Sticker shock over Congressionally designed rocket


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The Obama administration has discovered that the cost to build the program-formerly-called-Constellation, required by Congress, is going to be far more than they can stomach.

White House budget officials increasingly are concerned that some of NASA’s manned-exploration plans may be unaffordable, especially as the space agency weighs options that would raise the cost by billions of dollars by speeding up the development of rockets and spacecraft, according to people familiar with the issue.

The cost concerns are coming to a head, these people said, as the White House Office of Management and Budget ratchets up questions about NASA’s proposed program in light of the current emphasis on deficit reduction.

None of this surprises me.

First, the exorbitant costs are par for the course. There is no way a Congressionally designed rocket can be built cheaply, especially by NASA with its high and fixed labor costs. Second, I expected from the beginning that the Obama administration would balk at building this, partly because of that cost but mostly because Obama never really wanted to build it in the first place. Since the moment he took office he has done everything he can to cancel the Bush space exploration effort.

Expect this heavy-lift rocket to be the first casualty of the new budget-cutting effort. And from my perspective, that will be a good thing, as any money spent for this monstrosity will be a waste. There will never be enough money to finish it.

Whether the commercial space subsidizes will survive as well is problematic, however. Unlike the program-formerly-called-Constellation, those subsidizes don’t yet have the constituencies in Congress to support them. In the present atmosphere of budget cuts, they might easily go away, especially since I think Obama doesn’t really care about them that much. I am glad his administration has been pushing the development of this private space industry, but I also suspect that the President really wouldn’t mind if the money was spent on something else, such as education, as he said during the early days of the 2008 campaign.

Share

4 comments

  • Joe2

    Not interrupt the political posturing with facts but according to the article:
    – The $62.5 B covers the costs for (1) The SLS (2) The MPCV (3) Either a Lunar Lander or a Hab Module (for asteroid missions) and (4) Operations costs through 2025.
    – The $62.5 B is spread over 14 years (2011 to 2025). This averages $4.5 B per year.
    – Before Obama began to try to dismantle the countries HSF capability its budget was about $10 B per year.
    – If you assume additional HSF spending of $1 B per year for your beloved Commercial Crew (the Administration is only asking for $0.850 B per year) and $3 B per year for the ISS (what the administration is asking – which includes future funding for your beloved COTS) that is only $8.5 B. That would be a budget cut (in real dollar terms) of 15% to HSF and the program would still be affordable.

    This is actually good news for proponents of a continuing American HSF being spun as bad news by the Obama Administrations OMB. The Wall Street Journal’s reporter bought it and (sadly, but predictably – because it is what you want to believe) so did you.

  • Kelly Starks

    SLS is the flagship program for NASA now – so the cost (about what they rae saving from canceling shuttle ad the endof ISS assembly, should be coverable.

    CCDev and JWST are likely shaking in their boots, but if congress cancels SLS, they effectivly are ending even thepretense of the US having a maned space program – and I don’t think they are going to pull that trigger.

  • Tom Billings

    Joe, your numbers, in the present financial climate, are ludicrous. Those who demand that our socialist President switch back to the statist growth programs that typified NASA since LBJ are riding for a fall, because the money won’t be there, and Senator Shelby knows it.

    Our best hope is that Obama does not care about Space. Thus, he does not intend to manipulate our growth into Space to increase the power of the State he tries to control.

    No, American Exceptionalism is *not* served by a large government monopoly in Space. The core of American Exceptionalism has always been what Americans are free to do, not what they are compelled by government to pay for. All the Apollo Cargo Cult fever in the Solar System will not get us out of LEO and on to the Moon and planets.

    As Senator Shelby’s recent maneuvers show, the only thing he is interested in is turning NASA into the Northern Alabama Space Agency. He doesn’t even want KSC, where his monster supposedly would launch from, to get money to prepare itself for the future. He has dumped the ATK crowd from Utah, because liquid rocket boosters can be built in Alabama. Of course, a few years after he got his wish, NASA would vanish, by finally becoming parochial enough that even Congress cannot ignore that NASA benefits only the jobs of those who depend on Senator Shelby.

    Until we get commercial networks doing the decision making on resource allocation for spaceflight, we will continue following Congresses piped pipers towards the final desert where both NASA and our own chances at participating in human spaceflight, will starve.

  • Joe2

    Tom Billings says:
    “Joe, your numbers, in the present financial climate, are ludicrous. Those who demand that our socialist President switch back to the statist growth programs that typified NASA since LBJ are riding for a fall, because the money won’t be there, and Senator Shelby knows it.”

    The numbers I quoted are accurate and that would be true in any climate. They mean that the program can be afforded with a flat line NASA Budget. You may believe that the NASA Budget is going to be drastically reduced but that has certainly not happened yet. Since I never mentioned Senator Shelby I have no idea why you bring him up in response to me.

    “No, American Exceptionalism is *not* served by a large government monopoly in Space. The core of American Exceptionalism has always been what Americans are free to do, not what they are compelled by government to pay for. All the Apollo Cargo Cult fever in the Solar System will not get us out of LEO and on to the Moon and planets.”

    Thanks for giving me your interpretation of ‘American Exceptionalism’, but since I never mentioned it I have no idea why you are bringing it up in response to me. Again, I never mentioned Senator Shelby and I have no idea why you bring him up in response to me.

    “As Senator Shelby’s recent maneuvers show, the only thing he is interested in is turning NASA into the Northern Alabama Space Agency. He doesn’t even want KSC, where his monster supposedly would launch from, to get money to prepare itself for the future. He has dumped the ATK crowd from Utah, because liquid rocket boosters can be built in Alabama. Of course, a few years after he got his wish, NASA would vanish, by finally becoming parochial enough that even Congress cannot ignore that NASA benefits only the jobs of those who depend on Senator Shelby.”

    For the third time, since I never mentioned Senator Shelby if I have no idea why you bring him up in response to me.

    “Until we get commercial networks doing the decision making on resource allocation for spaceflight, we will continue following Congresses piped pipers towards the final desert where both NASA and our own chances at participating in human spaceflight, will starve.”

    You seem to want to make this a debate about Government programs vs. your libertarian ‘ideals’ (or is it your dislike for Shelby?). I simply pointed out a few facts about what the numbers on which the Wall Street Journal article is supposedly based actually mean. I have no interest what so ever, in debating the merits/demerits of libertarianism.

    Have a nice day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *