Space Law News
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James added a dose of reality today to projections about when an American-made rocket engine could replace Russia's RD-180s for the Atlas V rocket. During testimony, she said that meeting the congressional mandate to have a new engine by 2019 may not be doable. Her experts tell her it will take 6-8 years to get a new engine and another 1-2 years to integrate it into a launch vehicle.
James spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D) on the Air Force FY2016 budget request along with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. The two are scheduled to testify to the House counterpart subcommittee (HAC-D) on Friday.
The issue really is about developing a new propulsion system, of which an engine is a part, but "engine" is commonly used as shorthand.
The deterioration in U.S.-Russian relationships beginning last year because of Russia's action in Ukraine highlighted how dependent the United States is on Russian technology to launch U.S. national security satellites. The United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V and Delta IV rockets -- referred to as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs ) -- launch almost all of them, and the Atlas V is powered by Russia's RD-180 engine. The issue figured prominently in a number of hearings last year and Air Force officials, including Gen. William Shelton, then head of Air Force Space Command, rued the prospect of losing those engines. Still, Shelton and others eventually accepted that the time had come for the United States to develop its own comparable liquid rocket engine.
The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 113-291) and its accompanying explanatory statement direct DOD to develop a new U.S. propulsion system by 2019 "using full and open competition." The law authorizes $220 million and notes it "is not an authorization of funds for development of a new launch vehicle." Section 608 of the law prohibits the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from "awarding or renewing a contract for the procurement of property or services" under the EELV program if the contract involves "rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation." The only exceptions are the EELV contract awarded to ULA on December 18, 2013 or unless the SecDef certifies that the offeror can demonstrate that it fully paid for or entered into a legally binding contract for such engines prior to February 1, 2014.
The FY2015 Defense Appropriations Act (Division C of P.L. 113-235) followed suit, appropriating the same $220 million as was authorized "to accelerate rocket propulsion system development with a target demonstration date of fiscal year 2019." It directs the Air Force, in consultation with NASA, "to develop an affordable, innovative, and competitive strategy ... that includes an assessment of the potential benefits and challenges of using public-private partnerships, innovative teaming arrangements, and small business considerations."
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and James engaged in two exchanges about the RD-180 today. Shelby noted that the President's FY2016 request is only for $84 million. "It's also my understanding that developing an RD-180 replacement engine and the associated launch vehicle and launch pad can cost anywhere from $1 billion to more than $3 billion and take perhaps 7 to 10 years to develop," Shelby said. James replied that technical experts have advised her that "It's 6 to 8 years ... for a newly designed engine and then an additional 1 to 2 years on top of that to be able to integrate the engine into the launch vehicle." As for cost, "I've seen $2 billion," James said.
James asked that Congress clarify what it wants, because the 2019 deadline is "pretty aggressive" and "I'm not sure 2019 is doable." She also stressed that they want "at least two" domestic engines "because we want competition of course."
Shelby also revealed that DOD's General Counsel "may" interpret the Section 608 language contrary to congressional intent resulting in a "capability gap for certain launches" and eliminating "real competition." James explained that the General Counsel is trying to interpret several different provisions of law that may or may not have had the same intent, but said the point she wanted to stress is that "virtually everybody" agrees that the United States should be less reliant on Russia. The question is how to accomplish that: "We don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face."
The two also discussed certification of "new entrants." a reference to SpaceX, which has been attempting to obtain certification from the Air Force so it can compete against ULA for these types of national security launches.
ULA manufactures the Atlas V and Delta IV in Decatur, Alabama, Shelby's home state. Shelby talked about the virtues of competition, but, without mentioning SpaceX by name, said "some of these so-called companies that are planning to compete, and we'd like for them to compete, they have had several mishaps" compared to ULA. James replied that every developmental program has mishaps and "I'm quite sure they're going to get there from here."
ULA is jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. At yesterday's hearing before the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, Boeing's John Elbon also urged a "thoughtful" approach to the transition from the RD-180 to a U.S. engine and keeping the pipeline of engines open as long as possible rather setting a hard cut-off date.
