Successful SpaceX commercial launch.
Successful SpaceX commercial launch.

Crippling the Private Commercial Space Industry

I hate busting a conservative senator's chops, but Senator Richard Shelby needs his chops well and truly busted. Senator Shelby has inserted a provision into a Senate appropriations bill that will force private commercial space companies to fill out the crippling, innovation killing paperwork that has crippled the American space program.

NASA contracts for developing their spacecraft are awarded on a cost-plus basis. In other words, if costs run over, NASA will pay it, but they make you do so much paperwork in order to get your guaranteed payback that it slows down the development process.

Elon Musk's SpaceX compnay developed their Falcon 9 booster and Dragon X cargo capsuler for 390 million dollars and successfully docked it with the International space station, delivering twice the goods for half the cost of a similar NASA rocket if NASA had actually had one, which they didn't. In a 2011 report, NASA conceded that development of Falcon 9 would have cost “between $1.7 billion and $4.0 billion,” if done in-house. In the same report, NASA couldn't figure out why it would have been so much more expensive.

The answer is the massively expensive cost-plus Contracts it typically gives to Lockheed, Boeing, Marshall Space Center and other contractors. By the way Marshall Space Center is working on a giant heavy lift space booster right now that's going to cost 9 billion dollars under one of those cost-plus contracts. By sheer coincidence, Marshall is in Alabama, home of, you guessed it, Senator Richard Shelby.

The good Senator wants to cripple the competition Marshall faces. Space-X already is well on the way to developing a heavy lift booster and if the past is any indication it'll cost a fraction of the Marshall project and be done in half the time.

Shelby is not only protecting the status quo, he's working very hard to restore it. That's the same status quo, by the way that put NASA without a way to get astronauts into space when the Shuttle was grounded. We're even dependent on the Russians for rocket engines for most military and private satellite launches, though that is rapidly changing with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences' new bargain boosters. SpaceX is even launching a reusable booster and it's DragonX capsule is not only reusable, but is designed to convert into a 7 pasture crew launch vehicle.

In this dismal economy, the private commercial spaceflight industry offers a glimmer of hope. Shelby proposes to saddle American the private space industry with the same crippling levels of paperwork that wrecked the NASA space vehicle development program in the first place and left us flying 30 year old spaceships that blew up not once, but twice.

Time to say enough to short-sighted job protecting. The private space industry will open up far more jobs than Marshall Space Center will lose.

© 2014 by Tom King

Here's What You Can Do!

Write a letter to both your US Senators. You may borrow this one. Cut and paste at will Here is the link that tells you how to email your Senators:

Dear Senator _______________________.

Please stop Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, from wrecking private commercial space enterprise. Senator Shelby has inserted language into a Senate NASA appropriations bill to force private space entrepreneurs like SpaceX, Orbital Sciences and Bigelow Aeronautics to do the kind of innovation strangling paperwork that cost-plus contractors for NASA fill out – the same crushing paperwork that turned NASA into a directionless, sclerotic bureaucracy.

Even worse, the provision will perpetuate U.S. dependence on Russian rockets to deliver Americans into space. Shelby’s maneuver is designed to protect the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama. If SpaceX and others succeed, Shelby sees that as a threat to Marshall Space Center's Rocket to Nowhere program. The Space Launch System is a $9 billion boondoggle designed to create the largest U.S. rocket in decades – a rocket that NASA has no planned missions for and which will likely be obsolete by the time the gang at Marshall finish building it under the old crushing NASA development system.


Don't be fooled by claims that this measure protects government funds. It inflates the costs of contracts. Under fixed contracts, if a company comes in under budget, they keep the difference. If they go over they absorb the difference. Either way the cost is orders of magnitude less than NASA's unwieldy and grossly cost-ineffective cost-plus contracts system.
Please do not let short sighted bureaucratic wrangling for power strangle the US Space Industry in its infancy. Less expensive spaceflight will open far more jobs than it may cost in revamping a badly bloated and ineffective aerospace industry under NASA's heavy handed management.

Thank you,

(Your Name),
Your City and State

Artist Conception of SLS heavy launch system. Look familiar? Imagine the old Saturn V moon rocket with a couple of shuttle style solid boosters strapped on. Cost plus contracts have stifled risk-taking and innovation at NASA.
Artist Conception of SLS heavy launch system. Look familiar? Imagine the old Saturn V moon rocket with a couple of shuttle style solid boosters strapped on. Cost plus contracts have stifled risk-taking and innovation at NASA.
Marshall Space Center - where innovation has gone to die thanks to cost-plus contracting.
Marshall Space Center - where innovation has gone to die thanks to cost-plus contracting.

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1 comment

bookwormella 2 years ago from USA

A very clear call for action pitch.

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