Shelby: don't blame me; New Mexico uncertainty; a prescient CCDev vision

The Orlando Sentinel's article about the continued funding of Ares 1 despite being effectively canceled in the NASA authorization act has gotten fairly wide coverage during a slow news week, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) getting much of the blame because of his provision in the FY2010 appropriations bill, still in force during the ongoing series of continuing resolutions, that prohibits NASA from terminating any Constellation programs. (Winner of the most lurid headline contest? "Sen. Shelby's Pork Lust Forces NASA To Spend $500 Million On Canceled Rocket Program".) A spokesman for Sen. Shelby, though, tells the Huntsville Times that's not the case. "NASA is just making excuses and continuing to drag its feet, just as it has done for the past two years under the Obama administration," Jonathan Graffeo told the paper. "The Shelby language is unambiguous and sends a clear message to NASA: Use the money Congress appropriates as intended – to build a rocket that will maintain our leadership in space." Meanwhile, everyone agrees that there is ambiguity in New Mexico: will Rick Homans keep his job as executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which runs Spaceport America? Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who appointed Homans to the post, is leaving after two terms in office, and Republican Susana Martinez will take office on January 1. Homans tells the Santa Fe New Mexican he'd like to stay on, but wants "further discussions" with the new administration about their plans for the spaceport and its governance. "I'd say it's a fluid situation," he said. He has been campaigning, of sorts, to stay on, with an op-ed outlining the spaceport's accomplishments in 2010 in NMPolitics.net. He also has the support of the Las Cruces Sun-News, which called for Gov.-elect Martinez to retain Homans and his team in an editorial Tuesday. When Orbital Sciences announced its CCDev plans this month, it was heralded in many quarters as a new entrant. Others, though, recalled that Orbital had similar concepts-a winged vehicle launched atop an EELV or other rocket-dating back over a decade. As I noted on NewSpace Journal yesterday, Orbital's vision back then of how such a system should be developed and operated was quite similar to NASA's current plans and the proponents of present-day CCDev proponents. In particular, there's this passage from testimony of Orbital's CTO at a hearing of the House Science Committee's space subcommittee in October 1999: (emphasis in original) We envision this Space Taxi to be industry owned and operated; however, the cost of development, production, and operation of the Space Taxi System would be paid for predominantly out of government funds because it satisfies unique NASA needs that are not currently aligned with those of commercial industry. The launching of this Space Taxi System, however, could be competed among commercial RLV or EELV suppliers that meet the cost and safety requirements. These future RLVs would be commercially developed with private capital and would be commercially owned and operated. Their development will be enabled by NASA's current and planned future investments in RLV technologies and could be enhanced by government-backed financial incentives, such as tax credits, loan guarantees or advanced purchase agreements. Once a truly commercial Space Station becomes operational or the current Space Station becomes sufficiently commercialized, NASA and industry launch needs will be in almost complete alignment, and a completely commercial Space Taxi may become a viable business opportunity. We strongly believe that industry ownership of the Space Taxi from initial operation is critical to enable the eventual development of such a commercial Space Station. The name of Orbital's CTO at that time? Mike Griffin.

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