Tag Archives: budget

Republican Congress boosts NIH spending, rejecting Trump proposed cuts

Failure theater: The Republicans in Congress have given the NIH a significant boost in spending, rejecting both Trump’s proposed cuts and reorganization proposals.

Congress has approved a $2 billion raise, to $39.1 billion, for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a 2019 spending bill approved by House of Representatives and Senate negotiators last night.

As expected, the 5% boost matches the Senate’s proposed spending level and surpasses a $1.25 billion increase in a draft bill passed by the House. President Donald Trump’s administration had requested $34.8 billion for the fiscal year that begins 1 October. This is the fourth year in a row that NIH has received a substantial increase, after more than a decade of flat budgets.

Trump had also proposed shifting three Health & Human Service agencies into NIH. Congress ignored this.

This illustrates the bankrupt nature of the Republicans in Congress. Don’t believe them when they argue they want to limit government. They are lying. They pass tax cuts to make you happy and vote for them, then turn around and pour money we don’t have at their Washington friends.

This also illustrates the bankrupt nature of the American voter. We gobble up tax cuts, either ignore or celebrate Congress’s out-of-control spending, and then vote for the elected officials who do this.

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Trump cancels federal employee pay raise

President Trump today used his power under federal law to cancel this year’s scheduled federal employee pay raise of 2.1% as well as a 25% increase for “localities”.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Trump wrote that he’d decided “across-the-board” pay raises as well as locality pay raises for civilian federal workers in 2019 would be frozen. “I have determined that for 2019, both across‑the‑board pay increases and locality pay increases will be set at zero,” he wrote. “These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce,” Trump added.

In the letter, Trump said a 25.7-percent pay raise for localities, as well as a 2.1-percent pay increase for across-the-board pay, both scheduled for January 2019, would add billions to the federal deficit. Specifically, he pointed to the scheduled locality pay raise as costing $25 billion. “We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” Trump wrote in the letter.

This is what has made Trump different than every president since Reagan. He is willing to do things that shake up the status quo that are also falsely considered risky by the Washington political class. This will not hurt him politically in the least, despite what you will hear the pundits on the bankrupt mainstream media say. If anything, it will strongly help him and his political allies, as the American taxpaying public has been for many years disgusted with the overpaid federal workforce that has an amazing ability to regularly screw up any job they are given.

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Trump administration goes all in for LOP-G

The swamp wins! In a speech today Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is giving its full endorsement to the construction of the Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), as well as SLS and Orion. These big boondoggles, which will trap us in lunar orbit while the Chinese set up lunar bases and take possession of the surface and its resources, are going forward, with both the president’s support as well as Congress’s.

Providing further evidence that the Trump administration has bought into these projects, in his introduction of Pence NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine gave a big public endorsement to the executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, a man who has been a big supporter of these projects of the bureaucracy. Pace believes we need these projects, despite the fact that they have been under construction for two decades, have cost an ungodly amount, and have literally flown nowhere.

Pence also said that they intend to have the space force a reality by 2020, and also hinted that the Trump administration is making a careful review on the future of ISS.

Overall, the speech was a big endorsement for government space, in every way, with the private sector designed not to lead as free Americans following their personal dreams but to follow, servants of the desires of the government and its wishes.

If you want to listen to about 30 minutes of pro-government promotion, I expect it will be posted here at some point.

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State Department claims orbiting Russian satellite is a military threat

At a conference yesterday a State Department official claimed that an orbiting Russian satellite is behavior in a manner that suggests an unstated military purpose.

Russia has described the satellite in question as a “space apparatus inspector,” Yleem Poblete, assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance at the U.S. State Department, said at a conference on disarmament in Geneva yesterday. “But its behavior on orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational-awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection-satellite activities. We are concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior by a declared ‘space apparatus inspector,”’ Poblete said.

“We don’t know for certain what it is, and there is no way to verify it,” she added. “But Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development — particularly when considered in concert with statements by Russia’s Space Force commander, who highlighted that ‘assimilate[ing] new prototypes of weapons [into] Space Forces’ military units’ is a ‘main task facing the Aerospace Forces space troops.'”

If you read the whole speech, you will discover that much of this is somewhat overstated, and that it is simply part of the Trump administration’s aggressive lobbying in favor of creating a Space Force. I don’t deny that this satellite could be testing technologies that could have military uses. I can also recognize it when a government official is trying to use the press to advocate for more funding. At no point does Poblete describe in detail the behavior that makes them think this satellite is doing things “inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational-awareness capabilities.” In fact, if it is making unusual orbital changes that is very consistent with these purposes since any satellite designed to make orbital inspections of other facilities would need that capability.

