If you like seeing U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to Russia, you'll love H.R. 810.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2015 was introduced February 9 by House of Representatives space subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), whose district just happens to include NASA's Stennis Space Center, which tests Space Launch System engines.
The House Subcommittee on Space has representatives from both parties who represent districts with NASA space centers and/or legacy system contractors. The 2010 authorization act mandated that NASA develop the Space Launch System, and Section 304 required NASA to use “existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects” — without any competitive bidding.
SLS was, from its inception, workfare for NASA space centers and their contractors. Critics dubbed it the Senate Launch System because senators that represented NASA space center/contractor states crafted the SLS language to protect jobs in their states.
Without deliberation in committee, H.R. 810 was fast-tracked to the House floor, where it was passed by voice vote on February 10.
What's there to dislike about H.R. 810?
Let's start with Sec. 201, Space Exploration Policy.
It is the policy of the United States that the goal of the Administration’s exploration program shall be to successfully conduct a crewed mission to the surface of Mars to begin human exploration of that planet.
Numerous studies have informed Congress over recent years that such a “goal” would cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars, and require decades to accomplish.
The House Subcommittee on Space has yet to articulate a compelling reason why this should be NASA's raison d'être, other than vague assertions that it will “inspire” people. They've never offered any evidence to support this assertion, nor have they explained why NASA shouldn't continue with its far safer and cheaper program of exploring Mars with robots.
The real reason can be found in Sec. 203, Space Launch System.
... [T]he primary goal for the design of the fully integrated Space Launch System, including an upper stage needed to go beyond low-Earth orbit, is to safely carry a total payload to enable human space exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond over the course of the next century ...
Yep, you read that right. They want SLS to be the official NASA launch vehicle through the year 2100.
Talk about guaranteed jobs.
The committee members who wrote this bill are trying to lock in the pork for their districts through the end of the 21st Century.
SLS is based on 1970s-era Space Shuttle technology. So this committee would have us believe that this technology should still be used for another 85 years.
Imagine if an early 20th Century Congress had written a law mandating that the Wright Flyer be the only government airplane until the year 2000.
If you're Vladimir Putin, you'll fully endorse Sec. 204(b)(2) which requires the NASA administrator within 60 days of the act's enactment to detail “the expected date that the Orion crew capsule will be available to transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station.”
NASA already has two commercial cargo vehicles, the SpaceX Dragon and the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, delivering cargo to the ISS. There's no reason to develop a cargo version of Orion.
As for crew, NASA does not plan to crew-rate Orion until the early 2020s — and that's for deep-space missions beyond Earth orbit. Orion was not designed to go to the ISS, and the SLS would be significantly overpowered for such a task. NASA's agreements with its ISS partners expire in 2020; the agency is negotiating with the partners for an extension through 2024, as directed in January 2014 by the Obama administration. Even so, NASA is scheduled to have two commercial crew vehicles, the SpaceX Dragon V2 and the Boeing CST-100, operational by 2017.
The commercial crew program was supposed to be operational this year but, thanks to five years of Congressional cutting of the Obama administration's funding requests, the program has slipped two to three years.
To cross the finish line as soon as possible, for Fiscal Year 2016 the Obama administration has requested $1.2 billion for commercial crew. But H.R. 810 would slice that request by up to half, extending reliance on Russia for another one to two years.
Section 215 calls on NASA to develop “at least one crew transportation system” from the private sector. Referring back to Section 203(c), we find why it is that the committee wants NASA to downsize the commercial crew program.
Given the critical importance of a heavy-lift launch vehicle and crewed spacecraft to enable the achievement of the goal established in section 201(a) of this Act, as well as the accomplishment of intermediate exploration milestones and the provision of a backup capability to transfer crew and cargo to the International Space Station, the Administrator shall make the expeditious development, test, and achievement of operational readiness of the Space Launch System and the Orion crew capsule the highest priority of the exploration program.
So there you have it ... They would rather extend U.S. reliance on Russia to force more billions be spent on SLS and Orion in their districts.
To further poison the commercial crew program, Section 215(g) requires the NASA administrator to develop plans for funding commercial crew at as low as $600 million a year over the next three fiscal years — half what the Obama administration requests.
In summary ... The members of the House space subcommittee want to extend NASA reliance on Russia for the rest of the decade so that sometime in the early 2020s a crew of four will be launched to an undefined location on a vehicle that NASA will be required to fly until the year 2100.
As depressing as all this may sound, the good news is the Senate is free to dispose of H.R. 810 in the nearest recycling bin.
As space policy analyst Marcia Smith wrote February 10 on SpacePolicyOnline.com, H.R. 810 is largely a rehash of H.R. 4412, passed by the House on June 9, 2014 but ignored by the Senate.
Something similar happened in October 2010 with the 2010 NASA authorization act. The Senate crafted its own version, which cancelled Constellation to create the Space Launch System, then sent that bill over to the House. The House approved the Senate version instead of their own committee's version.
So there's every reason to hope that H.R. 810 will be dead on arrival.
The big difference is that in 2014 the Democrats ran the Senate, but now the Republicans are in charge.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) now chairs the Senate space subcommittee. He is reportedly is a supporter of NewSpace. We've yet to see any legislative evidence of that, but the panel was recently renamed the Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. The addition of that last word has given a glimmer of hope to those who find the blatant House porkery repugnant.
It's going to be another long summer on the Hill for those who want to liberate space from the inbred alliance of politicians, NASA space centers and their no-bid contractors.