Space Access Update #76  10/3/97 
                 Copyright 1997 by Space Access Society 

stories this issue: 

 - NASA FY'98 Appropriation Conference Results, Bantam News & Opinions 

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                    NASA Funding Conference Finished 
               Conference Report To Be Filed Real Soon Now 

The House and Senate finished thrashing out their differences on the 
FY'98 HUD/VA/Independent Agencies (NASA) Appropriations Bill for FY'98 
on Tuesday September 30th, just as well since FY'98 started Wednesday 
October 1st.  Actually, the resulting bill hasn't been filed yet as of 
this writing; as we understand how these things work, the staffers are 
still getting all the changes typed in.  This and other funding bills 
didn't quite make it in time; the US Federal government is currently 
operating under a "continuing resolution" that keeps the money flowing 
at last year's levels until all the FY'98 appropriations are ready, 
likely around the middle of this month.  Not bad given that the process 
has often stretched into late November in recent years. 

We do know a little bit about this NASA appropriation, even though it 
hasn't been filed yet.  We hear that the total came in at the higher 
House amount of $13.648 billion (versus the Senate's $13.5 billion), 
that $100 million of the added money went for Space Station overruns in 
addition to $130 million reallocated to Station from various other NASA 
accounts.  We hear there was no specific provision for "Future X" in 
this bill - any such spending this year will now have to come out of 
existing NASA technology funds, at the discretion of NASA HQ.  We don't 
anticipate any major "Future X" initiatives this year.  (No surprises on 
X-33 and X-34, by the way - both are funded as expected this year, to 
the best of our knowledge.) 

 - Bantam News 

We hear there was $20 million specifically set aside to continue the 
"Bantam" smallsat-launcher technology project, which by the way has 
apparently weathered the losing bidder protest we reported last Update.  
We understand this provision was pushed by Senator Shelby of Alabama, 
presumably related to the project being run by MSFC (NASA's Marshall 
Space Flight Center) in Huntsville.  

We've had a chance to consult various of our advisors on Bantam, and 
we've come to the conclusion that we disagree strongly with MSFC's 
current preferred approach, picking two winners then funding each to the 
tune of $40 million or so over the next couple years to build prototype 
lightsat launchers with a low ($1.5 million) per-mission cost goal. 

For one thing, the government shouldn't be in the business of picking 
winners; it's demonstrably lousy at doing this.  (MSFC's recent record 
leads us to predict any such final Bantam selection would be made on 
political rather than technical/financial grounds - specifically, we 
think Summa would win for their connection to one of the big two 
aerospace outfits and for bidding what MSFC wants to build, FasTrac 
engine and all, while we expect Aerojet's upgraded Aerobee sounding 
rocket would win the second slot for being the least threatening to the 
status quo.  But what do we know...) 

For another, there are a half-dozen or so non-Bantam-winner startup 
companys aiming at the lightsat launch market with a mix of reusable and 
expendable vehicles, all of whom can say to the government with 
considerable justification "don't fund my competitors." 

We think the way to encourage the new lightsat launcher companies on a 
level playing field is to put all future Bantam funding into forty or so 
$1.5 million launch vouchers, to be handed out to NASA small science 
satellite teams, these vouchers to be redeemable for cash only after the 
satellite in question has been successfuly placed in its proper orbit. 

This will provide an assured market all the startups can point to in 
their efforts to secure commercial development funding, rather than the 
government financing one or two politically-picked "winners" and scaring 
commercial investment away from the rest - what investor in his right 
mind wants to compete with the government? 

NASA will end up getting cheaper, more reliable lightsat launches from a 
wider variety of commercial sources if they *don't* try to pick winners.  
Fund succesful launches, not succesful lobbying efforts - put the Bantam 
funds into launch vouchers. 

And that's all for this week... 


 Space Access Society 

 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"
                                        - Robert Anson Heinlein