In fact, I bet it isn’t the satellite’s activity that concerns them, but its vague description. The Russians really haven’t told us what it is. While this is surely a concern, this speech’s purpose is to lobby for the Space Force, not pressure the Russians to provide more information.

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NASA wants to delay WFIRST to pay for Webb overruns

In testimony to Congress yesterday NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that the agency wants to delay the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope to pay for the new cost overruns of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Bridenstine said during the hearing that no decisions had been made on how to cover those additional JWST costs. “By the 2020 timeframe is when we’re going to need to have additional funds. So between now and then we’re going to have to make determinations,” he said. “Right now that process is underway.”

He said those decisions would consider the guidance from decadal surveys and a desire to maintain a balanced portfolio of programs. He specifically assured one member, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), that the extra funding would not come out of human spaceflight programs, particularly the Space Launch System. “This is relevant to the Science Mission Directorate exclusively, and that’s where, at this point, we’ve had discussions about what are the options going forward,” Bridenstine said.

Committee members used the two-and-a-half-hour hearing to express their frustrations with this latest delay, noting that the original concept for the mission [Webb] called for it to cost $500 million and launch in 2007, versus a current lifecycle cost of $9.6 billion and launch in 2021. “This is 19 times the original cost and a delay of 14 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee. “It doesn’t get much worse than that.” [emphasis mine]

Only yesterday I speculated that the cuts to WFIRST were related to Webb. It turns out I was right.

I have highlighted above one detail revealed at the hearing. I have always though Webb’s initial budget was $1 billion with a launch date of 2011. It appears it was less, by half, and it was supposed to launch four years sooner. Makes this boondoggle even more of an embarrassment for NASA and the astrophysics community. And for the astrophysics community it is also a disaster, because Webb’s overruns for the past two decades essentially wiped out what had been a very vibrant space astronomy program at NASA.

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NASA considering more cuts to WFIRST

NASA is considering more cuts to the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), presently budgeted at $3.2 billion.

I suspect a contributing factor for these cuts are the problems with the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA has to pay for its new cost overruns and delays, and the fairest place to find those cuts would be from within the astrophysics division.

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California’s coming crash

Link here. Money quote:

Economist Herbert Stein once said: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.” California, on its current trajectory and with its new Socialist-inspired leadership, cannot go on forever. There simply isn’t enough money. The state will ultimately fail because the math says it has to.

Or as the article’s author also notes, “California’s aspiring new Socialists have already run out of other people’s money.” Worse, they don’t even know it, and plan to spend even more money they don’t have on more pie-in-the-sky communist fantasies.

California today reminds me of Venezuela ten years ago, when things started to go sour but no one there wanted to admit it. It also reminds me of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev in the 1970s. The collapse is coming, but the insane culture and leadership in California continues to do the same failed thing, over and over, expecting a different result. Instead, everything is going to crash. My big fear is that they will take everyone else down with them.

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James Webb Space Telescope delayed again, with budget rising

Based the conclusions [pdf] of an Independent Review Board (IRB), NASA has once again delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, now set for 2021, while increasing its construction budget from $8 billion to almost $9 billion.

In its report, the IRB found that technical issues, including human errors, have greatly impacted the development schedule.

The agency previously had estimated an earlier launch date, but awaited findings from the IRB before making a final determination and considered data from Webb’s Standing Review Board. The agency established the new launch date estimate [March 30, 2021] to accommodate changes in the schedule due to environmental testing and work performance challenges by Northrop Grumman on the spacecraft’s sunshield and propulsion system. The telescope’s new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at $9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is $8.8 billion.

It is important to remember that Webb was originally supposed to cost $1 billion, and launch in 2011. It is now a decade behind schedule, with a cost almost ten times higher.

It really does appear like SLS and Webb are in a race to see who can get launched last. And right now, the race is neck and neck.

I should add that if the launch gets delayed much more, NASA will have further problems with the launch rocket. The Ariane 5 rocket, designated as the launch vehicle, is being retired around 2021. Beyond that date there might be problems using one.

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Senate kills House bill to cut $15 billion from passed $300 billion spending deal

Failure theater: The Senate today killed a House bill that would have cut $15 billion from the $300 billion spending deal passed in March.

