Tag Archives: Congress

Democrats add space language to platform

The Democrats have added language to their party platform that expresses support for NASA and continuing its funding.

It’s only a single paragraph filled with the typical blather we see in both parties’ platforms: We support it! It’s great! It’s for the children!. The last line however gives a sense of where they’d like to focus their funding:

We will strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space.

Not surprisingly, if compelled to support space the Democrats see it mostly as a vehicle for increased international cooperation.

Despite my cynical analysis above, the fact that both parties feel compelled right now to express positions supporting the exploration of space is a sign indicating where the political winds are blowing. The excitement created by SpaceX’s low prices and successful vertical first stage landings has even reached into the thick skulls of politicians from both parties. Rather than mouth the Democratic half-century-old mantra that “We should solve our problems here on Earth before spending it in space” (first pushed hard by Ted Kennedy in a speech the night before Apollo 11 was launched to the Moon), Democrats have not only apparently concluded that this won’t sell anymore, they now feel it necessary to express support for space funding.

Now, if only we can convince them to stop wasting it on SLS we might actually build a thriving and competitive space industry, capable of doing it all.

ULA chief says Congress deal clears path to Vulcan

The competition heats up: The CEO of ULA, Tory Bruno, said in an industry publication interview today that the Congressional deal that allows the company to buy 22 more Russian engines for its Atlas 5 clears the way for their eventual transition to the Vulcan rocket and an end to dependence on those Russian engines.

The article is worth a careful read, as it also provides a very detailed look at ULA’s future plans for its Atlas 5, Delta 4 Heavy, and Vulcan rockets. This paragraph was especially interesting:

The next major milestone is determining what engine will replace the [Russian] RD-180. Washington-based Blue Origin is developing the BE-4, a privately funded Liquid Oxygen (Lox) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) engine capable of 550,000 pounds of thrust (lbf); and California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne is creating the AR1, a government-supported Lox/Kerosene (RP-1) engine capable of 500,000lbf. Either replacement will require two engines to match the power of the RD-180. Blue Origin claims its engine, already four years into development, will be flight qualified by 2017, while Aerojet Rocketdyne, having started its development later, says the AR1 will be flight qualified by 2019. Bruno said ULA would make its decision soon.

“Sometime close to the end of the year we are going to down-select, and then move into our Critical Design Review (CDR) and start manufacturing the rocket,” he said.

I strongly suspect they want to go with Blue Origin’s engine, because it is more powerful, farther along in development, and almost certainly less expensive. The question will be whether pressure from Congress, which favors Aerojet Rocketdyne’s engine for pork barrel reasons (Congress is funding it), will force ULA to go with it instead.

EPA’s gasoline efficiency tests are garbage

Our government in action: The tests the EPA uses to establish the fuel efficiency of cars are unreliable, and likely provide no valid information at all about the fuel efficiency of the cars tested.

The law requiring cars to meet these fuel efficiency tests was written in the 1970s, and specifically sets standards based on the technology then. Worse,

[T]he EPA doesn’t know exactly how its CAFE testing correlates with actual results, because it has never done a comprehensive study of real-world fuel economy. Nor does anyone else. The best available data comes from consumers who report it to the DOT—hardly a scientific sampling.

Other than that, everything is fine. Companies are forced to spend billions on this regulation, the costs of which they immediately pass on to consumers, all based on fantasy and a badly-written law. Gee, I’m sure glad we never tried this with healthcare!

Obama illegally funding Obamacare, stonewalling Congress

The law is such an inconvenient thing: According to a new report, the Obama administration has been illegally funding Obamacare, and stonewalling Congress when it tries to exercise its constitutional required fiscal responsibility.

Among the report’s seemingly endless list of bad behavior by the Obama administration, it noted that multiple federal agencies withheld or redacted documents from Congress, “without any valid legal basis to do so.”

Hey, who cares about the law? That’s just some silly piece of paper that some old white guys wrote some 240 years ago. We are liberal, we are Democrats, and we know best. Now shut up and do as you are told!

Republicans and Democrats fight to restrict freedoms

Ugh: House Republicans move to introduce new gun control law, House Democrats vow to fight it because it will allow for due process.

From the second link:

A Democratic source said the more controversial gun-purchase provision may be similar to a bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that’s backed by the National Rifle Association. Democrats say the Cornyn bill doesn’t go far enough since it includes a “probable cause” standard that would require law enforcement officials to prove that a gun buyer is an actual terrorist rather than a suspected terrorist. Instead, Democrats want a vote on legislation that would bar firearm sales to anyone on a terrorism watch list or no-fly list.

