Rohrabacher: Space Launch System Makes No Sense

Rep. Dan Rohrabacher
Rep. Dan Rohrabacher

By Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
Vice Chairman,
House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

Although I strongly agree with much of the Committee’s Views and Estimates, there is one specific area on which I wish to state a different view, as I have done for the past few years.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

We have not yet received a budget request from the President for Fiscal Year 2014, and the previous request did not contain any real budget planning for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Commercial Crew remains our most critical near-term civil space goal. We currently rely on the Russians, who have been good partners, but the Soyuz provides the tremendous risk of a single point of failure. We must create redundancy and enable NASA to certify multiple, independent, sustainable systems that can bring people safely to orbit and return them to Earth.  In addition, the price the Russians are charging us continues to rise.

Calls to maintain the Commercial Crew funding at previous year’s levels fail to take into account the planned funding profile for this program. Every year that we underfund this program we make it more difficult and more costly for NASA to certify the safety of these systems for America’s astronauts. I know that some of my colleagues are skeptical of the ability of these commercial crew companies to meet the requirements of this program, but NASA’s technical experts are not.

Our Exploration program continues to be problematic, in that the funding is inadequate to the mission. The plan didn’t fit under the funding level anticipated by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267), and now that we have considerably less to work with we refuse to acknowledge reality. The single most important message of the Augustine Commission was that you cannot succeed when your mission does not match your funding.

We continue to hear that the SLS/MPCV system will serve as a back-up for Earth-to-orbit transportation in the unlikely event that none of the other systems in development are successful. Last year’s request for this “back-up system” was more than 300% of the appropriated level of the primary system. By acting on this type of faulty logic, we have created a national debt as large as our GDP and still our nation refuses to take its foot off the deficit spending accelerator. SLS is unaffordable, and with relatively modest expenditures on specific technology development, we do not need a heavy lift vehicle of that class to explore the Moon, Mars, or near-Earth asteroids.

NASA’s Space Technology development is a critical area to current and future missions.  New technologies are what drives new jobs and creates new industries.  Technology should be funded at a level sufficient to accomplish our top development priorities sooner rather than later.

For FY 2013, NASA requested nearly $1.8 billion for their Earth Science programs.  These programs should not be located at NASA, whose core and unique mission is exploring space.

  • getitdoneinspace

    At least there is one person in Congress who has a brain. I wish NASA would get all the funding they need for all their projects, but given any constraints on funding, SLS should be the first to go not the last. Commercial Space is where we will see a Moore’s type law take hold given an initial kick start of funding. Government space is unable to advance like that by design which has been demonstrated over the past several decades. NASA has advanced, but commercial will add a significant multiplier effect which is already being revealed and is accelerating as more players enter the fold..To the rest of Congress, please find your brains and concentrate on setting correct priorities matching budget to those priorities, and take a break from designing your own rockets…

  • Robert Gishubl

    Only too true, SLS/Orion is way too expensive for what it offers, and the sooner it is scrapped and the money spent on projects with a real purpose the better such as comercial crew and science.
    COTS and CCDev have proven the concept that private public partnerships work to deliver great value to both parties. This model should be followed for future needs such as re-usable launch systems, fuel depots, deep space habitat modules, propolsion modules, etc.
    As an example look at the launch order book SpaceX has developed as a result of proving the rocket under NASA contract. This is billions in launch fees that would have gone to Russian or European launch providers if not for the combination of SpaceX inovation and NASA purchase of initial flights. This generates revenue for government in income and other taxes as well as reduced social wealfare payments offsetting what was spent on COTS. SLS/Orion is just a black hole that has no prospect of generating anywhere near the return of COTS/CCDev etc.

  • even if it does fly, you still win