Meanwhile, ULA announced last fall that it is partnering with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 rocket engine as an RD-180 replacement. ULA and Blue Origin said at the time that the project is fully paid for and not in need of government funding.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s first hearing as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA and commercial space activities was politely inquisitive and not confrontational as some expected. Cruz (R-TX), a leading Tea Party activist, is a relative unknown quantity on space issues. The hearing exhibited that he is an advocate of U.S. leadership in space, ending U.S. reliance on Russia, and supporter of commercial space.
As is typical, few Senators attended yesterday’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the top Democrat (Ranking Member) on the subcommittee, and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), were there only briefly because they also serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Secretary of State John Kerry was testifying at the same time. (Ironically, Gardner unseated Udall’s cousin, Mark Udall, for that Colorado Senate seat in last year’s election.)
Cruz chaired the hearing for the full duration and was joined for most of it by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was the chairman of this subcommittee in the last Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate. Nelson is now Ranking Member of the full committee. Cruz was the Ranking Member on the subcommittee in the last Congress, so the two have worked together on these topics in the past as well as on other committees and rarely see eye to eye. In this case, however, Cruz’s opening statement was a pep talk about the space program full of familiar themes about the need for U.S. leadership in space and ending U.S. dependence on Russia. Nelson noted the similarities in their views on those subjects, at least, and the two bantered about how the fact that they agreed on something could be used against them in future political campaigns.
The hearing broke little new ground, but sparked interesting dialogue. One panel of former astronauts offered the usual hopes of human trips to Mars coupled with familiar warnings that NASA’s budget needs to grow to accomplish such a goal. A second panel of industry and academic experts offered perspectives on commercial space, U.S. leadership, future human spaceflight destinations, and preferences in reauthorizing the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).
The first panel was comprised of three former astronauts: Apollo 7’s Walter Cunningham, Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the Moon), and space shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino. The second panel was Boeing’s John Elbon, George Washington University’s Scott Pace, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Eric Stallmer.
Cruz is a vocal climate change skeptic and concerns were widely expressed in the space community when he became chairman of this subcommittee that he would use his position to try to restrict funding for NASA’s earth science research. Cunningham is also a climate change skeptic and his inclusion on the panel fueled expectations that the hearing would focus on that topic. In fact, however, climate change barely arose and only in response to a question from Udall to Massimino about whether he agreed that NASA should remain a multi-mission agency including funding programs for earth observation. Massimino discoursed about how the International Space Station is a great “perch” for viewing Earth and his belief that if NASA can help with any of the problems facing the country and the world, it should.
Except for his opening statement, Cruz kept his own views to himself and asked thought provoking questions that allowed the witnesses an opportunity to share their perspectives.
Cruz’s key messages in that statement were: NASA needs to get back to its “core priorities” of exploring space; the United States should be the leader in space; SLS and Orion are critical to exploring space “whether it is Moon, Mars or beyond” (omitting mention of asteroids); U.S. dependence on Russia for access to ISS is “unacceptable” and it is “imperative” that we be able to get to the ISS without the Russians; the commercial crew program is “critical” to ending U.S. dependence on Russia; and the United States should be able to launch national security satellites without Russian engines. He said he is encouraged by progress on commercial cargo and crew, but “maximum efficiency and expedition” are needed, and he will be an “enthusiastic advocate of competition and the enabling of the private sector to compete and innovate.” He ended by saying “There is no limit to human imagination or desire for exploration …. America has always led the way in space exploration and we need to reclaim that leadership.”
Interesting tidbits from the hearing include the following:
The written statements of the witnesses and an archived webcast are available on the committee’s website.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 23-27, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
This is one of those weeks when so much is going on that it's difficult to choose just a couple of events to highlight. Please peruse the list below to find your own favorites.
