NASA says it can't afford new rocket, spacecraft (Update)

Jan 13, 2011 by Jean-Louis Santini
Space Shuttle Atlantis lands at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2010. NASA this week told Congress it cannot afford to build a new heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft to replace the retiring space shuttle program within the current budget approved by Congress.

NASA this week told Congress it cannot afford to build a new heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft to replace the retiring space shuttle program within the timeframe and budget approved by lawmakers.

The plan to make a first launch of a new rocket and space capsule to carry astronauts by 2016 "does not appear to be possible" within the projected budget, NASA said in a report to legislators.

Four members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation shot back that the plan is not optional and that the US space agency must find a way.

"The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It's the law," said a joint statement issued late Wednesday by Senators John Rockefeller, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Bill Nelson and David Vitter.

"NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works. We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently -- and, it must be a priority."

The Senate committee released a copy of the NASA report, which the US space agency had not issued publicly but presented to lawmakers on January 10.

It said that NASA fears it does not have the adequate funds according to budgets outlined in the fiscal year 2011 and President Barack Obama's 2012 budget request.

"None of the design options studied thus far appeared to be affordable in our present fiscal conditions, based upon existing cost models, historical data, and traditional acquisition approaches," said the NASA report.

The US space agency said no structures match the three criteria set out by its administrator for developing a future exploration system that is "affordable, sustainable and realistic."

NASA said it would continue to study the matter and would issue another report to Congress in April.

That report will aim "to update our approach based on the plans described herein and, if necessary, modifications based on the outcome of FY 2011 appropriations and the president's FY 2012 budget request."

The final two -- or if the budget allows, three -- space shuttle flights are set to take place this year, with Discovery scheduled to launch February 24 and Endeavour on April 19, before the fleet is retired for good.

According to expert John Logsdon, the NASA report comes as no surprise, because the US space agency administrator Charles Bolden has already informed top Senators that the plan before them was unrealistic.

"Even if they got more money I don't think they could achieve it by 2016," said Logsdon, former Director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University, adding that 2018 or 2020 might be more feasible.

"Something this big will require more than five years," he said.

Logsdon added that the apparent clash between senators and NASA was actually "the beginning of a dialogue."

"There is no doubt in my mind that NASA wants to build this heavy lift vehicle," Logsdon said. "It's also clear to me that based on NASA analysis they cannot do it under the conditions that have been written in the authorization act.

"So they have to go back and forth for some period of time so that Congress understands the basis of the NASA conclusion."

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User comments : 34

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brianlmerritt
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
Can't afford to build new rockets.

Can't afford to not build new rockets.

Time to kick off a gold rush to companies who can get us up into space - free land / resources...
Doug_Huffman
1.3 / 5 (13) Jan 13, 2011
Oh we can afford to build rockets but only by injecting the economic stimulus at the 'top' of the economy and letting it trickle down to the intended Affirmative Action recipients - and that will NEVER happen.

The value of America has been poured down the welfare blackhole and most are dumber-found by the result.
jselin
4.7 / 5 (15) Jan 13, 2011
"The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It's the law,"

This statement really infuriates me... what, are they going to jail if they fail? The budget is set by people who haven't the slightest clue how to plan a mega engineering project. "hey nerds! make me a rocket! Right meow!"
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2011
What about the elephant in the room - ULAs flight-proven Atlas launch system? It is already almost man-rated, and ULA has offered to launch NASA payloads, including heavy ones.

I guess politics is more important than technical and economical considerations. Mark my words, the US will end up with two costly rockets, and no money for actual payloads.. :(
J-n
4.8 / 5 (8) Jan 13, 2011
Oh we can afford to build rockets but only by injecting the economic stimulus at the 'top' of the economy and letting it trickle down to the intended Affirmative Action recipients - and that will NEVER happen.


This sounds a lot like a 13 year old who's never actually studied economics.

How exactly would giving the rich (who already have gotten massive tax cuts from G. Bush) further stimulate our economy? If all of your needs and wants are met by your current income (rich) why would a few extra thousand dollars affect your spending (stimulate the economy)?

If your needs and wants are not met by your current income would it not stand to reason that every penny of money given to them (the lower/middle/upper-middle) would be spent (stimulating the economy)?

I fail to understand how giving money to people who will not spend it will stimulate the economy. Right now we don't need more investment in businesses, we need more people purchasing goods and services from businesses
nada
4.8 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2011
Our government is so good at outsourcing jobs and putting Americans out of work. I'm surprised they haven't suggested outsourcing NASA to China.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
We don't need a new heavy boost to get to Mars. This should not be a big slap in the face for research. Where this is a big deal is that heavyboost is one of NASA's biggest money makers and provides the "oooo, ahhh" effect.

