Why only $90 million for commercial crew and cargo?

by | Oct 1, 2009 | Commercial human spaceflight, COTS, NASA, Personal spaceflight | 5 comments

Congressional support for NASA’s return to the Moon Constellation programme can now be seen to have made a material impact on efforts to get commercial ventures underway, in this story on flightglobal.com

Back in April Hyperbola reported how the $150 million for commercial would likely be spent and in an answer to this journalist’s question during a 7 May 2009 Space Operations Mission Directorate budget telecon SOMD head William Gestenmaire explained what accelerating out-year cargo flights meant for the human rating work for possible commercial crew

And with the announcement of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) programme in the thrid quarter, along with the earlier publication of the $150 million figure, the future looked bright for private transportation

But looking back at open sources on what went on from May to September, while everyone was focused on the Review of US human space flight plans committee, it can be seen that commercial crew and cargo has had a rough time

In its 29 June edition the Federal Times reported that: “The balance of NASA’s stimulus money, which includes $150 million for aeronautics, $400 million for science and $400 million for exploration, has been tied up by Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee who is irked by NASA’s plan to spend $150 million of the exploration funds on various efforts to stimulate development of commercial crew and cargo systems for the international space station. According to congressional aides and aerospace lobbyists, Shelby is using his clout as an appropriator to keep NASA from spending any stimulus money beyond the hurricane repair funds until the commercial crew and cargo issue is resolved.”

And Jeff Foust’s space politics blog reported Space News’ article about the Shelby opposition, also reported by Federal Times; and then in July there was further tension over this stimulus money; and finally in August there was the outcome of this alleged opposition of Shelby to things commercial; namely that CCDev went ahead anyway. But now its known that the funding for supporting work has been diminshed considerably

How this probably all began can be seen in the following transcripts, from the Political Transcript Wire, of the 21 May fiscal year 2010 NASA budget hearings of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, subcommittee on science and space and the Senate committee on appropriations, subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, and related agencies

At the start I have included a part of the subcommittee on science and space hearing transcript that deals with the price NASA is paying for Soyuz seats – well its commercial, right?! The figure of $51 million has been reported and the then acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese confirms that and explains that the previous price was $47 million. Scroll down to the text I have enboldened for the start of the subcommittee on science and space’s COTS-D discussion. Immediately below the subcommittee on science and space transcript is the Senate subcommittee on commerce, justice and science transcript. Enjoy!

Then acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese is in the spotlight and Florida’s Democratic party United States Senator Bill Nelson is questioning him

SCOLESE: I’d have to go off and look and see if it’s a firm, fixed date but it will begin after the completion of the shuttle to carry crew, you know, to the station and bring them back. As you know, we’ve been relying on Soyuz since the beginning of the station program for crew rescue.

And it the aftermath of the Columbia disaster we were of course, transporting crew on Soyuz, so we’ve been relying on Soyuz for some time but you’re correct. It will be following the retirement of the shuttle we will be relying on Soyuz exclusively to carry crew to and from the station as well as for rescue.

NELSON: So the start date is not a problem. It’s entirely dependent upon the length of time that the shuttle flies?

SCOLESE: I will have to look specifically at the provisions. I can’t tell you that off the top of my head. As you know, we’re still in the process of completing that contract. So I’ll have to take that one for the record and get back to you.

NELSON: OK, all right. And now, it has been reported in the press that you’re negotiating a price of $51 million per seat.

SCOLESE: That’s correct.

NELSON: And what do we pay per seat now?

SCOLESE: Approximately $47 million per seat.

NELSON: Per seat. And when was that price concluded?

SCOLESE: It was in the last agreement, which I’d have to again get you the exact date of when that was done but that’s been probably since — I’ll have to get you the exact date. I don’t have it off the top of my head.

The services though are for training, the flight to and from the station and the rescue capability and any of the provisions that are required for a long duration flight.

NELSON: How many seats is NASA committed to buy?

SCOLESE: We are committed I believe to buy six seats.

NELSON: And for example is that you take three up on Soyuz.

SCOLESE: But we don’t pay for the Russians, so the cosmonauts would be theirs and we pay for our crew members that we’re responsible, which would include NASA members, ESA, and JAXA, our partner members that we’re responsible for.

NELSON: In last year’s authorization bill, there was guidance to NASA about the COTS D, Space Act Agreements to develop a U.S. commercial alternative to Soyuz. And we authorized $150 million in funding for COTS D.

Now, I notice that you’re putting a $150 million of stimulus funds toward commercial crew and cargo program but not actually initiating COTS D agreements. Why are you not initiating these Space Act agreements?

SCOLESE: Well, we are working the commercial program as you defined. There was cargo on it. We have those two contracts with SpaceX and Orbital to do cargo. We had one for COTS D. I can’t recall a specific $150 million to go on to COTS D.

We did this year in the stimulus, identified $150 million to stimulate a commercial activity and it’s broken into two pieces, $70 million to go off and develop capabilities that any visiting vehicle would need, including commercial vehicles.

