Tag Archives: budget

House rejects Artemis; Senate funds Artemis

The Senate gives, the House taketh away: Even as the Democratically-controlled House continues to refuse the Trump administration’s request for $2.6 billion to fund its 2024 manned lunar landing, the Republican-controlled Senate has provided $1.6 billion of those funds in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.

This illustrates why such stimulus packages are utterly corrupt. Much of the money allocated has little to do with helping the country recover from the Wuhan panic, but is instead earmarked for the favorite agencies of the politicians. The Republicans are also trying to use this package to sneak across funding for Artemis without the House Democrats noticing, or being able to object.

It remains to be seen whether that strategy will work. Either way, we continue on the road to bankruptcy and financial collapse, as the federal government is trillions in debt, and simply doesn’t have the money for any of this.

Midnight repost: Squeal like a pig

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Tonight’s repost was written just prior to the 2010 mid-term elections. I correctly predicted that the Democrats would get creamed in that election. I then tried to predict what would happen next politically due to that Republican victory. I leave it to my readers to determine how good my analysis was, and how well it applies to what is happening right now.

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Squeal like a pig

Let’s take a trip into the future, looking past Tuesday’s midterm election.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that, come Tuesday, the Republicans take both houses, in a stunning landslide not seen in more than a century. Let’s also assume that the changes in Congress are going to point decidedly away from the recent liberal policies of large government (by both parties). Instead, every indication suggests that the new Congress will lean heavily towards a return to the principles of small government, low taxes, and less regulation.

These assumptions are not unreasonable. Not only do the polls indicate that one or both of the houses of Congress will switch from Democratic to Republican control, the numerous and unexpected primary upsets of established incumbents from both parties — as well the many protests over the past year by large numbers of ordinary citizens — make it clear that the public is not interested in half measures. Come January, the tone and direction of Congress is going to undergo a shocking change.

Anyway, based on these assumptions, we should then expect next year’s Congress to propose unprecedented cuts to the federal budget, including the elimination of many hallowed programs. The recent calls to defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcastings are only one example.

When Congress attempts this, however, the vested interests that have depended on this funding for decades are not going to take the cuts lightly. Or to put it more bluntly, they are going to squeal like pigs, throwing temper tantrums so loud and insane that they will make the complaints of a typical three-year-old seem truly statesman-like. And they will do so in the hope that they will garner sympathy and support from the general voting public, thereby making the cuts difficult to carry out.

The real question then is not whether the new Congress will propose the cuts required to bring the federal government under control, but whether they, as well as the public, will have the courage to follow through, to defy the howls from these spoiled brats, and do what must be done.
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Midnight repost: Shut down fascism in the Smoky Mountains

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: In 2013 Diane and I made a trip back east to visit the Smokey Mountains and do some hiking. Coincidentally, our trip took place at the end of September, when the budget battle between Obama and the Republicans in Congress was about to cause a government shutdown. This essay, the first of three, describes the extra effort and money being exerted by Obama’s administration to make that shutdown as unpleasant and as inconvenient to the American public as possible. The later two essays, linked to as an update at the top of the essay, outline what happened next.

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Shut down fascism in the Smoky Mountains

See my October 2, 2013 update here.

Today, October 1, 2013, my wife Diane and I went hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We did this despite the news from Washington that the federal government had shut down due to the lack of a funding from Congress and that all the national parks were closed.

The news reports had said that the National Park Service would close all roads into the park except for New Found Gap Road, the one road that crossed over the mountains from Tennessee to North Carolina. They couldn’t close this road because it was a main thoroughfare used by the public for basic transportation. Moreover, my research into the hikes we wished to do told me that several of those hikes originated on trailheads along this road. In traveling the road the day before, we had seen that these trailheads would not only be difficult to close, it would be dangerous and stupid to close them. For one, the road was windy and narrow. If there was a car accident or someone had car problems, any one of these parking areas might be essential for the use of the driver as well as local police and ambulances. For another, there are people still backpacking in the mountains who will at some point need to either exit with their cars or be picked up at these trailheads. Closing the trailheads will strand these hikers in the park, with dangerous consequences.

