Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…
Senate to NASA: Stop Stalling on HLV Program

The following letter was sent to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Dear Administrator Bolden:

It has now been more than seven months since the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (“the 2010 Act” – P.L.111-267) was signed into law, and more than a month since the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-10) removed any remaining statutory obstacles to its full implementation. To this point, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has not made sufficient progress in carrying out the changes Congress required in the 2010 Act. Furthermore, NASA has not adequately complied with a number of reporting requirements designed to keep Congress apprised of NASA’s progress in implementing the Act.


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  • May 24, 2011
NASA’s Latest HLV Worry: Bid Protests

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

NASA — already grappling with what it views as an impossible task given to it by Congress — is facing one more worry in its effort to build a heavy-lift vehicle: bid protests. Space News reports:

If NASA chooses to leverage this hardware under existing contracts for the heavy-lift rocket, as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, it could face a challenge from companies that are not currently in the mix. Propulsion provider Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., for example, has made clear its desire for a competition to build elements of the Space Launch System.


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  • May 3, 2011
NASA’s Ugly HLV Plan

It looks like Congress’s insistence that NASA start building a heavy-lift vehicle now is leading the agency toward a very expensive dead-end project that will cost $11 billion but do little to advance that august body’s supposed goal of sending humans out beyond Earth orbit. Chris Bergin over at has a detailed explanation here; Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society has provided this more succinct summary:

Early word is, it’s an UGLY plan (a good match for the mandate):  Have the existing contractors build a hasty 70-ton payload Shuttle-Derived launcher using a pair of old-style 4-segment solids and three surplus Space Shuttle Main Engines, then fly this four times starting in 2016 (using up the existing SSMEs.)  Then, after spending $11.5 billion (ignoring the near-certain overruns) for just four flights, shut this project down and start all over, with a “competition” between several different 130-ton capacity heavy lifter concepts.

Dumber than dirt? Absolutely. But, it’s perhaps the only way that NASA can try to meet the Congressional mandate to build a HLV it doesn’t immediately need using space shuttle technology it is trying to abandon by an unrealistic deadline. And because it doesn’t produce a 130-ton vehicle by the end of 2016 as Congress mandates, the plan doesn’t even really do that.

Vanderbilt has sent out an action alert urging people to call their Congressmen urging them to oppose the Space Launch System program as currently configured and allow NASA to hold an open competition to solicit proposals for a new HLV. It is reproduced in full after the break.


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  • April 27, 2011
Henry Vanderbilt on NASA Budget: Meh!

The latest update from Henry Vanderbilt, who thinks that Congress is plowing billions into a rocket that will never fly….

Space Access Update #123  4/14/11
Copyright 2011 by Space Access Society

NASA Exploration Funding: A Setback 

When NASA questions come up in the US Congress, there is an unfortunate tendency for the majority to defer to a handful of their colleagues who sit on the various NASA oversight committees.  Unfortunate, because recently that handful seems to be abusing the majority’s trust to advance its own short-term regional advantage.  They’ve been trampling the national interest in a viable affordable NASA space exploration program and in overall national technological competitiveness.  They’re trading both of these for never-fly home-town jobs programs.

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  • April 15, 2011
Six Months Late, Congress Finalizes NASA Budget for FY 2011

Budget Item
FY 11
FY 11
FY 11
Exploration $3.808 billion $3.868 billion $4.263 billion
Heavy-lift Vehicle* $1.8 billion $1.631 billion
Multipurpose Crew Vehicle** $1.2 billion $1.12 billion
CCDEV*** $312 million $312 million $500 million
Space Operations $5.5 billion $5.5 billion $4.888 billion
Science $4.9 billion $5 billion $5 billion
Cross-Agency Support $3.11 billion $3.11 billion $3.11 billion
Education $145.8 million $145.8 million $145.8 million
Aeronautics and Space Technology $535 million $930 million $1.152 billion
Construction and Environmental Compliance $394.3 million $394 $397
TOTAL $18.485 billion $19 billion $19 billion
*  The President’s budget requested $559 million for heavy-lift and propulsion research. That line item was zeroed out by Congress and the funds put toward building the HLV immediately.
**  The Obama Administration canceled Multipurpose Crew Vehicle but later reinstated it in the budget as an ISS crew rescue vehicle.
*** CCDEV funding is not specified in the measure passed this week by Congress, which likely means it has not changed. Sen. Bill Nelson’s office has said that the funding level is at $312 million this year.