Without a vote on their own legislation, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other Democrats have threatened to take control of the House floor once again after they return from the Fourth of July recess. On Wednesday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and dozens of other Democrats held events around the country demanding action to stop gun violence.

It is disgusting how Democrats no longer support the idea of due process, that they are cool with the idea of secret lists that can deny any American his or her constitutional rights. Boy will they squeal when those lists are used to deny them their rights!

However, it is just as disgusting that the Republicans are playing into the Democrats hands here by introducing any gun control legislation. This is not how you fight Islamic terrorism, by denying Americans access to guns. You fight Islamic terrorism by standing up for our rights while aggressively going after the terrorists who commit those acts of violence.

McCain agrees to compromise over Atlas 5 Russian engines

A deal struck today by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) will allow ULA to buy 18 more Russian engines for its Atlas 5, instead of the limit of nine that McCain had previously demanded.

The deal also includes a deadline of 2022, after which no more Russian engines can be purchased, even if some of the 18 have not yet been bought.

House committee reshapes NASA budget

The House appropriations committee has outlined its recommendations for NASA’s 2017 budget.

Like the Senate the House is pushing more money for SLS and is demanding NASA use it to fly two missions to Europa in the early 2020s (likely delaying SLS’s first manned mission), In addition, the House wants NASA to abandon any plans for an asteroid mission and instead go back to the Moon. They also pumped up the planetary program, and express reservations about the manned commercial program.

Finally, in a wonderful example of congressional micro-managing, the committee ordered NASA to begin work on flying an interstellar mission to Alpha Centauri by the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11.

While some of the changes the committee is recommending (increasing planetary research funding for example) make sense, the overall priorities of Congress continue to appear to me to be misplaced. Their continuing emphasis on SLS while questioning commercial space illustrates their focus on pork rather than actual accomplishments. And their continuing effort to micromanage many NASA missions does not bode well for the success of those missions.

There is one takeaway from this House budget recommendation that most news sources are missing: The first manned flight of Orion is almost certainly not flying in 2021. I have seen numerous indicators in the past four months suggesting that NASA is going to delay it, and this budget recommendation’s insistence that NASA use SLS to fly Europa missions in 2022 and 2024 almost guarantees that delay.

Cruz supporters dominate Washtington state convention

The real Republican election: Though Donald Trump is likely to win the upcoming Washington primary and thus its delegates, at the state’s convention this weekend the party chose a slate of Ted Cruz backers to be those delegates, even if they have to vote for Trump.

This is how we change things, regardless of who wins the election in November. Get conservatives into government at the ground level. Have them dominate policy issues. Have them move up the ranks and dominate the state legislatures. Have those winners move up and dominate Congress.

We do that, and it won’t matter much who is president, because it will be these legislators who will control the agenda. In a sense, this is why Trump’s liberal tendencies are probably less of a threat than Clinton’s committed socialism. Give them both a conservative Congress and Trump, being more malleable, will bend to its will while Clinton, a hardline leftist, will fight it every step of the way. This is another reason I like Cruz. He understands this, which is why he worked so hard to build a grass-roots foundation for his campaign. He might not be the president, but when the next president starts trying to make policy it will be Cruz’s people who will guide him.

It is thus very important that conservatives do not boycott the upcoming elections, even if they choose not to vote for a presidential candidate. It is essential the Congress and the state legislatures remain firmly conservative, and for that to happen conservatives have to vote.

Congress pushes for Europa missions

A new House budget bill stipulates that NASA fly two unmanned missions to Europa, including a lander, and do it soon.

The bill also includes several hundred million per year for the missions, at least at the beginning. Even though planetary scientists have recommended that NASA do at least one mission to Eurpoa relatively soon, it appears that these missions are the particular pet projects of the committee chairman in Congress.

SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Mars

Two stories this week illustrate the difference between lobbying the government to get anything accomplished, and doing it yourself with the goal of making money from it from private customers.

In the first case SpaceX is planning to fly a Dragon capsule to Mars, using its Falcon Heavy rocket, and do it by 2018. It would not be manned, but would do the initial engineering testing for later manned missions, using larger interplanetary spacecraft. SpaceX is not asking the government to help pay for it. They are only making sure they have dotted all the legal “I”s required. The goal is to build spacecraft that can take anyone to Mars who is willing to pay for the flight.