And that includes developing the human space flight rating requirements, the requirements that you need to be certified for human space flight. As you well know, you know, we build human spacecraft and design them so infrequently that we have to write those requirements down.

So part of this is to make those available to everybody, make them understand a little to everybody and that will help not only the commercial providers broadly but all of us and then $80 million to stimulate activity for a commercial crew.

NELSON: We have seven minutes left in the vote. I’m going to recess the committee and I’ll be right back.


NELSON: Thank you.



Below is the transcript from Political Transcript Wire of the 21 May Senate committee on appropriations, subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, and related agencies hearing on the review of the FY2010 budget request for NASA. Then acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese was in the spotlight and Alabama’s Republican senior United States Senator Richard Shelby, a ranking member of the subcommittee, is questioning him

SHELBY: The Congress explicitly provided $400 million to the exploration program in ’09 economic stimulus bill to close the gap between the shuttle and Constellation programs, I understood. It’s my understanding that NASA spending plan included a redirection of $150 million for new initiatives related to commercial crew and cargo.

Based on what detail — what little detail we’ve learned from NASA, it appears these funds are — are for entirely new activities that have not even been formally presented or reviewed by the Congress. What’s going on here? What other options were examined for Ares and Orion with the $150 million prior to it being proposed for commercial studies as I understand it?

Tell us what’s going on here.

SCOLESE: Certainly. The $400 million that — that was appropriated, $250 million is being used to accelerate and improve the — the situation for Ares and Orion by procuring long lead material that we needed.

SHELBY: Why did you use — use it all?

SCOLESE: I’ll get to that. And certainly more would allow us to do more. We did look at the overall system when we came up with the plan, and we invested $150 million in commercial crew.

It’s broken into two fundamental categories, $70 million is something that will broadly support not only commercial activities, but all activities associated with the space station.

One example of those is the human rating requirements. Human rating, we do these missions so infrequently, these developments, these designs, that we need to go off and catalogue those so that anybody that wants to come to the space station will clearly understand what it is that we need to do. Anybody that wants to fly a NASA astronaut will understand how we want to fly.

And then $80 million is available through competition, but, first, we’re going to off and issue a broad area announcement to see if there is interest in providing commercial crew capabilities, and then we will — and only then where we obligate those funds.

SHELBY: My understanding of section 505 of the omnibus clearly prohibits funding for new activities. Did Congress approve what you’re doing here for the redirection of the funds?

SCOLESE: Well, we submitted it as part of our operating plan, so…

SHELBY: But you hadn’t had an approval, had you, by the Congress?

SCOLESE: Not at this time.

SHELBY: Don’t you think you need if — if section 505 of the omnibus prohibits funding for new activities? Did you consider that?

SCOLESE: Well, I think we had authority to go off and work commercial activities. And that’s what we were trying to do here, and we submitted it as part of the operating plan.

I have to go back and look at the details.

SHELBY: Will you check that for the record?

SCOLESE: I will check that for the record, sir.

SHELBY: Because some of the people on our staff are concerned about this Ares V delay. NASA has repeatedly stated that the Constellation programs will continue as usual while the human space flight review is underway. While this may be true for Ares I and Orion, other facets of Constellation, it’s my understanding, are being held back.

The heavy lift vehicle, Ares V, has been specifically delayed pending an altered request due to the human space flight studies from my understanding. If Constellation is moving forward, then why is Ares V, the heavy lift rocket that is essential to landing a man on the moon, being delayed? This is unusual business.

What’s going on here?

SCOLESE: Well, you’re absolutely right, Ares V is absolutely critical if we’re going to get humans back to the moon and outside of lower earth orbit, plus, for other activities. We are not stopping work on Ares V. There is continued work…

SHELBY: You’re still committed to Ares V, aren’t you?

SCOLESE: I’m sorry?

SHELBY: NASA is committed to Ares V.

SCOLESE: Oh, absolutely. We have to have that type of a vehicle, Ares V, in order to get out of low Earth orbit. And, in fact, work being done on Ares I is directly applicable to Ares V — the solid rocket motor, the J2X engine in the upper stage, plus, we have, you know, individuals at — at our space flight center also continuing to work on Ares V.

Clearly, there’ll be — there could be implications as a result of the — of the review that’s going on this summer. But as the president’s budget said, they want to return humans to the moon. And there’s only way — one way to do that — with a heavy lift launch vehicle, and Ares V is the one that’s on the books today.

SHELBY: How much of the $30 million for Ares V in ’09 bill will you spend? Will you spend that this year?

SCOLESE: I expect that we will. But I have to get back to you for the record.

SHELBY: You’re going to get back in the next 10 days or so?

SCOLESE: Yes, sir.

SHELBY: Does the action by NASA at this point dealing with the Ares V delay indicate there’s already a pre-determined outcome as it relates to Ares V?

SCOLESE: No. I mean, as I said earlier, the only way we’re going to get out of low Earth orbit is with the vehicle. And a substantial vehicle on Ares V is the one that…

SHELBY: You’ve got to have it, haven’t you?

SCOLESE: You have to have that type of a vehicle, yes, sir.



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