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.