In the second case Lockheed Martin is proposing a big government program to put six astronauts in orbit around Mars, in 2028. They haven’t really built anything yet to do this, they merely are lobbying the federal government to pay for it.

Which do you think is more likely to happen? Anyone who reads Behind the Black knows that I choose SpaceX. For 40 years I have seen many different variations of Lockheed Martin’s proposal, all of which came to nothing. They are powerpoint proposals, not real engineering, designed to wow Congress and NASA and get funding for the company. Nothing will ever be built, since the actual construction is so far into the future and so untested that it is impossible to predict what will really happen.

SpaceX however is planning a real mission, which is being designed to lay the groundwork for later more complex attempts. Rather than propose something big for far in the future, they are building something reasonable and doable now. Moreover, they aren’t lobbying the government, they are advertising their skills to the entire world, with the goal of convincing everyone to buy their very real product.

UPDATE: I should add a link here to Orbital ATK’s proposal in Congressional hearings on Monday to use their Cygnus capsule to build a cislunar space station by 2020. Like Lockheed Martin, they are lobbying Congress to build a mostly powerpoint concept. Why don’t they instead make an investment of their own money, like SpaceX, to send some Cygnus capsules to lunar space and demonstrate the concept, while also learning what needs to be done? I would have greater faith in the reality of their concept if they did that.

Congress demands Air Force spend less and more at the same time

A House budget report has cut the Air Force launch budget while simultaneously requiring the Air Force to favor more expensive launch companies.

In addition to cutting the funding available for new launch contracts, House appropriators also want the Air Force to consider “the best value to the government” in evaluating bids.

ULA has been pushing for the best-value approach since it sat out last fall’s GPS-3 launch competition saying it couldn’t win a price shootout against SpaceX, which will launch the satellite which was awarded an $82.7 million contract last month for a May 2018 launch of a GPS-3 satellite. That contract was awarded as part of a best value source selection. “We do not yet feel we are in a position to win price-only competitions with our competitor,” Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive, said in a March interview with SpaceNews. “We believe we have better performance, reliability and schedule certainty.” Those traits would carry greater weight in a best-value competition.

Only our precious Congress. On one hand they cut the budget for launches because they think the Air Force is wasting money On the other they demand that the Air Force spend extra millions on launch contracts so that the company they favor, ULA, gets the work. One would almost think they do not have the nation’s interests in mind..

Republican-led Senate passes spending bill larger than requested by Obama

Feeding the anger: A bill passed today by the Republican-led Senate included more funding that originally requested by the Obama administration.

Moving legislation and avoiding fights has been a top election year priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican wants the GOP Senate to prove that Republicans can govern by avoiding a one-and-done omnibus spending package at the end of the year. But the energy and water bill received little fanfare from Senate conservatives. They complain that the measure, which funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior, spends $261 million more than even Obama requested.

Sen. Mike Lee described the legislation as “simply unacceptable in a time of rising debt and slower economic growth.” The Utah Republican told The Daily Signal that “we’re never going to get our nation’s rising deficits under control until we can stick to our previous agreements on spending levels,” referring to the limits set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Though Congress has not passed a budget resolution, the Senate started advancing spending bills at levels established in the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which increased government discretionary spending by $30 billion above the 2011 caps.

Still Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told The Daily Signal he’s glad the appropriations process has gotten off the ground finally. “This is the first time this appropriation bill has passed the Senate since 2009,” Lankford, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, explained. “To avoid last-minute continuing resolutions, backroom deals and omnibus bills, we must move bills through a regular order appropriations process.”

These guys just don’t get it. There is a reason that Trump and Cruz dominated their party’s presidential campaign, and it wasn’t because they were calling for Congress to advance big spending bills in Congress quickly.

Posted from El Paso, Texas.

ULA’s CEO explains why they are retiring Delta

Tory Bruno, the CEO of ULA, explained in an op-ed today why his company is discontinuing its use of Boeing’s Delta family of rockets and focusing exclusively on Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 and its eventual replacement, the Vulcan Centaur.

Delta is an amazing rocket, but it’s costly to produce. Its burnt-orange foam insulation has to be applied by hand. Its production line is bigger and more complex than Atlas’s. And its components are pricier.