So, despite the shutdown, off we went to hike the Appalachian Trail, going to a well known lookout called the Jump Off, an easy 6.5 mile hike that leaves from the parking area at New Found Gap, the highest point on New Found Gap Road that is also on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. It is also probably one of the most popular stopping points along the road, visited by practically every tourist as they drive across.
Smokies from the Appalachian trail

The hike itself was beautiful, if a bit foggy and damp. The picture above shows one of the clearest views we had all day. Nor were we alone on this hike. We probably saw one to two dozen other hikers, heading out to either the Jump Off or Charles Bunion (another well known day hike destination along this section of trail).
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NASA confirms Webb launch delay to October 2021

NASA today confirmed that the launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope will be delayed again, from March 2021 to October 2021.

As schedule margins grew tighter last fall, the agency planned to assess the progress of the project in April. This assessment was postponed due to the pandemic and was completed this week. The factors contributing to the decision to move the launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, disruption to shift work, and other technical challenges. Webb will use existing program funding to stay within its $8.8 billion development cost cap. [emphasis mine]

Note the highlighted words. Vague, eh? They are trying to make it seem that this new delay is solely because of the Wuhan virus panic, but that’s simply not justifiable. Notice how SpaceX has kept on launching Falcon 9s as well as testing new Starship prototypes throughout the panic. Somehow that private company was able keep its schedule going.

The truth is that as early as January, long before COVID-19 was even a blip on the horizon, the GAO was warning everyone that it was unlikely NASA and Northrop Grumman could meet the March 2021 launch date.

Webb is now more than a decade behind schedule, and once launched will have cost 20 times what it was originally budgeted ($500 million vs $10 billion). Let us pray that it works once it gets to is proper orbit, a million miles from Earth, since it will then be too far away to fix.

IG report: NASA’s Orion is a program of lies

The Orion capsule

In a report [pdf] released today, NASA’s inspector general confirmed unequivocally what I have been saying for years, that the agency’s project to build the Orion capsule has been built on lies, from the beginning.

First of all, the report slams NASA for purposely excluding from its public budget almost 60% of the total cost for the entire Orion project.
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Problems at Europa Clipper

NASA has fired the project scientist for one overbudget and behind schedule instrument on Europa Clipper, and restructured work on a second instrument for similar reasons.

“We’ve been struggling on cost growth on Clipper for some time,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist for the mission at NASA Headquarters. “Overall, we’ve been largely successful in dealing with it, but late last fall, it became clear that there were three instruments that experiencing some continued and worrisome cost growth.”

The outcome of the reviews, he said, could have ranged from making no changes to the instruments to, in a worst-case scenario, terminating the instruments. The leadership of NASA’s Science Mission Directive recently decided to keep all three instruments, at least for now.

The fired scientist had been in charge of the mass spectrometer. At the moment they have installed a temporary replacement, and have put the instrument team on notice that it now has a very low priority. Should it fall further behind in schedule or budget it could easily be terminated.

The spacecraft’s imaging system also has schedule and budgeting problems, so much so that NASA was considering dropping the wide field camera, leaving Europa Clipper with only a narrow field camera. Right now both have been retained, but the wide field camera might still be dropped if costs continue to rise.

Proposed House NASA budget flat, with some surprising support for Artemis

While the first House proposal for NASA’s 2021 budget has rejected the Trump administration’s request for a total $3 billion increase for the agency to fund Artemis so that it can complete a manned mission to the Moon by 2024, it also provided about 18% of the funds requested for building the manned lunar lander required for that mission.

Back in February, the White House asked for $3.37 billion in fiscal year 2021 to accelerate development of the lander.

Democrats in the House have been skeptical of the 2024 launch date—some see it as political due to the timing of the next presidential election—and so have been slow to fund the lander. In its budget, the House appropriates $1.56 billion for “Exploration Research and Development.” This includes funding for the lander, Lunar Gateway, and other activities related to the Moon’s surface, of which more than $600 million can be used for the lander.

The House also provided a boost of $343 million to SLS.

My guess is that the Democrats in the House are working to keep Artemis going because of the jobs it brings to their districts, but want to slow it down enough so that it cannot succeed while Trump is in office. Thus, the release of some funds for the lunar lander, but not enough to build it, now.

The House proposal also includes a loosening on Congress’s mandate that Europa Clipper must launch on SLS. NASA is now given the option to consider other alternatives if SLS is not avaiable, which means that NASA can now consider using the Falcon Heavy instead.

This proposal must still pass the Republican-controlled Senate, so expect more changes.