We should increase the funding so that we don't lose out on the revenue gained from heavy boost research and potential research breakthroughs.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.7 / 5 (6) Jan 13, 2011
J-N:

I'm with you.

I'm for increased income tax on the wealthy, as well as "progressive luxury tax" on sales of things like movie tickets, sports tickets and suit rental, four and five star hotel rooms, first class plane tickets, yachts, private planes and luxury vehicles.

In a nation where 1 in 7 is below the poverty line, those top 1% who have 23% of income need to be taxed till about 20% of that is take away. They'll still be 2 or 3 times as wealthy as anyone else even after that taxation is done, so they have no room to complain, IMO.

We need a millionaire's tax, a ten millionaire's tax (especially actors, atheletes, and other circus clowns,) a hundred millionaire's tax, and a billionaire's tax.

Actors, singers and atheletes should pay a 90% income tax on what they make from television, movies, sports, or endorsements. Anyone who can't live well enough on a few hundred thousand per year certainly doesn't deserve tens or hundreds of millions per year.
SDrapak
5 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2011
Looks like we picked the wrong time to spend a ton of money shootin up a bunch of a-rabs
Modernmystic
1.4 / 5 (9) Jan 13, 2011
"The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It's the law,"

This statement really infuriates me... what, are they going to jail if they fail? The budget is set by people who haven't the slightest clue how to plan a mega engineering project. "hey nerds! make me a rocket! Right meow!"


So are you saying that people should be able to take government money and piss it away. That's usually called fraud...

We could send a man to the moon in the 1960s but these ****ING MORONS can't get us to orbit?

Uh YEAH that's criminal...
boznz
5 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2011
Our government is so good at outsourcing jobs and putting Americans out of work. I'm surprised they haven't suggested outsourcing NASA to China.

Outsource it to SpaceX
apex01
1 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2011
J-n,

You sound like somebody who's only studied Keynesian economics and not Supply Side economics 101. If you raise taxes on the rich(people who make 250k or more), they will leave and the tax revenue that was already there will disappear. All redistribution of wealth really does is redistribute people. Take a look at all the uber liberal states. They are seeing population decreases according to the U.S. census. Also, the rich will have less incentive to work and produce(therefore lowering the price of goods) because higher taxes are hindering them.
So are you telling me if 30 million people in this country are on unemployment they will contribute to the economy? What are they producing? Why don't we all go on unemployment and see how that works out?!
apex01
not rated yet Jan 14, 2011
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2011

Outsource it to SpaceX


Exactly, SpaceX or ULA. If the NASA state moloch is unable to even develop heavy-lift for that money, it is time to rethink their abilities. This whole thing stinks of political machinations intended only to milk federal budget, thats pretty clear to me..
gvgoebel
not rated yet Jan 14, 2011

Outsource it to SpaceX


SpaceX has plans for a Falcon XX booster with a lift capacity of 140 tonnes to LEO. SpaceX is still wet behind the ears and not 100% credible ... but NASA's credibility isn't so hot, either. It's the devil we know only too well.
alq131
not rated yet Jan 14, 2011
All this really shows is the lack of a real U.S. Space Policy. Is this law requiring NASA to design and build a Heavy Rocket, or just to acquire the end result of having one. The X-prize and related contest based/performance based payments are resulting in huge innovations and working systems...for a fraction of the cost that NASA is planning on spending to start a new system on the drawing board.

I would rather see $500M spent awarding prize(s) to a company that made a successful system than NASA spending $2B on starting new. Especially when it's been shown that we get a large number of companies spending as much in combination and delivering more innovation and working results.

Ultimately, this makes the tax-the-rich argument. We can tax Elon Musk out of existence to fund NASA's single approach, or we can let him and other rich investors "piss" their money away funding a broad approach to finding a solution, which creates many more jobs.
freethinking
1.8 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2011
Here a the plan. First off, lets get NASA to focus on space again instead of making Muslim Counties feel good, then fire everyone at NASA who works for a government Union. Then, re-hire those that want to actually work at industry standard wages and benefits.

We will then have enough money to build a heavy lift rocket, send men to the moon and mars, and actually have inovation at NASA again.

As an added benefit, since unions support only democrats, the democratic party will loose a lot of money, workers, etc..

No tax increase needed.

If we could do the same with the teachers union, an added benefit would be that our kids would actually get an education.
Modernmystic
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2011
All this budget BS is a smokescreen.

If a private company can do it without the MASSIVE difference in funding compared to NASA...

