Tag Archives: SAA

In a 376-5 bi-partisan vote, the House has approved a one year extension to the liability exemption of the 2004 Space Amendments Act.

In a 376-5 bi-partisan vote, the House has approved a one year extension to the liability exemption of the 2004 Space Amendments Act.

Though this is helpful, it still leaves intact the regulations imposed by that 2004 law, all of which make difficult the future of space tourism. That this extension was passed in conjunction with an effort by Congress to overhaul the law is encouraging.

Killing private space

The financial foolishness in Congress, by Republicans this time, continues. In making its budget recommendations for NASA, the report [pdf] of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee also demands that NASA immediately choose one commercial company for its commercial space program. (Hat tip to Clark Lindsey for spotting this.)

The number of ways this action is counter-productive almost can’t be counted.
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Seven Republicans demand increased NASA supervision of the new commercial launch companies.

Seven Republicans demand increased NASA supervision of the new commercial launch companies.

This is what I call shooting yourself in the foot. One reason the tea party movement started is because Republicans during the Bush years had sometimes become as unreliable as Democrats when it came to some basic political issues. If we want private enterprise and the free market to rule, then the last thing a bunch of Republicans should be doing is demanding greater supervision by government agencies.

Space exploration and the unexpected consequences of government decisions

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, NASA management announced what seemed at first glance to be a very boring managerial decision. Future contracts with any aerospace company to launch astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will follow the same contractual arrangements used by NASA and SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for supplying cargo to the space station.

As boring that sounds, this is probably the most important decision NASA managers have made since the 1960s. Not only will this contractual approach lower the cost and accelerate the speed of developing a new generation of manned spaceships, it will transfer control of space exploration from NASA — an overweight and bloated government agency — to the free and competitive open market.

To me, however, the decision illustrates a number of unexpected consequences, none of which have been noted by anyone in the discussions that followed NASA’s announcement back in mid-December.
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Alan Boyle describes the details behind NASA’s decision to go with simpler contracting for future commercial rocket contracts

Alan Boyle describes the details behind NASA’s decision to go with simpler contracting for future commercial rocket contracts.

If you read the article, you’ll notice that the opposition to this decision comes from a Congressman and the GAO. In both cases they cite safety as an issue, as is by some magic giving NASA a lot of bureaucratic approval rights on every design is going to make the rockets or capsules safer. All this will really do is slow things down, increase costs, and possibly increase risks as the companies will no longer have as many resources to focus on design issues. Instead, they will have to spend a fortune pleasing NASA bureaucrats.

And yes, I call them bureaucrats. Any NASA engineer who spends his or her time looking over the shoulder of another engineer — who is doing the real design work — is nothing more than a bureaucrat. Better to quit NASA and get a job with one of these new companies where you can do some real work.

NASA has decided to stick with the same contracting arrangement it used for the COTS contracts

Good news: NASA has decided to stick with essentially the same contracting arrangement it used for the SpaceX and Orbital Sciences cargo deals to ISS in its future commercial crew and cargo contracts.

This suggests that the NASA bureaucracy, which had wanted more control of the new commercial companies by using a more restrictive contract arrangement, has lost. However, we don’t yet have the details on how the new contracts will be administrated, and as always, the devil is in the details.

NASA changes its contract arranged for commercial space

Turf war: At conference yesterday at the Johnson Space Center, NASA proposed changing how it issues its commercial space contracts so as to give it more control over their design and construction. The commercial companies are not happy.

Brett Alexander, a space industry consultant who counts among his clients the secretive aerospace startup Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., said at the July 20 briefing that industry needs to know NASA’s legal reasoning for dismissing SAAs as an option for the next CCDev round. “From an industry standpoint … we’re kind of flying blind because [NASA] has not divulged what its legal reasoning is, and I think they need to do that in writing. Not a couple charts, not things that you brief, but a legal brief that says ‘here’s why’” a traditional procurement is necessary.

My own sources say this change in contractual approach will significantly slow development of the new commercial manned space rockets and ships, possibly beyond 2017.

The only reason I can see for NASA to do this is to maintain control over manned space, even if they are not building anything. I think NASA is instead going to find out that doing anything to slow this development will be politically very dangerous for them.