There's been some additional action in the fight over the future of NASA's Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs. Florida Today and The Houston Chronicle ran stories reporting the Commercial Spaceflight Federation industry association's view that Senator Shelby's provision to impose cost-plus contract-type "certified cost and pricing data" on these programs could disrupt contracting and would increase overall costs.
“The language would effectively change an efficient and lean commercial program into a traditional government procurement with all of the associated overhead and cost,” said Alex Saltman, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
“In addition, if this language were to become law before NASA awards the latest commercial crew contracts, NASA would likely have to restart the procurement with these new rules, pushing back the program up to a year and sending hundreds of millions of more taxpayer dollars to Russia for Soyuz rides,” Saltman added. “If the language were to go into effect after the awards, NASA could be tied up in contract renegotiations and challenges for months if not years.”
What To Do
Write (Or Call) Your Senators about this, soon. Senator Shelby is carving out and claiming a very large piece of turf here. Senators from California, Texas, New Mexico, and Florida (SpaceX) and Virginia and Utah (Orbital) should be directly concerned. Other Senators may also want to discourage this sort of overreach.
Don’t try to go into depth or detail. Keep it simple and top-level. Most incoming email won’t get read beyond the first paragraph anyway. Get the key points in the first paragraph, or in your first two sentences if calling.
The gist should be that there’s language in the Senate CJS NASA Appropriation Report mandating cost-plus type accounting for NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs, despite those being run on fixed-price contracts. This mandate will greatly increase costs and delay schedules in essential programs that have been till now models of cost-saving. It should be removed from the bill.
The FAA has given its environmental approval for a proposed Texas launch site for SpaceX, one of the last milestones before the company makes a decision on a new commercial launch facility.
The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) issued Wednesday its “Record of Decision” on the proposed launch site on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, east of Brownsville and just north of the Mexican border. The decision came at the end of a long environmental impact assessment of the proposed facility, which SpaceX would use for commercial launches of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. The FAA had released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) report in late May.
A bill introduced Thursday by two members of the House Science Committee seeks to promote commercial asteroid ventures, including securing property rights for resources extracted from asteroids by American companies.
The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014, HR 5063, was introduced Thursday by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), members of the House Science Committee. The relatively short bill (about four and a half pages in the copy provided by Posey’s office late Thursday, since the bill is not yet posted on Congress.gov) would direct the president, through the FAA and other agencies, to “facilitate the commercial exploration and utilization of asteroid resources to meet national needs,” “discourage government barriers” to asteroid resources ventures, and promote the right of American companies involved in those activities to both explore and utilize asteroids as well as transfer and sell them.
WASHINGTON — Bigelow Aerospace has hired former NASA astronauts Kenneth Ham and George Zamka to form the cornerstone of the private astronaut corps the North Las Vegas, Nevada, company will need to maintain and operate the inflatable space habitats it plans to launch some time after 2017.
With a decision on the next phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program expected as soon as next month, companies with funded awards from the program’s current phase, Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), are approaching some of the final milestones of those agreements. For at least two of the companies, though, those efforts may not be done until next year.
ULA’s filing with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims follows a similar motion by the Air Force seeking to derail SpaceX’s lawsuit, which was originally filed April 28. In its June 30 filing, the Air Force said SpaceX lost its right to sue because it did not challenge the service’s original notice of intent to award the sole-source contract, issued in 2012, within the allotted window.
Last week, startup launch vehicle developer Firefly Space Systems formally announced its first rocket: Firefly Alpha. The two-stage vehicle uses liquid oxygen and methane propellants in pressure-fed configurations. While the second stage uses a conventional bell-shaped nozzle, the first stage features a “plug cluster aerospike” design, using aerodynamics rather than a nozzle to direct the exhaust. The vehicle will be able to place up to 400 kilograms into low Earth orbit.
“We are offering small satellite customers the launch they need for a fraction of that, around $8 or 9 million – the lowest cost in the world,” claimed Firefly CEO Thomas Markusic in a company press release. “It’s far cheaper than the alternatives, without the headaches of a multi manifest launch.”
