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Just as everyone is wondering how much Ares I would cost, the same questions are being asked about commercial crew. The House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics released a letter from the Aerospace Corporation at yesterday's hearing expounding on Aerospace's role in assisting the Augustine Committee with its estimates of the cost for commercial crew capabilities.
The letter responds to questions posed by subcommittee chair Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). In the letter, Aerospace stresses that the Augustine Committee hired it to "provide technical analyses as directed" and "We acknowledge that the Committee received information not known to Aerospace." The 12-page response does not answer the question of how much commercial crew would cost, but illuminates the level of uncertainty.
The Augustine Committee report is often quoted as concluding that the cost to NASA of commercial crew would be about $5 billion. That figure is based on a $3 billion estimate by the committee of what it thought NASA would have to provide as an incentive to the private sector, but does not reflect the additional private capital that it expected to be provided by the companies themselves. Aerospace adjusted the committee's estimate upward to $5 billion by adding $400 million for a demonstrator flight and minor modifications to an existing launch vehicle and then applying "historical cost growth" as it did for other estimates for NASA developments, according to the letter. However, Aerospace was not asked to validate the committee's $3 billion figure, on which the higher estimate is based: "In fact, no verification could be performed given the Committee's statement that this dollar amount was simply NASA's portion of the total cost." Aerospace said that to its knowledge the $3 billion "did not include all ground support/infrastructure costs."
The upshot of the Aerospace letter is that although it has a reputation for providing solid, independent cost estimates, that was not its role in this case. The Augustine Committee was focused on macro-level questions, the letter says, and instructed Aerospace as to what analysis it wanted performed, which Aerospace completed on a compressed timeline. Aerospace representatives stressed that point repeatedly during public meetings of the Augustine committee: "...[O]ur only caveat was that these analyses were directed and developed to be used as guideposts for comparison among options. We do not claim them to be traditional independent analyses of all the elements of each program."
Cost is at the heart of the issue over the Ares I launch vehicle and its Orion spacecraft versus commercial crew. If anyone wants to have an informed debate about the profound questions being posed about the future of the human space flight program, then publicly available, credible estimates for both Ares I and commercial crew are a sine qua non.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday will be held tomorrow morning, Friday, March 26, at 9:00 am, instead. Witnesses include Gen. Kevin Chilton, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Adm. Robert Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. Walter Sharp, Commander of United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea. Room 216 Hart Senate Office Building.
At a House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing today, A. Thomas Young, Lockheed Martin (retired), described the proposal to turn over crew transportation to low Earth orbit (LEO) a "colossal mistake" and said that "a commercial crew option should not be approved."
The hearing was called to discuss President Obama's proposed changes to NASA's exploration program, particularly the cancellation of the Constellation Program, which includes development of a new crew transportation system to replace the Space Shuttle for taking crews to LEO. That system would be comprised of the Ares I launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft.
Mr. Young, an industry legend who often chairs blue ribbon studies on civil and national security space programs and the problems that bedevil them, said he believed that neither continuing to fly the Shuttle nor relying on the Russian Soyuz system for the duration of the "Shuttle-gap" provided a long-term solution. A U.S. indigenous human space flight capability is needed, and the Ares I/Orion is the program of choice in his view. Commercial crew, he stressed, is "not ready" and would mean decades without a U.S. capability to launch people into space.
Most members of the subcommittee were clearly in favor of continuing the Constellation program, but Representative Rohrabacher (R-CA) is strongly in favor of President Obama's decision to rely on commercial crew. Rep. Rohrabacher said he believed it would be better to "go with commercial" rather than continue to rely on a government agency. He made the analogy with the early railroad and airplane industries and said that turning LEO flights over to the commercial space sector at this juncture would put the country on "the verge of a huge step forward into space."
Mr. Young reiterated that he was "strongly against commercial crew," but that his issues were not with industry, but with the assumption that industry can succeed on its own: "industry is not constituted to carry out these things by itself." A more responsible path forward would be a government-industry partnership featuring the "integration of capabilities" that NASA and industry each possess, he added. He reviewed the problems experienced by the national security space sector in the 1990s when a management approach called Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR) was instituted where the government told its program managers to "back off" and let industry manage the programs. The result, he said, was a series of programs for which, on average, "we are getting half the program content for twice the cost, 6 years late." To be successful, one needs the "expertise of NASA and the implementation capability of industry," he stressed.