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  • April 15, 2011
Happiness in HLVille

Officials in Rocket City are cheering a new budget that gives $1.8 billion for HLV development this year and an additional $1.2 billion for a crew vehicle, the Huntsville Times reports:

“The budget deal is a good one for Marshall, for NASA, and for the space community at large,” agreed former NASA administrator Michael Griffin. Griffin and others like it that the agreement specifies a rocket with “a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously.”


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  • April 14, 2011
Does NASA Really Need a HLV for BEO Exploration?

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

Much of the debate over NASA’s heavy-lift launcher program has centered around how to build it. How much to spend this year vs. next year, to use shuttle- and Ares-derived technologies vs. starting from scratch, and whether the Dec. 31, 2016 deadline is remotely realistic. However, there is a far more fundamental issue that has received little or no attention, one that could affect tens of billions in spending and thousands of jobs nationwide in many districts and states.

In his latest note, Space Access Society Founder Henry Vanderbilt points out the existential threat faced by advocates of building a heavy-lift vehicle:  namely, that the HLV might not be necessary to accomplish beyond Earth orbit exploration.  A combination of existing rockets and a new technology (propellant depots) could allow the United States to launch its deep-space exploration effort without having to develop an expensive new booster with extremely high operational and launch costs.

Vanderbilt closes with a plea for opponents of the Congressionally-directed HLV to call their Congressional representatives to urge them to not to dictate to NASA what architecture is required for BEO exploration.


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  • April 2, 2011
SFF: Tell Congress to Back Off on Space Launch System

A note from Space Frontier Foundation Chairman Bob Werb urging NewSpace proponents to light up Congressional phone lines in opposition to Congress’s plans for NASA.

Please remind your Representative & Senators they are not rocket scientists!
Let NASA compete all the best ideas for a Space Launch System…
Don’t mandate an unaffordable/unsustainable “Senate Launch System”!

Six months into Fiscal Year 2011 the U.S. Congress is still trying to write a budget for a year that’s half over.  Down in the weeds of the final “continuing resolution” (CR) will be NASA’s budget for human space exploration.   The House-passed CR provides flexibility for NASA to choose the most affordable and sustainable approach.  The Senate’s draft CR, which didn’t even pass the Senate, told NASA to build a 130-ton heavy-lift launch vehicle right away… using current contractors and 1970s era technology.


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  • March 31, 2011
Congress to NASA: Thou Shalt Build Our Rocket

Two prominent Republican Congressmen slammed NASA for delays and violating the law in its approach to the 2012 budget by reducing funding for a heavy-lift vehicle and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion) at the expense of spending more money on commercial space options.

“The debate is over,” said Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. “This act is the law. NASA has its direction. The administration needs to acknowledge this, and act accordingly….

“But as we have seen from the FY2012 budget request, the administration is trying to ignore the thrust of this act. We expect NASA to proceed with the uninterrupted development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that builds upon – and takes maximum advantage of – the significant work and capabilities that already exist,” Hall added.


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  • March 30, 2011
Less Crime Fighting, More Space Boondoggling Ahead?

Meanwhile, the sausage making continues on Capitol Hill…

Space News reports that pork barropriators* on Capitol Hill are considering some creative ways to fund the heavy-lift vehicle that NASA doesn’t want and the Orion capsule:

Congressional appropriators could tap the funding accounts of the U.S. departments of Commerce and Justice to help cover what some see as a $1 billion shortfall in NASA’s $18.7 billion spending plan for 2012, which allocates less money for a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule than Congress directed last year.


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  • March 28, 2011