House lawmakers push Air Force to use reusable rockets


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Capitalism in space: House lawmakers today added an amendment to the Air Force budget that would require the military to “move rapidly to evaluate the potential use of reusable space launch vehicles such as those being flown by SpaceX.”

The amendment was approved by a voice vote in committee.

As noted by Eric Berger at the link, this marks an amazing shift by Congress in a very short time. A few years ago, SpaceX had to sue the government for the right to bid on Air Force launch contracts. At that time Congress was exceedingly skeptical of allowing military satellites to launch on new Falcon 9 rockets, no less ones using used first stages. Moreover, Congress was then eager to protect its big buddy ULA, which then had a monopoly on military launches and was making gobs of money per launch. Now, Congress is all for re-usability and saving money and competition.

This change demonstrates the importance of success. SpaceX has been successful, and with that success the nay-sayers have suddenly vanished. Now, everyone loves them, when only a few years ago they were considered risky and unreliable.

When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy succeeds and flies several times prior to the first launch of SLS, watch for this same process to occur there as well. SLS will no longer be sacrosanct, and Congress will suddenly discover how much a waste of money it is.

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5 comments

  • Tom Billings

    “When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy succeeds and flies several times prior to the first launch of SLS, watch for this same process to occur there as well. SLS will no longer be sacrosanct, and Congress will suddenly discover how much a waste of money it is.”

    This is yet, IMHO, hoping “a bridge too far” for celebration. We may yet see it, but this is thin gruel for nourishing such a desert journey. Trent Franks is from Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, and that is as far from being part of the SLS/Orion coalition as the House gets.

    It is a good thing he is trying to do, but it is not yet accomplished. He has offered an amendment, which is not yet accepted, much less passed. He is also not on the NASA committee that funds SLS, but on the Emerging Threats subcommittee, which is the right place for him to affect the AF views on Falcon 9. His leverage ends there.

    Yes, when SLS ends, I expect the end to be an implosion that comes fast. We should try not to over-promise the beginning of that end, however.

  • Tom Billings: I think your desire to be realistic is causing you to be too pessimistic. It appears to me that the tide here is definitely turning. What was considered unacceptable in Washington a few years ago (speaking against SLS and promoting competition from new companies) is now clearly becoming politically advantageous. And it will only become more advantageous as SpaceX succeeds and SLS does not.

  • LocalFluff

    There will always be political pressure on cutting $3½ billion a year in the federal budget that’s trying to get a “reconciliation” through without increased deficit. Jim Bridenstine wants to become NASA administrator, does he? Well, what if the president puts his arm around his shoulders and tells him what price he must pay in order to qualify? That kind of pressure.

  • LocalFluff

    Since a congressman promoted to director no longer has any constituency, all of that “create local jobs” disappears. He’ll become federal. I bet that it will the strongest SLS/Orion advocate who cancels it next year. That’s politics, everything is for sale.

  • wodun

    Well, what if the president puts his arm around his shoulders and tells him what price he must pay in order to qualify? That kind of pressure.

    That kind of pressure can come from budget writing congresspeople who have been making poor decisions for the nation in order to secure $$$ for their state.

    Someone at NASA should be gaming out what could be done with a FH and SLS’s budget. Bigelow habs? Tugs? Fuel depots? Slow boat planetary observation platform to provide data for decades instead of weeks/months? Variable gravity station? Lunar Gateway?

    It is potentially a big list and they could have a mix of immediate uses, uses with short term development, and a mix of human/robotic/sensor missions.

    Rather than just look at what SLS/Orion cost now, they could also frame the alternatives in what SLS/Orion is expected to cost in any given year and what they would do.

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