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Tea Party in Space Supports Democratic Senators on Heavy Lift Rocket Competition

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

June 07, 2011

Tea Party in Space Supports Democratic Senators on Heavy Lift Rocket Competition

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, especially when it comes to anything having to do with money these days. So it shouldn't be a total surprise that the TEA Party in Space has issued a statement supporting the efforts of California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to get NASA to competitively bid the development of its heavy lift rocket for deep space exploration.

Senators Feinstein and Boxer sent the letter over to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on May 27, calling for NASA to “quickly” open up a competitive bidding process for the propulsion component (i.e. the rocket engines) for the Space Launch System (SLS).

“A competitive process will allow NASA to procure better technology at lower initial and lifecycle costs,” the letter states. “In this time of constrained budgets, it would be inexcusable to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars into a non-competitive sole-source contract for the new Space Launch System.”

The two Senators believe a competitive process is consistent with the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2010 and that NASA could save hundreds of millions of dollars annual with billions of savings over the life of the program.

TEA Party in Space (TPIS), based out of Florida, issued its statement today on June 6 saying it is “happy” to join with the two Senators who “wisely recognize” that NASA must compete its contracts “to be fair to the tax payers in this time of budgetary crisis.” It goes on to note that use of NASA's existing “sole source cost plus” awards can't fit into NASA's existing budget projections.

“The contract to award the solid rocket motor contract was a carefully disguised earmark that virtually guaranteed the work to Alliant Techsystems (ATK (News - Alert)) of Utah,” Everett Wilkinson, spokesperson for TPIS said in the statement. ”Basically, Congress tried to earmark $12 billion for existing Shuttle and Constellation contractors.”

TPIS wants Congress to tell NASA to dump the traditional cost plus procurement model and bid out SLS in an open competition, awarding only fixed price contracts with specific milestones that must be met before payment.

Aerojet has been the primary force pushing for a competitive bid process for SES, but if NASA opens up the competition to be more like the COTS and CCDev programs, SpaceX (News - Alert) is likely to throw its hat into the ring as well. Aerojet plans to offer its Russian-derived engine while SpaceX has discussed building a Merlin 2 engine to power a family of Falcon X heavy-lift vehicles.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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