Bruno’s purpose with this op-ed is to convince Congress to leave his company alone while they develop the new Vulcan rocket. Congress keeps proposing outlawing use of the Atlas 5 with its Russian engines, and Bruno does not want that, at least not until the Vulcan is flying. He is also trying to reduce his costs by discontinuing Delta, which in turn would allow him to lower prices for his Atlas 5 and compete more effectively with SpaceX.

Though I understand Congress’s concerns, I do find it sad that in modern America a private businessman has to lobby Congress for the right to run his company as he sees fit.

Congress micro-manages rocket engineering again

In an effort to funnel money to Aerojet Rocketdyne at the cost of every other rocket company in the nation, the House Armed Services Committee has written a bill that tells the Air Force exactly how it will build its future rockets.

“The Committee shares the concern of many members that reliance on Russian-designed rocket engines is no longer acceptable,” the committee said April 25. “The Chairman’s Proposal, as recommended by Chairman Rogers of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, denies the Air Force’s request to pursue the development, at taxpayer expense, of new commercial launch systems. It instead focuses on the development of a new American engine to replace the Russian RD-180 by 2019 to protect assured access to space and to end reliance on Russian engines. The Mark also holds the Air Force accountable for its awards of rocket propulsion contracts that violated the FY15 and FY16 NDAAs.”

…“The funds would not be authorized to be obligated or expended to develop or procure a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure,” says a draft of the 2017 defense authorization bill.

As presently written, the bill would leave the Air Force only one option: use engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

If anything demonstrates the corruption or foolishness of our elected officials, it is this proposal. Not only are they telling the Air Force how to design rockets, they are limiting the options so much that they are guaranteeing that it will either cost us more than we can afford, or it won’t be doable at all. As I say, either they are corrupt (working to benefit Aerojet Rocketdyne in exchange for money), or they are foolish, (preventing the Air Force from exploring as many inexpensive future options as possible).

Senate committee throws money at NASA

The Senate appropriations subcommittee has announced its proposed 2017 budget for NASA, including significant budget increases for SLS and Orion.

SLS is the big winner in the bill, according to a summary of its contents provided by the committee. The heavy-lift launch vehicle would get $2.15 billion, $150 million more than it received in 2016 and $840 million above the administration’s request. The SLS funding includes $300 million directed for work on the Exploration Upper Stage with the goal of having it ready as soon as 2021, the earliest planned date for the first crewed SLS/Orion mission.

The bill also provides $1.3 billion for Orion, $30 million above 2016 and $180 million above the administration’s request. It also directs Orion to be ready for its first crewed mission in 2021.

The bill provides $5.4 billion for science programs overall, $200 million below the request. The summary does not break out spending among the various science mission directorates. Commercial crew would get $1.18 billion, the amount requested by NASA, and space technology would get $687 million, the same as 2016 but $140 million less than requested.

Meanwhile, in order to keep NASA’s overall budget about the same as last year the subcommittee, led by porkmeister Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), apparently trimmed the agency’s science budget.

The full plan will be revealed tomorrow. Moreover, the House still has to make its budget proposal, and then the House and Senate have to agree. Regardless, this Senate budget proposal is more indication that this Republican Congress is going to throw endless gobs of money at SLS and Orion, so the boondoggle can fly once, maybe twice, and then get mothballed. What a waste.

It also tells us how insincere many Republican elected officials are when they claim they are for fiscal responsibility.

The commerical battle over U.S. surplus ICBM’s

Link here. The article provides a good summary of the conflict between Orbital ATK and Virgin Galactic over the Defense Department’s possible sale of surplus ICBM’s for commercial use.

While Orbital has been lobbying to get Congress to lift the ban on the Pentagon selling its surplus rockets to the private sector, Virgin Galactic has been harnessing the industry lobbying arm to convince Congress to keep the ban. They fear that if the missiles become available, their as yet unflown LauncherOne will not be able to compete.

I find it very revealing that Virgin Galactic wants to use regulation to hinder their competitors. To me, this is another sign that they are not very competitive or competent in actual rocket building. Rather than build and launch their rocket at a competitive price, they want to stifle an opportunity to lower launch costs.

A hearing on this issue is taking place today. Stay tuned.

The Orion fantasy

There is a commercial space conference going on in Colorado this week, which explains the plethora of breaking stories from the new commercial space companies both yesterday and today.

Two stories today from Aviation Week, however, are more about the old big space industry and the old way of doing things, and both reveal the hollow nature of that entire effort.

