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The U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a verbal decision today declining to overrule NASA on its decision to allow SpaceX and Boeing to proceed in executing the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is suing the government over NASA's October 9 decision to rescind a previously issued stop-work order while SNC's protest of the contract awards is under consideration by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In a terse statement, Judge Marilyn Blank Horn said:
"On October 21, 2014, the court held a hearing in the above captioned protest. Given the urgency to resolve the override issue, the court provided the parties with a verbal decision declining to overrule the override."
"Override" refers to NASA overriding a provision of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) under which work on a contract ordinarily would cease while a protest of the contract award is pending. NASA initially issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX in compliance with CICA after SNC filed its protest with GAO. On October 9, however, it rescinded that order, overriding the CICA requirement, on the basis that its statutory authority allowed it to avoid serious adverse consequences.
SNC's suit before this court is that NASA did not demonstrate those serious adverse consequences in overriding the CICA requirements and the override was "illegal and void."
GAO has until January 5, 2015 to rule on SNC's underlying protest of the contract awards. At the time it filed the protest, SNC said it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process."
Boeing, SpaceX and SNC are all being funded under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program. On September 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue on to the next phase, CCtCAP, under which each company is expected to complete work on new commercial crew space transportation systems to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the end of 2017. Both designs are capsules: Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon V2. SNC's design is a winged vehicle, Dream Chaser, that resembles a small space shuttle.
Ann Zulkosky, the top Senate Democratic staffer dealing with NASA issues on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, is leaving to join Lockheed Martin.
Zulkosky is a member of the Democratic professional staff of the committee, which is chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is retiring at the end of this Congress and committee staff changes are common when the chairperson retires. Zulkosky has been handling a variety of science issues, but is best known in space policy circles for her work on NASA issues with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs the committee's Science and Space Subcommittee.
Zulkosky and her Republican staff counterpart, Jeff Bingham, working with Nelson and the committee's top Republican at the time, Senator Kay Bailey Hutichison (R-TX), are largely credited with writing the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, a hard fought compromise between the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats and Republicans. Bingham retired last year.
The 2010 law included funding recommendations only through FY2013, which has expired, but the policy provisions remain in force. Key policy provisions allowed the Obama Administration to proceed with the commercial crew program to develop crew transportation systems to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), while insisting that NASA also develop a new spacecraft (Orion) and rocket (the Space Launch System) to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
The House passed a new NASA authorization bill in June. Senate action is expected next, but that may be more difficult to achieve with Zulkosky's departure.
In an email this evening, Zulkosky confirmed that she is headed to Lockheed Martin as Director of NASA Programs, succeeding Mike Hawes. Hawes was recently tapped to replace Cleon Lacefield as the company's vice president and program manager for Orion.
Construction of China's new launch site on Hainan Island is complete according to a report in the Chinese media. The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center is the country's fourth space launch site and the first that is not inland. It also is the furthest south, improving China's ability to launch satellites into geostationary orbit.
China currently launches satellites from Jiuquan in the Gobi desert (human space missions, lunar spacecraft, mid-high inclination orbit satellites), Xichang in Sichuan province (primarily geostationary satellites), and Taiyuan, just south of Beijing (polar-orbiting satellites).
Wenchang is on the northeast coast of Hainan Island and only 19 degrees north of the equator (currently Xichang is the furthest south, at 28 degrees north). China plans to use it for its new Long March 5 rocket, still under development, that will be able to launch about 25 metric tons to low Earth orbit, in the same class as the U.S. Delta IV.
China Daily says Wenchang and Long March 5 will be used to launch spacecraft not only into Earth orbit, but to lunar and interplanetary destinations. The first launch from Wenchang is expected next year.
Among the science missions planned for Long March 5 from Wenchang is a lunar sample return mission, Chang'e-5, planned for 2017. An engineering test for that mission reportedly is scheduled for launch this week. (Chang'e-3 was launched last year and deposited the Yutu rover on the Moon. Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 were lunar orbiters. Chang'e is China's mythological goddess of the Moon.)
Note: The original version of this article referred to the engineering test for Chang'e-5 that may be launched this week as Chang'e-4 and provided other information. However, the name is reported differently in various sources (Bob Christy's zarya.info site calls it "Chang'e Lunar Sample Container Test Flight"). The name and other details of that mission are incidental to this article, which is about the Wenchang launch site, so we have simply omitted it in this update.
Here is our list of space policy-related events in the coming week, October 20-24, 2014, and any insights we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has scheduled a second hearing on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit against the government vis a vis the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts for Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET (it's not listed on our calendar because we don't list court dates for lawsuits since they are rarely open to the public). The first hearing was on Friday, where the court allowed SpaceX and Boeing to intervene in the case. The court is also considering SNC's request to keep most of the filings under seal because some of the material may be proprietary and some is protected under SNC's protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). SNC is protesting NASA's award of the CCtCAP contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Ordinarily, under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), work would stop under those contracts until GAO rules on SNC's protest (it has until January 5, 2015). NASA did issue a stop-work order, but later rescinded it based on its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences. SNC is challenging the legality of that rescission. Check back with SpacePolicyOnline.com to learn about what happens on Tuesday.
There are many other interesting events on tap during the week as well. On Monday, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (which administers the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), the Mexican Space Agency and another Mexican organization, CICESE, will hold a symposium on Making Space Technology Accessible and Affordable. The opening ceremony and a press conference -- including the head of the Mexican Space Agency, Javier Mendieta -- will be webcast.
The third of three International Space Station (ISS) spacewalks in as many weeks is scheduled for Wednesday. This time it is two Russians, Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev, who will step outside. NASA TV will cover it beginning at 9:00 am ET.
Two very interesting luncheons are being held in the Washington, DC area on Thursday, unfortunately at exactly the same time. The Washington Space Business Roundtable is hosting a panel of experts on the future of satellite communications in support of DOD at the University Club is downtown DC, while the National Capital Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics is hearing from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chris Scolese across the river in Arlington, VA. Not to mention that there's an all-day symposium in DC that day on space and satellite regulatory issues. Busy day!
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, October 20
Wednesday, October 22
Wednesday-Sunday, October 22-26
Thursday, October 23
Comet Siding Spring will make a close pass of the planet Mars tomorrow (Sunday, October 19) while human and robotic observers watch intently to see what they can learn about this rather rare type of celestial body. On Earth, the best viewing is from the Southern Hemisphere and it will not be visible to the naked eye (Magnitude 13), but several websites plan live coverage with images and/or commentary.
Astronomers world-wide have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Comet Siding Spring, also known as C/2013 A1, which was discovered in January 2013 by Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. This particular type of comet, from the Oort Cloud far beyond the orbit of Pluto, rarely reaches the inner solar system. This is the comet's first time sweeping around the Sun so none of its material has yet been affected by the Sun's heat. It is comprised of material from the time the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago.
The nucleus of the comet will come within 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) of the surface of Mars at 2:28 pm Eastern Daylight Time (11:28 am PDT, 18:28 GMT). It will pass Mars traveling at 126,000 miles per hour (56 kilometers per second).
Five spacecraft are currently orbiting Mars: three from NASA and one each from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). In addition, two functioning NASA rovers are on the surface: Opportunity and Curiosity. All will be tasked to study the comet and its interaction with Mars.
To be on the safe side, NASA positioned its orbiters -- Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN -- so they will be on the opposite side of the planet as the comet's tail passes by lest any of the particles damage spacecraft instruments. ISRO similarly repositioned its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The European Space Agency decided that the risk of damage to its Mars Express orbiter was so low that it did not change its orbit. The tail will be in close proximity to Mars about 90 minutes after the nucleus goes by and will be there for only about 20 minutes.
Many other space- and Earth-based observatories will study the comet as well. NASA has a website with a wealth of information about its plans.
