Tag Archives: Congress

House passes new tax on concrete companies

The swamp is winning! The Republican House today passed a new law that not only imposes a new tax on concrete industry, it creates a crony Concrete Masonry Products Board to help keep its buddies in that industry in charge.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky. (F, 45%), would create a Concrete Masonry Products Board composed of 15-25 members appointed by the Department of Commerce after a referendum approval by producers of concrete masonry products. This board will have the power to establish, finance, and carry out a “coordinated research and education program,” ostensibly to “promote masonry products in the domestic market,” according to a legislative bulletin email from the Republican Study Committee. This program will be paid for by a “federally administered assessment.”

This is corruption, pure and simple. We don’t need this. All it accomplishes is to force the public to pay for this fake board whose only real purpose, when you strip it down to its essentials, will be to favor the already established U.S. concrete companies.

House Republicans to vote on ending ban on earmarks

The swamp is winning! A group of House Republicans have put forth a proposal, to be voted on tomorrow, to partly lift the ban on earmarks imposed in 2010.

Reps. John Culberson of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, and Tom Rooney of Florida are listed as sponsors of the amendment, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Signal. The amendment would bring back legislative earmarks for some government agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Reclamation. It also would allow lawmakers to provide earmarks for state and local governments, except for recreational facilities, museums, or parks. If the amendment is adopted by a secret-ballot vote Wednesday, lawmakers would be able to request earmarks once again as long as the sponsoring member is identified, the earmarks initiate in committee, and they don’t increase spending.

A senior House aide told The Daily Signal this was the first step to completely ending the earmark ban by slowly peeling it away.

The earmark explosion that occurred under Republican control during the first six years of the second Bush administration was one of the main reasons they lost Congress in 2006. It showed that their claims that they were fiscal hawks was hogwash. And now it appears that some Republicans are trying to pull the same crap, all over again.

NASA considers alternatives to Orion

The competition heats up: Faced with long delays and an ungodly budget, NASA is now considering alternatives to replace the Orion capsule.

NASA has initiated a process that raises questions about the future of its Orion spacecraft. So far, this procedural effort has flown largely under the radar, because it came in the form of a subtle Request for Information (RFI) that nominally seeks to extend NASA’s contract to acquire future Orion vehicles after Exploration Mission-2, which likely will fly sometime between 2021 and 2023.

Nevertheless, three sources familiar with the RFI, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, told Ars there is more to the request than a simple extension for Orion’s primary contractor, Lockheed Martin. Perhaps most radically, the RFI may even open the way for a competitor, such as Boeing or SpaceX, to substitute its own upgraded capsule for Orion in the mid-2020s.

The article also has this juicy quote:

The new RFI states that Lockheed will continue with development of Orion through a second uncrewed flight set for late 2018 and Exploration Mission-2, the first crewed mission, as early as 2021. However, once this “base vehicle” configuration is established, the RFI signals NASA’s intent to find a less expensive path forward. “This RFI serves as an examination of the market, which is an initial step in pursuing any of the available acquisition strategies, including the exercising of existing options,” the document states.

The end of SLS and Orion is beginning.

Will Republicans and Trump reduce the budget? Maybe not!

Hypocrites and liars: Less than two days after winning the Presidency and retaining control of both houses of Congress, Republican budget cutters are already signaling that they are now more willing to considering big spending projects, now that they are no longer opposing a Democratic president.

Sen. David Perdue (R-.Ga) stood on the Senate floor a little more than one month ago and declared that “we have a budget crisis. We have a debt crisis.” Two weeks ago, he wrote in an op-ed that “President Obama’s budgets ignored fiscally responsible principles, instead leaving an ever-growing mountain of debt for taxpayers down the road,” and he urged the United States to pass a balanced-budget amendment ensuring that the government can’t spend more than it takes in.

But asked about President-elect Donald Trump’s fiscal plans on Wednesday morning, Perdue sounded much less of an urgent note. “Well, I think there’s a short-term view and a long-term view. What we need is a long-term strategy, and by long-term, I’m talking, you’re going to say, 30 to 40 years to solve this debt crisis eventually,” Perdue said in an interview on CNBC.

,,,Perdue’s comments on CNBC could be one sign of how the politics of debt in Washington may shift when Trump takes office Jan. 20. Under George W. Bush, the nation’s debt exploded with federal spending and tax cuts, often with the consent of Republicans in Congress. But over the past eight years, the Republican establishment has repeatedly excoriated President Obama for plans that don’t immediately balance the budget.

Trump’s liberal roots had him immediately propose a variety of big government spending projects in his acceptance speech, and it appears that the Republican leadership is eager to go along, as they did with Obama, to put those big spending plans in place. Unfortunately, it also appears that that leadership might not get much resistance for bigger spending from its rank and file, who will no longer be fighting a Democratic administration and thus can jump on the bandwagon for more pork in their districts.