In a 48-50 vote, senators failed to discharge the measure from committee. A majority vote was needed.

GOP Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine) joined 48 members of the Democratic caucus in voting against bringing up the bill. “My belief … is that it’s the job of Congress to comb through these accounts and that’s what we do on the appropriations committee,” Collins said.

The vote is a blow to conservatives and the White House, who pushed the package in response to backlash from the GOP base over a mammoth rescissions package passed in March.

I wish Burr and Collins would simply switch parties. At least that way there would be no way for them to fool anyone into thinking they believe in smaller government or controlling spending.

The bill was garbage anyway, as it really did little to really promote smaller government or controlled spending. All it did was give House Republicans a fake talking point when they campaign for re-election in the fall. “I fought to cut the budget!” they will scream, citing the House vote that passed the bill, even though they all knew the bill did little, and that it was almost certain the Senate would kill it.

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House passes tiny $15 billion budget cut

The corruption runs deep: House today passed, by the tiniest of margins, a minuscule $15 billion budget cut designed to make believe they are being fiscally responsible after their passage of a two year budget deal that added $300 billion of additional spending to the already bankrupt federal budget.

They will break their arms patting themselves on the back about this bill, even though they also know there is almost no chance this bill will make it through the Senate.

In other words, this is failure theater. After passing the bloated budget deal the Republicans in Congress went home to discover that the voters meant it when they said they wanted the budget slashed. They are now trying to manufacture a lie that says they are trying to cut the budget. They are lying however. They have no intention of trimming the budget. In this matter they are as corrupt as the Democrats.

And they wonder why we got Trump.

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New NOAA weather satellite has serious problem

Can’t anybody here play this game? The cooling unit required to take infrared images in the new NOAA weather satellite GOES-17, launched in March, is not functioning properly.

“This is a serious problem,” Volz said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform, and 16 channels, of which 13 are infrared or near-infrared, are important elements of our observing requirements, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss. It is a performance issue we have to address.”

Detectors for the infrared channels must be cooled to around 60 Kelvin (minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit) to make them fully sensitive to infrared light coming from Earth’s atmosphere. For about 12 hours each day, the cooler inside the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, is unable to chill the detectors to such cold temperatures, officials said.

Infrared images from weather satellites are used to monitor storms at night, when darkness renders visible imagery unavailable. The three visible channels from the ABI are not affected by the cooling problem.

“The other wavelengths, the near-infrared and infrared wavelengths — the other 13 — need to be cooled to some extent beyond the capability of the system at present,” said Tim Walsh, NOAA’s program manager for the GOES-R weather satellite series. “There’s a portion of the day centered around satellite local midnight where the data is not usable, and that’s what we’re addressing.”

GOES-17 is the second of a four satellite constellation being built by NOAA costing $11 billion.

It appears that an identical cooling system was installed on the first of this satellite constellation, GOES-16, and has been working perfectly in orbit since November 2016. Why the new unit isn’t working remains a puzzle.

The real issue here is the cost and complexity of these satellites. Because they are so complex and take so long to build, replacing them is difficult if not impossible. Wouldn’t it be better to launch many cheaper satellites to provide redundancy at a lower cost?

This is a pattern we see throughout the government aerospace industry. NASA’s Webb and WFIRST telescopes are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. SLS and Orion are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. The Air Force’s numerous military satellites are big and take decades to build. God forbid an enemy takes one out.

In all these cases, failure means we get nothing after spending a lot of time and money. And replacing the loss will take years and billions of dollars.

Common sense says it is time to rethink this entire operation. Unfortunately, this is the federal government. The concept of rethinking anything, or even thinking at all, is too often a completely alien concept. I do not expect anything to change, unless we elect new people in Congress and the Presidency who are willing to take a hammer to this whole insane system and smash it bluntly. Trump is kind of this type of new person, but even he isn’t willing to change that much, only some things, such as the EPA, that irk him in particular. Otherwise, he has left much of the federal bureaucracy alone — as can be seen by his administration and NASA both gearing up to fund both LOP-G and WFIRST— thus continuing this pattern of big and expensive projects that take forever to build.

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29 Republicans and all Democrats vote to kill Senate balanced budget proposal

Apropos of my post earlier today: In the Senate yesterday twenty-nine Republicans and every Democrat voted to kill a balanced budget proposal offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

Paul’s plan would have reduced spending by $404.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts October 1. After the budget balanced in five years, spending would be held to 1 percent increases per year, resulting in a budget that was 14.6 percent bigger in 10 years that it is now.

