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Administration Opposes Senate Provisions on Commercial Crew, Europa Mission

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
June 17, 2014
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Credit: Matt Wade

Credit: Matt Wade

In a policy statement issued today, the White House took issue with two objectives near and dear to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): crippling NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and boosting its Space Launch System (SLS).

“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s support for the Commercial Crew program, but has concerns about language that would seek to apply accounting requirements unsuitable for a firm, fixed-price acquisition, likely increasing the program’s cost and potentially delaying its schedule,” the Administration said in the statement, which covers the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015.

Shelby is the main driver behind a provision in the spending bill that would require contractors to provide certified cost and pricing data for the program. He says it is a matter of accountability and transparency.

Commercial space advocates — including the Space Access Society and Space Frontier Foundation — oppose the provision, saying it would drive up costs significantly. The Space Access Society sees the move as a way of bringing the program back under the control of NASA bureaucrats.

The White House also opposes another provision in the spending bill that would direct NASA to use the heavy-lift SLS as the baseline rocket for a future robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The giant rocket is being developed by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, which is in Shelby’s home state of Alabama.

“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s support for science missions, but is concerned about prematurely specifying elements of future missions while the missions are in a very early state of development,” the policy statement reads. “In particular, the Administration believes…that it is premature to designate the Space Launch System as the launch vehicle for a Europa mission before the costs and benefits of such a choice are understood.”

The Senate provides no specific FY 2015 funding for a mission to Europe, which is believed to have a substantial ocean beneath its frozen surface. The House spending measure includes $100 million to support work on the program.

In a similar vein, the Administration says it is concerned “the Committee’s proposed approach to a follow-on Landsat mission is not feasible within the bill’s proposed cost cap of $650 million.”

The Obama Administration also is concerned about funding for the Space Technology program. The Administration requested $705.5 million, while the Senate measure would fund the program at $580.2 million. The House measure would provide $620 million.

“The Administration is concerned that the bill does not provide the FY 2015 Budget request for the Space Technology program,” the statement reads. “Space Technology is needed to reduce the cost and increase the long-term capability of NASA, other Government, and commercial space activities.”

The policy statement doesn’t provide any guidance on what the White House would consider an acceptable level of funding for the program below the amount that was requested.