Doug Cooke, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems, answered a bevy of questions about whether NASA is observing the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prohibits NASA from cancelling the Constellation program until Congress approves such action in a future appropriations act. He assured the subcommittee that NASA is not cancelling any contracts, although it is withdrawing requests for proposals for future work on the program. Subcommittee chair Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) stressed that Mr. Cooke was there to answer questions about NASA's new plan, but that he was not the architect of it.
A critical question that emerged from yesterday's hearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and today's is what are the expected costs of the Ares I program. At yesterday's hearing, NASA Administrator Bolden said that he was told the annual cost of the program was $4-4.5 billion and a single launch was $1.6 billion. Today, Mr. Cooke said that the most recent estimate he had of the "marginal cost" of an Ares I flight was $176 million. To some extent the difference between $176 million and $1.6 billion per flight may be between the marginal cost (how much it would cost to add one more launch) versus the full cost of a mission (the annual cost of the program divided by the number of flights), but there is little information available in the public record as to the origin of those figures or the estimated $4-4.5 billion annual cost of the Ares I program cited by Gen. Bolden.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be available soon. A webcast is available on the committee's website.
Responding to a letter from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, Norm Augustine clarified that canceling the Constellation program was not specifically one of the options his committee put forward last year. Mr. Augustine chaired a blue-ribbon committee established by NASA at the request of the White House to provide options for the human space flight program. The exchange of letters was made public by Rep. Wolf's office today.
Mr. Augustine stressed that his committee was asked to develop options, not recommendations, and that the President's proposal to cancel Constellation came closest the committee's option 5B.
"As to the second matter you posed, the program contained in the FY11 et seq. federal budget was not one of the specific options contained in our panel's report. It perhaps most closely approximates Option 5B; however, the difference in available funding, even though increased relative to the prior budget plan, obviously has to be considered. It could be argued that were one to decide to terminate the Ares I development (as is the case in Option 5B), and with the not unimportant exception of its impact on the Orion effort, that action is tantamount to canceling the entire Constellation program in its present form since work has barely begun on the Ares V and the Altair."
At the time the President's proposal to cancel Constellation was announced, the White House posted a letter from Mr. Augustine on the OSTP website that was similarly careful in its language, but was viewed by many as supporting the decision.
UPDATE: The new date for the hearing is April 22 at 10:00 am.
ORIGINAL STORY: Word is that the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee hearing on NASA that was scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) has been postponed.
An analysis of the Department of Defense (DOD) FY2011 budget request by Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation and Samuel Black of the Stimson Center concludes that funding for space situation awareness would increase, while counterspace and space control programs would decrease, if Congress approves the request.
"The Air Force budget requests for several programs dedicated to improving space situation awareness add up to almost $900 million, an increase of roughly 70 percent from the estimated FY 10 budget of $530 million. Meanwhile, budgets for Counterspace and Space Control programs are projected to fall by roughly 50 percent each between FY 2010 and FY 2015."
The complete analysis with many pages of budget charts is available on the Secure World Foundation's website.
Britan's new space agency, U.K. Space Agency (UKSA), will formally open its doors on April 1, according to the BBC. The report says that "Its establishment should bring more coherence to space policy - something critics say has been missing for years."
The BBC noted that creation of the agency is in response to a report from industry and academia, the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (Space-IGS), that made recommendations last month on how to increase Britain's share of the global market in space products and services. The government reportedly plans to adopt many of the Space-IGS recommendations, but not the one calling on the United Kingdom to double its spending on European Space Agency (ESA) programs over the next decade and "initiate and lead at least three missions between now and 2030." Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said that the goverment could not make such commitments at this time.
At a hearing before the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee this afternoon, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said that he knows of only one Member of Congress who supports President Obama's new plan for NASA. He did not identify who that is, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has publicly praised the President's plan to rely on commercial space companies for human trips to low Earth orbit.
As has been true in other congressional hearings on NASA's budget request, the vast majority of questions to NASA Administrator Bolden were about the decision to cancel the Constellation program. Brief mention was made of the $6 billion increase to the NASA budget over 5 years that is projected in the budget request, and there were a couple of questions about space science and aeronautics research, but Constellation and the future of the human space flight program dominated the hearing.