There are seven congressional hearings of interest to the space policy community, though one suspects two are of particular note to readers of this website: Tuesday's Senate hearing on the U.S. human spaceflight program and commercial space competitiveness (with three former astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin), and Friday's House hearing on NASA's commercial crew program.
But the others should be of interest, too: Wednesday's House hearing with the NASA Inspector General (and his counterparts at the Departments of Commerce and Justice) and hearings on the FY2016 budget requests for the Department of Transportation (including the Office of Commercial Space Transportation), Air Force (where many national security space programs reside), and the Department of Commerce (home of NOAA). Many congressional hearings are webcast (though usually not the ones held in the U.S. Capitol), so you can enjoy them live or later in archived webcasts. We'll provide summaries of as many of them as we can.
Tuesday, February 24
Tuesday-Wednesday, February 24-25
Wednesday, February 25
Thursday, February 26
Friday, February 27
Joan Johnson-Freese explained to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission today why former Rep. Frank Wolf was wrong to effectively ban all U.S.-China bilateral space cooperation. Wolf retired at the end of the last Congress, but his successor as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA holds similar views.
Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of "The Chinese Space Program: A Mystery Within a Maze" and "Heavenly Ambitions: America's Quest to Dominate Space." She was one of the witnesses at today's hearing on China's space and counterspace programs.
Wolf included language in several Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bills that prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in any bilateral activities with China on civil space cooperation unless specifically authorized by Congress or unless NASA or OSTP certifies to Congress 14 days in advance that the activity would not result in the transfer of any technology, data, or other information with national security or economic implications. His indefatigable opposition to cooperating with China was based largely on its human rights abuses and efforts to obtain U.S. technology. He was one of the strongest, but certainly not only, congressional critic of China, always stressing that he loved the Chinese people, but not the Chinese government.
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is Wolf's successor as chairman of the CJS subcommittee. In December 2013 when rumors swirled that he would replace Wolf, he was interviewed by a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and when asked whether he agreed with Wolf about China replied: "Yes. We need to keep them out of our space program, and we need to keep NASA out of China. They are not our friends."
It remains to be seen whether he will include the same language in this year's CJS bill, but Johnson-Freese spelled out why she thinks it is the wrong approach.
She provides a comprehensive rebuttal to Wolf's reasoning, but in essence her contention is that "the United States must use all tools of national power" to achieve its space-related goals as stated in U.S. National Space Policy, National Security Strategy, and National Security Space Strategy. Wolf's restrictions on space cooperation simply constrain U.S. options, she argues: "Limiting U.S. options has never been in U.S. national interest and isn't on this issue either." She disagrees with Wolf's assumption that the United States has nothing to gain from working with China: "On the contrary, the United States could learn about how they work -- their decision-making processes, institutional policies and standard operating procedures. This is valuable information in accurately deciphering the intended use of dual-use space technology, long a weakness and so a vulnerability in U.S. analysis."
For some issues, there really is no choice, she continues. China must be involved in international efforts towards Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) and space sustainability, especially with regard to space debris, a topic given urgency by China's 2007 antisatellite (ASAT) test that created more than 3,000 pieces of debris in low Earth orbit. She notes that since that test and the resulting international condemnation, "China has done nothing further in space that can be considered irresponsible or outside the norms set the United States."
Not that China has refrained from tests related to negating other countries' satellites, however. She and other witnesses detailed China's recent activities in that regard. Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation joined her at the witness table. They reported on "missile defense tests" in 2010, 2013 and 2014 that are widely considered in the West to be de facto ASAT tests, along with a 2013 "high altitude science mission" and co-orbital satellite tests in 2010 and 2013, as potentially related to ASAT development. These tests were non-destructive, however, and did not generate space debris.
Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Missouri), who co-chaired today's hearing, said that the Commission will publish a report by Pollpeter's institute on China's counterspace activities "in the coming days." The Commission was created by Congress in 2000 and submits an annual report on national security implications of the U.S.-China trade and economic relationship.