This very mild proposal to trim the equivalent of a penny from every dollar spent was too much for these spend-thrifts. The article at the link lists all 29 Republicans who voted against it, all of whom were liars when they said during their campaigns that they support a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, and smaller government.

Let me repeat it so no one has any doubts about what I mean: These Senators are liars. They didn’t misconstrue the facts. Their statements weren’t misguided. They simply lied during their campaigns, and they have so done repeatedly.

The only saving grace about this story is that the trend has been to replace these crooks. Since 2010 the voters have been favoring candidates who mean what they say, on both sides of the aisle. And the result has been an increase in the numbers of real conservatives in Congress. Their influence is growing.

We also might be getting outright socialists and communists elected on the Democratic side, but at least they are being honest about who they are, unlike the lying Democrats who in the past were also outright socialists or communists, but tried to hide their beliefs behind equally offensive lies.

This honesty will maybe finally allow us to deal with the issue of the out-of-control federal budget. Or it will bankrupt us with more legislators willing to spend money like it is water. In the latter case, however, the result will be because this is what the American people choose to do, rather than being deceived by their leaders. And if that is what we choose, then at least we will deserve the hell we bring down upon ourselves.

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The federal government’s blank check

Three articles this morning about actions taken by Congress in connection with the budgets for NASA and NOAA illustrate the bankrupt nature of our federal government.

The first story describes how several legislators from the House Appropriations Committee have inserted amendments into their budget bill that will restore a $10 million NASA climate monitoring program that the Trump administration had shut down.

The second story describes how that same budget bill generously funds both NASA and NOAA at levels far above their own requests.
» Read more

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NASA inspector general weighs in on ISS’s future

The inspector general for NASA, Paul Martin, is testifying today before Congress on ISS. His prepared statement [pdf] includes several blunt assessements concerning the station’s future.

First and most important, he has doubts that transitioning the station to private ownership will work.
» Read more

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Trump administration shuts down $10 million carbon measuring program at NASA

The Trump administration has shut down a $10 million ground-based carbon measuring program that was being run by NASA.

The program, dubbed Carbon Measuring System (CMS), was a collection of 65 ground-based research projects.

Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts [proposed by the Trump administration], a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration’s move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.

The Science article takes the typical journalistic approach of the past century, innocently assuming that this research is vital and must be funded and that it is a tragedy that it is being cut. Mainstream reporters today seem incapable of exercising any skepticism when it comes to government spending.

Look, this research might be worthwhile. Then again, maybe not. More importantly, why is NASA funding this ground-based climate research? The agency’s task is the exploration of space. This work has nothing to do with that task. If environmental scientists need this work done, they need to go to the appropriate funding sources, which in the federal government would be NOAA, EPA, or the Department of Energy, not NASA.

Meanwhile, it appears that much of this work is going to be made somewhat redundant anyway, with the launch of several carbon monitoring satellites by both NASA and Europe, one of which is already in orbit, according to the article.

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GAO predicts more delays and cost increases in NASA’s big projects

The Government Accountability Office is predicting more delays and cost increases for most of NASA’s big projects in its tenth annual report.

The cost and schedule performance” of NASA’s major projects “has deteriorated, but the extent of cost deterioration is unknown” because NASA does not have a cost estimate for Orion. Orion is “one of the largest projects in the portfolio” and NASA “expects cost growth.”

As for schedule, “the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years” of making these assessments. GAO said the 12-month average delay is up from 7 months in last year’s assessment.

Further, NASA faces the risk of more cost and schedule growth because of “new, large, complex projects that will enter the portfolio and expensive projects remaining the portfolio longer than expected.” Europa Clipper, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, and Europa Lander are cited as examples of those future large, complex projects. GAO did give NASA credit for putting processes in place to control the costs of Europa Clipper and WFIRST.

GAO identified nine existing projects as the biggest contributors to the poor cost and schedule performance: SLS, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) cited in the 2017 report, Mars 2020, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), ICESat-2, NISAR, ICON, and GRACE-FO (GRACE-Follow On).