Several members asked about the costs associated with the Ares I and Ares 5 programs, some taking issue with what the Augustine Committee and NASA are now saying. Administrator Bolden said the Ares 1 would cost $4-4.5 billion per year to operate. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) held up a piece of paper that from his description appeared to be a response from NASA last year about how much an Ares 1 launch would cost. He said the answer was $1.3 billion for three flights per year. By contrast, Gen. Bolden said that when he asked how much it would cost for a single Ares 1 launch, he was told $1.6 billion, and that the annual operating costs would be $4-4.5 billion. He promised the Congressman an answer for the record explaining the discrepancies.
Extensive discussion about when a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) would be available permeated the hearing. Gen. Bolden said that he hoped one could be available in 10 years or so.
In answer to questions from subcommittee chairman Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Gen. Bolden repeated his answer at other congressional hearings that the destination for human space flight is the Moon and Mars, but he could not put a date on when there would be human trips to Mars. He insisted that the United States is the leader in human space flight and will remain the leader through the International Space Station program. He also assured Chairman Mollohan that he was complying with language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropropriations Act not to cancel any aspect of the Constellation program until Congress takes further action in a subsequent appropriations bill.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up-to-date information. All meetings are in Washington, DC and all times are EDT unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, March 23
Wednesday, March 24
Thursday, March 25
The Senate had a busy day today, so the Senate hearing on assessing commercial space capabilities was both delayed and interrupted by votes on the floor, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was the only Senator present except for a brief visit by Senator Hutchison (R-TX) to read an opening statement. The prepared testimony of the seven witnesses and the webcast of the hearing are on the committee's website.
Senator Nelson again said that the biggest problem with NASA's new plan for human space flight is the way it was rolled out, and reiterated that President Obama is a strong supporter of human space flight, which he will make clear at his April 15 "space conference" at Kennedy Space Center. The Senator revealed that he is trying to convince the President to launch one more shuttle mission beyond the four remaining on the manifest. NASA will have a "launch on need" mission ready to go in case any problems develop with the last mission and Senator Nelson wants to see that one launched regardless of whether it is needed as a rescue flight. As for more shuttle flights beyond that, he seems convinced that the time has passed for trying to extend the shuttle. As others have stated, it would take two to two-and-a-half years to ready another External Tank, so a gap between the shuttle and whatever comes after it is inevitable.
In her brief appearance, Senator Hutchison spoke about her bill (S. 3068), which would extend the shuttle. She emphasized the need to assure that the United States can send its own astronauts into space rather than relying on the Russians, and that the commercial sector needs time to prove its capabilities.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stuck to the company's guns that SpaceX could launch astronauts to the space station within three years of getting a contract to do so. Michael Gass of United Launch Alliance and Frank Culbertson of Orbital Sciences were a little more reserved. Gass said that that four years is achievable for a human flight (three years for an uncrewed test flight). Culbertson declined to give a firm estimate, emphasizing that his company has not yet seen the requirements it will have to meet. He said it could be three to four years, or even five.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be available soon.
Events of Interest
- Satellite 2014, March 10-13, 2014, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
- Space Policy & History Forum Featuring Anatoly Zak on Russia's Space Program, March 10, 2014, National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC (RSVP is REQUIRED in advance to enter this area of the museum), 4:00 pm ET
- Soyuz TMA-10M landing, March 10, 2014, Kazakhstan, 11:24 pm ET (NASA TV landing coverage begins at 10:15 pm ET)
- WSBR Silent Auction and Luncheon Featuring Tom Ingersoll, Skybox Imaging, March 11, 2014, Washington Convention Center (in conjunction with Satellite 2014), 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- ISU-DC Space Café Featuring Avascent's Royce Dalby, March 11, 2014, The Science Club, Washington, DC, 7:00 pm ET
- NAC Planetary Sci Sbcmte, March 12, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm ET
- SASC Hrg on Military Space Programs, March 12, 2014, 222 Russell Senate Office Building, 2:30 pm ET
- House Approps Defense Sbcmte Hrg on FY2015 DOD Budget Req, March 13, 2014, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am ET
- HASC Hrg on FY2015 Budget Request for the Air Force, March 14, 2014, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building, 9:00 am ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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