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Volume 2, No. 2      February 16, 1998

The Clinton Administration is proposing to cut spending for Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology from $1.470 billion in FY 1998 to $1.071 billion in FY 2003, a 27 percent reduction. The FY 99 request is $1.305 billion. Highlights of the budget include:

  • NASA proposes to reprogram $500 million over the next five years for aviation safety research.
  • A critical design review of the Mach 7 Hyper-X launch vehicle has been completed and flight tests are scheduled to begin in January 2000.
  • NASA wants to spend about $2.5 billion to develop an engine for High Speed Civil Transport. The design of the airframe component sub-assemblies would not begin until FY 2003.
  • The Advanced Subsonic Technology program would receive $157.4 million. NASA is developing an array of new technologies, including ways to reduce fan and jet noise by as much as 50 percent.
  • For the X-34 program, NASA is requesting $39 million in FY 1999. NASA has exercised an option to purchase a second vehicle. According to NASA, "this additional hardware will provide substantial risk reduction, support a more robust flight program, and ensure that the X-34 can meet the program's flight test bed objectives."
  • The X-33 program is budgeted at $282 million in FY 1999. The vehicle's schedule is slipping and now NASA says the demonstrator roll out will occur in August 1999.
  • NASA is setting aside $760 million over the next five years "to pursue existing planned or new vehicles in response to the Administration's end-of- the-decade decision on an operational launch system to reduce NASA's launch costs."
  • Future-X will receive only $17 million in FY 1999, far less than what was anticipated. The program sets into motion an ongoing effort to develop and demonstrate space transportation technology through the use of experimental vehicles. With $17 million, NASA can only fund a single "Pathfinder" vehicle designed to validate a "small set of key technologies in flight." In FY 1999, NASA would begin "design and development of the first Pathfinder X-plane and its associated technology." No money is available for a "Trailblazer" vehicle (similar to the X-33), which would demonstrate a broad range of key technologies. Administrator Daniel Goldin said at a press conference last week that if there were additional funds in NASA's budget, he would first expand the Future-X program.
  • The Advanced Space Transportation Program is funded at only $28.3 million in FY 1999. Its primary focus is the development of "technologies to support flight vehicles that can validate low-cost space transportation concepts."
At the subcommittee hearing, Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) voiced concern about the health and direction of many aspects of the aeronautics program. He questioned Richard Christiansen, Acting Associate Administrator for Aeronautics & Space Transportation Technology, who testified before the subcommittee, about the $760 million for "existing or planned new vehicles." Rohrabacher said NASA should not be in the business of operating a SSTO, but purchasing launches from commercial providers. He emphasized that cheap access to space depends not only on technology, but also competition. The California Congressman said we must transition from a "socialist transportation" system to a "free-enterprise system."

Gary Hudson, CEO of the Rotary Rocket Company, who also testified at the hearing, lambasted the X-33 program. Even though taxpayers will pony up nearly $1 billion for the demonstrator RLV, he complained Lockheed is not obligated to actually deliver an orbital vehicle. "It merely promised to dabble in sub-scale sub-orbital work that might some day be of some use in getting us to orbit," Hudson said. "Now, [members of the subcommittee] are being asked to set aside $760 million in future budgets so the aerospace prime contractors can continue at the feeding trough. Why?"

Hudson provided a brief overview of competing, private industry transportation systems to the X-33 (Rotary Rocket, Kistler Aerospace, Kelly Space & Technology, and Pioneer Astronautics). He told the subcommittee members, "I'm sure you can guess how all these privately-funded companies feel about reserving three quarters of a billion dollars to continue the aerospace welfare system. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and their contractors should be required to spend their own money if they want to be part of the 21st century in space."

Members of the subcommittee restated the need for indemnification legislation for the X-33 and X-34 vehicles. NASA stated is will again propose an amendment to the FY 1999 authorization bill regarding insurance, indemnification, and liability.

Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) expressed his support for RLVs, saying we "must move forward with more advanced technology." He said RLVs will be complimentary to the Space Shuttle. Bart Gordon, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, discussed concerns about improving safety at airports.

About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.

The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 23,000 members and 90 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring civilization.

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