Two Trump advisers push for National Space Council

In a somewhat vague op-ed today, two Trump space policy advisers, former Congressman Robert Walker and University of California-Irvine professor Peter Navarro, recommend the re-establishment of the National Space Council to coordinate the U.S.’s civilian space effort.

Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president. The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests. Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared.

Here, it makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment. [emphasis mine]

This analysis of the op-ed at SpacePolicyOnline.com gives some history of the National Space Council, as well as range of opinions about its usefulness.

Opinions in the space policy community about the value of such a Council run the gamut. Opponents argue it is just one more White House entity that can say “no” to any idea, but without the clout to say “yes” and make something happen. Supporters insist that a top-level mechanism is needed not only to effectively coordinate government civil and national security space programs, but to bring in the commercial sector and develop a holistic approach to space.

Walker and Navarro clearly share the latter opinion. They say the Council would “end the lack of proper coordination” and “assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests.”

I however want to focus on the highlighted text above from the op-ed. This language appears to suggest that these advisers do not think it efficient for NASA to buy rockets and spacecraft from competing private companies, as it is doing with its cargo and crew ferries to ISS. If so, their advice will mean that a Trump administration will eliminate the competition that has been so successful in the past decade in lowering NASA’S costs and getting so much more done.

Yet, in the very next paragraphs Walker and Navarro say this:
» Read more

Space letter wars in Congress!

Turf war! A bi-partisan group of Congressmen, in response to an earlier letter by ten Republican senators questioning SpaceX’s ability to complete a thorough investigation of its September 1st launchpad explosion, have issued their own letter of support for the company.

In a letter to the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, 24 members of Congress said that it was proper that SpaceX was leading the investigation. “Accidents are unfortunate events, and accident investigations should not be politicized,” wrote the bipartisan group led by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.). “We encourage you to reject calls for your organizations to abandon established, well-considered and long-standing procedures.”

Ain’t democracy wonderful? It seems that SpaceX might have rounded up its own crony Congressmen to battle ULA’s crony Congressmen.

Republican budget deal backed by more House Democrats than Republicans

Betrayal: The just passed budget deal worked out by the Republican establishment got more Democrats to vote for it than Republicans.

The continuing resolution spending deal that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed at 9:56 p.m. on Wednesday night, won more votes from Democratic members than from Republican members. 172 House Democrats and 170 Republicans voted for the spending deal, according to the roll call published by the Clerk of the House. 75 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against it. 5 members did not vote.

More betrayal: The continuing resolution is set to expire on December 9, 2016, thereby allowing a lame duck Congress and President to negotiate a new budget, after the election, when they will be able to spend money any which way they want, for their crony friends.

What good is a Republican majority if its leadership is going to work hand-in-glove with the Democrats to pass Democratic Party proposals, while also working to make corrupt backroom deals that bust the budget? No wonder the outsiders cleaned the floor with the Republican establishment’s favorite son, Jeb Bush. No wonder Donald Trump became the Republican party’s presidential candidate.

Republican leadership pushes Democrat-approved budget deal

Betrayal: Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has finally released the language of the next short term continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through December 9, 2016, and it appears it was written by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

As far as conservative priorities go, the bill is a failure. Among its many obvious flaws, it funds the government through Dec. 9—setting up a lame-duck session of Congress. In the lame-duck session, which occurs after the election but before new lawmakers are sworn in, unaccountable legislators are likely to pass a bevy of backroom deals, to the detriment of representative democracy (and, we can assume, to the wallets of the taxpayer).

Even though it only funds the government for a scant 69 days, the McConnell continuing resolution manages to do it at the bloated Boehner-Obama spending levels that were jammed down the throats of conservatives in 2015. In doing so, the continuing resolution sets up yet another spending cliff that will spawn a false panic in the lame-duck session, and lay the groundwork for more “must-pass” terrible deals. In other words, in December, lawmakers will once more have to pass yet another spending bill in order to ensure the government continues normal operations.

There’s more. Read it all. The bottom line is that McConnell has forged a deal that allows Democrats to gloat and Republican conservatives to tear their hair out in horror. No wonder outsiders like Trump and Cruz did so well in the primary season, and why Trump is now their Presidential candidate. The Republican leadership, which still doesn’t comprehend why this happened, also has no idea why the public gave them strong House and Senate majorities in 2010 and 2014. Maybe they don’t care and simply want to cash in quickly even if it destroys the country. Either way, they continue to betray the very people that voted them into power.

The powerless GOP

Obama is imposing an unprecedented number of new regulations in his final months in office, and the Republican leadership says it is helpless to do anything about it.

Data compiled by the Heritage Foundation found that the Obama administration issued 184 major rules during its first six years. The conservative organization, citing regulators’ estimates, says those could come with a price tag of almost $80 billion a year. The American Action Forum, which dubs itself as a “center-right” think tank, concludes that since Jan. 1 of this year, the administration has picked up the pace, finalizing 60 new rules and proposing 60 more at a potential cost of $16.5 billion next year alone.

