WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Science and Space Subcommittee hearing on Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last month, the Obama Administration proposed a new path forward for NASA that refocuses the agency’s overall direction. That new direction includes significant funds – $812 million in FY 2011 and $6 billion over five years – to stimulate the development of the commercial space market.
Congress is examining the budget closely, and as this Committee begins to move on NASA’s reauthorization, this hearing will start to explore both the promise and the risk of relying on commercial companies for space access.
Investments in technology innovation always carry tremendous potential. We know space exploration has produced many technologies of great value to people’s everyday lives.
Yet, exploration is still expensive and risky. It is clear that using the commercial market to bring down costs and allow NASA to focus on its greater mission could be an effective strategy.
Still, NASA and the administration have not yet provided key details about how this investment will be executed. To support a domestic commercial market, NASA will need to transition to a new way of doing business. New requirements and regulations will need to be developed in coordination with the FAA and implemented to ensure crew safety.
The space program is still at a critical juncture. With any new proposal or substantial investment we can never forget to ask that simple critically important question: does it work for our country – will it help our people?
I know today’s witnesses can begin to help us answer that vital question. Thank you very much for your perspective and expertise.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation CommitteeStatement by Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonScience and Space Subcommittee: Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities
March 18, 2010
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Vitter, I appreciate your Subcommittee holding this very important hearing on commercial space capabilities. I join you in welcoming this excellent panel of witnesses.
This is the second hearing regarding the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 NASA Budget proposal. I am very concerned about the direction President Obama has proposed for NASA and for human space flight.
If we follow the President’s budget proposal, the U.S. will retire the Space Shuttle program later this year, just as the International Space Station is finally complete, without a viable U.S. -operated alternative to transport our astronauts, and International partners' astronauts, to the Space Station.
America and our partners have spent billions of dollars building and maintaining the Space Station. Now that it is complete, the Obama budget plan would ensure that the only access we have to it for at least the next several years, is by renting seats aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles.
Sending hundreds of millions of dollars to the Russian government and hoping they will not raise the price further, is simply the wrong approach.
Current NASA efforts for the next generation of space vehicles are already years away from completion; due in large part to underfunding that has set the Constellation program years behind schedule.
The human space flight gap created by these delays threatens not only our nation’s access to the International Space Station and other areas of space, but also our national security and economic interests. Under the President’s proposal, America’s decades-long leadership in human spaceflight will end.
The proposed budget offers a complete departure from the current approach approved twice by this committee, in our 2005 and 2008 NASA Authorization Acts. The proposal is essentially to place all of this country's human spaceflight capability in the hands of commercially-developed crew launch systems, which are not yet defined and for which no real design requirements, development milestones, or even cost estimates are provided.
The President’s proposal to scrap the Constellation program and other NASA human space flight activities, I fear, will only intensify the space gap problem, not improve it as is claimed.
And what is most ironic is that the request proposes extending the ISS from 2015 to 2020, something I applaud and have called for myself. But, how can we support the Space Station if we have no means to get there, or to ensure it has all the spare parts and replacement equipment necessary for it to fully function through the extension?
I remind my colleagues that the planned retirement of the shuttle at the end of this year meant that 10 flights' worth of payloads destined for the Space Station, at OMB direction, and for purely budgetary reasons, were removed from shuttle flight planning and relegated to storage.
When those 10 flights were removed in 2005, the decisions about which instruments and equipment to swap into the remaining flights were based on the internal assumption of the need to support the Space Station only through 2015 -- not through 2020 as this committee and even the budget proposal supports.
The result of this is that we do not know how many, or which, of those grounded payload items might actually be needed in order to ensure the station can be supported and maintained safely and reliably until 2020. Not only that, we do not know which of these existing payloads are too large or too heavy to be carried to orbit by any existing vehicle other than the space shuttle.
And finally, we do not know what additional new items, or the launch vehicle capacity that might be needed to extend the life of the Space Station to 2020.
Mr. Chairman, I support commercial space flight. I continue to be a supporter of the current COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems) cargo activities being pursued with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Until those efforts are proven successful and certain thresholds of required capabilities are met, we have no business making a large investment of taxpayers' dollars in the active development of crew-carrying commercial vehicles.
As of today, there is simply no assurance that commercial space capabilities are sufficiently advanced in their development to reduce the space flight gap or meet the lofty goals the President has set for the industry.
There is thus no apparent justification for the President’s budget to propose complete and exclusive reliability on these proposed commercial crew capabilities.
As an alternative approach to sending up a white flag for our nation’s premiere space science agency, I have introduced legislation, S. 3068, the Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act. It provides for a rational, reasoned, and mission-driven approach to the question of determining the best time to terminate space shuttle operations, based on the number of flights found to be needed to ensure space station full and safe utilization in the next several years.
This approach includes the possibility of the COTS cargo program helping to meet station requirements, once they are on-line and proven safe and effective. The legislation would also provide for accelerated replacement of government-operated human space flight systems to ensure we continue to have future access to space.
Unless we make every effort to close the gap in U.S. human space flight, we will have no choice but to face the reality that we will be totally dependent on Russia for access to space. Should Russia, far from our strongest ally, “renegotiate” the terms of our cooperation after the shuttle is retired, the U.S. could possibly be blocked from space for years. This would leave Russia and China as the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space.
I will be working with my colleagues to ensure all of these issues are put on the table for discussion. I believe we can find a more measured and reasoned approach that ensures the best use of investments we have already made, and provide the Congress and the Administration with necessary information to inform our judgments on alternative launch vehicle developments.
It is my hope that this hearing will contribute to our understanding of the commercial potential for meeting these challenges, but in a realistic and responsible manner.
I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
Lieutenant General Thomas P. StaffordUnited States Air Force, (Ret.)Astronaut (Ret.)
Mr. Bryan D. O'ConnorChief, Safety and Mission AssuranceNational Aeronautics and Space Administration
Dr. George C. NieldAssociate Administrator for Commercial Space TransportationFederal Aviation Administration
Mr. Malcolm L. PetersonFormer NASA Comptroller
Mr. Michael C. GassPresident and Chief Executive OfficerUnited Launch Alliance
Mr. Frank L. Culbertson Jr.Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager, Advanced Programs GroupOrbital Sciences Corporation
Ms. Gwynne ShotwellPresidentSpaceX