Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
Cortaro, AZ 85652
Three stories today illustrate once again the incompetence, idiocy, and inability of practically anyone in our federal government to get anything done sanely and efficiently and with success.
In the past half century that federal government has saddled the American people with a debt that is crushing. In that time it has also failed to do its job of properly enforcing the law to control the borders. It has spent trillions on social problems, only to have those social problems worsen exponentially.
I could go on. The problems imposed on American society by our failed ruling class in Washington since the 1960s is myriad. In the area of aerospace and space exploration, my specialty, the following three stories today alone demonstrate again that continuing track record, with no sign that anyone in Washington recognizes how bad a job they are doing.
- NASA Has Committed to a Rocket for the Europa Mission—and It Won’t Be Ready on Time
- The government’s plan to update rocket launch licensing is pissing off the commercial space industry
- Tectonic Shift As NRO Moved Under Space Command In Wartime
First we have incompetence and idiocy by Congress. The first story outlines how our sainted lawmakers have mandated by law that the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s moon must fly on NASA’s SLS rocket and “launch no later than 2023.”
This legal requirement, written into the appropriations bill, was imposed because the SLS project is being managed from Alabama, and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) wants that rocket to get some work to justify this pork to his state. The requirement was further pushed by former Texas Congressman John Culbertson, who has a special place in his heart for Europa, and has specifically imposed that mission on NASA.
Shelby’s demand is especially egregious and makes little sense. First, even after twenty years of effort, NASA will likely not have that rocket available in 2023. Second, the cost to use SLS is about $4 billion per launch (not the fake $1 billion number cited in the article). A Falcon Heavy rocket could do the job for $100 million, which would more than pay for the extra operating costs incurred because it will take the three more years to get to Jupiter.
To deal with this conflict, NASA is presently doing as much lobbying as it can to get Congress to change the time limit, or to allow them to fly the spacecraft on a Falcon Heavy. Not surprisingly, Congress is resisting, even though their position makes no sense and will likely cost the taxpayer billions unnecessarily while likely delaying or even impeding the mission itself.
The article as usual for the mainstream press is filled with misconceptions and errors that are all designed to make any change in this Congressional act seem a mistake. These mistakes were all fed to the reporter by the powers in and out of Congress who oppose changing things, and the reporter sadly was not informed enough to realize this.
Next we have the incompetent and power-hungry federal bureaucracy, as described in the second article.
The Trump administration wants the licensing process for satellite makers and launch companies to be streamlined. Right now it is too expensive and takes far too long. Worse, it will become even more burdensome in the coming years as the smallsat industry ramps up, with literally thousands of satellites launched per year.
The FAA was given the job of rewriting those regulations. To put it mildly, they have botched the job:
To meet the administration’s goal of streamlining paperwork, the FAA came up with a newly proposed method for launch licensing. Since April 15th, the FAA sought insight from the public and the commercial space industry to get their thoughts on the proposed changes. But members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), a nonprofit that represents various companies within the private space industry, says that the new licensing rules would actually increase the amount of prescriptive regulations that companies would have to follow to go to space.
CSF representatives note the irony of the situation since the organization and its companies were the ones to ask for changes in the first place. Its members even made recommendations for how to update the rules. “The FAA took them, and they went and started formulating,” Eric Stallmer, president of CSF, tells The Verge. “And it came back, and we read it, and we tried to digest it. And then we walked away saying, ‘This is no better than what we had.’ In fact, I think it’s worse. It doesn’t answer the mail at all.” [emphasis mine]
The article accurately describes the problems with these new regulations, including changing the safety standards that have been used for decades that is completely unnecessary but will add time and enormous costs to private companies.
Thank you federal bureaucrats! At least you have confirmed our opinion of you. You want power, and don’t care who you hurt to get it.
The third story describes the turf war going on in the Pentagon over Trump’s desire to form a separate Space Command to unify the military space bureaucracy. Trump’s goal was once again also intended to streamline things, in this case how the military designs, funds, and operates its space missions.
Instead, we have a war within the military community for power and turf. Factions in the Air Force do not want to give up their control, so they are doing everything possible to stop this effort. In fact, it appears they are using this very effort to try to increase their control.
In this specific case, as part of this effort the military has decided to give command and control of the space assets of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to the new Space Command, but only during armed conflicts.
“For the first time, there will be a unified structure that fully integrates Intelligence Community and Department of Defense space defense plans, authorities and capabilities to ensure seamless execution of space defense systems,” Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire told the National Space Council today.
“Furthermore, should conflict extend to space, the NRO will take direction from the Commander of US Space Command and execute defensive space operations based on a jointly developed playbook and informed by a series of exercises and war games,” Maguire added.
This might sound good, but in truth it is very unclear any streamlining has occurred. This quote stood out to me like a beacon:
The new organizational structure will maintain the [National Space Defense Center (NSDC)] at Strategic Command that was established in April 2017 to integrate NRO data into military space operations, but will expand its remit and deepen interagency ties.
What the heck does that mean? What I suspect is that nothing really has changed, other than the creation of a new layer of bureaucracy, dubbed the Space Command. Though this new command structure might have ended the conflict between the NRO and the Air Force over these assets, the extra bureaucracy almost guarantees that any actions will require more, not less, negotiations, a complexity that Washington bureaucrats drool over, as it justifies their existence and forces the federal government to spend money on them, whether or not it is really necessary.
So what do we have with these three stories? First Congress is micromanaging a planetary mission in a way that will likely cost money and possibly delay the mission. Second, the federal bureaucracy has turned the Trump administration’s effort to reduce regulation of the new commercial space industry into a way to increase its regulation. Third, the military is adding new layers of bureaucracy while making believe they are streamlining their space operations.
I think, except for the judicial branch, these deplorable actions pretty much include the entire Washington swamp. Instead of aiding space science, a new space industry, and better American space security, these petty dictators are doing everything they can to stifle all three.
It is no wonder Americans have no faith in these people. They have no interest in the interests of the nation. Instead, they are working to damage it, for their own personal benefit. And increasingly they are becoming defiant should anyone question them. They are literally becoming an enemy to the nation.
You want more Trump? Or even worse? This pattern is guaranteed to bring it on.