Saturday, October 23, 2021

Senate Tells NASA to Choose Another Lunar Lander

Remember Blue Origin's attempt to sue NASA to get selected for the next Human Landing System contract, after NASA selected just SpaceX instead of two companies?  

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee wants NASA to select a second company for its HLS program.  The kicker is that they gave the NASA about $1.50 to pay for it.  Well, $1.50 in DC, which is a lot more to you and me.  

That bill offers $24.83 billion for NASA overall, slightly above the administration’s request of $24.8 billion but less than the $25.04 billion in a House bill.

I mean, DC couldn't blow their nose for less than a million, and the $24.83 billion vs $24.8 implies $30 million for HLS.  Then the article says this:

The committee increased funding for HLS by $100 million, to $1.295 billion. “The Committee believes having at least two teams providing services using the Gateway should be the end goal of the current development program,” it stated in the report. “Using this funding, NASA is expected to ensure redundancy and competition, including robust support for research, development, testing, and evaluation for no fewer than two HLS teams.”

The 30 vs. 100 million difference is apparently that they allocated $100 m for HLS and budget cuts to other things reduce the total budget number so that it looks like $30 million.

For perspective on the costs, the total contract to SpaceX was $2.9 billion and Blue asked for $5.9 b.  In July, Jeff Bezos offered to pay part of that out of his own pocket.  Or, as most of us would say, Blue submitted a lower bid after they lost and the contract was already awarded. 

Jeff Bezos published an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Monday morning and offered to pay more than $2 billion to get the agency's Human Landing System program "back on track." In effect, the founder of Blue Origin and world's richest person says he will self-invest in a lunar lander because NASA does not have the money to do so.

Even with all that, the committee is offering $100 million to pay for a program that still costs $3.9 billion after Bezos' $2 billion "instant rebate."  If you're like me, you're probably wondering why.

Appropriators rejected claims that the [HLS] program is underfunded, noting that last year, the agency predicted that it would need nearly $4.4 billion for the program in fiscal year 2022 but only requested $1.195 billion. “Given that request, NASA’s rhetoric of blaming Congress and this Committee for the lack of resources needed to support two HLS teams rings hollow,” the report states.

I should point out that this is the Senate's appropriations committee, and there's another bill that's probably equally messed up coming from the House.  After both bills are finalized, the sausage making process goes into overdrive, and they're combined into one budget.  Since Congress hasn't passed an actual budget since 2008, the reconciled agency budget then gets worked into those continuing resolutions congress uses to avoid responsibility.  

Oh, and if that one makes you confused, the Senate Appropriations bill also includes $579 million this year for Boeing's Space Launch System's Exploration Upper Stage, which has been unfunded.  It specifically says that money is for "engine development and associated stage adapter work." The engine in question is Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL-10.

The RL-10 has been flying since, oh, 1963, and is generally very well-respected from everything I can find.  How could it really need nearly $600 million worth of work?  

Artists' renderings of SpaceX's Starship HLS (left) and Blue Origin's lander.



  1. Yeah.... Some serious money-laundering and financial back-scratching is going on.

    Meanwhile the FAA is holding SpaceX up like they (the FAA) were a bunch of banditos holding up a stagecoach.

    1. The FAA is responsible for making sure that Elon does not drop a booster on Mexico or Cuba or anywhere else. At normal Test Ranges, that job is done by USAF (now Space Force) Range Safety, which conducts a THOROUGH investigation of the launch provider. Let me assure you that the FAA has NOTHING on USAF Range Safety, and that Mr. Musk is being treated FAR BETTER than any other launch provider. International law says the country responsible for the launch is responsible for whatever falls back to earth therefrom. Now I would not be particularly bothered if Mr. Musk's booster were to drop on the Big Craphole or Ratlanta or Filthydelphia, but others might not agree.

      Of course, Mr. Musk might want to find a way to keep the heat protection tiles on the vehicle before actually launching it. Lost another bunch during those engine tests the other day...

  2. Why does anyone bother to economize anything anymore at the level of our aristocracy? Amazon has never had to operate according to ordinary economic reality, as if they had limited resources and needed to actually turn a profit. They get to undersell everyone forever as their debt goes to infinity because no one dares call them on it. Their stock price keeps going up, so WTH? Why does Bezos think he needs money from anyone for anything? He has his own independent printer run by SV venture-capital shell-games, and he has the logistics of the country by the throat. He could starve America for shits and giggles.

    Same with Washington - why not pay infinity-dollars to everyone even pretending to build an aerospace product? We could certainly use some, in many fields.

    These people have made an absolute joke of the dollar. It fills me with rage I cannot express that, after a lifetime of frantic life-sapping body-destroying work, my parents still teeter on the brink of losing everything they've struggled to build, working a vital business that keeps our industrial world limping along, while federal assholes award each other and their extended families in the NGOs billion-dollar contracts for wishes and powerpoint - sheer corruption that would land anyone operating under civilized laws in jail. And they give my brother the third-degree on his property books in the military and bill him for missing fucking pens. And I get a lecture from some GS-asshole about gifts valued more than $20.

    I hate them all.

  3. ok sure thing, give the other contract to one of the other bids. not to bo

  4. I guess Jeff owns *a lot* of congresscritters.

  5. Yeah, it's totally a good idea to give 2 corporations half of the allocated money each and then produce something. Who exactly thought to frame this as competition? There is NO competition that way. It's just 2 companies fulfilling contracts.
    And, I mean, it worked so well with the Littoral Combat Ship, right? You know, the $34 billion mostly unarmed and unarmored ferryboat-sized 'warships', none of which have ever successfully completed a cruise, ever?
    Bezos is a Bond Villain. Of course he's going to get his way. Bond is the bad guy now here in Clown World 2021.