Commercial Space in Jeopardy – T Minus 18 Hours

Commercial Space in Jeopardy – T Minus 18 Hours

Urgent Action Needed to Obtain ‘NO’ Votes on the Pork-Laden House Bill

The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) called attention today to the latest battle taking place in the US House of Representatives that holds enormous implications for the future of spaceflight. In the next 18 hours, the House leadership will decide whether to allow a vote on the pork-laden House version of the NASA bill or instead pass the better Senate compromise. The SFF asks all commercial space supporters to contact their Congressman. Encourage them to vote ‘No’ on HR 5781 and allow a vote on the Senate version.

Uncle Sam Needs You

NewSpace Needs You

The House version of the bill, written by Chairman Bart Gordon, would cut NASA’s Commercial Crew Program by 95%. This reduces it to a collection of studies instead of real hardware. The House bill tries to fund the over-budget Ares I system, creating a government-subsidized competitor to the commercial sector. The decision on whether to allow a vote on the House bill will occur in less than 18 hours.

“Supporters of commercial space would like to see the funding level for commercial crew restored, and to tell the House to postpone the vote and instead pass the Senate version. The Senate version isn’t perfect either, but the House version is a disaster,” said  SFF Executive Director, William Watson“The House bill ignores all of the recommendations of the Augustine Committee and spends more money per year on buying Russian Soyuz seats than it does investing in America’s own commercial space sector. I urge all of our members to call their local Congressmen with 2 messages. First, ask your Congressmen to vote ‘No’ on the House bill HR 5781. Second, ask your Congressmen to request the Congressional leadership to allow a vote on the Senate version instead. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with the bad House version.”

A video calling for a No vote on the House bill has been circulating the web and inciting commercial space advocates to action. To further inform the NewSpace community, the SFF is providing the following summary of the House bill.

Summary of House Authorization Bill (HR 5781)

  • Keeps Ares I, Orion, and Heavy-Lift Without Providing Any Extra Money: The bill keeps all parts of the Constellation program and requires that a government-owned and operated system be built to fly astronauts to Low Earth Orbit by December 31, 2015. This system must leverage the existing Ares I and Orion assets, be as safe as the Ares-Orion system, and be able to evolve into a heavy lift vehicle by 2020.
  • Tries to Do Constellation With Half the Needed Budget: The bill authorizes about $4 billion a year for this program to build Ares I, Orion, and Heavy-Lift despite the Augustine Committee saying it would take $7-8 billion annually to do exactly that.  Moreover, the House bill effectively says ‘The NASA Administrator has 180 days to figure it out how to fit this in the budget.’ The House Authorizers are avoiding making any tough decisions and instead pass the buck to NASA.
  • Exploration Technology and Robotics Basically Canceled, and 21st Century Spaceport Cut: While the Office of the CTO Bobby Braun’s Space Technology Program is funded, the much larger Exploration Technology and Robotic Precursor programs are cut by 100% in the first two years, by 98% in the third year, 96% in the fourth year, and 95% in the fifth year.  The 21st Century Spaceport funding is cut by 80%.
  • Essentially Cancels Commercial Crew: Instead of being funded at $6 billion over 5 years as the President requested, commercial crew is funded at $250 million over 5 years, a 95% reduction, and the bill also institutes a vaguely defined $100 million per year loan guarantee program. The loan guarantee program would supposedly offer loans to commercial providers under a set of onerous restrictions, including requiring 25% private financing and ability to demonstrate full financing of the project.
  • Onerous Restrictions on Commercial: In addition to the virtual elimination of funding, several onerous restrictions are placed on commercial that may cause multi-year delays:
1. Safety restriction: NASA shall not award any contract to a commercial provider unless the predicted level of safety is equal to Ares-Orion. Since paper calculations of predicted safety are very easy to manipulate statistically, this restriction could be a serious problem.
2. Flight restriction: Commercial vehicles must fly 14 consecutive successful times (Category A certification) before services are purchased, despite Ares I being expected to fly only once before astronauts can go on board.
3. Liability restriction: NASA cannot issue an RFP for commercial crew until all issues related to liability and indemnification have been resolved and reported to Congress, which is an excuse for delay.
  • Misleading Description: The House Science Committee website contains a misleading statement that the bill contains over $4 billion for commercial spaceflight, when in fact that number includes the existing $3.5 billion for CRS cargo contracts, which is not a new program.
  • Commercial Cargo Money is Canceled: The bill cuts Commercial Cargo in FY11 down to $14 million, a 95% cut from the Administration request of $312 million. This  jeopardizes the viability of the International Space Station.

