June 17, 2011

Shelby Calls for SLS Competition (Source: Space Politics)
What does Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) have in common with California’s two Democratic senators? He, like Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, is now calling on NASA to hold an open competition for the development of the Space Launch System (SLS). In a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden last Friday, Shelby said that while he wants the SLS developed as quickly as possible, he does not want “to foreclose the possibility of utilizing competition, where appropriate”.

Shelby was particularly critical in the letter to the possibility of basing the SLS on shuttle hardware. “Designing a Space Launch System for heavy lift that relies on existing Shuttle boosters ties NASA, once again, to the high fixed costs associated with segmented solids,” Shelby writes.

“I have seen no evidence that foregoing competition for the booster system will speed up development of SLS or, conversely, that introducing competition will slow the program down,” Shelby concludes in his letter to Bolden. “I strongly encourage you to initiate a competition for the Space Launch System booster. I believe it will ultimately result in a more efficient SLS development effort at lower cost to the taxpayer.” (6/16)

Another Push for Pu-238 Funding (Source: Space Politics)
Plutonium 238 (Pu-238), the radioactive isotope used in the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), is essential to a number of spacecraft missions, particularly those bound for the outer solar system. However, getting the relatively modest funding (no more than a few tens of millions of dollars a year) needed to restart Pu-238 production in the US to ensure that a supply of the isotope is available for future missions has been difficult in recent years. The latest push is taking place this week.

The Obama Administration included $10 million each for NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to restart Pu-238 production, but a draft version of the Energy and Water appropriations bill in the House does not include that funding. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is making a last-minute push to get the money added to the appropriations bill. In an email, the AGU said that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose district includes JPL, plans to introduce an amendment to the bill to include the Pu-238 funding.

Getting that amendment through may be tough, however. In the report accompanying the draft appropriations bill, the committee criticized the administration’s plan to split the Pu-238 costs between NASA and DOE. “The Committee remains concerned that the Administration continues to request equal funding from NASA and the Department of Energy for a project that primarily benefits NASA,” the report states. Editor's Note: NASA is the user, DOE is the producer (and a potential user). It makes sense to fund both DOE and NASA. (6/16)

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