Midnight repost: NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Tonight’s midnight repost is actually two. First we have what might have been my most telling report for John Batchelor, aired in late July 2013. In that appearance I was quite blunt about my contempt for the politicians in Washington and the fake space program they had been foisting on the American public for decades. As I said,

What both those parties in Congress and in the administration are really doing is faking a goal for the purpose of justifying pork to their districts, because none of the proposals they’re making — both the asteroids or the moon — are going to happen.

Here is the audio of that appearance [mp3] for you all to download and enjoy. For reference, these are specific stories from then that I am discussing:

That rant makes for a perfect lead in to an essay I wrote in late 2011, outlining what I would do if I was in a position to reframe NASA’s budget. Everything I said then still applies. And that it does is a great tragedy, in that it means that nothing has changed, and our federal government continues to gather power while bankrupting the country.

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NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

Let’s be blunt: the federal government is broke. With deficits running in the billions per day, there simply is no spare cash for any program, no matter how important or necessary. Nothing is sacrosanct. Even a proposal to cure cancer should be carefully reviewed before it gets federal funding.

Everything has got to be on the table.
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Space Force restructures/reduces former Air Force command structure

The new Space Force has restructured and reduced the former Air Force command structure as it begins to take over military space operations from the latter agency.

The USSF field organization will consist of three echelons of command, where the Air Force currently is organized into five echelons. USSF’s organizational structure will initially consolidate and align all organize, train and equip mission execution from former Air Force space-related units.

…In order of hierarchy, the USSF field echelons are named field commands, deltas and squadrons. There will be three field commands aligned with specific mission focuses: Space Operations Command, Space Systems Command, and Space Training and Readiness Command. SpOC and SSC will be led by three-star general officers, and STARCOM will be led by a two-star general.

Deltas will be O-6 led and will be organized around a specific function – operations, installation support, training, etc. Within the deltas will be squadrons focused on specific tactics. When the field command structure is fully implemented, it will eliminate one general officer echelon and one O-6 echelon of command. Functions formerly performed at the eliminated echelons will be realigned where appropriate within the USSF.

This sounds good, but we shall see. New government agencies proposed by our federal government to streamline bureaucracies somehow always end up bloating those bureaucracies instead. The Space Force was created with this laudable goal. This press release at least suggests they are trying to achieve it.

NASA names WFIRST after its first head of astronomy, Nancy Roman

NASA today announced that it has renamed the proposed Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope in honor of the agency’s first head of astronomy.

Considered the “mother” of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which launched 30 years ago, Roman tirelessly advocated for new tools that would allow scientists to study the broader universe from space. She left behind a tremendous legacy in the scientific community when she died in 2018.

…When she arrived at NASA, astronomers could obtain data from balloons, sounding rockets and airplanes, but they could not measure all the wavelengths of light. Earth’s atmosphere blocks out much of the radiation that comes from the distant universe. What’s more, only a telescope in space has the luxury of perpetual nighttime and doesn’t have to shut down during the day. Roman knew that to see the universe through more powerful, unblinking eyes, NASA would have to send telescopes to space.

Through Roman’s leadership, NASA launched four Orbiting Astronomical Observatories between 1966 and 1972. While only two of the four were successful, they demonstrated the value of space-based astrophysics and represented the precursors to Hubble. She also championed the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which was built in the 1970s as a joint project between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the United Kingdom, as well as the Cosmic Background Explorer, which measured the leftover radiation from the big bang and led to two of its leading scientists receiving the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Above all, Roman is credited with making the Hubble Space Telescope a reality. In the mid-1960s, she set up a committee of astronomers and engineers to envision a telescope that could accomplish important scientific goals. She convinced NASA and Congress that it was a priority to launch the most powerful space telescope the world had ever seen.

This is a nice and very fitting gesture to honor one of the many unsung heroes who were important in the history of space astronomy. I just hope that Roman’s telescope doesn’t end up like James Webb’s, so over budget and behind schedule that it destroys all other NASA space telescope projects. Sadly, its track record so far suggests this is what will happen, which is why the Trump administration has been trying to get it canceled.

NASA delays 1st SLS launch again

NASA has now made official what had been expected for months, announcing a new delay of the first unmanned test flight of its SLS rocket from March 2021 to November 2021.