Orion has cost already cost the taxpayer about $15 billion, all of which will only buy the taxpayer three capsules (two unmanned test flights and a single manned flight). And yet they don’t have enough money yet, and NASA can’t provide a total cost estimate? To me, this appears to be outright theft. Building three capsules simply shouldn’t cost that much. (Note: the report claims Orion has cost about $6.6 billion. My number above comes from actual appropriations by Congress specifically for Orion. I think my number is a far more accurate reflection of the project’s true cost.)

Though the report expresses concerns about schedule delays in the commercial crew program, it is with the NASA-run projects that the report finds the worst cost overruns and delays. All of the usual suspects above come in for criticism: Webb, WFIRST, SLS (and its associated ground facilities), Orion, LOP-G.

I will make a prediction: All these NASA projects will be cited for further cost overruns and further delays in next year’s GAO report. By that time, we shall have also seen the first test flights of the commercial crew capsules by Boeing and SpaceX.

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DARPA announces $10 million launch challenge for smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: DARPA yesterday announced a new launch challenge competition for smallsat rocket companies, with prizes of $10, $9, and $8 million for first, second, and third prizes, respectively.

Contest rules call for teams to be given the full details about where and when they’ll launch, what kind of payload they’ll launch, plus what kind of orbit the payload should be launched into, only a couple of weeks in advance. And that’s just half the job. Teams will be required to execute another launch, from a different site, no more than a couple of weeks later.

The precise time frames for giving advance notice are still under discussion, but “I would measure the time scale in days,” Todd Master, program manager for the challenge at DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told reporters today.

Considering that we right now already have at least two smallsat rocket companies, Rocket Lab and Vector, on the verge of doing exactly this, without the need of government money, with a slew of other companies to soon follow, I wonder why DARPA is proposing this competition. It seems somewhat irrelevant at this point, making me wonder if its real purpose is not to encourage rocket development but to find a clever way to hand some government cash to these specific companies.

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NASA might scale down the first manned SLS flight

In order to meet its present schedule and budget, NASA is considering scaling down its first manned SLS flight in 2023 by using the same smaller version of SLS that will fly the first unmanned test flight in 2020.

The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA’s main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew — a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won’t be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. “If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can’t do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS],” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday.

NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. “The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

The problem here really is that Congress keeps throwing money at this boondoggle. It will fly, but it will never be able to make the exploration and colonization of the solar system possible. It is simply too expensive and has a far too slow launch rate. Instead, it will allow for NASA to do stunts in space, while elected officials can preen and prance about, bragging about the jobs they brought to their districts.

And the nation’s debt will grow, and grow, and grow.

I hold to my prediction that private companies will bypass SLS in the 2020s, doing far more for far less. The differences between them will become downright embarrassing to SLS and Congress.

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Webb telescope delayed again to 2020

NASA has announced that it is once again delaying the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, from 2019 to 2020.

The observatory was supposed to fly this year. But last fall, NASA bumped the launch to 2019. NASA announced the latest delay on Tuesday. “We have one shot to get this right before going into space,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator of science. He said some mistakes were made while preparing the telescope, and NASA underestimated the scale of the job. [emphasis mine]

None of this is a surprise. Webb is more pork than science. It was originally budgeted at $1 billion, with a planned launch in 2011. It will now cost more than $9 billion, and be delayed almost a decade. Since the project began in the early 2000s, by the time it launches it will have been in development for almost two decades, which is almost a lifetime career for some people.

And note, the article includes the lie that Webb is “a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.” It is not. Hubble is an optical telescope. Webb will only look in the infrared. These are very different things.

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Trump mentions interest in creating military “Space Force”

Blather and pork: In comments to soldiers in San Diego President Trump yesterday expressed interest in creating a military “Space Force” similar to the Air Force

“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said during a Tuesday speech at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “We may even have a Space Force, develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force. We have the Army, the Navy.”

The administration’s National Security Strategy, released in December, repeatedly identifies space as a contested domain, a somewhat more dire take than its Obama-era predecessors, which recognized “threats posed by those who may wish to deny the peaceful use of outer space.”

“You know, I was saying it the other day — because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space — I said maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,” Trump said. “And I was not really serious, but I said, ‘What a great idea.’ Maybe we’ll have to do that. That could happen.”

Trump as usual is talking off the cuff, but might very well have a negotiating purpose. There are members of Congress who want it. Trump could possibly be considering a trade, I give you that, you let me cut this.

Or not. It is dangerous to over analyze many of Trump’s off-the-cuff statements. Many times he just does them to get some publicity and to annoy his opponents. Note also that top Air Force officials dodged this issue when asked at hearings to comment on Trump’s statement.