9 Comments

  • Attached is a letter from Space Studies Institute favor of commercial transportation and pre-competitive research and in opposition to H.R.5781.

    Here is the link :http://ssi.org/2010/09/space-studies-institute-urges-the-congress-to-defeat-h-r-5781/

    There are many more signers besides Freeman, John and I, but I thought
    it best to get the word out quickly and time is short.

    Lee Valentine

  • […] by not adequately funding commercial crew development and technology programs, it claims. The Space Frontier Foundation also put out a call for “urgent action” to block the bill and instead support the Senate version. “The Senate version isn’t […]

  • Diane says:

    I don’t see the difference between you and those contractors currently doing the work. You want the tax payers (NASA) money just like they do. Where does the ‘commercial’ differ from the current contractors doing the Constellation work? Why do you need any NASA money if you are commercial? Build it on your own money and then sell it to whoever wants to buy it! If the buyer happens to be the US government then they will pay you like every other commercial business out there. Why is this bill so vital to the success of a commercial venture? I think you are pulling a fast one and want the US taxpayer’s to take on all your risk – what other commercial company does that? Provide an answer and I might consider joining in your fight.

    • Majortom says:

      I certainly can’t speak for the commercial sector, but, it would seem to me that, rather than spend a lot of money on a new LEO vehicle (i.e., Ares 1),we should take advantage of existing capabilities (Atlas and Delta vehicles – though some mods would certainly be required). They’ve been very successful and Ares is still a long way off from flying. Let NASA do the risky stuff like developing a true HHLV for beyond LEO.

  • Robert Morrison says:

    Yor article makes false claims. HR 5781 does not do away with commercial crew. It may not fund it to the $1.6 Billion dollar level the senate bill does but it makes low interest loans available on top of the $64 Million. It also does a number of other important things like preserve all the hard work put into Constellation, saving billions of tax payer dollars. It places emphasis on Space Station experiments like variable-gravity centrifuge. HR 5781 is a good bill and should be supported by the Senate and President. I will contact my Rep alright and tell them to vote YES!

  • […] Commercial Space in Jeopardy – T Minus 18 Hours “The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) called attention today to the latest battle taking place in the US House of Representatives that holds enormous implications for the future of spaceflight. In the next 18 hours, the House leadership will decide whether to allow a vote on the pork-laden House version of the NASA bill or instead pass the better Senate compromise. The SFF asks all commercial space supporters to contact their Congressman. Encourage them to vote ‘No’ on HR 5781 and allow a vote on the Senate version.” […]

  • truth says:

    Diane,

    You and Robert Morrison are exactly right. The is little difference between those "commercial–in name only" contractors and the current ones, as they expect/demand govt. money to do their private development. How exactly does that make them "commercial" again? Come sell a turn key system to the govt. that you developed without full taxpayer money, and then we'll talk. What's worse, at least with the current govt. back-up plan with constellation will allow us to use ISS in case the guys don't come through. I don't want to bet, and then potentially waste, a $100B+ station on their ability to deliver as advertised. And don't forget, Constellation was really about beyond LEO. The LEO backup for station was just a bonus.

    The shuttle is going, folks. There's no back-up now. We've foolishly started/stopped numerous shuttle replacement before. This time failure is not an option. And this administration is putting ALL our eggs in a "commercial" basket, praying they'll come through. That is madness, when station ops is what you are risking.

    We'd all best pray the House gets it's way. And a final note, the loan guarantees part of the House bill was genius. If it needs to be expanded, it can be. But it in essence suggests that if your are truly a "commercial" company, shouldn't you be risking/spending your own money, and not the taxpayers? What an amazing put up or shut up move that was.

  • LMP Gordon says:

    Your article makes false claims against the budgetary funding on commercial space in HR 5781. If anything HR 5781 is more of a comprise than the Senate legislation. The House gives commercial the funds to advance their technology in LEO and allows the continuation on Ares I and Orion Crew Capsule…come on folks think about both bills and visualize the aerospace community……the immediate devastation to our specialized worforce……..allowing NASA to reach further into space (which is what your latest video proposes). The House version does all that…..commercial has to prove their capability in LEO then let's discuss commercial crew.