The article tries to put a lot of the blame for this new delay on the shut down over the Wuhan panic, but that shut down will only stop work for at most two months. The new delay however adds eight months to the schedule, showing that they probably were never going to meet that March 2021 deadline, and are using COVID-19 as a cover for the program’s continuing problems, delays, and cost overruns.

Should this unmanned flight take place in November 2021, it will have taken NASA about seventeen years and about $60 billion to get to that first flight. They say the first manned mission is scheduled in late 2022 or early 2023. If true would mean it took NASA about two decades to achieve a single manned flight since Bush Jr. proposed it.

Of course, that is making the very unlikely assumption that there will be no further delays before that first manned flight. I personally am very confident there will be.

Curiosity and other Mars orbiters threatened by budget cuts

The proposed budget for NASA in the Trump administrations 2021 budget request to Congress includes significant budget cuts to both Curiosity and several Mars orbiters needed to act as relay communications satellites.

The White House’s 2021 federal budget request allocates just $40 million to the mission, a decrease of 20% from the rover’s current funding. And that current funding is 13% less than Curiosity got in the previous year, said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

If the 2021 request is passed by Congress as-is, Curiosity’s operations would have to be scaled back considerably. Running the mission with just $40 million in 2021 would leave unused about 40% of the science team’s capability and 40% of the rover’s power output, which comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), Vasavada said.

In addition, the proposed budget will require a 50% reduction in imaging by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the end to the Mars Odyssey orbiter, and a significant but unspecified reduction in the use of the MAVEN orbiter.

I reported these facts back in March but there is no harm in noting them again.

The question is not whether there should be cuts at NASA. Considering the overall federal debt and annual budget deficit, NASA’s budget should be cut. The question is what to cut. The planetary program, probably NASA’s most successful program, is certainly not the program to cut. Instead, the Trump administration should be cutting the waste and badly run programs, like SLS, that spend billions and accomplish nothing.

If Congress and Trump did this, they could cut NASA’s total budget and still have plenty left over for the commercial manned program — including going to the Moon — and also increase the budget to the planetary program. I’ve been saying this since 2011, and nothing has happened in the past decade to change that conclusion.

Two NY studies suggest Wuhan flu death rate comparable to the flu

Are you enraged yet? A just released New York study now suggests that there are large numbers infected with the Wuhan flu with no symptoms, about 13.9% of the population, indicating that the overall death rate is probably quite close to the flu.

The article does not state that conclusion, being CNBC and therefore unwilling to come to any conclusion that might suggest things are not terrible. However, see this analysis of a different New York study, with comparable numbers:

Thinking about that study showing that 13.7% of pregnant women presenting for delivery at NYC hospitals in March-early April tested positive for COVID-19 AT THE TIME of admission. Unless one thinks pregnant women are more likely to have been exposed to the virus than other people in the population, surely must mean that ~15% of NYC has been exposed. (Recall also that the NYC study was only of active infections not of antibodies.) If so, then 10,000 deaths out of 15% of NYC (1.2 million) points to an infection fatality rate around .008, very much in the ballpark of seasonal flu. [emphasis mine]

The first reliable numbers from South Korea and the Diamond Princess had shown death rates of about 0.9% and 1.2% respectively. While about ten times higher than the flu’s death rate of about 0.1%, it was also very clear then that these death rates were grossly high because of very large underestimates of the total number of people infected.

Now we are getting better numbers on the total infection rate — including large numbers of healthy individuals who get the disease and never show symptoms — and the evidence is strongly telling us that the Wuhan flu is not that dangerous, killing mostly older and sick individuals, and doing it at the same rate as the flu.

For this we allowed the press and our power-hungry political class to nullify the Bill of Rights and bankrupt the nation? A lot of heads should roll. And soon.

Pork galore in Senate-passed COVID-19 “stimulus” bill

The so-called COVID-19 “stimulus” bill that the Senate passed yesterday is apparently stuffed with billions in hand-outs to friends and buddies of Congress and the Washington bureaucracy, all of which have nothing to do with helping the American public being bankrupted by the forced shutdowns imposed on them by government.

Go to the link for a full list, which includes money for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Kennedy Center in DC, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the post office, NASA, and the Department of Education, to name only a few. It also includes a pay raise for Congress, money to sanctuary cities to allow them to continue to flout immigration laws (thereby making it harder to control the virus), and half a billion in foreign aid to Africa. The bill also will force unions on businesses who wish to take any government money.