Comet expert Karl Battams posted an analysis of the parallels between observing this comet and last year's comet ISON, which was a disappointment for many observers because the comet was not as spectacular as expected. Today Battams said in his blog post that the same phenomenon has occurred with Comet Siding Spring: "...again, like comet ISON - we have watched nervously in these final couple of weeks ... as the comet has suddenly and dramatically faded in brightness. This in particular has left us scratching our collective heads...." Still, although "we have plenty of unknowns," he is optimistic for a successful Mars-based observing campaign.
He (@SungrazerComets) and the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) are among those who will be tweeting the event (#MarsComet or #SidingSpring). Both list places on the web that will have live images and/or commentary:
At today's hearing before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Boeing and SpaceX were granted their requests to intervene in Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit to force NASA to reinstate a stop-work order on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts.
SNC filed suit on Wednesday asking the court to declare "illegal and void" NASA's October 9 decision to override provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) so that work could proceed under the CCtCAP contracts despite SNC's protest of the award. Today was the first hearing in the case.
Boeing, SpaceX and SNC are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase. On September 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue into the next phase, CCtCAP. Sierra Nevada filed a protest against that decision with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 26. NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX on the CCtCAP contracts because of the protest, but rescinded it on October 9 arguing that it was acting under its statutory authority to avoid serious adverse consequences.
That prompted SNC to file this lawsuit against the U.S. Government on the basis that NASA had not demonstrated that it could not wait until GAO issued its ruling on SNC's protest. GAO has until January 5, 2015 to make its determination.
Today, Judge Marian Blank Horn granted motions from Boeing and SpaceX to "intervene" in the case and ordered that they file their submissions by Monday, October 20, at noon. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 21, at 2:30 pm ET.
The commercial crew program is essentially a public-private partnership where the government and the private sector are sharing the costs of developing new crew space transportation systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA serving as a market for the resulting services. CCtCAP is the final phase of the development program, leading, NASA hopes, to operational systems by the end of 2017. Until commercial crew systems are operational, NASA must rely on Russia to take crews to and from ISS because the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.
The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA today (October 17) at 9:24 am PDT (12:24 pm EDT). This is the third and longest flight to date.
The X-37B looks like a very small space shuttle. There are at least two of them, OTV-1 and OTV-2. Both are reusable and this is the second flight of OTV-1. It spent 224 days in orbit in 2010. OTV-2 was in space for 469 days from March 2011-June 2012. What the OTVs do during those lengthy missions is completely classified, leading to much conjecture, but no hard facts in the public domain.
The Air Force announced a week ago today that the landing would take place soon. Initially, it appeared as though Tuesday would be the landing date, but for reasons that have not been announced, it took place today instead.
The Air Force 30th Space Wing issued the following press statement, which includes the news that the next X-37B flight will launch in 2015:
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission
"The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities
"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third
"The landing of OTV-3 marks a hallmark event for the program" said the
"The mission is our longest to date and we're pleased with the incremental
The Air Force is preparing to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape
Later in the day, the Air Force 30th Space Wing posted photos of the landing on its Facebook page, including this one:
X-37 Orbital Test Mission 3 (OTV-3) lands at Vandenberg AFB, CA, Oct. 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Boeing
Although the Air Force said it was a 674-day mission, Jonathan McDowell, author of Jonathan's Space Report, tweeted (@planet4589) that the mission duration was 674.9 days based on his calculations. SpacePolicyOnline.com has asked the Air Force for clarification.
Note: This article was updated with the Air Force press statement and later with the landing photo..
President Obama has nominated Dava Newman to be the new NASA Deputy Administrator. The post has been vacant since Lori Garver left in September 2013.
Newman is a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT and is perhaps best known for her design of spacesuits specifically for use on Mars. She explains the theories behind the design in a YouTube video posted in 2011.
In a press release issued by MIT, Newman calls her nomination "very exciting, and an enormous honor" adding that NASA has a "clear vision" with Mars as the destination in its long term plan. She is very familiar with NASA's current challenges in the human spaceflight arena having served as a member of the Technical Panel of the National Research Council's (NRC's) "Pathways" report on the future of human spaceflight released this summer. She is also a member of the NRC's Space Studies Board.