With the rise of a range of private-sector entrepreneurial firms interested in pursuing space commerce, the process whereby their efforts might be incubated, fostered, and expanded comes to the fore as an important public policy concern in a way never before present in the Space Age. In the United States we are witnessing the convergence of several powerful economic forces, including the need to restore American capability to reach low-Earth orbit (LEO) for the servicing of the International Space Station (ISS) and the rise of a hospitality/tourism/entertainment industry interested in space.
Through these case studies, we explore how to apply more effectively already-tested models of government support for commercial activities, as well as the interactions of both the public and private spheres in a new opportunity zone in space.
While the concept of air launch seems compelling, such systems have failed to have much effect on the overall launch market. Jeff Foust reports on two different air launch ventures, one by DARPA and one funded by Paul Allen, attacking the air launch idea from two very different directions.
In the first installment of From the Ground Up Michael Clark talks about SpaceX's reusable test program, which as the title suggests, will change everything if successful.
Actually, the last two flights of the Falcon 9v1.1, which were the first two flights to deploy landing legs, where the ISS CRS-3 Resupply Flight back in April and the THAICOM 6 geostationary communications satellite launch back in January.
Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today that July 11 is the new launch date for its second operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Orb-2. The launch has been delayed several times for a variety of reasons.
The launch is scheduled for 1:40 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. Orbital's Antares rocket will send a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to ISS packed with 3,000 pounds of science experiments, supplies and a number of nanosatellites that will be deployed from the ISS.
... “As fans of the Johnson Space Center, we can sympathize with Shelby’s desire to protect his constituents’ jobs against a perceived competitor. But Shelby’s policy is misguided,” the editorial continues. The editorial concludes by asking Texas’s two senators to fight back: “Texas’ own senators should go to bat for SpaceX and ensure that its multimillion dollar investment outside Brownsville doesn’t get tied up in Shelby’s red tape. Shelby is fighting for his state. Where are the Texans fighting for Texas?”
The Golden Spike Company, the world’s first enterprise planning to undertake human lunar expeditions for countries, corporations and individuals, and Honeybee Robotics, a premier developer of advanced robotic systems, today announced they have completed a preliminary design study for unmanned rovers capable of enhancing the next human missions to the Moon.
In partnership with technical staff at Golden Spike, Honeybee engineers conducted trade studies of both flight-proven and promising technologies to design configurable robotic rovers that can collect and store several kilograms of scientific samples from the Moon’s surface in advance of or in conjunction with Golden Spike’s human expeditions.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act today that they say will establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids.
In a statement, Posey and Kilmer said that while it may be many years before asteroids actually are mined for their resources, the research is underway now and companies need greater certainty about property rights to what they are mining. Nickel, iron, cobalt and platinum-group minerals are specifically cited as potential minerals that might be mined on asteroids.
As expected, weather is delaying Orbital’s next commercial cargo mission to the ISS, two days before the original launch. Orbital announced Wednesday afternoon that the launch will slip from Friday, July 11, to Saturday the 12th. Severe thunderstorms Tuesday night at Wallops delayed the rollout of the rocket, and Orbital, as a result, decided to slip the launch schedule by a day. The new launch time is 1:14 pm EDT (1714 GMT) Saturday. The launch delay, though, will not delay the berthing of Orbital’s Cygnus, which is still scheduled for July 15 at 7:24 am EDT (1124 GMT).
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has formally joined the Air Force’s call for the Court of Federal Claims to dismiss SpaceX’s protest of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) block buy contract. As first reported by Space News yesterday, ULA, in its role as “defendant-intervenor” in SpaceX’s suit against the Air Force, filed a motion to dismiss the suit. (The document was released on Tuesday, although it is a redacted version of the original, sealed motion filed with the court on July 2.)
ULA’s arguments for dismissal mirror those in the Air Force’s motion filed with the court early last week. SpaceX, ULA claims, lacks standing since it is not an “interested party” in the case since it is not yet certified by the Air Force to perform launches and thus isn’t an “actual or prospective bidder” for the EELV contract. ULA also argues that SpaceX was nearly two years later in filing its protest and thus “has plainly waived any right to protest the Air Force’s acquisition strategy and terms of the sole-source requirements contract.”