Both stories are about work Lockheed Martin is doing in connection with its Orion capsule, and both try to convince us that this capsule is going to be the central vehicle for the first missions to Mars.

Function starts in the bones of the spacecraft,” [Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager,] said in an April 12 interview at the 32nd annual Space Symposium here. “To be a deep space spacecraft, you have to build differently than you would if your requirements were to stay in low Earth orbit and be quiescent at the International Space Station for a few months. That’s driven Orion from the beginning. Any architecture you look at needs a crew capability, a long-term design requirement. So, you can debate a lot of different missions, but you need that fundamental capacity we have invested in Orion.”

I say balderdash. Orion is an over-priced and over-engineered ascent/descent capsule for getting humans in and out of Earth orbit. Spending billions so it can also go to Mars makes no sense, because its heat shield and other capsule technologies for getting through the Earth’s atmosphere are completely useless in interplanetary travel. Moreover, such a small capsule is completely insufficient for a long Mars mission, even if you test it for a “1,000 day” missions, as Hawes also says in the first article. To send a crew to Mars, you need a big vessel, similar to Skylab, Mir, ISS, or Bigelow’s B330 modules. A mere capsule like Orion just can’t do it.

Eventually, it is my hope that Congress will recognize this reality, and stop funding big space projects like SLS and Orion, and instead put its money behind the competitive private efforts to make money in space. Rather than trying to build its own capsules, space stations, rockets, and interplanetary vessels (something that NASA has repeatedly tried to do without any success), NASA should merely be a customer, buying the capsules, space stations, and interplanetary vessels that private companies have built, on their own, to make money, on their own.

Consider for example Bigelow’s B330. Each module is about as big as Skylab or Mir, and costs mere pennies to build and launch, compared to those government-designed stations. Moreover, Bigelow can build it fast, and repeatedly. Similarly, Orion has cost billions (about $16 billion when it makes its first manned mission in 2021 at the earliest) and will have taken 15 years to build. SpaceX built Dragon in seven years, Orbital ATK built Cygnus in five years, and Boeing is going to build Starliner in about four years, all for about $10 billion, total.

The contrast is striking, and though ordinary people with the ability to add 2 plus 2 can see it, it takes Congressman a little longer (as they need to use their fingers to count). Sooner or later they will get it, and Orion and SLS will disappear. Bet on it.

TSA wastes $1.4 million

Government marches on! The TSA spent $1.4 million to develop software that does the exact same thing as flipping a coin.

The “randomizer” app itself cost $336,000, the rest of the funds most likely went towards iPads themselves, Rare reports. There were four bids total for the project and IBM won the project. The app’s purpose is to eliminate potential bias when a TSA agent tells passengers which line to go to. Currently on the iTunes app store, there are multiple free coin flip apps which perform the same process as the TSA’s “randomizer.”

The corruption here reeks. Shut the whole thing down, and not only would we be safer, we would each have more wealth to make our lives better.

In a related story, the Department of Homeland Security has paid almost $20 million in salaries to corrupt employees who they can’t fire, so they pay them to do nothing.

Using ICBMs to lower launch costs

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK is lobbying Congress to lift a ban on the use of decommissioned ICBM missiles for commercial launches.

Orbital ATK is pressing U.S. lawmakers to end a 20-year ban on using decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for launching commercial satellites and the effort has raised concern among companies that have invested millions of dollars in potential rival rockets. Orbital Vice President Barron Beneski said in an interview on Friday that the company was pushing Washington to get the ban lifted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that sets defense policy for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1. The missiles were idled by nuclear disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia in the 1990s.

The company wants to use the solid rocket motors in the surplus missiles to increase the capability of their Minotaur 4 rocket, designed for the small satellite market. Interestingly, Virgin Galactic, who is aiming for this same smallsat market with its LaunchOne rocket, is protesting, and has even garnered the lobbying support of the industry’s trade organization..

“It’s a dangerous precedent when the government tries to inject itself in the commercial marketplace. It can be disruptive, and not for the right reasons,” Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a Washington DC-based trade organization, said in an interview on Thursday.

Orbital ATK is not asking for exclusive use, so other companies could also obtain surplus missiles for their own use. However, the ATK in Orbital ATK’s name comes from the half of the company that before the merger was an expert in using solid rockets for space. This gives Orbital an advantage here that the other companies do not have, and explains their protests.

