Space Access Update #119 9/20/10
Copyright 2010 by Space Access Society
Contents This Issue:
- Status Report on the NASA Funding Battle
- A Friend Asks For Help
Status Report on the NASA Funding Battle
We hand-edited a brief status update onto the top of our main webpage last Monday 9/13; our apologies to anyone who may have missed it because we couldn't mail it out as well. We were on the road and without our usual web and mail tools. (That report is now archived as http://www.space-access.org/updates/bulletin091310.html.)
A week later, the news is basically the same: For the second week in a row, HR.5781 is not on the House calendar for the week (see the September 20th "Weekly Leader" posted at http://www.majorityleader.gov/calendar/.) We understand that, at least in part due to a significant number of constituent calls, the House leadership is aware that a lot of people don't like HR.5781, and probably (no guarantees, of course) won't put the bill in its current form up for a vote this session. Press reports indicate that negotiations between House and Senate NASA Authorizers continue, with the outcome (if any) now more likely to be based on the Senate bill. So, we've made progress - to everyone who made a call, thanks!
But the fight on this NASA Authorization is not over. We have quite a bit more information now than we did a week ago - here's our current understanding, plus some thoughts on what might come next.
As mentioned, an unmodified HR.5781 coming up for a floor vote is technically possible, but seems very unlikely. (If it does happen, we will of course oppose it, and it could come with very short notice. Stay tuned.)
We see a compromise between Senate and House versions as moderately unlikely. All the peripheral differences look negotiable, but the central difference between Senate and House bills is large, and recent press reports are that Senator Nelson and Representative Gordon could reach no agreement last week. (See http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20100920/NEWS02/9200306/1006/NEWS01/NASA+advocates+pushing+Congress.)
That central difference: The Senate wants to fund a NASA Heavy Lift Vehicle based on Shuttle components (but allows NASA to ditch Shuttle components if not "practicable") while supporting development of Commercial Crew to Station. The House Science Committee wants to effectively kill Commercial Crew in favor of a NASA-developed Station transport mandated to look very much like Ares 1/Orion, with something very much like the Ares 5 HLV to follow. The Senate strongly recommends keeping a lot of the existing Shuttle establishment on the payroll but doesn't insist on it, while the House Committee insists. The Senate sees the necessity of betting on US commercial launch providers, but the House Committee refuses to. At known (astronomical) NASA in-house rocket development costs, there certainly isn't enough money to do both.
There probably isn't enough money to actually do the House version rockets at all even without a compromise, as we've noted previously. The House bill total for their Ares/Orion look-alikes is considerably less than the amount the Augustine Commission said was already inadequate for NASA to do the original Ares/Orion. The Senate HLV, on the other hand, has a built-in fallback position: If using Shuttle components turns out not "practicable" within the $11.5 billion planned over five years, the project could be put out to commercial bid. Elon Musk made a point over the summer of mentioning that SpaceX could develop an HLV for $2 billion (if someone wanted one.) ULA hasn't been that specific, but we understand they wouldn't need anything near $11.5 billion either.
If a compromise bill does emerge, it will probably be a mess. If such a compromise includes House "poison-pill" language that holds US commercial providers to higher standards than Russian providers or than NASA itself (keeping in mind NASA's long-time habit of waiving its standards for itself whenever they prove too difficult to meet) we will certainly oppose it. We may also oppose such a compromise on the basis of funding specifics, but we'd have to see those specifics before deciding that. We're already not happy with how far the Senate version cuts commercial Station access and various Space and Exploration R&D items, for what it's worth.
Another thing that could happen is, nothing - no final NASA Authorization bill before Congress breaks for the upcoming elections. This seems fairly likely at the moment (but is no sure thing.) If there is no Authorization, our next focus will probably be the Appropriations process. More on that when we know more.
One last thing that could happen: The House backers of HR.5781 might see they're playing a bad hand, fold, and accept the Senate version (or something close enough to it in the essential details.) At that point, we declare victory, take a few days off, then commence working to get the various pieces of the new plan implemented sensibly. Here's hoping!
The House is currently still scheduled to be in session through Friday October 8th, but word is they'd like to adjourn a week earlier than that to get some more campaigning time in. That would wind this session up by the end of next week, at which point much of what we've discussed here should be resolved one way or another. Stay tuned - if anything interesting happens in the next two weeks, it could happen fast.
A Friend Asks For Help
We generally avoid taking partisan positions, as tending to be a distraction from our overall goal of cheap access. We will occasionally mention partisan matters that are actually relevant to our goals. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R CA) is a long-time member of the House Science Committee who on space matters over the years has pushed in what we think is the right direction considerably more often than not. Notably so in this year's NASA funding fight, where he's been on the correct side of some very muddled party lines, standing up for sound NASA policy over local partisan pork.
We understand he's interested in becoming Chair of the Science Committee in the event the Republicans become the majority party in the House. We think that he would make a good Chairman for our purposes. He has a new website, http://www.techpatriots.com/, that is among other things concerned with helping him campaign for that post within his party. We're passing word along so that if you're so inclined, you can take a look and decide for yourself whether to help.
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