A review of public-private partnerships throughout U.S. history published by NASA concludes that they are neither a panacea nor a Pandora's box in finding ways to accomplish goals as diverse as building railroads or creating the telephone industry. Eminent space historian Roger Launius examined six case studies as possible analogs to using such partnerships in the space program.
NASA's "commercial crew" and "commercial cargo" programs, though referred to as "commercial," actually are public-private partnerships (PPPs) where the federal government and the private sector each bring resources to the table and the government assures an initial market for the services.
Virgin Galactic says it's partnering with the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces to accommodate "Future Astronauts" while they wait to fly on SpaceShipTwo from New Mexico's Spaceport America, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the north. Monday's announcement heralded what's likely to be several tourism deals focused on Virgin Galactic's suborbital space trips. The Las Cruces hotel already is upgrading its facilities to accommodate tourists who will be paying as much as $250,000 for a four-day spaceflight package. World Class Gourmet, which is headed by Chef Tatsu Miyazaki, will handle the catering at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic said.
SpaceUp Founder, SD Space Co-Founder, GeekDad contributor and Future Martian Chris Radcliff joins us to talk about future Martian habitats and what they will look like. Will we have domes? Underground habs? What will our future on Mars look like?
In recent years, some space-related projects have pursued unconventional funding sources, including crowdfunding and other donations, with some success. Jeff Foust reports on efforts to scale up those mechanisms for bigger, and more expensive, projects.
Peter Diamandis stands at a whiteboard in an empty conference room at Moffett Field and excitedly sketches a diagram of the solar system, with messy lollipop-like dots for Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. His eyes light up when he draws a certain asteroid known to come close to Earth every few years.
"We're going to send out a flotilla of small spacecraft, dock on the asteroid, prospect it and lay claim to it," Diamandis said. "The goal is to make rocket fuel from a class of asteroids rich in hydrogen and oxygen, and use 3-D printers in space to build the equipment to mine the rock for rare metals like platinum."
The benefits, he said, will be nothing less than protecting planet Earth, creating the world's first trillionaires, and paving the way for humans to live off the planet.
Outer space will be a seriously contested and congested place in the future. A combination of a plethora of new navigation satellite networks and services, new space faring nations (like Japan, India and China) and organizations (like GoogleGOOGL+0.56% and Facebook) entering the market and creation of R&D programs across various mass categories from micro- to heavy-satellites, as well as the trend of engaging commercial satellite platforms in dual applications (military and civil) will make this a very attractive “space” in the future.
The U.S. government has filed a motion with the Court of Federal Claims to dismiss a key element in a lawsuit by SpaceX challenging a sole-source multi-rocket contract awarded to United Launch Alliance last December. The motion argues SpaceX knew about the sole-source contract well in advance, never protested until well after it was awarded and was not qualified to compete for it in the first place.
"SpaceX's complaint is amorphous," the motion claims. "Rather than challenge a single procurement action, SpaceX broadly protests any [in italics] sole-source purchase of single-core evolved expendable launch vehicles (EELV) and associated launch services. This challenge appears to implicate the United States Air Force's entire EELV program -- including past and future purchases under various contracts."
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., wants to drag companies like SpaceX back to Earth and force them to comply with NASA's usual regulatory paperwork. This idea threatens to kill the goose that could lay the golden egg.
Under the current Commercial Crew Development program, SpaceX contracts with NASA for a flat payment. If SpaceX comes in under cost, it gets to keep the profit. If it goes over budget, SpaceX has to make up the difference. This system gives SpaceX more flexibility to operate as it sees fit.
Shelby has inserted language in a Senate appropriations bill that would instead force SpaceX to work on NASA's old cost-plus model. This would require the private company to track every step of its development, assign a cost to those steps and charge it to NASA, plus an additional fee. This stilted payment model forces engineers to be accountants and removes disincentives for bloated budgets.