Bottom line however remains the same: Spending money on a Space Force dedicated to fighting in space would be, at this time, a complete waste of money. It would be pork, pure and simple.

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The ever-receding Space Launch System

Today a story at Space News reveals that NASA has decided to forgo construction of a second mobile launcher for its Space Launch System (SLS). Instead, they will modify the one they have.

The mobile launch platform, originally built for the Constellation Program and currently being modified to support the SLS, will be used for one launch of the initial Block 1 version of the SLS, designated Exploration Mission (EM) 1. That platform will then have to be modified to accommodate the taller Block 1B version that will be used on second and subsequent SLS missions.

Agency officials said late last year they were considering starting work on a second mobile launch platform designed from the beginning to accommodate the Block 1B version of the SLS. They argued that doing so could shorten the gap of at least 33 months between the first and second SLS missions caused in part by the modification work to the existing platform.

The first mobile launcher was built and modified for an estimated $300 to $500 million. NASA obviously has decided that the politics of building a second won’t fly. The cost is too great, as would be the political embarrassment of admitting they spent about a half a billion for a launcher they will only use once. (That this mobile launcher is leaning we will leave aside for the moment.)

What this does however is push back the first manned SLS/Orion launch. At present, the first unmanned mission is likely to go in June 2020 (though don’t be surprised if that date sees further delays). If it takes 33 months after that launch to reconfigure the launcher for the first manned mission, that manned mission cannot occur any sooner than April 2023. That second launch however is planned to be the first to use SLS’s new upper stage. To put humans on it untested seems foolish, doesn’t it? NASA is going to have to fly an extra mission to test that upper stage, which is going to add further delays to the schedule.

In November I predicted that the first manned SLS/Orion mission would not happen before 2025. At the time it was assumed that the second flight of SLS would have to launch the unmanned Europa Clipper mission, in order to test that upper stage. Now however it appears that the Trump administration wants to shift Europa Clipper to a commercial launch vehicle, probably Falcon Heavy.

This means that either astronauts will be flying on an untested SLS upper stage, or NASA will have to add a test launch in April 2023, followed some time thereafter by that manned mission. Since NASA does not at present have a budget for a third mission, I am not sure what is going to happen here.

What I do know is that SLS is certain to get delayed again. By 2025 we will have paid close to $50 billion for SLS and Orion, and the best we can hope for is a single manned mission. And that one mission will have taken 21 years to go from concept to launch.

This is not how you explore the solar system. With a schedule like this, all SLS and Orion are doing is distributing pork to congressional districts and to the big space companies (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) that are building both. Establishing the United States as a viable space-faring nation is the last thing these players have in mind.

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New backers to run Arecibo

The National Science Foundation this week revealed the make-up of the consortium that is taking over the operation of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

The new agreement is valued at $20.15 million over five years, subject to the availability of funds, and is scheduled to begin April 1, according to the statement.

The new partnership represents a mixture of academic and corporate interests. The Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Yang Enterprises Inc. in Oviedo, Florida, will partner with [the University of Central Florida] to manage the observatory. The team plans to expand the capabilities of the telescope, officials said.

This relieves the National Science Foundation (and the taxpayers) of the the cost burden for this facility, at least directly.

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Off to Israel

I am about to leave on a ten day trip to Israel, which is why I have not commented yet on the Trump budget [pdf] and how it effects NASA and science.

The links above will give you a chance to form your own opinions, and to comment here. I will absorb them myself and post on the subject at some time I think during the trip, though in truth it generally doesn’t matter that much what a president proposes in his budget. Congress makes the decision, and usually ignores the president’s suggestions, especially if such ideas threaten their pork.

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New budget deal dumps budget caps

The swamp wins again! The new budget deal negotiated today between Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) eliminates the sequestration budget caps that for the past half dozen or so years have put at least a few limits on government spending.

The deal removes sequestration budget caps for two years, increases defense spending and also boosts funding for domestic programs that were priorities for Democrats, such as opioid addiction programs. It also raises the debt ceiling until 2019.

It was unclear if the Senate deal will get enough support when it goes to the House.

According to this report, the deal will raise government spending by $300 billion over the next two years.

Even as the two parties make a lot of noise over the FBI scandal, their leaders move to keep the spigot of cash flowing to their buddies, and thus to themselves. And as they do so the federal debt grows, and grows, and grows. And we get closer and closer to outright bankruptcy and collapse.