You HONESTLY believe there isn't some mis-f***ing management going on?
alq131
5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2011
I agree it's a smokescreen. There IS huge mis-management. But it may be more accurately stated that NASA as an organization is flawed. It's government. The hard deadline of 2016 is laughable...because to JSELIN's point, what are they going to do, fire everyone? end NASA? no. They will pass a new budget appropriation and new timeline.

A private company, on the other hand, with a 2016 deadline is probably do or die. If they don't have a product to "launch" their investors will walk and the company WILL be gone. Look at the ROTON SSTO rocket, etc.

The goals are flawed with NASA. They should do the risky research, then hand it over quickly to the private sector. Take a lead from DARPA. DARPA builds nothing. They fund and manage projects usually with private companies.
Wulfgar
3 / 5 (3) Jan 15, 2011
Where is this huge track record of private companies outdoing NASA? I hear a lot of loose talk, but very little to show for it. Also, these so called private companies will rely on government funds, as they are already doing. Space is expensive and complex. Its not about government inefficiencies and bureaucracy stifling innovation. Congress will almost certainly give them the money to develop heavy lift capability. In return, NASA will cut funding somewhere else or terminate this or that other program, which could be heartbreaking. Developing a whole new system takes a lot of time, testing, money, and manpower. There's no real way around that.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2011
Where is this huge track record of private companies outdoing NASA? I hear a lot of loose talk, but very little to show for it.


Look at Atlas V and Delta IV launches in past decade. That is not what I would call very little.

Also, these so called private companies will rely on government funds, as they are already doing.


Of course, we are talking about outsourcing, not development for private money.

ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2011
Its not about government inefficiencies and bureaucracy stifling innovation. Congress will almost certainly give them the money to develop heavy lift capability. In return, NASA will cut funding somewhere else or terminate this or that other program, which could be heartbreaking. Developing a whole new system takes a lot of time, testing, money, and manpower. There's no real way around that.


Its about lobyists getting their way, instead of sensible technological and economical decisions.
We can have HLV for a few billion, in a few years, and with quite low fixed costs.
Or we can have HLV for 15 billion, in 2018 at best, and with such fixed costs that there will be little money left for actual payloads.
GoodElf
not rated yet Jan 16, 2011
What can I say?... "No bucks... no Buck Rogers". But who said "Buck" is going along for the ride (take the X-37b for instance)? Civilian space travel beyond Earth is "off" so where is a HLV realistically going?

Seems obvious to me but there would be existing "dark" military programs and available HLV's that could probably do heavy lift duties right now. There is no President Kennedy to commit the nation to a space exploration program so what's the hurry? Clearly the US is talking about a Military Program... so user pays! The space shuttle was originally designed to launch Keyhole satellites... it's far too big that is really why it is being retired. If you just want to go to the space station the Russians are doing a good job already with tried and true technology.

Everyone knows that the cost of the US civilian programs are like icebergs... only about 1/10th of the project's money goes into providing the "end product"... the other 9/10ths goes into "Dark Projects" for the Military
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
apex-01:

many of the wealthy people I talked about taxing cannot leave, because they wouldn't have a job or role over seas.

There are 30 million people on unemployment because capitalistic employers outsource slave labor to children in foreign nations in order to maximize their individual profits, meanwhile passing none of the savings on to the consumer.

glenn beck's idiotic solution is for more people to become "entrepreneurs", but what are these small businesses going to make or sell? Not food, clothing, medicine, or shelter. So if we've already got all the "needs" met in terms of supply and logistics, there's nothing else to make except entertainment.

Will we have 30 million small businesses selling "gourmet cupcakes" and "hand crafted what-nots"? Is that the "economics" republicans want?
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
Recently, the high-tech "border fence" was just cancelled, after installing 53 miles of it for what was reportedly "nearly 1 billion dollars".

I did some math and found that this project costed $3573 per running foot of border.

Concrete currently costs $100 per cubic yard. At that price, you could have made a solid concrete wall 35 feet tall and 27 feet thick, and still had money left over to pay for the form material and a barbed wire and razor wired fence on the top edge of the Mexican side of the concrete structure.

The amount of waste and corruption in our government is ridiculous. When faced with any problem whatsoever, it automatically costs them at least a few hundred million dollars just to decide whether they are going to do anything about it at all.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
Our economic system is so perverted it's a joke.

We have people on unemployment and homeless who go to food pantries an shelters to get food that must be donated by charities who had to PAY for the food from a market or salvage place, meanwhile, the government actually pays some larger farming operations NOT to produce food...