Republican lawmakers and independent experts expect more to come. But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told Roll Call that his party cannot do much because “the framers of the Constitution didn’t give us a lot of tools that didn’t involve a presidential signature to overturn them.” [emphasis mine]

Excuse me, Senator Cornyn, but the framers of the Constitution gave Congress all the power. All you have to do is read the Constitution, a document only 16 pages long (excluding amendments), to find out. One would think a sitting Senator might do that once in awhile.

The problem is that Congress for decades has abdicated its responsibilities to the bureaucratic wing of the executive branch, and in the recent years the Republican leadership has further chickened out when voters demanded that they take some of those responsibilities back. The Republicans could very easily shut the whole shebang down, which might finally force some compromise from the Democrats. Until they do, however, expect no compromise from the left, which keeps getting exactly what it wants.

House votes ease rules for firing VA employees

The House today voted 310-116 to make it easier to fire or punish employees of the Veterans Administration.

Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), the VA committee’s ranking Democrat, led an unsuccessful floor fight to soften the misconduct provisions, as the Republican majority defeated every substantive amendment. In the end, with Miller citing support from 18 prominent veteran groups, 69 Democrats joined the united Republican front to pass the bill convincingly.

It would shorten the process to fire, demote or hear the appeal of rank-and-file VA employees, from an average of more than a year to no more than 77 days. It also would end involvement of the Merit Systems Protection Board in such actions for VA senior executives; give the VA secretary authority to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses from employees who misbehave, or to reduce pensions of senior executives convicted of felonies that influenced their performance reports. Additionally whistleblowers would get new protections from reprisals and the bill would mandate strict accountability to supervisors or colleagues who would reprise against them, the VA committee explained.

This bill should become the model for changing the rules for all federal employees. Right now it is so difficult to clean house of corrupt or incompetent federal employees that there are even circumstances where they actually commit crimes and steal federal money and still hold onto their jobs.

New NASA authorization bill introduced in Senate

A new NASA authorization bill was introduced in the Senate on September 15, calling for NASA to rethink its asteroid redirect mission as well as begin the process of shifting the operation of ISS from government to private enterprise.

Among [the bill’s policy provisions] is language regarding ARM, a mission that involves sending a robotic spacecraft to retrieve a boulder from a near Earth asteroid and place it in lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts. “It is the sense of Congress that the technological and scientific goals of the Asteroid Robotic Redirect Mission may not be commensurate with the cost,” the bill states, referring to the robotic portion of ARM. Alternative missions, it says, “may provide a more cost effective and scientifically beneficial means to demonstrate the technologies needed for a human mission to Mars.” The bill directs NASA to evaluate alternative mission concepts to compare their scientific, technical and commercial benefits, as well as their costs, with ARM. That study would be due to Congress 180 days after the bill’s enactment.

The bill also addresses planning for the eventual end of the ISS in the 2020s, stating that there is a need for an “orderly transition” from the current NASA-led management of the station to “a regime where NASA is one of many customers of a low Earth orbit commercial human space flight enterprise.” That provision would require NASA to assess its needs for continued research in low Earth orbit after the ISS is retired, the existing and projected commercial capabilities to meet those needs, and steps NASA can take to stimulate both the supply of commercial facilities and demand for their use. The bill also calls on NASA to study an extension of the ISS “through at least 2028” to identify the technical issues, scientific benefits, and costs of such an extension.

The authorization also endorses SLS and Orion, which isn’t surprising considering that most of the Senators proposing this authorization come from states with big contracts for that boondoggle.

In recent years authorization bills have not meant that much. While they express the desires of some members of Congress, which does influence policy, their specifics are usually ignored in subsequent years. Nonetheless, the new focus here on private space suggests that the advantages of competition and private enterprise is finally beginning to leak into the tiny little brains of our elected officials. That they are still pushing SLS and Orion, however, shows that the leak is still tiny, and somewhat limited.

Give it time, however. Give it time. When private companies have begun regular launches of their big rockets, well before SLS completes its first manned flight, these legislators should finally realize what most people already know, that SLS and Orion is a complete waste of money.

Republican leadership avoids vote on IRS head impeachment

More failure theater: The Congressional Republican leadership has worked out a deal that will avoid a vote on the impeachment of IRS head John Koskinen, thus protecting the Democrats from any embarrassing votes in favor of the IRS prior to the November elections.

The agreement makes it unlikely that any vote by the full House to impeach Koskinen will happen until after the November election, if at all. House Republican leadership had balked on moving forward on impeachment proceedings during an election season, arguing that an impeachment vote risked irritating voters. Others said Koskinen deserved a full House Judiciary Committee probe before embarking on the seldom-used impeachment process.

And the Republican leadership wonders why they are now stuck with outsider Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. The public sees their impotent and weak leadership, and wants something different.

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.

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