Status Report

Letter From Senators to President Obama Regarding Space Launch System Progress

By SpaceRef Editor
August 19, 2011
Filed under , , ,
Letter From Senators to President Obama Regarding Space Launch System Progress

August 15, 2011

President Obama
The White House
1600Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20502

Dear President Obama:

Section 309 of Public Law 111-267, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010,” requires NASA to provide a detailed report to Congress that includes a reference vehicle design for the Space Launch System (SLS). We write today to request that the Administration immediately provide the Section 309 report to Congress, and that the Office of Management and Budget immediately release its hold and approve the program.

Despite the fact that this report was due 90 days after the Authorization Act was signed by the President on October 11,2010, and is, therefore, nearly 200 days overdue, this important document still has not been delivered to Congress. We understand that NASA presented a draft Section 309 report to the Administration in June but that, instead of supporting the best advice of our nation’s space agency, you continue to request additional studies. We believe the time has come to deliver the report to Congress.

Not only will delivering the 309 report satisfy NASA’s legal obligation, it will also, we hope, provide some much-needed direction to the Administration on SLS, There is an immediate need to begin design and construction efforts related to SLS, including those associated with rocket propulsion testing. But it has become apparent that the lack of an approved reference design is leading NASA to drive SLS funds away from important efforts such as these. The final Fiscal Year 201 1 Continuing Resolution (CR) provided NASA with $1.8 billion for the design and building ofthis SLS. However, the FY 2011 Operating Plan recently submitted to Congress by NASA suggests that this Administration is determined to spend appropriated SLS funds on activities that do not bring us any closer to developing the 130-ton heavy lift rocket required in both the Authorization Act and the CR.

For example, the Operating Plan states that NASA will transfer $340.2 million of SLS funding to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), and it is our understanding that other SLS funds will be used to pay for a range of facility upgrades and “general support capabilities” at KSC. Many of these projects are only tangentially related to SLS, or apply equally to SLS and MPCV, but are being “billed” only to SLS. These include:

– Demolishing Shuttle support structures at KSC;

– Maintaining KSC facilities and institutional support capabilities, such as laboratories, shops, and communications infrastructure;

– Refurbishing KSC’s Multi-Purpose Processing Facility for pre-launch processing of the Orion MPCV;

– Conducting “life cycle enhancement modifications” for the Crawler Transporter, used to move the Shuttle around KSC;

– Assessing KSC infrastructure concepts and designs to transition from Shuttle and Constellation to support SLS and MPCV;

– Upgrading gaseous nitrogen distribution and supply systems, HVAC controls, communications, – and security for launch complex 39; and

Initial design work for power distribution and operational radio replacement at KSC.

The Operating Plan requirement was included in the CR so that NASA could specify how it was going to operate within the confines of the Authorization and Appropriations laws enacted by Congress; it was not intended as an opportunity for the Administration to rewrite those laws to accommodate its programmatic preferences. The 21″ Century Launch Complex (21CLC) account was specifically set up to remove obsolete structures at KSC and to modernize remaining facilities so they could accommodate both SLS and MPCV. Money to accomplish these objectives should come from funds appropriated for 21CLC, not from SLS. Efforts to spend SLS funds on priorities other than SLS violate the Authorization Act, the CR, and suggest disregard for Congress’ constitutional authority.

On the other hand, the Administration seems to be moving with haste on both the Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew programs. The end result is that NASA is funding six separate spacecraft development efforts (MPCV, SpaceX’s Dragon, Orbital’s Cygnus, Boeing’s CST-100, Blue Origin’s capsule, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser) with no comparable effort to develop a rocket capable of transporting these spacecraft beyond low earth orbit. Such misallocation of effort and resources is in violation of the law. This approach will result in the United States having no ability to launch astronauts into space before 2020.

The misallocation of SLS funds and the lack of synchronization between rocket and spacecraft development at NASA seem to suggest that this Administration bas no intention of properly using appropriated funds. Therefore, we again insist that the Administration provide a complete Section 309 report immediately. With the SLS reference vehicle design released, NASA can then resubmit an operating plan to ensure that the funds appropriated for SLS are used to develop the 130 metric ton heavy lift vehicle required in both the authorization and appropriations acts.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.


Richard Shelby
Jeff Sessions
Thad Cochran
David Vitter
Roger Wicker

SpaceRef staff editor.