Category Archives: Aviation Law

Fundmental differences and an underlying similarity in space policy

For over a year and a half the space community has debated what the future of NASA's human spaceflight program should be, after the Obama Administration announced plans to cancel Constellation and focus more on technology development and commercial crew and cargo development. The outcome has turned out to be something of a hybrid: some funding for technology development and commercial crew, but also development of a new heavy-lift rocket and a crewed spacecraft (the latter, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, effectively an uninterrupted continuation of Constellation's Orion). But for the differences between the approaches of the current and previous administrations, one person suggests that they share a fundamental similarity-which may also be a weakness. "I think there is, underpinning the debate, a fairly fundamental disagreement about how to carry out a long-term program of human spaceflight," John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said in a presentation at the National Air and Space Museum last Tuesday. Some people, he argues, advocate for "re-creating the Apollo-era NASA, modified for the 21st century", while others call for "a new NASA, one based on technological innovation," as he described the two camps. "If you want to, you can call them the Griffin paradigm and the Garver paradigm," he said, referring to former NASA administrator Mike Griffin and current NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver. On the first approach, Logsdon said later he didn't want to make it sound like attempting to "recapture past glory" couldn't work, but past efforts to do so have failed. However, the alternative approach, he said, required "a radical paradigm shift, probably too radical for the political system to accommodate." Despite these sharp differences in how to do human spaceflight, Logsdon sees something in common between the two paradigms. "The basic Bush vision is the basic Obama vision: that human exploration beyond Earth orbit is the purpose of government-sponsored human spaceflight," he said. "If one believes that human spaceflight is an important part of the US government portfolio, I believe there is a consensus that spaceflight has to include travel beyond Earth orbit." That condition in his statement, though, may be critical: does the nation really believe that human spaceflight is something the US government should be doing? "If you say you have to go beyond Earth orbit, the next question is 'why?', and we continue to search for one or several justifications," he said. He worries that the space community may have concluded that human spaceflight is "inevitable and good and right and obvious", but that the broader public is unconvinced. "So if you say that the only reason to send people into space is to go places, but there are inadequate reasons to spend the billions of dollars required to do that, where does that leave you?".. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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European Commission Reveals Emissions Benchmarks

To begin what should be an eventful week in ETS news, the European Commission today made public the benchmark values by which free greenhouse gas emissions allowances will be allocated. See EC press release available here. The benchmarks should give….. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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MARPA Comments on the FAA's Sequencing SOP

MARPA has filed comments with the FAA on the DRAFT Sequencing Standard Operating procedure (SOP). MARPA's comments address a variety of issues raised by the FAA's draft in an effort to assist the FAA in improving the draft SOP. In particular, it appears that small businesses could be placed at a competitive disadvantage by the draft SOP. Continue reading ยป.. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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Congressman files GAO complaint about SLS plans

