Will the National Space Council Make a Difference at NASA?

Artist concept of the Block I configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS Program has completed its critical design review, and the program has concluded that the core stage of the rocket will remain orange along with the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter, which is the natural color of the insulation that will cover those elements. (Credit: NASA)

Warren Ferster Consulting asks whether the newly revived National Space Council will make much of a difference at NASA, whose human deep space programs are dependent upon the Congressionally supported Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

Some have suggested that, with a space council chaired by Vice President Mike Pence cracking the whip, the full potential of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can be brought to bear in support of the nation’s space goals. The implication is this hasn’t happened to date, which is puzzling since leveraging commercial capabilities to support the International Space Station was the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s space policy.

Obama was challenged in that effort not by the lack of a National Space Council, but by Capitol Hill, where key lawmakers viewed his outsourcing initiative as a threat to the pet program that they mandated, the decidedly uncommercial Space Launch System.

The super-heavy-lift SLS is exhibit A of the argument that getting the Executive Branch speaking with one voice on space policy, while sensible, won’t matter a great deal if Congress has a different agenda.

To recap, Obama’s human spaceflight policy was to outsource ISS crew and cargo transportation and invest in technologies with the potential to change the economics of deep space exploration. To make budgetary room, Obama canceled Constellation, a collection of hardware development programs begun under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The article notes that Bush got bipartisan approval from Congress for the Constellation program without a National Space Council. The program included Orion and two space shuttle-derived Ares boosters for human orbital and deep-space missions.

Obama subsequently canceled the Constellation program, only to have Congress revive the program as SLS and Orion. Only the smaller Ares orbital booster was canceled.

Why the Space Leadership Preservation Act is Necessary

Capitol Building
By House Science Committee Republicans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing on The Space Leadership Preservation Act and the need for stability at NASA. The hearing featured input from former astronaut and first female Space Shuttle pilot and commander, Eileen Collins, former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, and Rep. John Culberson, author of the Space Leadership Preservation Act.

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Palazzo Vision: SLS and Orion…Now and Forever More

SLS_on_pad
Continuing our look at the House’s spending plan for NASA, this edition of “Palazzo Vision: $3 Billion is Not Enough” examines provisions that would prevent NASA from ever canceling the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion without prior Congressional approval while immediately freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars more to spend on the two programs.

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Bolden: 60 Minutes Segment on Space Coast Missed Key Points, Progress

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

By Charles Bolden
NASA Administrator

On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a story that captured some of what the space shuttle era meant to Florida’s Space Coast. Unfortunately, the piece also missed an awful lot of important context about the end of that era and where we’re headed from here.

As a former shuttle astronaut and the Administrator of NASA, nobody has higher regard for the incredible men and women who worked on the Space Shuttle Program. And I certainly understand that for some of those men and women, this transitional period will not be easy.

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NASA IG’s Letter on Constellation Funding

The NASA Office of Inspector General sent a letter to Congress today that lays out the issues facing the space agency as it continues to operate under its 2010 budget. Some key excerpts follow, with the full letter reproduced after the break:

We write this letter to highlight a situation at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that we believe requires immediate action by Congress. Due to restrictive language in NASA’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriation,2 coupled with the fact that NASA and the rest of the Federal Government are currently being funded by a continuing resolution (CR) that carries over these restrictions and prohibits initiation of new projects, NASA is continuing to spend approximately $200 million each month on the Constellation Program, aspects of which both NASA and Congress have agreed not to build. Without congressional intervention, by the end of February 2011 NASA anticipates spending up to $215 million on Constellation projects that, absent the restrictive appropriations language, it would have considered canceling or significantly scaling back. Moreover, by the end of FY 2011 that figure could grow to more than $575 million if NASA is required to continue operating under the current constraints and is unable to move beyond the planning stages for its new Space Exploration program….

In sum, it appears that NASA has taken steps to concentrate its spending on those aspects of the Constellation Program it believes may have future applicability, and that these efforts have helped reduce the potential inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. However, based on what we have learned from Agency officials, as NASA moves closer to making final decisions regarding how best to move forward in designing and building the next generation space system, it will become increasingly more difficult for the Agency to continue to juggle the inconsistent mandates of the Authorization Act and the appropriations legislation so as to avoid wasting taxpayer funds. As one senior NASA official described it, “There’s a point coming up soon where we would just be spending money to spend money.”

