Thursday, April 12, 2012

Time to Play the Game

Spaceflight Now reports that Boeing believes "the commercial crew taxi may not be ready for orbital flights until 2016, assuming the company receives the anticipated funding from NASA in an award due by August."

According to John Mulholland, vice president and general manager of Boeing commercial programs, the schedule for CST-100 orbital flight tests and the craft's entry into service will depend on how much money Boeing receives in the CCiCap award and the subsequent certification phase ...

"With appropriate funding, we still can support a 2015 entry into service. I would say, and I can't be real specific on it, to hold the 2015 date, we would need, it appears, slightly more than the $300 million to $500 million in the base period," Mulholland said.

Commercial crew advocates have pressed Congress in recent weeks to approve the $830 million requested by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2013.  The 2010 NASA Authorization Act authorizes only $500 million for commercial crew in FY 2013, as it did for FY 2012.  The Obama administration asked for $850 million for FY 2012, only to have Congress cut it to just $406 million, even less than what was authorized in 2010.

After last year's cuts, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden warned Congress that this cut would result in delaying commercial crew's operational status two years until 2017, meaning another two years NASA would pay Russia to fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz vehicles.  NASA currently pays $450 million a year to Russia for Soyuz crew flights.

With the House Appropriations Committee about to begin its markup of FY 2013 appropriations, Mr. Mulholland's comments are timely, and perhaps not coincidental.

Boeing was the top aerospace lobbyist in 2011, according to OpenSecrets.org.  Boeing spent $15.9 million on lobbying, with Lockheed Martin #2 at $15.2 million.

Upstart SpaceX is down the list at #6, having spent only $860,000.

Put another way ... Boeing has a much louder and more influential voice in Washington than does SpaceX.

Having watched the recent House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, perhaps Boeing has realized it's time to throw its corporate weight around.  Members of both committees remain highly skeptical of commercial crew, preferring to pay Russia rather than invest in the U.S. space industry.  Some, such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), falsely claim that the Space Launch System is a "backup" for International Space Station access should commercial crew fail, hoping to justify more pork flowing to their states and districts.

Boeing spent 18 times more money on lobbying than rival SpaceX in D.C. last year, so if anyone can get through to Congress on this issue, it's Boeing.

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