What does THAT bill mean for NASA?

by | Mar 3, 2010 | Seradata News | 2 comments

NASAWatch points to a NASASpaceflight.com forum posting it claims is made by a Senate commerce staffer. This blog made a number of attempts at contact with the committee’s comms office and it never replied. Whether this 22 February version exists or not it will be interesting to see how the version that is introduced compares to the 9 Feb. version

Boiling down the 9 February version of the draft Human spaceflight capability assurance and enhancement authorization bill to just the elements that require action on the part of NASA administrator Charles Bolden after its enactment we can see that he will have too;

  • within 90-days review the Constellation vehicles and start heavy lift design work within 180-days of bill’s enactment
  • immediate International Space Station (ISS) assessment
  • within 30-days appoint a 90-day Space Shuttle flight certification review team

The Shuttle and Constellation reviews, and everything else Congress might dream up, is likely to be driven by the ISS assessment. President Barack Obama’s support for station use to 2020 at least will probably be the hook that everything else is hung on, what transportation arrangement, both crew and cargo, will ensure that ISS is fully utilised as the national laboratory that it is and will be

In this blogger’s opinion the Constellation review is unlikely to find anyting new – although PR campaigns will no doubt go on. Even the Constellation programme has stated that its timetable can’t be accelerated. The bill text asks for the review to examine if Constellation support for station can coexist with commercially provided services. Of course it could just mean, a, the post-2015 cargo resupply contracts might not be as large as those already signed under Commercial Resupply Services and, b, shared government and commercial crew transportation services raise questions as to the viability of any commercial operation – could a commercial market beyond NASA ensure viability in the face of a reduced US government procurement?  

The Space Shuttle certification review, in this blogger’s opinion, will likely say that the orbiters can continue to be flown. There will be price tags attached to the restart of certain production facilities but with a reduced cargo-only flight manifest two orbiters could be used and the third (take your pick as to which) can be cannibalised for parts. This much has been described to Hyperbola by Shuttle programme veterans. There might be a short time lag between STS-133 and the mission following a Shuttle extension decision (depending on how long after the 1 March 2010 end date for Shuttle programme contracts it is) but parts sufficient for three more external tanks do exist and one of those will be made up for the mooted STS-135 contingency flight – as contingent as -132 thru -134?

Would these reviews slow things down though? What is known is that all the reviews will be with Congress within 120-days of the bill’s enactment. While no timeframe is put on the ISS assessment (a change for the 22 Feb. draft bill version?) the subjects of the Constellation study and their relevance to ISS support mean the analysis of station’s requirements will be completed quite quickly. The final review to come in should be the Shuttle certification. What could also occur at the 120-day point is the selection of a heavy lift concept, which has to be done, along with the start of detailed design activities within 180-days of the bill’s enactment – and 40-days after the other reviews must have ended. Then again the Review of US human spaceflight plans stretched beyond its original timetable

Question is, 120-days from when? One assumes the authorisation act will be passed before the appropriations bill, which on recent evidence, can be expected sometime around the end of this year or the beginning of 2011. But maybe later if the fight over the future of NASA becomes protracted. The fact that the authorisation bill has something for everyone gives credence to this

So the reviews could in theory be completed before fiscal year 2011 appropriations are enacted, assuming they begin just before whatever August, holiday related, recess Congress has. And then Congress gets to fight over how much money it will give NASA because everything cited in the bill can not be funded under the space agency’s current $19 billion FY2011 budget request

All in all this blog foresees a long hot summer and a contentious fourth quarter that could see the outcome for a commercial crew programme delayed until calendar year 2011. The 9 February version of the authorisation bill gives the admnistrator six months to start such a programme and meeting that deadline could be very difficult, what will Hyperbola be writing in March 2011?

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