MIT's Dr. Dava Newman. Photo Credit: MIT.
In addition to her duties as an engineering professor, she is director of MIT's Technology and Policy Program, Director of the MIT Portugal Program, co-director of the Man-Vehicle Laboratory at MIT, and a Harvard-MIT Health, Sciences and Technology faculty member. She has a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and two S.M.'s (one in aeronautics and astronautics, the other in technology and policy) and a Ph.D. (in aerospace biomedical engineering) from MIT.
Her nomination must be approved by the Senate. Congress returns on November 12. Whether the Senate will have time to consider her nomination before the 113th Congress adjourns is unclear. There are few legislative days remaining, but that hurdle is surmountable if both sides of the aisle agree.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims yesterday asking the court essentially to overturn NASA's decision to allow work to proceed under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. SNC is protesting NASA's award of those contracts to Boeing and SpaceX and ordinarily work would stop until the protest was resolved. NASA initially told the companies to stop work, but rescinded that order about a week later, triggering SNC's lawsuit. A hearing on SNC's suit is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday, October 17).
Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Those three companies, at least, bid for the CCtCAP phase which will lead to operational commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX for CCtCAP on September 16.
On September 26, SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) because it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process." GAO has 100 days (until January 5, 2015) to rule on the protest.
NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX because of the protest. The stop-work order affects only the CCtCAP contracts, not work under the CCiCAP agreements.
However, on October 9, NASA rescinded the stop-work order, overriding provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) on the basis that it was acting within statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In filing its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, SNC asserts that NASA's override decision was "illegal and void" because the government failed to establish that "performance of the contract is in the best interest of the United States" or "urgent and compelling circumstance that significantly affect the interests of the United States will not permit waiting" for the GAO decision. SNC calls NASA's override decision "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and ... contrary to law, all in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act...."
SNC asks the court to declare NASA's override "illegal and void" or alternatively to "preliminarily enjoin the Defendant from further implementing" the override -- in other words, to reinstate the stop-work order -- until the court issues a final judgment on the matter.
Because SNC's filing to the court relies on material subject to a GAO protective order (because of its bid protest to GAO) and on other material that may contain proprietary information, SNC further requests the court to keep the primary documents it filed with the court (memorandum and appendix) under seal. For now, at least, only a few of SNC's documents are available to the public through the court's PACER electronic system: Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal and Motion for a Protective Order, Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, and Plaintiff's Applications for a Temporary Restraining Order to Prevent Unlawful Override of CICA Stay.
The court has scheduled a hearing on the case, Sierra Nevada Corporation v United States, before Judge Marian Blank Horn for 10:00 am ET tomorrow, October 17.
The good news is that the two European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellites launched in August are in "excellent health and working normally." The not so good news is that they are in the wrong orbit. What they will be used for is an open question.
The European Space Agency (ESA), which serves as the design and procurement agent for the satellites, announced today that the pair of satellites were handed over from ESA's Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany to the Galileo Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany in late September.
Galileo is Europe's version of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) for providing positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data. The EU and ESA shared Galileo development costs, but the EU is shouldering the full cost of the operational system.
These two satellites, the first of 30 that will comprise Galileo's Fully Operational Capability (FOC), were launched by Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana, using Russia's Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage on August 22, 2014.
Initially, the launch was thought to have been a complete success, but ESOC soon determined that the satellites were not in their correct orbital locations. Further analysis showed the satellites were in an orbit with an apogee that is too high, perigee that is too low, and at the wrong inclination. Ultimately it was determined that the Fregat upper stage had malfunctioned.
In addition, one solar panel on each OHB-built satellite had not deployed. Controllers were able to point the satellites so the solar array release mechanisms could be warmed by the Sun and that did the trick. Thus they are fully functional now, but what use they will be in that orbit is unclear. They do not have sufficient on-board fuel to reach their correct orbit. The ESA announcement said the Galileo Control Center will "care for them pending a final decision on their use."
Events of Interest