Space Access Update #137 Followup 12/08/14
Commercial Crew Funding
We noted in Update #137 that NASA's funding requirement for the final (CCtCap) phase of Commercial Crew vehicle development is likely to increase radically over the next two years, and that this could be a problem.
The current Federal Fiscal Year 2015 (underway since October 1st) is the first of three critical funding years leading to first CCtCap flights in 2017. FY'15 at that point seemed unlikely to see any significant Commercial Crew increase over the roughly $800 million Congress had planned before election politics last summer shut down the normal FY'15 appropriations-bill process.
Given $800 million for FY'15, our ballpark estimate of CCtCap funding needs (with the selected contractors) for FY'16 and FY'17 was on the (very) rough order of $1.3 billion a year. (NASA has not yet released any detail on how the two CCtCap contracts break down within the overall totals given. To get ballpark numbers we assumed half of each contract is for development, half for the six operational flights included in the totals.)
Put another way, between now and next October Congress will very likely need to approve an increase of 50% or more to fully fund the current Commercial Crew program. In the ongoing tight funding climate, this could take some seriously heavy lifting.
The problem has now gotten modestly worse, since the current plan to enact a Continuing Resolution for most of the government for the remainder of FY'15 would limit CCtCap this year to the same $696 million appropriated for Commercial Crew in FY'14. This will both further limit the amount of work NASA can pay for this year, and add another hundred million or so to the funding increase needed over the next two years.
We expect this will all result in a great deal of pressure to either stretch the program out (very bad), or to reduce the Commercial Crew program to one contractor (also very bad). We expect to be writing a lot more about this over the coming year.
One interesting related item - Boeing has already completed their first CCtCap milestone, a "Certification Baseline Review", and has presumably billed NASA for it. It occurs to us that, were we Boeing, we might have been tempted to frontload our CCtCap proposal with quickly-achievable paperwork milestones in order to soak up as much as possible of the (predictably limited) FY'15 CCtCap funding as early as possible. In a year with insufficient overall CCtCap funding, the result could be a shortfall later in the year, possibly one felt disproportionately by the competitor slower off the mark in billing for completed milestones.
This is speculation based on one data point, of course. Time will tell if there's anything to it. But regardless of whether this year's shortfall hits one competitor or the other disproportionately, it is near certain it will slow down the overall program. Achieving first test flights in 2017 means getting rolling full-speed NOW, and as someone said back in the early days of all this, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers."
New Space Access '15 Conference Dates
We asked you all for feedback on two possible timeslots for our next Space Access Conference, April 1-3 and April 23-25. We'd like to thank everyone who responded. Unfortunately the results boiled down to, about a 60-40 split in favor of the later dates, but significant numbers of people who'd have problems making one or the other, and significant conflicts with other interesting events in both cases.
We're now looking at Thursday April 30th through Saturday May 2nd 2015 for our next Space Access Conference (in, as usual, Phoenix Arizona.) Two of the hotels we've been talking to say they can do this. Our preliminary poll of those who responded the first time came back over 90% in favor. And nobody's spotted any significant conflicts with other events (yet.) So, this is your chance if you haven't already responded. Would the new dates work for you? And do you know of any significant conflicts with other events?
Email us at email@example.com with your feedback ASAP, as we want to make a final decision this week, then get on with nailing down a hotel contract and lining up a great cast of speakers.
As for conference funding, we're now up to forty-one hundred of the ten thousand we need to make this conference fly. Thanks! And keep those checks coming. If you believe that Space Access conferences are useful to this community, and that keeping conference prices as low as possible for all of us who are still students, hungry amateurs, or tight-budget startup pros is still the way to go, help, please. Send a donation of whatever size - ten, a hundred, a thousand, it all helps - via check still for now (credit cards online are nearing the top of the to-do list, but aren't quite there yet) to: Space Access Society, PO Box 16034, Phoenix AZ 85011.
Note that this is NOT tax-deductible, as we are not a 501c-anything. It is however entirely confidential, as we have never and will never share or disclose in any way our supporters' names. Unless you want to be listed as a conference sponsor - we'll be glad to give credit where it's desired. (We'll list you if wanted as an SA'15 "Sponsor" for a thousand or more, "Co-Sponsor" for five hundred, "Supporter" for a hundred - and of course, our ongoing gratitude goes out to all who've supported us over the years and who continue to help.)
Space Access Society