Update: Trump has endorsed the deal.

“The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military,” he wrote on Twitter. “It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great.”

“Dangerous sequester”? The sequestration rule has been the only thing that has kept any reins on budget spending for the past few years. In this matter Trump reveals his old liberal Democrat roots.

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Audit finds Pentagon dept lost hundreds of millions of dollars

Our government in action! An audit by the private audit firm Ernst & Young has found that the Pentagon department that handles the logistical needs of the military has lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ernst & Young found that the Defense Logistics Agency failed to properly document more than $800 million in construction projects, just one of a series of examples where it lacks a paper trail for millions of dollars in property and equipment. Across the board, its financial management is so weak that its leaders and oversight bodies have no reliable way to track the huge sums it’s responsible for, the firm warned in its initial audit of the massive Pentagon purchasing agent.

…In one part of the audit, completed in mid-December, Ernst & Young found that misstatements in the agency’s books totaled at least $465 million for construction projects it financed for the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. For construction projects designated as still “in progress,” meanwhile, it didn’t have sufficient documentation — or any documentation at all — for another $384 million worth of spending.

The agency also couldn’t produce supporting evidence for many items that are documented in some form — including records for $100 million worth of assets in the computer systems that conduct the agency’s day-to-day business.

There’s more. In fact, it goes on and on, listing numerous examples of shoddy accounting. One wonders who is benefiting by this incompetence, assuming it isn’t downright corruption.

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Proposed budget deal lifts all spending caps

It appears that the spending in the budget deals being proposed in Congress include hefty spending increases and would also end up lifting all the spending caps imposed by the 2011 budget deal.

In order to secure more money for national defense, Democrats are demanding an equal amount of extra funding for domestic social welfare programs. So to get an additional $108 billion for the Pentagon, the Republicans may agree to another $108 billion-plus in ransom money for domestic agencies. But when all the emergency funding is included, the ratio could be closer to $2 of additional domestic spending for every dollar of increased military funding. What a deal.

If this treasury raid deal gets cut, the budget caps from the 2011 budget act will be officially and irrevocably washed away. So will any pretense of fiscal discipline and debt control. “Almost no one here on either side of the aisle wants to control spending,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tells me. “It’s sad, but it’s the new reality.”

If he’s right, then any allegiance to spending control has been tossed aside at the very time the debt has been spiraling. The $4 trillion federal budget is expected to exceed $5 trillion within eight years. The $20 trillion debt is already headed to $30 trillion over the next decade — even without this new spending spree.

In other words, the corrupt swamp in Washington, from both parties, continue to win in its desire to empower itself at the cost of the nation.

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The corrupt and power-hungry Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Link here. The CFPB was established under the Dodd-Frank law signed by Obama under a framework that one court has already ruled is unconstitutional.

[A]s is common in Washington, the vague language used to craft that law gave regulators wide latitude and the bureau emerged in the Obama administration as a powerful force in the regulatory state.

“There’s strong evidence that the CFPB was pursuing Obama administration tactics and priorities, even if it was not directly coordinating with other Obama-run agencies,” said John Berlau, a scholar with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. As an example of such connections, Berlau pointed to Operation Choke Point, a 2013 Justice Department initiative during which the CFPB pursued payday lenders while prosecutors focused on banks dealing with those businesses or gun retailers. “Like other Obama regulators, the CFPB attempted to make law through administrative maneuvers,” Berlau told RCI. “Yet the CFPB’s abuses of process exceeded even those of other Obama administration bureaucracies due to the bureau’s unique lack of accountability.”

That lack of accountability was one of the reasons a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the CFPB an unconstitutional entity in October 2016 – a decision that awaits an en banc ruling from the Appeals Court.

The article outlines how the CFPB has used its vague regulatory powers during the Obama administration to begin open investigations into numerous businesses, not based on any suspected crimes but as a weapon of the Obama administration against businesses it did not like.

The bad part of this story is that there appears no effort by the Trump administration to shut down this out-of-control agency. Instead, it is trying to “rein” it in. Meanwhile, this agency, which according to the law that created it, can spend money without Congressional approval, and is doing so at rates that would make billionaires like Trump blush: A New CFPB Scandal – Cost Overruns for Its New Lux Headquarters

Original cost estimates for the CFPB’s renovation were estimated at $55 million, but the bureau ran up the proposed cost to $216 million. The Federal Reserve Inspector General rejected the proposal in 2014, saying there was no “sound basis” for the figure.

