial Resupply program are NASA estimates. The CRS estimate would be higher, at around $39,700 per pound, if derived using a method similar to that used for the Space Shuttle; i.e. Dividing the CRS program cost ($3.5 billion) by the mass delivered to the space station (40 metric tons, i.e. 88,160 pounds)."

Keith's note: Are full shuttle development costs, sustaining engineering, post-Challenger and post-Columbia fixes etc. included in what it cost to develop and maintain the current shuttle capability - including costs picked up by the ISS program? Is any honest attempt whatsoever made to figure out what the development costs (mostly by the communist command economy Soviet Union) were for Soyuz/Progress system? Everyone knows that the Russians pick the highest cost they can get away with (they learned capitalism from us all too well). Yet this committee's staff (i.e. Ken Monroe) provides these misleading numbers to the members of the committee to cite as facts.

If witnesses (invited to voluntarily testify) are put through this scrutiny to calibrate their truthfulness/conflicts of interest, then shouldn't staff (and members who get political contributions) be asked to sign a similar form stating that their "facts" are as free from bias as they can possibly make them? And since some of these numbers come from NASA, shouldn't they also be called upon to at least provide caveats (in the case of Progress numbers)?

How can you possibly have a calm, reasoned discussion about the cost of things - and the relative merits of government vs private sector operations - when the numbers are either flawed, cooked, or skewed like this? Curiously, it was Shotwell and Culbertson who knew all of their numbers - and the numbers rolled off their tongues easily when asked - and often, when they were not asked.

Keith's note: Have a look at tomorrow's House Science Committee Hearing. Specifically, have a look at the charter for tomorrow's hearing "NASA's Commercial Cargo Providers: Are They Ready to Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era?"

Curiously, after watching NASA spend more than $12 billion on Constellation with only the semi-dummy Ares 1-X rocket to show for it in terms of flight hardware, the committee never planned any oversight hearings on the cost overruns and lack of progress. Now NASA changes the name of Constellation's Orion to "MPCV" - but still hasn't a clue what its new (old) mission will now cost. And Congress still doesn't convene a hearing? Instead they go after the private sector which has made far more progress - at far less cost - toward meeting the same capabilities as NASA has been stumbling to do.

Live webcast starting at 10:00 am EDT

Commercial Launch Vehicles: NASA Taking Measures to Manage Delays and Risks, GAO

"SpaceX and Orbital continue to make progress completing milestones under their COTS agreements with NASA, but both partners are working under aggressive schedules and have experienced delays in completing demonstration missions. SpaceX successfully flew its first demonstration mission in December 2010, but the mission was 18 months late and the company's second and third demonstration missions have been delayed by almost 2 years due to design, development, and production challenges with the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle."

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Letter Regarding NASA Authorization Act of 2010 Compliance

"As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate committee charged with NASA oversight, it is our responsibility to make sure that NASA's policy direction, and the associated taxpayer investment, is proceeding in accordance with the law. Our Nation's space program is undergoing a transition that has not been seen since the end of the Apollo era, which presents many challenges and opportunities. NASA's current inaction and indecision in implementing this transition could impact our global standing and take many years and billions of dollars to repair. As a result, we are requesting bi-monthly briefings and detailed information documenting what steps NASA is taking to comply with the law. The first briefing should take place during the week of May 30, 2011."

Keith's note: Wow - what a shopping list they have prepared - its like a media FOIA request - and they want NASA to "provide the requested information and documents by June 3, 2011." I wonder if they will hold NASA in contempt of Congress if they do not get every single thing that they have asked for. Ouch. Charlie Bolden is not going to enjoy the inevitable hearing(s) that will follow.

Commercial Market Assessment for Crew and Cargo Systems Pursuant to Section 403 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267)

"NASA believes that the projections described in this report are more than sufficient to justify Government support for the development and demonstration of commercial cargo and crew systems, especially considering that the U.S. Government has a demonstrated need for commercial cargo and crew transportation to/from the ISS."

Report of the FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Workshop, FAA (reference - 2010)

Meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), OSTP

"PRIMARY TOPICS: ... National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Research ... KEY SPEAKERS: Charles Bolden, Administrator, NASA"

Heavy Lift Rocket Standoff on Capitol Hill

"Although Bolden often tosses out a laundry list of places NASA could go (asteroids, Moon, Mars etc.) none of these destinations is firmly anchored in a real plan that is being implemented. Add in funding uncertainties and NASA is not likely to make its mind up any time soon."

AIP FYI Number 53: May 6, 2011 House and Senate Authorizers Skeptical About Implementation of NASA Legislation

"Hearings before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics revealed considerable skepticism about NASA's realigned human spaceflight program. At both March hearings there were bipartisan complaints that the Administration disregarded key provisions of the NASA reauthorization act in the formulation of the FY 2012 budget request, and doubts that the Administration was committed to fully implementing this legislation. The tone of these hearings was different from that of House and Senate appropriations hearings. While appropriators doubted that a crew capsule and heavy lift launch vehicle would be delivered on time, and questioned the degree to which Constellation hardware was being employed in the new configuration, the mood at the House and Senate hearings was generally positive and low key."

Who broke Obama's $40 million promise to Space Coast?

"Today, we explore the anatomy of a broken promise -- a political promise and an economic one. After months of task force meetings, project pitches and reports to the White House, the $40 million that President Obama pledged last summer for Space Coast job and business development has disappeared from budget plans. So who broke the president's promise?"



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