There’s more of course. It will take a few days for decent people to dig through the entire document [pdf]. By that time however the House, under Democratic Party control, will have added more goodies, the Senate and Trump will have approved, and the bill will be law.

Three cheers for Congress!

Details of the Wuhan virus Congressional pork bill

With the Democrats in Congress retreating from their effort to stuff the fake COVID-19 stimulus bill with many provisions irrelevant to the virus, including many that would have helped them steal elections, the basic features of the new $2 trillion bill are now becoming clear.

Not surprisingly, it is filled with wonderful payoffs to big and small business, as well as the voters, all of which our federal government cannot afford, and all of which are sadly desperately needed by the citizenry because of the very bad policies the government imposed on the nation because of the virus.

  • Big Businesses: About $500 billion can be used to back loans and assistance to companies, including $50 billion for loans to U.S. airlines, as well as state and local governments.
  • Small Businesses: More than $350 billion to aid small businesses, including $10 billion in SBA grants of up to $10,000 for small business costs, and $17 billion for SBA to cover six months of payments for businesses with current SBA loans.
  • Hospitals: A $150 billion boost for hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies.
  • Individuals: Direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of $1,200 for each adult, as well as $500 for each child.

The bill has a number of restrictions on these payments, which on their face make sense. The problem however is that so far the numbers of people sick from COVID-19 simply do not justify this spending.

No matter. Chicken Little has won again. Common sense no longer exists.

NASA considering shutting down Curiosity in 2021

Even as the space agency is about to launch a new rover to Mars, it is considering cutting operations for the rover Curiosity as well as considering shutting down its operation as soon as 2021.

Other ongoing missions are threatened by the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. “The FY21 budget that the president just recently submitted overall is extremely favorable for the Mars program, but available funding for extended mission longevity is limited,” [said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program].

That request would effectively end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and reduce the budget for Curiosity from $51.1 million in 2019 to $40 million in 2021, with no funding projected for that rover mission beyond 2021.

The penny-wise-pound-foolish nature of such a decision is breath-taking. Rather than continue, for relatively little cost, running a rover already in place on Mars, the agency will shut it down. And why? So they can initiate other Mars missions costing millions several times more money.

Some of the proposed cuts, such as ending the U.S. funding for Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, make sense. That orbiter has accomplished relatively little, and Europe should be paying for it anyway.

These decisions were announced during a live-stream NASA townhall that was originally to have occurred live at the cancelled Lunar & Planetary Science conference. I suspect its real goal is to garner support for more funding so that the agency will not only get funds for the new missions, it will be able to fund the functioning old ones as well.

Sadly, there would be plenty of money for NASA’s well-run planetary program if our Congress and NASA would stop wasting money on failed projects like Artemis.

NASA shuts down all in-house work, suspending SLS/Orion testing

In its panicky response to COVID-19, NASA is now requiring all workers to work from home, forcing the agency to suspend all in-house testing of SLS and Orion hardware.

NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce.

This guarantees further delays to the first Artemis unmanned launch sometime in 2021. It also is par for the course for NASA’s entire effort to build this rocket. In just the past two weeks three different blistering inspector general reports have blasted different components of this project at NASA (overall management, construction of the launch systems, and development of software), proving that out-of-control cost overruns and endless delays in building SLS and Orion have been systemic throughout the agency.

Now they have shut down testing, even though the Wuhan virus is probably going to end up no more dangerous than the flu (now that treatment options exist).

NASA’s inspector general finds more budget overruns at Artemis

A new report [pdf] released today from NASA’s inspector general has found more budget overruns and managerial issues relating to developing the ground software required by both Orion and SLS.

There are two software components involved, called SCCS and GFAS for brevity. This report focuses on the latter. A previous report found that “SCCS had significantly exceeded its initial cost and schedule estimates with development costs increasing approximately 77 percent and release of a fully operational version of the software slipping 14 months.” According to that previous report [pdf], that increase went from $117 million to $207 million.

As for GFAS:

Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned.

This report, as well as yesterday’s, are quite damning to the previous management of NASA’s manned program under Bill Gerstenmaier. It appears they could not get anything done on time and even close to their budget.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration has removed the reins from its inspector general offices. During the Obama administration I noticed a strong reticence in IG reports to criticize government operations. Problems as outlined in both yesterday’s and today’s reports would have been couched gently, to obscure how bad they were. Now the reports are more blunt, and are more clearly written.

