Contents This Issue:
Commercial Crew Funding
– Deeper Background?
– Opposition Overreach
Major Problem With Proposed New ITAR Rules
Commercial Crew Funding
– Deeper Background RSN
Since this latest Commercial Crew funding fight started a few weeks back, we’ve been skimping on context. Those of you less than totally immersed in all this might not have ended up with a completely clear picture of what we think is really going on, or why we think it matters so much. We’ve been rushed. Our apologies.
We’re working on fixing this, but it’s taking a while – the roots of the current situation go back over fifty years, while the politics are complex and too often deliberately obfuscated. It’s not an easy situation to sum up at any reasonable length, but we’re getting there. Look for an extended backgrounder digging into some of the subtler historical/strategic aspects of all this in our next Update.
In the meantime, there’s a good overview of the current Commercial Crew situation at The Space Review, and a quick look at some of the Senate Appropriators’ more arcane NASA account-shuffling at SpacePolicyOnline.com.
Short version: Keep working your Senators and Representative to support full funding for Commercial Crew over the summer. It’s unclear at this point when, or how, the Commerce Justice Science (NASA) Appropriations bill will progress to its final version, but whenever the process resumes, the more supporters the better.
– Opposition Overreach
Before we move on for now, though, something interesting is happening. The opposition to Commercial Crew (essentially the Congressional coalition that favors the old-school-NASA “Space Launch System” heavy booster and Orion crew capsule, SLS/Orion) has been getting less and less subtle about it over the last year. (More on why we think they’re acting this way in our next Update.)
The latest examples of this include obvious, trivially refutable misstatements about Commercial Crew in a Senate Appropriations Committee Report, plus a legislative attempt to legally bind NASA to use SLS and only SLS for any human flights beyond low Earth orbit ever.
Overstated Commercial Crew Costs
Background: Appropriations (funding) bills often have Committee Reports attached, explaining just what the Appropriators have in mind on points where they care to explain. The House Appropriations Committee simply cut NASA’s 2016 Commercial Crew Program request by 20% without explaining.
But when the Senate Appropriators cut the NASA Commercial Crew request by 28%, they tried to explain themselves. The results don’t stand up well to close examination.
In that Committee Report, pages 104 & 105, they state about Commercial Crew: “At the end of this final round of vehicle development and testing of this capability, NASA will have paid a total of $8,700,000,000 to conduct a competition between several companies. This substantial investment from the Federal Government comes prior to NASA purchasing future crew services for the ISS from these domestic providers.”
This is (bending over backwards to be charitable) incorrect. They get to that $8.7 billion only by including $3.4 billion worth of contractual options for a dozen operational crew delivery flights, flights that will take place only after development and testing are finished.
The actual figure for the entire Commercial Crew development and test program, culminating in four full-system flight tests from Boeing and SpaceX (the final two tests carrying crew to Station) is $5.3 billion.
Further, $2.7 billion of this is already spent, so we’re actually down to $2.6 billion from here to where they’re ready for commercial operations. Moreover, this is all on fixed-price milestone contracts; Boeing and SpaceX deliver or they don’t get paid.
SLS/Orion Equivalent Costs
To put this in perspective, the equivalent cost for our opposition’s preferred SLS/Orion booster/capsule program, through first SLS/Orion crewed test flight in 2021, runs somewhere between $35 billion and $42 billion, by our estimate.
Admittedly, SLS/Orion program costs are hard to pin down – probably deliberately so. (The Government Accountability Office in fact blasted NASA last year for obfuscating the likely costs.) We base our estimate on the GAO estimate of $19-22 billion from that same report, but we add two things they left out:
– The GAO estimate included Orion crew capsule costs through first crewed flight in 2021 at $8.5-10.3 billion. But they only estimated cost through 2017 for the SLS booster plus ground-systems, at $10.5-11.7 billion. This leaves out SLS and ground-systems program costs from 2018 through 2021 (including the cost of the second SLS flight vehicle plus a new-design upper stage.)
SLS and Ground System program costs are currently running at $2 billion a year. We assume for 2018-2021 they will run somewhere between $1.5-2.5 billion a year, for an additional $6-10 billion, bringing SLS/Orion costs through first crewed flight to $25-32 billion.
– Realistic SLS/Orion total costs should also include some of the billions spent on their direct ancestors, the Ares booster and CEV capsule from the defunct Constellation “Apollo On Steroids” program. (SLS uses major elements of the Ares V’s design, while Orion is simply CEV renamed.)
The above-referenced GAO story states $4.7 billion was spent on CEV under Constellation. SLS-attributable Ares booster system costs are harder to come up with, as NASA really played obfuscation games with those. But NASA spent $13.7 billion on Constellation overall from 2007 through 2010. Subtracting the $4.7 billion spent on CEV leaves $9 billion for everything else, the majority of which would have gone to Ares. It seems reasonably conservative to assume something in the neighborhood of $5 billion of that went to Ares work traceable to SLS.
