More Money For SLS/Orion; Commercial Crew Not So Much

In the afterglow of a spectacularly successful initial test flight of the first, partially completed Orion spacecraft, it would have been gratifying to learn that for the first time, Congress has elected to fully fund the both the Space Launch System and NASA’s Commercial Crew program.  Once again that is not the case, and America’s fascinating experiment between two approaches to human spaceflight will continue as they have been been from the outset, tilted in favor of the status quo.

On Tuesday, House and Senate appropriators introduced the compromise FY 2015 budget and once again Commercial Crew was alloted less than requested, although this time the gap was much narrower; $805 million versus the $848 the Administration proposed. Meanwhile SLS, Orion and Ground Systems, the three components of the overall effort, were showered with more than requested.

Specifically, NASA requested $1.052 billion for Orion, and $1.38 billion for SLS, but will likely receive $1.194 and $1.7 billion respectively, a cumulative difference of $462 million, or roughly ten times the amount it would have taken to make up the difference in funding the Administration’s Commercial Crew request.

The difference is definitely not coming out of Space Technology or Exploration R&D accounts, both received less than the requested as well.

The complete bill is here (pdf), but Marcia Smith has an excellent breakdown (pdf), partially excerpted below, at

Image Credit: Spacepolicyonline Fact Sheet

Image Credit: Spacepolicyonline Fact Sheet

On the bright side, potentially crippling reporting language sought by Alabama Senator Richard Shelby is off the table for now, with the bill requiring quarterly reports to Congress instead. Similar language applies to the Commercial Cargo program as well.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no equivalent requirement for SLS/Orion.

From the bill:

“NASA shall provide quarterly reports to the Committees on Appropriations of the House and Senate that include the technical and financial quarterly reports required of each awardee, as well as any actions taken by NASA or the awardees to adjust schedule, change or alter milestones, or modify milestone payments. In the event that there are adjustments to the schedule in excess of 2 months, NASA shall immediately notify the Committees in writing and provide a detailed explanation and justification for the schedule alteration. Moreover, any accompanying alteration in milestones or milestone payments
shall be reflected in the aforementioned notification.”

The direction given regarding SLS/Orion is very different however:

“The agreement also includes bill language requiring NASA to submit budget requirements for SLS and Orion that conform to their current or upcoming Key Decision Point C agreements, and also budget profiles and funding requirements that relate to associated management agreements that assume earlier dates for completion.”

In other words more money with no concern for how it is being spent.

One other note. While the Exploration Ground Systems budget, which stayed the same at $351 million is easy to overlook, it is a curious fact that two heavy lift launch systems are currently underway at Cape Canaveral. One, at Pad 39B is being charged to the taxpayer, while the other, at Pad 39A, is actually paying rent to the taxpayer.

The beat goes on.

Posted in: Congress, NASA, SLS / Orion

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