Also, this sudden stream of releases outlining the problems in Artemis might be part of the Trump administration’s effort to shift from this government program to using private commercial companies. To do this however the administration needs Congressional support, which up to now has strongly favored funding SLS and Orion. Having these reports will strengthen the administration’s hand should it propose eliminating these programs, as it is now beginning to do with Gateway.

More overruns in NASA’s SLS program, this time with the mobile launchers

A new inspector general report [pdf] has found massive cost overruns in NASA over the building of the two mobile launch platforms the agency will use to launch its SLS rocket.

The original budget for the first mobile launch was supposed to be $234 million. NASA has now spent $927 million.

Worse, this platform will see limited use, as it was designed for the first smaller iteration of SLS, which NASA hopes to quickly replace with a more powerful version. Afterward it will become obsolete, replaced by the second mobile launch platform, now estimated to cost $486 million.

That’s about $1.5 billion just to build the launch platforms for SLS. That’s only a little less than SpaceX will spend to design, test, build, and launch its new Starship/Super Heavy rocket. And not only will Starship/Super Heavy be completely reusable, it will launch as much if not more payload into orbit as SLS.

But don’t worry. Our geniuses in Congress will continue to support SLS no matter the cost, even if it bankrupts NASA and prevents any real space exploration. They see its cost overruns, long delays, and inability to accomplish anything as a benefit, pumping money into their states and districts in order to buy votes.

Big budget cut for India’s manned space program

India’s manned space program has received a 70% cut in funding in that country’s most recent budget, according to one news story from India.

From the first link:

The human spaceflight program of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), called Gaganyaan, received only about 30% of the funds sought by the according to the Times of India. ISRO said it will find a way around the low budget, but details were not provided in the news report.

The plan has been to launch a unmanned mission late this year or early next year, with the 5-to-7-day manned mission to occur one year later.

Based on the article from India, it appears to me that these cuts are part of the negotiation process for determining ISRO’s budget, and are not yet firm. It also appears that the government is experiencing sticker shock. It wants a manned mission, but when it was told what it would cost it balked.

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to fly the manned mission by 2022 with these cuts. The Modi government will either have to decide to spend the money, or significantly delay its human spaceflight effort.

New inspector general report slams NASA’s SLS management

A new report [pdf] by NASA’s inspector general released today harshly slams the management of NASA for the never-ending cost overruns and scheduling delays that have plagued the agency’s effort to build and launch the Space Launch System (SLS).

From the report’s introduction:

Based on our review of SLS Program cost reporting, we found that the Program exceeded its Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC)—that is, the cost and schedule baselines committed to Congress against which a program is measured—by at least 33 percent at the end of fiscal year 2019, a figure that could reach 43 percent or higher if additional delays push the launch date for Artemis I beyond November 2020.

… [T]he SLS Program now projects the Artemis I launch will be delayed to at least spring 2021 or later. Further, we found NASA’s ABC cost reporting only tracks Artemis I-related activities and not total SLS Program costs. Overall, by the end of fiscal year 2020, NASA will have spent more than $17 billion on the SLS Program—including almost $6 billion not tracked or reported as part of the ABC.

The graph below, taken from page 45 of the report, illustrates the management failures here quite starkly.
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Space Force lobbies for $1 billion extra

The Space Force has put forth an extra wish list of missions/projects that require an $1 billion more above the $15 billion the agency has already requested in the next federal budget for 2021.

While about 10 percent of the request is for classified programs, the remaining funding runs the gamut, from bolstering space situational awareness to accelerating the development of navigational satellites to establishing new commercial satellite communication capabilities in low earth orbit.

Overall this wish list appears properly focused, aimed at upgrading or improving existing space military assets rather than growing the Space Force’s bureaucracy. We shall see over time if this proves true. I can’t help having doubts.

SpaceX seeking $250 million more in investment capital

Capitalism in space: According to anonymous sources, SpaceX is once again seeking more investment capital, this time totaling $250 million.

Last year the company raised $1.33 billion. While not as much as the personal cash that Jeff Bezos has raised for Blue Origin by selling his personal Amazon stock, it has been enough for SpaceX to accomplish far more. Not only is the company about to launch its first manned mission, it has quickly begun assembling its Starlink internet constellation in orbit, while pushing forward on Starship construction.

