Monday, May 9, 2011

Reviewing Commercial Space

Two new articles about commercial space are now on The Space Review.

"Commercial Space Skepticism" by Jeff Foust reviews the current state of commercial space and the motivations of those trying to oppose it. He focuses in particular on last week's House space subcommittee hearing, which included a proposal for the FAA to open a Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at Kennedy Space Center. Foust writes:

Some members of the subcommittee, though, were skeptical about the need for such a significant budget increase for AST. "You're asking for us to increase your budget for a 'what-if,'" claimed Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), who was perhaps the strongest critic of the proposed budget increase during the hearing (although, ironically, her district includes KSC and would thus benefit from the increased budget.) "I have grave concerns about that."

UPDATE May 9, 2011 8:30 PM EDTClick here to watch the video of the May 5 meeting.

Rep. Adams' questions begin at about the 50-minute mark in the video. It appears she is reading questions either provided for her or written by her in advance.

You can also read the report submitted by GAO Director Gerald Dillingham in association with his testimony at this hearing. On Page 11 of the report (Page 13 in the .PDF) it offers a preview of coming attractions:

We will evaluate NASA’s commercial crew transportation procurement strategy, insight and oversight plans, and indemnification approach — which NASA officials expect to provide to Congress in June — in response to a mandate in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and expect to issue a report later this year.

Foust also writes about a controversial article by the Lexington Institute slamming SpaceX. Foust notes the inaccuracies in the article; I should note that I've seen comments posted on several sites that allege financial ties between Lexington and the United Launch Alliance companies Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.

UPDATE May 10, 2011 12:30 PM EDT — Thanks to a comment posted at the end of Foust's article, I located a December 9, 2010 article which details who's behind the Lexington Institute. Author Jen DiMascio interviewed CEO Loren Thompson and wrote:

The 501(c)(3) Lexington Institute doesn’t disclose its donors. But Thompson said it receives contributions from defense giants Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and others, which pay Lexington to "comment on defense."

The institute brought in $2.4 million in 2009, according to its financial statements. Thompson proposes projects to its clients, such as one he wrote earlier this year denouncing subsidies received by the European Union, an argument used by Boeing for bouncing its competitor EADS from the effort to win the $35 billion tanker contract.

It should also be noted that SpaceX sued in 2005 in an attempt to block the ULA merger, alleging it would stifle competition. The judge dismissed the suit, ruling that SpaceX couldn't show it had been damaged since it hadn't launched any rockets yet! That's like saying you can't report a bank robbery if you're not a customer of the bank.

Recently retired Planetary Society executive director Lou Friedman published an article titled "Public-Private Partnerships in Space". Correctly noting there is no longer a Cold War justification for uncontrolled government space spending, Friedman writes:

Where space may play a major role is in boosting or even setting standards for public-private cooperation, an ever-increasing need in our economic and social programs. Political systems worldwide need to cope with a host of economic and social issues and changes. In every space-faring country, there is a strong private and commercial sector increasingly important and—in many cases—larger than the government. The US shift encouraging commercial rocket development follows increased roles for the private sector in communications, remote sensing, weather, and other Earth observing applications.

UPDATE May 24, 2011Rand Simberg responds to Thompson at the Washington Examiner web site.

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