Washington’s spectacular effort to crush the American space effort


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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.

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.

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11 comments

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “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.

    The first article mentions a possible SLS launch date of 2025, which means that a Falcon Heavy launch in 2023 would only cost one extra year of operating costs, making for even better savings by using a Falcon Heavy. Since schedules have a tendency to be optimistic, we should not expect an SLS rocket to be available for Europa Clipper any earlier than 2025.

    Heck, at the current year-for-year schedule slip rate, SLS is never going to be ready for launch.

    From the first article: “the mission has an unusual political element: Europa Clipper is the first and only space mission to be married to a specific spacecraft in any appropriations bill

    First, from the context of the article, the author used the word “spacecraft” in that sentence when she should have used a word that means “launch vehicle.” A spacecraft is a launch vehicle’s payload. Europa Clipper is the spacecraft, and SLS is the launch vehicle. (Wait, isn’t that article in Scientific American magazine, and shouldn’t their authors know better?)

    The only other mandated “launch by” dates that I have seen were due to funding or orbital limitations, and if the launch did not occur, then funding would be terminated. Maybe it’s that “unusual political element“, but somehow I don’t think that Europa Clipper’s launch date is due to funding limitations and that if SLS slips, then the mandated launch date will also slip.

    Robert wrote” The FAA was given the job of rewriting those regulations. To put it mildly, they have botched the job

    ULA disagrees about the botched job:
    https://spacenews.com/ula-and-its-commercial-competitors-in-pitched-fight-over-launch-regulations/
    ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted: ‘FAA did a superb job increasing flexibility while maintaining public safety.’

    Bruno may think this because “ULA is especially concerned about SpaceX and Blue Origin gaining a competitive edge if regulatory constraints are eased in ways that would allow commercial players to grow their business, lower their cost and push ULA into a corner.

  • Edward: As for ULA’s approval of these proposed regulations, see this quote from the article:

    CSF, on the other hand, represents the newer players in the field, like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, Relativity, and more. The organization argues that the new rules will have a heavier burden on these younger companies, which have been launching commercial missions much more frequently. ULA often conducts national security launches or missions for NASA, which do not require a commercial launch license from the FAA. “For some of these companies that don’t really need FAA licenses and haven’t had an FAA licensed launch since April 2017, why are they so concerned about these rules that really don’t apply to them?” says Stallmer, referring to ULA’s last commercial launch. [emphasis mine]

    Apparently, ULA likes that these new regs will hurt their competitors, while doing little harm to them.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    I think that both of the quotes we have referenced indicate that ULA recognizes and likes that these new rules hamper rather than help the newer launch companies.

    As you indicate, if we want the lower prices and better services that come with competition then we should go against ULA’s opinion and favor the Commercial Spaceflight Federation members’ opinion.

  • Col Beausabre

    “ULA is especially concerned about SpaceX and Blue Origin gaining a competitive edge if regulatory constraints are eased in ways that would allow commercial players to grow their business, lower their cost and push ULA into a corner.“

    Welcome to the free enterprise system. That any American CEO would say that just shows how bad things are. Translation, “We’re afraid if competition is allowed, we’ll have to compete based on cost and service and we know we can’t do that successfully” Big Space is happy with the current system because thy have achieved regulatory capture. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

  • Why isn’t democracy self-correcting?

  • DougSpace asked, “Why isn’t democracy self-correcting?”

    Because democracy depends on an informed and active citizenry. In the U.S. we basically have not had that for about fifty years. Too many Americans do not vote, or if they do, do so based on abysmal ignorance.

    Jefferson talked about this. So did Gibbons in his history of the fall of Rome. We are witnessing it now in America.

  • I should add that I pray every day that my pessimism about the future of our country is wrong. I think the 2020 election will give us a good idea of the direction we are going.

  • Mike Borgelt

    If you think of any Government as a loose confederation of criminal gangs, everything falls into place.
    Think of CIA, FBI, DoJ etc. I can give Australian examples too. Not even the nominal leaders of the gangs actually have control over all their minions do.

  • wayne

    HOPPEWAVE
    “The Intellectuals (So to Speak)”
    June 2018
    https://youtu.be/LaDNHN_3oHU
    6:02

  • D3F1ANT

    Well…I DO want “more Trump.” But you made good points. I’ve lost interest in space missions because they are exclusively American hitch-hiking missions. And I think I saw a plan for a new space shuttle! LOL! Come on…we HAVE to move on if we want to expand our knowledge. Mars mission is fascinating but distant. Private companies are interesting but run by deranged Leftists and usually blow up on the pad. Or send a manikin in a car around the sun (big deal). Until there’s a moon base or SOMETHING besides sprouting beans in cups on the ISP…I’m bored.

  • M

    Not surprising that the largest company building launchers likes the new rules. The larger the organization, the more that organization wants rules – because compliance is generally a fixed cost and thus a smaller percentage of their operating costs.

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