So for eample, hunger in America isn't a matter of lack of food, we have all the food you could want, but needy people can't get food without money, because governments and corporations would rather watch someone starve, so long as they can make an extra dollar by doing so.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jan 16, 2011
I did some math and found that this project costed $3573 per running foot of border.

Concrete currently costs $100 per cubic yard. At that price, you could have made a solid concrete wall 35 feet tall and 27 feet thick, and still had money left over to pay for the form material and a barbed wire and razor wired fence on the top edge of the Mexican side of the concrete structure.

Two predator drones, total cost $58000 is cheaper and covers the whole area much more efficiently.

Guess who just signed the authorization?
The amount of waste and corruption in our government is ridiculous.
Well, cement walls don't stop cartel agents. Surveillance does.
maxcypher
not rated yet Jan 16, 2011
I agree that the gov't is both wasteful and corrupt. Now that corporations have license to buy-up as many politicians as they want (assuming the market isn't already saturated), the only time things will get done is when the lobbyists give the say-so. My question is this: does America not care about the needy and underprivileged at all? It's looking more and more like the bottom two-thirds will have two options: help push up daisies, or be owned like slaves.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2011
It's looking more and more like the bottom two-thirds will have two options: help push up daisies, or be owned like slaves.


America has always had slavery at the point of a gun.

They've just changed the name a few times since the term "SLAVE" was abolished.

It was then replaced with "share cropping" and child labor.

The early monopolies in the coal, steel, oil, and railroad industries simply killed their own workers if they went on strike or asked for a raise, and this continued right up through the mid 1920's and maybe even 1930's.

Even today, to a large extent, you are "owned" by the company you work for. Not doing a good enough job? They will fire you and "buy" someone else at a lower price. The system works for the employer because they know there is always some other sucker in line who has no choice but to work for the lowest possible wage the employer can get away with.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
Two predator drones, total cost $58000 is cheaper and covers the whole area much more efficiently.

Guess who just signed the authorization?


That's only worthwhile if the operator has authority to open fire.

Otherwise, they'll slip through the cracks, and ICE and DHS will just let them go anyway once they've been apprehended, if anyone bothers to apprehend them at all.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2011
BAsed on the 2009 gdp, and the 2010 census, the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. is $187,694 per 4.1 people.

Here, I used 4.1 people, because a reproductive rate of 2.1 children per couple is needed to maintain a stable population, and because the "real" American family is so warped that any other assumption is pretty much too complicated to consider in 1000 characters.

Anyway, this comes to $187,600 per household.

Which means that the average couple in the U.S. produces an amount of goods and services every year which could pay for an entire 3 or 4 bedroom, 2 bath house (at it's real cost, not the fake bubble cost,) yet they don't make anywhere near that much money, because almost all of the value of what they produce ends up as wealth in the hands of the top 10%, and in fact nearly 1/4th of the value of what they produce ends up as wealth in the hands of the top 1% of people.

Got slaves?
Dr_Tom
1 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2011
Nasa is way behind the curve on purpose.The public and the "Lower " government are not to know that lifters travel across the US everyday.
Whether just a roundship or a mini boom or a Tiger or scout ship(Round,20 man) they have existed since the beginning of the building of the super-universes.
Larger cargo ships can hold 4 satellites at once and not even break a sweat getting into space.
Anti gravity is easy when you have an understanding of gravity.
The world is in a fog,wake up.
Soon ,you should see ships,we'll see wont we?
Science is very,very controlled here,the US is the most controlled society on Earth, Ha,Ha.
Just observing correctly will get you lifter pictures.
Dont you think that the secured biological section at Wright -Pat in former years was just "garbage"?
Heres the real threat to your psychii,we all came here in different time eras in a ship,and whether your family has been here just 2 cycles of your transit timing and time,or many ,many centuries,YOU
Dr_Tom
1 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2011
YOU still came here in a Starship.
There were no creation events here or Darwinian garbage.
You poor saps,they have been taking you for a financial ride for a long,long time,and depleting you medically and you do not even comprehend that the "MedicaSymbol" scrolled across our commercials and stationery and on the front of medical buildings is the schematic for a lift motor for a starship.
As I said anti-grav is easy,and so are YOU.
Suckers,Suckers,Suckers, and you are just so,so, scientifically adept, now are'nt you???
Decimatus
not rated yet Jan 16, 2011
Some of you who advocate taxing the wealthy until they have no money left fail to realize that they will all simply move overseas if that happens.

What we need to do is drop income taxes and go with a single flat rate VAT tax.

A VAT Tax is literally the only way we will ever be able to tax goods coming from China without slapping tarriffs on them.