NASA Spends Half of Stimulus Money on Moon Program
A bow shock forms around the Constellation Program's 327-foot-tall Ares I-X test rocket traveling at supersonic speed during its Oct. 28, 2009 launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The rocket produces 2.96 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and goes supersonic in 39 seconds.
Credit: NASA, courtesy of Scott Andrews

WASHINGTON ? With less than a year remaining to spend $1 billion in stimulus money that the U.S. Congress gave NASA in February as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the space agency has spent roughly $570 million, with nearly half of those dollars going toward its embattled Constellation program.

So far, some $270 million in ARRA funding has gone to Constellation, a 5-year-old effort to build new spacecraft and rockets optimized for sending astronauts to the Moon. The administration of President Barack Obama is reconsidering those plans and looking at scenarios that would entail the cancellation of projects currently receiving stimulus funds, including the Ares I rocket.

Ares I, a crewed launch vehicle in development at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has received $49 million in ARRA funds for development of its J2-X upper-stage engine, according to the agency?s July 2009 stimulus operating plan. NASA, which has until Sept. 30, 2010, to use its ARRA funds, awarded the J2-X contract modification Nov. 2 to Canoga Park, Calif.-based Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the J-2X prime contractor.

NASA also intends to award a $45 million contract to Chicago-based Boeing Co. for Ares I upper-stage vertical assembly tooling and test equipment at Marshall, according to the operating plan and information available on the agency?s procurement Web site. Another $15 million is slated for the A-3 test stand being built at NASA?s Stennis Space Center, Miss., to test the J2-X engine.

In July, NASA awarded a $166 million contract using ARRA funds to Lockheed Martin Space Systems to speed work on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, which the Denver-based company is developing for launch atop Ares I. The contract includes: $112.5 million to accelerate delivery of Orion?s engineering development units; $49.3 million to accelerate Orion ground-test articles; and $4.1 million to develop and test new crew safety technologies.

Another $25 million was awarded to Greenbelt, Md.-based ASRC Aerospace Corp. for development of the Ares I/Orion mobile launcher, a large platform with a tower designed to transport, service and launch the next-generation booster and crew capsule. The work will be performed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Of the $400 million in ARRA funds Congress designated for space exploration projects, NASA initially planned to spend $150 million on competitively awarded projects meant to seed the development of commercial space transportation systems capable of ferrying astronauts to low Earth orbit.

?These efforts are intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created,? NASA explained in a commercial crew and cargo white paper it sent Congress in May.

But House and Senate lawmakers told NASA to reduce the amount for commercial crew and cargo development to $90 million.

?Of the total $400 million provided for exploration, the committees direct that $310 million be allocated to the Constellation Systems Program and $90 million be allocated for Commercial Crew and Cargo activities,? House and Senate appropriators wrote in a July 20 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. ?The committees remain concerned about the gap in time in which the nation does not have a U.S. vehicle to access space after the space shuttle is retired.?

The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) ? the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee ? and Mikulski?s House counterpart, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.).

NASA is on track to conduct its final space shuttle missions in 2010, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy gap in America?s ability to launch humans into orbit. Under NASA?s current plan, Ares I and Orion will not be ready to make their crewed debut until 2015, although an expert panel convened by the White House has cast doubt on NASA?s ability to make that date.

In the meantime, NASA plans to competitively award $50 million of the total $90 million available for commercial crew and cargo to fund technology development intended to lay a foundation for commercially operated systems capable of transporting to and from the international space station.

Of the $40 million in remaining ARRA funds available for commercial crew and cargo, $24 million is set aside to speed construction of commercial test structures at Stennis and commercial launch infrastructure at Kennedy and NASA?s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Of that $24 million, NASA awarded a $9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract in September to the Cube Corp. of Sterling, Va., a subsidiary of Southampton, U.K.-based VT Group, for construction work at Wallops.

Another $15 million of the commercial crew and cargo money went to space station prime contractor Boeing to accelerate development of a common docking system for Orion and Europe?s proposed Advanced Re-entry Vehicle, an evolved version of the Automated Transfer Vehicle that hauled its first load of cargo to the station in 2008.

The remaining $1 million will be used to develop human-rating requirements for commercial vehicles, according to NASA?s ARRA spending plan.

In addition to exploration programs, NASA set aside $400 million in ARRA funds for science. Of the $224 million NASA has made available for science efforts to date, $65 million was given to Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. in July to speed work on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). According to the stimulus spending plan, ?Without this increase, significant workforce reductions would be necessary during [fiscal] 2009, increasing cost and schedule risk.?

According to data available on Recovery.gov, the federal government Web site that tracks ARRA spending and jobs, Northrop Grumman doled out $23 million in subcontracts for JWST, including a $10 million award to Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., $5 million to ITT Space Systems of Rochester, N.Y., and $5 million to ATK Space Systems of Magna, Utah. Recovery.gov indicates the contract saved or created 362 jobs in California.