Nonetheless, I say tough. The government should surplus these rockets, and let the competitive chips fall where they may. Anything that lowers the cost to put payloads in orbit cannot be a bad thing for the launch industry, as it will serve to increase the number of customers that industry will have and thus help to increase everyone’s sales figures.

Another subsidized solar power company going bust?

Your tax dollars at work! The U.S.’s largest solar power company, heavily subsidized by the federal government, now faces bankruptcy.

An SEC filing from TerraForm Global, a unit of SunEdison, claims “due to SunEdison’s liquidity difficulties, there is a substantial risk that SunEdison will soon seek bankruptcy protection.” Both SunEdison and TerraForm are delaying the filing of their annual financial report to the SEC.

News of SunEdison’s impending bankruptcy filing comes after the company’s shares fell 95 percent in the past 12 months, with shares now trading for less than $1 for the first time since the green energy company went public in 1995. SunEdison’s market value fell from $10 billion in July 2015 to around $400 million today.

The news also comes after the SEC announced it was launching an investigation into SunEdison’s disclosures to shareholders regarding the company’s liquidity. SEC enforcement officials “are looking into whether SunEdison overstated its liquidity last fall when it told investors it had more than $1 billion in cash,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

…The pro-labor union group Good Jobs First reported last year that SunEdison and its subsidiaries got nearly $650 million in subsidies and tax credits from the federal government since 2000. It was the 13th most heavily-subsidized company in America. This includes nearly $4.6 million in subsidies from the Department of Energy and Department of Treasury. Watchdog.org reported in October 2015 that SunEdison had gotten nearly $4.6 million from the Obama administration, including funding to build semi-conductors. A SunEdison bankruptcy could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $2 billion.

But hey, what’s a few billion here or there, if the cause is worthwhile?

Federal law outlaws launches on foreign rockets

Killing competition: The American launch industry as well as the FAA regulators are in agreement that a 2005 law that limits American small satellite companies from using foreign launch companies should remain in place.

The CSLA, dating from 2005, is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the seemingly forever-nascent U.S. small-satellite launch industry from competing with government-controlled foreign launchers for U.S. business. It seeks to oblige non-U.S. rocket providers to sign a CSLA that, for all intents and purposes, sets U.S. commercial launch prices as the world minimum for government-owned non-U.S. launch providers.

The rationale is that these non-U.S. launchers, not bound by the constraints of profit and loss – but hungry for hard-currency export earnings – will undercut commercial U.S. companies’ launch prices and keep them from gaining market traction.

India’s launch rockets, for example, are designed and built by India’s space agency ISRO, and are backed not by private funds but by government money. The fear is that India could subsidize its rockets so that the price could always be kept below what any American company could charge.

The truth, however, is that competition and innovation, here in the U.S., has so successful undercut foreign prices that no amount of subsidies can hope to compete. Those foreign companies are now scrambling to actually redesign their rockets to lower their costs and thus their prices, rather than asking for more handouts from their governments. This law should be repealed.

Bill to trim BLM/Forest Service power

Good news: A new bill has been introduced in Congress to take all law enforcement powers away from the BLM and the Forest Service on federal lands and transfer those powers to local sheriffs.

It is always better to have control and power decentralized as much as possible. Having these lands administered and controlled by a bureaucracy in Washington has never made make sense, and was always really a power play between the federal government and the states.

This bill is part of a larger movement coming from the western states to restrict the power of these environmental agencies, who happen to control a vast majority of the territories of those states. With Congress increasingly shifting to the right in recent years, expect this movement to accelerate.

House proposes killing Commerce Department

In a just released budget resolution, the House budget committee has proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce in an effort to cut costs.

The biggest potential shift from the status quo would be breaking up the $9 billion commerce department. DOC is one of the least-known, and most unloved, of all federal agencies. But it nonetheless oversees a huge scientific portfolio that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Census Bureau. Under the heading “options worthy of consideration,” the budget committee suggests moving NOAA to the Department of Interior, placing NIST within NSF, and assigning the Census Bureau, including the massive decennial census, to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another commerce agency, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, would become an independent agency.

The obvious goal would be to eliminate the expensive upper management positions at Commerce and thus reduce cost. Such changes however are going to face opposition in the privileged science community. While that community has been unable to sustain the growth of its funding in the past decade, it has successfully prevented the elimination of any program or any significant reduction in the science budgets. We shall see if that record will hold in the coming years, with the electorate appearing to steadily shift more and more to the right.