NOAA’s aging fleet of sun-observation satellites

In testimony during a Senate hearing on February 12, the head of NOAA’s space weather division admitted that the agency’s ability to monitor the Sun is threatened by its aging fleet of solar satellites, combined with the agency’s slow progress on a large single replacement satellite, presently scheduled for launch in 2024.

NOAA currently uses the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft to collect solar wind data, and uses the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft to observe the solar corona, using those data to forecast solar storms that can affect satellites and terrestrial infrastructure such as power grids.

However, SOHO, launched in December 1995, is well past its design life. In addition, DSCOVR has been offline since June 2019 because of technical problems, forcing NOAA to depend solely on ACE, which launched in 1997. [emphasis mine]

NOAA has been trying, and failing, to build a replacement for ACE for more than a decade. Worse, the agency’s inability to deal with these issues was further revealed by this quote:

Congress has pushed to speed up work on that [replacement] mission, despite NOAA’s assurances about the availability of data from other spacecraft. NOAA sought about $25 million for the mission in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, but Congress appropriated $64 million. NOAA has yet to release its fiscal year 2021 budget request, more than a week after the White House published the overall federal government budget proposal.

Something has been wrong in the management at NOAA now for at least a decade. They can’t seem to get new satellites built, and when they try they can’t seem to do it on schedule and for a reasonable cost. Their weather satellite program has been rife with problems, including cost overruns, schedule delays, and failing satellites.

But why should we be surprised? This kind of mismanagement at the federal government has been par for the course for the past half century.

Trump proposes an increase in science spending in 2021

Read any analysis by any mainstream news or science publication of Trump’s 2021 proposed science budget, released this week, and you will come away thinking that the future of science research in the U.S. is doomed and that Donald Trump is a neanderthal who wishes to send us back to the dark ages.

Consider for example this article from the journal Science, Trump’s new budget cuts all but a favored few science programs, which begins like so:

For the fourth straight year, President Donald Trump has proposed sizable reductions in federal research spending. To be sure, it’s no longer news that the president wants deep cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and science programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA. And in past years, Congress has rejected similar proposals and provided increases. But Trump’s 2021 request brings into sharper focus what his administration values across the research landscape—and what it views as unimportant.

The article then outlines how Trump is slashing spending on science research across the board, even to the point of spinning the NASA budget to make a significant budget increase appear as a cut, by cherry-picking only some of that budget’s science programs.

This article is typical of the mainstream press. These articles never provide any context for the proposed budget numbers. They look at what was spent the year before, see what is being proposed for the next year, and if they see any reduction they scream. And if it is an evil Republican president proposing the cuts they scream far harder, implying that those cuts will guarantee the coming of a new dark age.

Trump's proposed science budget compared to Obama's last science budget

To the right however are the budget numbers (shown in thousands) for five of the biggest science agencies in the federal government, comparing Trump’s 2021 proposed budget numbers with the last science budget approved at the end of the Obama administration in 2016.

Notice anything? » Read more

NASA get boost in Trump proposed budget for 2021

The 2021 budget request by the Trump administration includes a big budget increase for NASA while also proposing major cuts to many of its science programs.

According to the analysis at the second link, the big gainer is Artemis. The losers in astronomy are the space telescope WFIRST and the airborne telescope SOFIA, both of which the administration wants terminated. Also on the chopping block are two climate satellites.

I plan to go through the budget in the next day or so and do my own analysis, which will also provide a longer term context that I guarantee no other news source will do. For example, routinely when most mainstream sources declare a cut in any program, it only means either a reduction in its growth rate, or a reduction to spending levels deemed entirely satisfactory only a few years before. To understand any new budget proposal, you need to look at the long term spending trends.

I will, as I have done in the past, also include more than just NASA in my analysis, reviewing the budget changes for all the science agencies.

I would do this today, but an eye doctor’s appointment this afternoon takes priority.

Europa Clipper faces budget overruns

NASA’s $4.25 billion dollar mission to orbit the Jupiter moon Europa now faces cost overruns that threaten its launch in 2023.

The management of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, facing dwindling cost reserves while still years away from launch, is looking at cost saving options that would preserve the mission’s science.

In a Feb. 3 presentation at a meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group in Houston, Jan Chodas, project manager for Europa Clipper at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said she was looking for ways to restore cost reserves that had declined precipitously in the last year.