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NASA OIG to Congress: Here’s What Your CR is Costing Taxpayers

Source: Constellation Program Managers

* NASA officials noted that even if they had complete freedom to stop spending on these aspects of the Constellation Program, they still would need to expend some amount of money for infrastructure and personnel costs to maintain program readiness. The officials did not provide a breakdown of these costs.


The NASA Office of Inspector General sent a letter to Congress today outlining how the space agency must spend money on programs it is canceling due to the inability of the legislature to pass a budget on time. NASA is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) until Congress passes its appropriations bill in March.

Utah Congressional Delegation Tells Bolden, Garver: Don’t Frak Over ATK!

SEN. ORRIN HATCH PRESS RELEASE
Nov. 18, 2010

Members of the Utah congressional delegation met today with NASA officials at Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office to press the space agency to fully implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

Hatch, Sen. Bob Bennett and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jim Matheson met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver to ensure that they are on board with complying with the law, which outlines payload requirements for a heavy-lift space system that, experts agree, can only be realistically met by solid rocket motors like the ones ATK manufactures in northern Utah.

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ATK: Ares Solid Rocket Motor Ready for Flight Testing

ATK PRESS RELEASE

Data from the second successful five segment Development Motor (DM-2) test conducted by ATK and NASA show that the new motor performed precisely as designed, providing substantially higher performance and reliability than the heritage space shuttle solid rocket booster at a lower cost.

“These extensive test results confirm the ATK five segment Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) is ready for flight testing,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of Space Launch Systems, ATK Aerospace Systems.  “The five-segment first stage design was based on more than 30 years of safety-driven improvements on the shuttle program. The result is a higher performing, more reliable solid rocket motor, which equates to increased safety for crew and mission success for cargo.”

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Space Workers Laid Off as NASA Picks New Direction, Winds Down Shuttle Program

Space shuttle Atlantis lands on runway 33 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility concluding the STS-129 mission. Photo credit: NASA Jack Pfaller

Layoffs began last week at key NASA centers and contractors as a result of multiple factors. Some related to the wind down of the space shuttle program. Others resulted from Congressional action that will transition the space agency away from the Constellation program. A smaller number involved NASA budget reductions to one center.

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Wayne Hale: VSE Was a Giant Sand Castle

In a post on his blog, retired Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale has revealed what most of us have long suspected: the Vision for Space Exploration — George W. Bush’s grand plan to send Americans to the moon, Mars and beyond — was built of sand on sand by people with their heads in the sand. And, needless to say, it washed away with the first high tide.

Appalling? Yes. Surprising? Not at all.
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Frustration in Utah as House Delays NASA Funding Vote

No ATK vote upsets Bishop / Lawmaker: Congress needs to get moving to save jobs
Standard Examiner

A frustrated Rep. Rob Bishop left Washington, D.C., for Utah on Friday afternoon, taking time only to call the Standard-Examiner from the airport and lambaste House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not holding a vote on a bill he thinks is the best compromise yet to save jobs at ATK Space Systems.

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Aerojet Continues Work on Orion Jettison Motor

NASA's Orion spacecraft

AEROJET PRESS RELEASE

Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, announced today that it successfully conducted a static firing of the third nozzle risk reduction motor in support of the Orion jettison motor, a critical component of the launch abort system (LAS) for NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle. This successful test firing validates several nozzle design changes implemented to enhance the safety and reliability of the jettison motor.

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Gas Generator Tests Completed on NASA J-2X Engine

A white-hot flame surrounded by red hot exhaust shoots from a recent test of the J-2X engine 'workhorse' gas generator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. The workhorse gas generator simulates the flow path inside the actual J-2X gas generator that powers the engine's turbo machinery. Credit: NASA

PRATT & WHITNEY ROCKETDYNE PRESS RELEASE

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully completed the latest round of tests on the workhorse gas generator for NASA’s J-2X rocket engine. With the first NASA J-2X engine far along in development, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is on track to begin testing in 2011 at Stennis Space Center. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) company.
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As Fate Hangs in the Balance, Lockheed Martin Continues Work on Orion

A production assembly crew lowers a full-scale Orion mockup onto the crew module holding structure during an assembly pathfinding maneuver at the Operations & Checkout Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: NASA

LOCKHEED MARTIN PRESS RELEASE

Preparations for Orion’s first mission in 2013 are well under way as a Lockheed Martin-led crew begins lean assembly pathfinding operations for the spacecraft. The crew is conducting simulated manufacturing and assembly operations with a full-scale Orion mockup to verify the tools, processes and spacecraft integration procedures work as expected.

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