So, we estimate an (arguable) additional $10 billion in Constellation costs traceable to SLS/Orion, to come up with our overall SLS/Orion cost-to-first-crewed-flight estimate of $35-42 billion. (We’ve been somewhat conservative, and would not be surprised to see the actual total exceed this if as seems likely SLS/Orion run into further technical issues and delays.)
If we divide the entire Commercial Crew program development budget of $5.3 billion by two, we get a cost per tested commercial booster/crew-capsule system of $2.65 billion. That’s one-fifteenth the probable SLS/Orion development cost. True, SLS/Orion is several times larger than either Commercial Crew system – but that size is supposed to bring economies of scale. (Rocket costs typically scale far more strongly with parts count than with size.) Twice, even three times the cost might be reasonable. At fifteen times the cost, something’s very wrong.
The Senate CJS Appropriations Report then goes on to argue for their Commercial Crew funding cuts. They claim that NASA’s current negotiation for more Soyuz crew flights to Station in 2018 (there’s a three-year lead-time for ordering Soyuz flights) contradicts what they (incorrectly) assert that NASA has promised:
“..the Committee notes NASA has consistently stated that domestically launched crew transportation capabilities will be ready [by 2018]…”
They leave out NASA’s consistent qualifier to this promise: Ready by 2018, IF Congress funds the program as requested. Which Congress never has done till now, and gives every sign of not doing this year either.
Given that this Congressional faction has been slow-rolling Commercial Crew from the start and is getting ready to do so again this year, NASA would be derelict in their duty if they weren’t negotiating for some three-year lead-time 2018 Soyuz seats. If they could be sure of the funding, they wouldn’t have to negotiate for the seats. Citing that negotiation as evidence that Commercial Crew funding should be cut is classic Catch-22 logic.
Poison Pill II
Finally, we recently came across an interesting little grenade tucked away in HR 2262, the SPACE Act. This bill is mostly useful commercial-space related stuff, but in the section titled “Space Launch System Update”, pages 26-28, it amends an existing law, USC 51-70102, to say:
“It shall be the policy of the United States to use the Space Launch System for purposes that require a human presence directly to cis-lunar space and the regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit.”
(USC 51-701 is currently about Shuttle utilization policy. Even without this particular Easter Egg, substituting “SLS” for “Shuttle” in it may not be such a good idea.)
In other words, should this get past the Senate unamended then get signed, if NASA ever wants to send people beyond LEO, it must use SLS. This strikes us as an obvious attempt to derail all the superior (cheaper, simpler, faster) alternatives to SLS for building a deep space exploration program. It’s incredibly bad policy. It needs to be fixed.
Major Problem With Proposed New ITAR Rules
The US State Department on June 3rd posted proposed changes to the ITAR (International Traffic in Armaments Regulations) rules that they enforce.
The official purpose of ITAR is to control export from the US of militarily useful technologies.
ITAR’s definitions of militarily useful technologies are quite broad, and often have ill-defined boundaries, considerable overlap with current civilian commercial technologies, or both.
The actual effects of ITAR have already included a great deal of inconvenience and expense for US companies working in relevant technical fields, and considerable damage to US hi-tech commercial exports. ITAR has also caused ongoing uncertainty for US persons involved in discussing related technologies on the internet, as the current regulations leave ambiguous whether ITAR-exempt “public domain” (defined as “published”) information includes information posted on the internet.
(ITAR does contain an exemption for amateur hobby rocketry, but the top end of the exemption stops at unguided “high power” rockets using commercially packaged motors, falling well short of much that’s actually going on in current amateur rocketry, let alone at various entrepreneurial startup rocket companies.)
The proposed changes are in 14 pages of small-print .pdf posted online here.
The key changes we see:
– “Public Domain” would be officially expanded to include information “published” on the internet, and “public domain” information would continue to be exempt from ITAR. This is good, and long overdue.
– However, “public domain” would no longer be defined as all information that has been “published” – it would only include information that has been “published” with specific authorization from the US government. This would greatly increase the uncertainties involved in public discussion of numerous technologies (including rocketry) in any medium – print, internet, conference presentations, you name it.
In essence, this rules change could be used to designate any information arguably defense-related as export-controlled unless the government has already specifically authorized publication. Everything not explicitly authorized is potentially forbidden. Discussing your routine business in public could become a federal felony at the whim of some bureaucrat.
The official period for public comment on the proposed changes runs 60 days from the announcement – by our reckoning through this August 2nd. Comments can be submitted by the following methods:
• Email: DDTCPublicComments@state.gov with the subject line, ‘‘ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.’’
• Internet: At www.regulations.gov,search for the notice by using the proposed new rule’s RIN (1400–AD70).
All comments will be published, along with any identifying information supplied. Anonymous comments can be made by going to the www.regulations.gov site, leaving all ID fields blank, and not including any identifying information in the comment.
We strongly recommend that individuals and companies, working in any field that might conceivably be designated as militarily useful, study up on this and get their comments in before August.
Space Access Society’s sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of space transportation. You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. You may reproduce selected portions of this Update if you credit this Space Access Update as the source and include a pointer to our website.
“Reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System”
– Robert A. Heinlein