Senate Gives $500M to Commercial Crew, Limits Future Use of Space Act Agreements

In the last three days, the Senate has proposed:

  • cutting NASA’s overall budget by over a half billion dollars;
  • spending $3 billion on a massive heavy-lift program and Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle that probably won’t fly people for 10 years;
  • slashing the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program from a proposed $850 million to $500 million;
  • dictating that NASA conduct the CCDev program in the most complicated, expensive and time consuming manner possible.

Welcome to the Congressional sausage factor, 21st century style. Real pretty, ain’t it? And congratulations to the Russians. If this plays out like I think it will, NASA will continue to pay you ever increasing amounts of money for many more years to come to send its astronauts to a station it primarily funded.

But, enough of this. Let’s get to the numbers for human spaceflight in the Senate proposal. Key excerpts are below.


Appropriations, 2011: $18,448,028,000
Budget estimate, 2012: 18,724,300,000
Committee recommendation: 17,938,773,000

The Committee’s recommendation provides $17,938,773,000 for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]. The recommendation is $509,255,000 below the fiscal year 2011 enacted level and $785,527,000 below the budget request.

Exploration [In thousands of dollars]

Exploration Research and Development: 275,000
Commercial Space Flight: 500,000
Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle: 1,200,000
Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle System: 1,800,000
TOTAL: 3,775,000

The Committee shares the administration’s enthusiasm for new acquisition models intended to keep the cost of space access low and for investments in new technologies that can radically reduce the cost of human transportation, to and in, space. However, NASA cannot abdicate its responsibility for safety and oversight of entities receiving Federal dollars as an investment in developing launch and crew capabilities.

Commercial Crew.Of the amount included for commercial crew development activities, $307,400,000 shall be available on October 1, 2011. This amount is equal to the fiscal year 2011 level for commercial crew development. An additional $192,600,000 of commercial crew funding will become available after the NASA Administrator has certified, in writing, that NASA has: (1) published the notifications to implement acquisition strategy for the heavy lift launch vehicle system, also known as the space launch system [SLS], authorized in section 302 of Public Law 111–267 and (2) begun to execute relevant contract actions in support of development of SLS. This certification may not be delegated and will assure the Committee that NASA is committed to all elements of the balanced human spaceflight program authorized in Public Law 111–267. The Committee understands that NASA will be providing more information on the acquisition strategy for SLS in the coming weeks. Currently, NASA lacks one consolidated set of requirements for crew safety. Within this funding, NASA shall develop and make available to the public detailed human rating processes and requirements to guide the design of all crew transportation capabilities. These requirements shall be at least equivalent to requirements for crew transportation currently in use, as well as any relevant recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and shall apply to all NASA-funded vehicles that carry humans, both commercial and Government-owned.

The Committee is pleased by NASA’s commitment to hold commercially developed launch vehicles to be used to carry out NASA missions to the same safety standards as Government-developed launch vehicles. The Committee encourages NASA to develop plans to fully utilize NASA-owned rocket testing infrastructure for commercially developed launch vehicles to ensure that these vehicles are tested in the same manner as Government-developed launch vehicles.

NASA Policy Directive 1050.1I states that funded Space Act Agreements may be used only when the Agency’s objective cannot be accomplished through the use of a procurement contract, grant, or cooperative agreement. The Committee believes that the current practice by NASA has gone beyond what is cited under NASA’s own policy directive. Such misuse of these authorities undermines the oversight of NASA in the procurement process and threatens crew safety. For future rounds of commercial crew competitions and acquisitions, NASA shall limit the use of funded Space Act Agreements as stated in the directive in order to preserve critical NASA oversight of Federal funds provided for spacecraft and launch vehicle development.

Editor’s Note: In a message mailed out last night, Space Access Society Founder Henry Vanderbilt said that shifting from Space Act Agreements to more traditional NASA procurement approaches will all but kill the commercial crew program:

Under anything like traditional NASA procurement practice, $500m will barely pay for the viewgraphs.  If CCP management goes ahead with their current approach, they will be effectively killing the program, absent money miraculously raining from the skies.

Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle
The Committee provides $1,800,000,000 to build the integrated heavy lift launch vehicle system. The system shall enable human transportation at the highest possible safety standards and lowest life cycle costs for beyond low Earth orbit and is being designed, managed, and integrated by the Marshall Space Flight Center. This funding shall be part of a sustained, evolvable effort around a common core to culminate in an initial human capability by 2017, using fixed price contracts for components wherever possible. The system shall be evolvable to lift the necessary elements for missions beyond low Earth orbit in order to extend human exploration capabilities. The program shall be managed under a strict cost cap of $11,500,000,000 through fiscal year 2017. Within 60 days of enactment, NASA shall report to the Committee on planned milestones, expected performance of the low Earth orbit and beyond low Earth orbit configurations, planned ground and early flight testing programs and deliverables for the heavy lift launch vehicle program, along with any existing contract vehicles the Agency intends to use for this purpose. As part of this report, NASA shall evaluate the preceding cost cap and validate the cap or provide a viable and validated alternative.

Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.The Committee provides $1,200,000,000 for an Orion crew exploration vehicle that will enable human transportation beyond low Earth orbit. The vehicle shall be capable of being launched on the heavy lift launch vehicle and may also provide alternative access to low Earth orbit, including the ISS by fiscal year 2014, using fixed price contracts for components wherever possible. The program shall be managed under a strict cost cap of $5,500,000,000 through fiscal year 2017. Within 60 days of enactment, NASA shall report to the Committee on planned milestones, expected performance and configurations, planned testing program, and deliverables for the crew exploration vehicle program, along with any suggestions for streamlining oversight.

As part of this report, NASA shall evaluate the preceding cost cap and validate the cap or provide a viable and validated alternative.

Ground Operations.—In fiscal year 2013 and beyond, NASA shall identify ground operations related to the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle and the heavy lift launch vehicle system separately from the funding to develop those systems. NASA may request these funds within the Exploration account or the Space Operations account, not both. The Committee notes that the purposes authorized in section 305 of Public Law 111–267 include both ground operations and multi-purpose infrastructure projects that support both crew and cargo launches.

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services [COTS] Cargo. While funding was neither requested nor provided for COTS cargo, the Committee continues its support for ensuring the continued viability and productivity of the ISS through its extended service life by funding commercial cargo transportation development. Funds provided in prior years will support the existing COTS cargo program, aimed at enabling the commercial space industry in support of NASA to develop reliable means of launching cargo and supplies to the ISS beginning later this calendar year.

SPACE OPERATIONS [In thousands of dollars]

Space Shuttle: 650,900
International Space Station: 2,803,500
Space and Flight Support: 662,600
21st Century Launch Complex: 168,000
TOTAL: 4,285,000

International Space Station.—The Committee has provided $2,803,500,000 for the ISS Program, which includes ISS Operations and ISS Cargo Crew Services. The Committee fully supports the administration’s plan to extend ISS research and operations through 2020. This Committee has consistently supported the construction and operation of the ISS on the promise that it would support world class science that could improve life on Earth. For example, experiments on the ISS may yield a vaccine for salmonella, a food borne illness that sickens 40,000 and kills 600 in the United States annually. Due to the retirement of the space shuttle, commercial cargo transportation of experiments and logistics is essential to ensuring that ISS can function as a national laboratory.

21st Century Launch Complex.The Committee provides the full budget request of $168,000,000 for the 21st Century Launch Complex. This program is intended to revitalize the aging infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center and other NASA facilities to support the human space flight program. NASA should place a priority on the use of funds for future ground operations and to improve only NASA-owned facilities for launch vehicles intended to serve NASA missions, including the heavy lift launch vehicle system. Funding for the 21st Century Launch Complex may be used at other NASA flight facilities that are currently scheduled to launch cargo to the International Space Station under the COTS program, to upgrade the launch infrastructure to improve efficiency and safety. NASA shall provide the Committee a 5-year plan for this funding within 60 days of the date of enactment of this act.

Satellite Servicing.—Within the amounts provided, $75,000,000 shall be to continue efforts to use the next generation of human space flight architecture to service existing and future on-orbit observatory-class scientific spacecraft, as well as spacecraft owned by the Department of Defense and other Government agencies. The activities to be undertaken shall be a joint project of the Space Operations, Space Technology, Science, and Exploration mission directorates and shall include technology demonstrations for both robotic and human servicing. These funds will augment existing Space Technology funds for these activities. Space Operations shall be responsible for the overall direction and management of all agency satellite servicing activities.

Space Shuttle.—The Committee provides $650,900,000 for Space Shuttle. This amount includes the full amount of $547,900,000 that NASA has estimated for its pension liability for the primary Space Shuttle support contract. NASA is under contractual obligation to provide promised retirement benefits for the men and women who kept the Shuttles flying through their retirement in 2011.