NASA's plan to sole-source most elements of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket has led one member of Congress to complain to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). "I have serious concerns with NASA's attempt to avoid holding a full and open competition to acquire the SLS," Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) wrote in a September 22 letter to the GAO, provided by the advocacy group Tea Party in Space (TPIS). McClintock wrote that he believed NASA's plans to procure key elements of the SLS through modifying existing contracts made them "de facto sole source awards" that could be in violation of the 1984 Competition in Contracting Act, which allows sole source awards only when there is a "single responsible source" to meet government needs. "I am aware of multiple potential contractors who have expressed intent to compete for any available SLS contracts, and who should have every opportunity to do so," McClintock wrote, without identifying those contractors. (McClintock's northern California district does include part of the Sacramento metropolitan area, which is home to Aerojet, a company that has sought competition for at least the SLS's booster rockets.) In a "Space Launch System Acquisition Overview" released the same day as McClintock's letter, NASA states that SLS procurements "will include utilization of existing assets to expedite development, as well as further development of technologies and future competitions for advanced systems and key technology areas specific to SLS evolved vehicle needs." This includes using existing Ares contracts for the boosters, core and upper stages, and avionics, as well as using existing RS-25D (SSME) main engines for the core stage and continuing the J-2X development contract for the upper stage engine. As previously indicated by NASA, though, there will be a competition for "advanced boosters" for use after the initial SLS flights (which will use the five-segment SRBs developed for Ares), as well as "competitive acquisitions" for spacecraft and payload adaptors and the rocket's payload fairing. More details about NASA's SLS acquisition plans are expected at an industry day this Thursday at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. McClintock asked the GAO to investigate NASA's SLS procurement plans, including if NASA determined any cost difference between modifying SLS contracts and holding a full and open competition for SLS components. He also asks the GAO to consider making its own independent cost estimate of the SLS, "given the concerns raised by the independent Booz Allen Hamilton" cost estimate completed this summer. TPIS praised McClintock's complaint in a press release, asking other organizations affiliated with the Tea Party movement to call on the GAO to stay the SLS procurement until the agency can complete its investigation. "Every thoughtful member of Congress should join Congressman McClintock in challenging the spending of $32 billion in taxpayer funds without free and open competition," said Andrew Gasser. (The $32 billion appears to reference reports of internal NASA estimates for the cost of the overall program; announced plans call for $3 billion a year through at least 2017 on SLS, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and related programs.) TPIS's disgust with SLS can be summarized in this one sentence from Gasser: "This SLS bailout earmark is Solyndra on steroids.".. To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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How do you pay for JWST?

The cost increases and schedule delays associated with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have become a major concern in the scientific community and beyond, as best illustrated when the House Appropriations Committee offered no funding for the program in its FY2012 appropriations bill, which is currently pending consideration by the full House. Although the Senate has proposed $530 million for JWST in its FY12 appropriations bill, there is still the open question of how NASA proposes to cover the costs of JWST over the long haul, through its planned launch in 2018. One member of Congress is now openly looking for answers. In a letter Wednesday to Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, wants answers from the administration on its plans for paying for JWST. "While acknowledging that substantial cuts will be necessary, the Administration has so far failed to identify a single specific proposal to offset the increase in JWST spending above the levels contained in the President's fiscal year 2012 request," he wrote, referring to cots in other NASA programs to cover the costs of JWST. "Either no offsets have been proposed because JWST really isn't a top priority, or the Administration is hoping that remaining silent will force Congress to act unilaterally and thereby take sole ownership of the cuts necessitated by the Administration's actions." To emphasize his concern, Wolf scrawled below his signature on the copy of the letter the words, "This is very important." NASA has started to identify where those funds would come from. In a webinar last week by the Space Telescope Science Institute that covered both the scientific potential of the program as well as its management, project officials discussed their current plans for covering the project's costs in 2012 and beyond. "The replan is on track to support the '13 budget process," Rick Howard, program director for JWST at NASA Headquarters, said. "All the details will be rolled out in February [2012] when the president's FY13 budget is released." Howard said that JWST needs $1.223 billion above the administration's budget projections for the program (about $355-370 million per year) from 2012 through launch (now planned for October 2018, or the beginning of fiscal year 2019). That includes an additional $156 million in FY12. Half of that money, he said, would come from NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), although earth science programs would be exempt from any cuts. The other half comes from "agency institutional support", a reference to the Cross-Agency Support line in the budget, which is about $3.2 billion in FY12. The specific programs in SMD and Cross-Agency Support that would lose money "is still being worked," he said. Likewise, he added, finding the additional money needed in FY2013 and beyond hasn't been determined. In the meantime, JWST is still something of a punching bag for people who want to criticize cost overruns on NASA programs or government programs in general. "Right now, as all of you are probably aware, there is considerable pressure on Congress to be a better steward of the people's money," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) said in a luncheon speech Wednesday at the AIAA Space 2011 conference in Long Beach, California. "This means we need to figure out a way to end the days of overbudget and underdelivery. A perfect example of that is the James Webb Space Telescope." Citing the cost growth in the program, he blamed "a government-wide acquisition problem that couples unrealistic government specifications with overpromising by industry." Ironically, Calvert made the comments at a luncheon sponsored by Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for JWST; all the luncheon attendees received a tote bag emblazoned with an illustration of JWST... To continue reading this legal news please click Read full information...

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