Budget doom; NASA’s procurement & overhead handicaps

Bob Zimmerman sees Congress making big cuts at NASA that will result in both HLV/Orion (“program-formerly-called-Constellation”) and commercial crew programs being cut drastically or eliminated: The space program is dead, long live the space industry! – Behind The Black.

It’s certainly possible that Congress will cut NASA’s budget and force it to continue with an expensive program (HLV/Orion) that is stretched out forever. That’s a zombie situation at best. It would be consistent with the past 40 years in which NASA has always gotten just enough money to avoid having to change the way it does things. It’s still possible, though, that this time the agency will be forced to pursue low cost innovations including commercial crew to LEO and technically-risky, high-payoff technologies that allow NASA to accomplish far more that it does now even with a smaller budget. That certainly seems to be the only way to avoid paying Russia for flights to the ISS for a decade or more.

Regarding ways that Congress might help private space development, I’ll first say that repealing the CSLAA (pdf) would be totally counter-productive. This legislation was not the result of a battle between freedom and regulation. The issue at stake was whether the body of regulations for commercial human spaceflight would be created with industry input or without industry input. CSLAA resulted from the former and it has worked out quite well. Startups have been able to get investment and insurance because of it.

Secondly, I’ll point out that every other transportation industry has had markets, i.e. destinations, from the start plus large government support as it created vehicles (e.g. autos had gov’t roads and bridges, aircraft had gov’t airports and ATC systems, ships had gov’t ports and dredging, etc.) The commercial spaceflight industry is being asked to create its own markets, i.e. destinations, and vehicles simultaneously and do all of this without government support. The industry can probably accomplish all that but it certainly better be long-lived cause it’s going to take a long time. === Clifford R. McMurray blames NASA’s procurement system for driving up costs: The One paragraph Spec – SpaceNews.com. Rand Simberg comments on McMurray’s essay: A One-Paragraph Spec – Transterrestrial Musings.

The Augustine panel’s report (e.g. see page 112) discussed the additional problem of NASA’s extremely high fixed costs and overhead. If a major new project like, for example, Sen. Nelson’s HLV must meet elaborate procurement requirements and also start out on top of a couple of billion dollars a year in overhead, it’s difficult to see how it would ever come close to its $11.5B target. NASA’s inability to build a vehicle for this cost could mean, as Sen. Nelson says, that it should “close up shop”. The other option, though, is for the agency to deal with its procurement and overhead handicaps.

URL: http://hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=24970

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