Chodas said that Europa Clipper had met a JPL recommendation of 25% cost reserves, known at the lab as unallocated future expenses (UFE), when it completed a final “delta” preliminary design review in June 2019. By November, though, those reserves had fallen to just 12%, a level deemed “unacceptably low” for a mission not scheduled for launch until at least 2023.

To save money, they are “streamlining hardware testing and scaling back work on flight spare hardware. The project has also reduced the frequency of meetings of the mission’s science team.”

When the reserves in a government budget get this low, it almost always guarantees that the budget will go over. When the reserves get this low this early in the project, it almost always guarantees that the budget will go over, by a lot.

There have been other indications that Europa Clipper’s budget is in trouble. In March NASA canceled one science instrument to save money.

Making matter worse has been our lovely Congress, which has required this mission fly on its bloated, over-budget, and behind schedule SLS rocket, a mandate that is also costing the project an additional $1.5 billion (for the launch) while threatening its launch date (because of SLS delays). NASA would rather have the option to launch Clipper on the more reliable commercial and already operational Falcon Heavy, for about $100 million, thereby saving more than a billion dollars while guaranteeing its launch date. Congress so far has refused to budge, and has in fact insisted that the mission be delayed several years if necessary for getting it on SLS.

Meanwhile, Clipper itself is doing what too many big NASA projects routinely do, go overbudget.

Our federal government. Doesn’t its management skills just warm your heart?

SpaceX wins another NASA launch contract

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded SpaceX the launch contract, estimated to cost about $80 million, to launch its Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) climate mission.

That cost number seems high for a SpaceX launch, especially because, according to this Space News article, the launch will be using a reused first stage. For such launches SpaceX has generally been charging less than its standard $67 million, usually about $50 million. The press release says the contract covers both the launch and “other mission related services” but I cannot see how those additional services could raise the price almost 40%.

Unless someone at NASA is willing to prove me wrong, I suspect this is merely the case of our vaunted federal government overpaying for a service, simply because it isn’t their money and they are willing to spend extra for no reason other than it makes their job easier. Or possibly they are now playing favorites, and throwing extra money SpaceX’s way to help the company in its other endeavors, a method of funding that is really inappropriate.

Congress gets first organizational plan for Space Force

The Air Force has delivered to Congress the first of a regularly required series of reports on its organizational plans for creating the Space Force.

At first glance, the article makes it appear that both Congress and the Air Force under Trump are making an attempt to avoid the birth of a new bureaucracy that will coast billions of additional dollars. The following quotes highlight this:

The report delivered Feb. 3, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews, stresses that the Space Force will not have the traditional layers of bureaucracy that Congress cautioned it did not want to see in the new service.

…The Space Force in fiscal year 2020 is allotted a total of 200 people. The plan is to grow the staff over the next five years “within existing DoD resources,” says the report.

The article also outlines how the bulk of the Space Force’s staff will be taken from the Air Force.

One would think therefore that the overall military budget would not rise significantly. Hah! Fooled you!

The report says in the future the new service will not require more than $500 million annually over and above what DoD spends currently on space organizations. Total additional costs would not exceed $2 billion over the next five years, says the report.

Only in the government would spending an extra $500 million annually for an office operation taken from other parts of a company be considered inexpensive. For example, the initial capital funding for almost every single one of the new private smallsat rocket companies has generally been under $100 million, total. Later rounds of funding have generally only doubled or tripled that. The extra $500 million the military wants for the Space Force is actually a lot of money, and indicates that the Pentagon is definitely trying to pad the budget.

Our incompetent federal government grows again, and I guarantee we are getting less for our money than we should.

GAO warns of more Webb delays

The race to the bottom between Webb and SLS continues! A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report warns that there is high likelihood that NASA will not meet its March 2021 target launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope.

The report noted that the program performed an updated joint confidence level analysis of the mission’s cost in schedule in October. “Because of schedule delays resulting from technical challenges coupled with remaining risks faced by the project, the analysis assessed only a 12 percent confidence level for the project’s ability to meet the March 2021 launch readiness date,” the report stated.

NASA missions usually set cost and schedule estimates at the 70% confidence level. Using that metric, the launch would likely take place in July 2021, a delay of four months, according to the report.

Webb is now more than a decade behind schedule, with its budget ballooning from $1 billion to just under $10 billion. These facts essentially wiped out almost all new astronomical projects in the 2010s.

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