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More delays expected for launch of Webb telescope

NASA’s chief scientist admitted during House hearings this week that there will possibly be further delays in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, now set for the 2nd quarter of 2019.

“At this moment in time, with the information that I have, I believe it’s achievable,” he said of the current launch window of March to June 2019, which NASA announced in September after delaying the launch from October 2018. However, he said an independent review “is exactly what we should be doing, and frankly I have directed the team to do just that in January.”

That review won’t start until January, he said, because of ongoing tests of unfolding the sunshade of the space telescope. Previous tests, he said, took much longer than anticipated, playing a key factor in the decision to delay the launch. An updated launch date, he said, would likely come in “January or February.”

Such an independent review was proposed earlier in the hearing by another witness, retired aerospace executive Thomas Young. “In my opinion, the launch date and required funding cannot be determined until a new plan is thoroughly developed and verified by independent review,” he said.

While it does make perfect sense to make sure everything is really really really ready before launch, that this telescope is already 8 years behind schedule and yet might still need more delays suggests that the whole project was managed badly, from start to finish.

The hearing also dealt with the cost increases NASA is experiencing for WFIRST. As is usual, it sounds like NASA’s buy-in approach there has worked, and that Congress will fork up the extra cash to keep that project alive, until it experiences further delays and more cost increases, when Congress will fork up even more money. Then, wash and repeat. The WFIRST budget is already up from about $3.5 billion to more than $4 billion. I predict before it is done it will have cost around $8-$10 billion, and not launch until the late 2020s, at the earliest.

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New report says WFIRST is “not executable”

Another Webb! New NASA report has declared the agency’s next big telescope following the James Webb Space Telescope, dubbed the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is “not executable” and is significantly over budget.

“The risks to the primary mission of WFIRST are significant and therefore the mission is not executable without adjustments and/or additional resources,” the report states. It estimated the cost of the project at $3.9 billion to $4.2 billion, significantly above the project’s $3.6 billion budget.

Produced by an independent and external team to review the technical aspects of the program, its management, and costs, the report is critical of a series of key decisions made by NASA. The addition of a coronagraph and other design choices have made for a telescope that is “more complex than probably anticipated” and have substantially increased risks and costs, according to the report.

It also offered a scathing review of the relationship between NASA headquarters and the telescope’s program managers at Goddard Space Flight Center. “The NASA HQ-to-Program governance structure is dysfunctional and should be corrected for clarity in roles, accountability, and authority,” the report states.

Did you ever get a feeling of deja-vu? This is the same story that we saw with Hubble, and with Webb. It’s called a buy-in. The agency purposely sets the budget too low to begin with, gets it started, which then forces Congress to pay the big bucks when the budget inevitably goes out of control.

From my perspective I think this is the time to shut the project down. Since Hubble astronomers have apparently begun to take NASA’s cash cow for granted, and need to relearn the lesson that they don’t have a guarantee on the treasury. Once they get over the shock of losing WFIRST, they might then start proposing good space telescopes that are affordable and can be built relatively quickly, instead of these boondoggles that take forever and ten times the initial budget to build.

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Washington swamp creature hints that SLS could be in trouble

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today expressed strong disappointment with the repeated delays in the the launch of SLS and Orion, noting that the problems could lead to Congress considering “other options.”

“After all these years, after billions of dollars spent, we are facing more delays and cost overruns,” Smith said. While he noted that some delays were caused by factors out of NASA’s control, like a tornado that damaged the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in February, “many of the problems are self-inflicted.”

“It is very disappointing to hear about delays caused by poor execution, when the U.S. taxpayer has invested so much in these programs,” he added.

Smith, who announced Nov. 2 he would not run for reelection next year after more than three decades in the House, including serving as chairman of the science committee since 2013, warned about eroding support for the programs should there be additional delays. “NASA and the contractors should not assume future delays and cost overruns will have no consequences,” he said. “If delays continue, if costs rise, and if foreseeable technical challenges arise, no one should assume the U.S. taxpayers or their representatives will tolerate this forever.”

“The more setbacks SLS and Orion face, the more support builds for other options,” he said, not elaborating on what those options would be.

Smith is part of the establishment in Congress that has been supporting SLS and Orion blindly for years. Unfortunately, he is retiring this year, and the other members of his committee did not seem as bothered by SLS’s endless delays.

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