Space Access Update #125  7/7/11
Copyright 2011 by Space Access Society


This is a heads-up - there will be significant Congressional action next week on NASA budget items that matter to us.  Our window to make a difference should open in the next day or so.  The next thing we send out will almost certainly be a Political Action Alert, another chance for you to make a positive difference in this country's future in space.


(As we mentioned in Update #124, those of you who took part in our last political push helped nudge the process noticeably in the right direction - the rest of you, what are you waiting for?  This time, join in - once you have the targeting info, make the call and help us make a real difference!)




The next step in deciding NASA's budget for next year is officially happening today.  The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS Subcommittee, or just CJS for short) is formally "marking up" (setting the detailed funding numbers in) its version of the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill ("the mark") today.  NASA's funding is a major part of this bill.


We didn't call an alert on that, because our understanding is that the CJS Subcommittee markup numbers have actually been set for a while now and the subcommittee was neither responding to insider requests nor likely to respond to outside pressure with any changes.  Based on what we know, the first real opportunity to affect the process will be after the CJS Subcommittee's version comes out, with our target being next Wednesday's (7/13) scheduled markup of the bill by the full Appropriations Committee.


The CJS Subcommittee actually released its draft numbers yesterday - see - and we'd be surprised if those change, but many of the details we care about aren't out yet.


Based on what is out, our preliminary verdict is, not good.  It was already known that the total amount CJS had for FY'12 was down 5.8% from last year's actual totals, and down 13.9% from the White House FY'12 proposal (but in the current fiscal climate the White House's proposed increases over FY'11 have become pretty much a dead letter.)


So, average cuts of 5.8% were the baseline expectation coming into this.  But the CJS Subcommittee mark reduces NASA's overall funding 8.9%, to $16.8 billion versus FY'11's $18.45 billion.  Of the known NASA cuts, most of the headlines yesterday went to the subcommittee's cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope.  (Its huge science value aside, JWST serves as sad proof that organizational dysfunction producing massive delays and cost overruns is not unique to NASA's rocket-development branches.)


We are more concerned with NASA's Exploration and Space Technology accounts.  FY'12 Exploration is reduced from this year's total, down 4.2% from this year's $3.808 billion at $3.649 billion.  Not so bad on the surface, except that the CJS mark mandates spending $1.063 billion for the MPCV crew vehicle and $1.985 billion for the SLS heavy lifter (a 10% increase) out of this Exploration total.


Do the math and this leaves $601 million for everything else NASA Exploration is supposed to do next year.  This does not bode well for Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) getting the planned $850 million to allow support of multiple competing US commercial crew carriers.  If CCDev fails, NASA is stuck paying ever-increasing Russian prices for Soyuz rides to Station for the next decade.  (Soyuz seat prices are over $60 million each, and rising.)  Cutting the CCDev program, aimed at developing low-cost US commercial competitors for Soyuz, seems a false economy to say the least.


NASA Space Technology meanwhile comes out of the CJS mark at $375 million.  It's harder to pin down last year's numbers here, because Space Technology now combines what used to be the separate Space and Exploration Technology accounts, and these aren't broken out in the final FY'11 Continuing Resolution that's currently funding the government.


For what it's worth, though, NASA's new technology cupboard is bare, due to decades of new technology base funding getting eaten by headline program overruns.  NASA's new exploration plan calls for applying much of the savings from Shuttle shutdown to greatly increasing new space technology work aimed at drastically reducing future exploration costs.  Space Technology was supposed to expand to $1.024 billion dollars next year.


Instead, the CJS mark proposes cutting it back to 18% lower than the last combined total we can find on record, FY'10's $458 million.  Cutting rather than growing Space Technology greatly reduces the chances we'll ever have any affordable exploration mission to fly on SLS (in the unlikely event SLS ever actually flies.)


So, we'll have a fight on our hands this coming week.  Stand by for targeting data!



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"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"

 - Robert A. Heinlein