CRuSR Program Political Considerations

Some perspective on the CRuSR program funding controversy that I’ve picked up here at NewSpace 2010.

If you recall, the Administration proposed funding the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program at $15 million per year. The effort is designed to fund experiments on an emerging group of commercial vehicles being developed in the United States.However, Congress was not quite as enthused.

The original Senate bill cut the program all together. The House funding measure funded the program at $1 million per year for FY 2011 and 2012. Full funding has since been restored in modified versions of both bills.

The interesting aspect is why the program was initially cut. Several factors apparently combined to put the program in peril:

  • CRuSR was lumped in with other commercial ventures (e.g., crew) that were strongly opposed by some interests;
  • A need to protect jobs connected with existing sounding rocket programs, which are not as cost competitive with commercial reusable vehicles;
  • A feeling that astronauts should be at the forefront of all spaceflight, instead of private researchers;
  • Fear of what the effect would be on human spaceflight if there is a fatal accident on one of the private research flights.

Actually, this last fear is not really an immediate concern. From what I understand, NASA will initially fly automated experiments aboard the reusable vehicles. Researchers will not fly until performance, reliability and safety concerns are fully addressed.

Although the CRuSR funding has been restored, the budget process is far from over. So, there still could be a flight over the funding.