The article, by Science reporter Jeffrey Mervis, also included this wonderful example of yellow journalism:

The proposed budget resolution talks repeatedly of the need to reduce spending and, in particular, curb the clichéd “waste, fraud, and abuse” that is allegedly rampant across the federal government by killing duplicative or unnecessary programs. [emphasis mine]

I’ve noted Mervis’s agenda-driven writing in the past. In the sentence above he illustrates his unreliability as a reporter. For any educated journalist to consider waste and fraud in the federal government to be “alleged” is to be a person either with his head in the sand or having so strong a bias that he is intentionally misreporting the facts. Sadly, in the case of Mervis and many in today’s so-called elite intellectual community, I think it is both.

Tea party Republican wins primary for John Boehner’s seat

A conservative tea party Republican has won the primary for former House Speaker John Boehner’s congressional seat.

If anything should tell the Republican leadership that they aren’t doing what the voters want, even more than the presidential campaign, it is this story. Boehner did nothing but show contempt for the tea party Freedom Caucus in the House, doing anything he could to block them. In the end, they were instrumental in getting him ousted. And as the article notes,

Davidson’s win Tuesday could give those [tea party] lawmakers reason to dig their heels in as things escalate. They can make their case to Republican leaders that, sure, putting their foot down on a proposed budget that increases spending might hinder Republicans’ goal of passing a budget on time. But what they’re doing is really in the interest of a growing number of Republican voters. Look no further than this highly symbolic seat they just won.

Even though I have serious doubts about Donald Trump’s conservatism, his rise is just another indication that the voters are pissed off at the leadership in Congress, from both parties. That leadership had better change its stripes soon, or it will find others taking their place, as has happened with John Boehner..

Conservatives to block gigantic budget plan

Good news: The conservative Freedom Caucus in the House is moving to block the new 10-year budget plan put forth by the Republican leadership.

And why you ask? The highlighted sentence below explains it all:

The fiscal blueprint, released Tuesday by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., relies on eliminating health care subsidies and other coverage provided by Obama’s health care law, sharp cuts to Medicaid, and reprises a plan devised by Ryan years ago that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like program for future retirees.

But as in past years, GOP leaders have no plans to implement the severe cuts recommended by nonbinding blueprint. [emphasis mine]

This budget plan is merely a tool to make us think they are cutting things, when they really have no intention of doing so. When they finally get down to writing the real budget the increases will be there, as will funding for Obamacare and many of Obama’s pet projects, as they have been in all the previous years since the Republicans took power in Congress.

Blue Origin engine testing update

The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos has released an update on Blue Origin’s test program of its BE-4 rocket engine, being built as a possible replacement for the Russian engines in the Atlas 5.

Bezos’s final comment kind of explains why Boeing has favored them over Aerojet Rocketdyne for this engine:

One of the many benefits of a privately funded engine development is that we can make and implement decisions quickly. Building these two new test cells is a $10 million commitment, and we as a team made the decision to move forward in 10 minutes. Less than three weeks later we were pouring the needed three-foot thick foundations. Private funding and rapid decision making are two of the reasons why the BE-4 is the fastest path to eliminate U.S. dependence on the Russian-made RD-180.

I imagine however a lot of Congressmen are upset by this. If they do it too cheaply or too quickly there will be far less opportunity to spend pork in their districts!

Congress is now in recess until February 22

If President Obama wants to bypass the Senate approval process for getting a new Supreme Court judge approved, at least for the rest of his term, he has the opportunity right now.

Both bodies of have adjourned until later this month for the President’s Day recess. The Senate last met on Thursday. When doing so, it approved a “conditional adjournment resolution” for the Senate not to meet again until Monday, Feb. 22. The House met on Friday and at the close of business adopted the same adjournment resolution to get in sync with the Senate. The House is out until Tuesday, Feb. 23.

So, the House and Senate will not be meeting in the coming days. This is an adjournment and is not challengeable in court the way the NLRB recess appointments were because both bodies have agreed with each other to adjourn. This is a true recess and an opportunity for the president should he elect to take it — considering the political realities of the Senate and the position of its majority leader to potentially make a recess appointment.

In other words, unless the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) decides to end its recess early, Obama has until February 22 to make an appointment to the Supreme Court that will be in effect through the end of his term.

The article assumes that once this recess ends in February, the Senate will not give Obama another chance. Based on Mitch McConnell’s past history however, I would not be so confident.

Experts: NASA’s SLS Mars proposals bunk

The death of SLS begins: At House hearings this week, congressmen listened to several space experts who lambasted NASA’s asteroid and Mars mission proposals.

Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and an expert on lunar science, was especially harsh.

“America’s civil space program is in disarray, with many aspirations and hopes but few concrete, realizable plans for future missions or strategic direction,” he said, adding that NASA lacks what it needs to pull off the mission (and throwing some shade at the agency’s strong Twitter game). “We pretend that we are on a ‘#JourneytoMars’ but in fact, possess neither the technology nor the economic resources necessary to undertake a human Mars mission now or within the foreseeable future. What is needed is a logically arranged set of short-term, realizable space goals–a series of objectives and destinations that are not only interesting in and of themselves, but whose attainment build space faring capability in the long term.”

The testimony claimed that it could cost anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion for NASA to get humans to Mars, numbers that are reasonable based on using NASA’s very costly and overpriced SLS/Orion rocket and capsule. The congressmen were of course interested in this, not because they want to get to Mars, but because they see gobs of pork for their districts in these numbers.

However, I expect that when SpaceX begins successfully launching its Falcon Heavy rocket in the next two years while simultaneously putting humans in space with its Dragon capsule, and does both for a tenth the cost of SLS/Orion, those same congressmen will dump SLS/Orion very quickly. Though they want the pork, they also know they don’t have $500 billion to $1 trillion to spend on space. The private sector gives them an option that is both affordable and of strong self-interest. The more realistically priced and designed hardware of private companies will give them a more credible opportunity to fund pork in their districts.

National debt tops $19 trillion

The coming dark age: The national debt has hit $19 trillion, and the increase from $18 trillion was the fastest on record.

It took a little more than 13 months for the debt to climb by $1 trillion. The national debt hit $18 trillion on Dec. 15, 2014. That’s a slightly stepped-up pace compared to the last few $1 trillion mileposts. It took about 14 months for the debt to climb from $17 trillion to $18 trillion, and about the same amount of time to go from $16 trillion to $17 trillion.

The facts here also illustrate the complete failure of the Republican leadership to do what they promised when the voters gave them control of Congress.

But increasingly, Congress has instead allowed more borrowing by suspending the debt ceiling for long periods of time. That allows the government to borrow any amount it needs until the suspension period ends. Back in November, the debt ceiling was suspended again, after having been frozen at $18.1 trillion for several months. As soon as it was suspended, months of pent-up borrowing demand by the government led to a $339 billion jump in the national debt in a single day.

Under current law, the debt ceiling is suspended until March, 2017, meaning the government can borrow without limit until then. Obama is expected to leave office with a total national debt of nearly $20 trillion by the time he leaves office.

It was the Republican leadership that suspended the debt ceiling and allowed spending to rise so fast. This is also the reason that their favorite candidates for President, led by Jeb Bush, have done so poorly, and why the outsiders (Trump and Carson) and the new generation of tea party politicians (Cruz and Rubio) dominated the Iowa caucuses. And I expect that domination to continue in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and beyond.

Budget bill lifts ban of Russian engines on Atlas 5

The giant omnibus budget bill negotiated and announced by Congress today includes language that effectively lifts the limit on the number of Russian engines that ULA can use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

John McCain (R-Arizona) is very unhappy about this, and is threatening to ban the use of any Russian engines on any further Atlas 5 in future bills.

On the record, I make this promise. If this language undermining the National Defense Authorization Act is not removed from the Omnibus, I assure my colleagues that this issue will not go unaddressed in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Up to this point, we have sought to manage this issue on an annual basis, and we have always maintained that, if a genuine crisis emerged, we would not compromise our national security interests in space. We have sought to be flexible and open to new information, but if this is how our efforts are repaid, then perhaps we need to look at a complete and indefinite restriction on Putin’s rocket engines.

Whether McCain will be able to do this however is somewhat questionable. He is up for election next year, is very disliked in Arizona, and is likely going to face a very tough primary battle that he very well might lose. Even so, it really won’t do ULA much good if they get the right to keep using Russian engines. As I said earlier today, ULA’s future as a rocket company is extremely limited if it doesn’t develop a cheaper rocket. Continued use of the Atlas 5 and these Russian engines does nothing to get that cheaper rocket built.

1 2 3 27