UPDATE, February 18: Friday's WSBR luncheon has been postponed.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 16-20, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess this week in observance of Presidents' Day (which commemorates Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and George Washington's on February 22).
During the Week
Members of Congress will be working in their State or District offices this week instead of Washington, D.C., hearing directly from their constituents about whatever is on their minds.
Lots of non-congressional events are on tap, though, including what could be a very interesting investors conference call with the leadership of the brand new OrbitalATK on Thursday. This is the first such call for the merged company, which melds Orbital Sciences Corporation and Alliant TechSystems' (ATK's) aerospace business (it spun off its sporting division as part of the merger). Only financial folks get to ask questions, but anyone can listen and the company is actually making this available via webcast. Orbital's David Thompson is President and CEO of the merged company, and Garrett Pierce is CFO, the same positions they held at Orbital. Blake Larson, who headed ATK's Aerospace Group, is COO of the merged company.
The Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Chris Scolese, will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) on Tuesday.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Editor's Note: Some of you may have heard about the Pioneering Space National Summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday. That event is by invitation only, so we do not list it. On a personal note, I wish them luck. I've been involved in too many of these exercises over the decades and declined their kind invitation to participate in yet another one. Perhaps this will be the one that makes a difference, but I admit to being skeptical.
Tuesday, February 17
Wednesday, February 18
Thursday, February 19
Thursday-Friday, February 19-20
Friday, February 20
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 9-13, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week. (Updated to show new launch date for DSCOVR)
During the Week
The launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) (formerly Triana) was scrubbed on Sunday due to a problem with a radar on the Eastern Test Range needed to track the rocket. The launch was TENTATIVELY rescheduled for Monday, BUT ON MONDAY MORNING NOAA ANNOUNCED THAT THE LAUNCH DATE WILL BE TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, AT 6:05 PM ET BECAUSE THE WEATHER TODAY IS UNFAVORABLE. Wednesday at 6:03 PM ET is a backup launch opportunity. If it doesn't go by then, DSCOVR will have to wait until February 20.
The House is poised to pass a new NASA authorization bill. The bill has not yet been introduced, but the bipartisan leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee announced agreement on Friday. They said the bill would be introduced this coming week and not only is that still expected, but the bill is skipping over committee action entirely and going directly to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday under suspension of the rules. From the information released by the committee so far, the bill is very similar to last year's bill, which passed the House 401-2. It was never considered by the Senate, however, and died at the end of the 113th Congress.
That committee also will hold the first hearing of the 114th Congress dedicated to a space topic -- weather satellites -- on Thursday. No space-specific hearings are scheduled in the Senate, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) tentatively plans to vote on the nomination of Ash Carter to be Secretary of Defense on Tuesday.
Three non-legislative events of particular interest this week are: (1) on Tuesday, the monthly ISU-DC Space Cafe will feature a panel of representatives of several European countries discussing the recent ESA ministerial meeting; (2) on Wednesday, the National Research Council's Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable will hold its second meeting, and (3), on Friday, GWU's Space Policy Institute will hold a symposium on U.S.-Japan Relations and Space Cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region.
NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel also is meeting this week, but their public meetings are usually pretty pro forma even though they have some very interesting observations that appear in their public reports, like this year's recently released annual report.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below.
Tuesday, February 10
Wednesday, February 11
Thursday, February 12
Friday, February 13
UPDATE, February 9: The bill number was assigned today: H.R. 810.
ORIGINAL STORY, February 8, 2015: Skipping several steps in the usual legislative process, the House is scheduled to vote on a 2015 NASA Authorization Act on Tuesday, February 10. Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee announced their bipartisan agreement on the bill on Friday.
Usually a bill is introduced, hearings are held, a subcommittee marks up the bill and reports it to the full committee, the full committee holds its own mark up session and reports the bill to the House. Some bills then go through the House Rules Committee where decisions are made, for example, on what amendments will be considered and how much time is allowed for debate while the bill is on the floor. Others are sufficiently non-controversial that they do not need a rule and are considered under "suspension of the rules" and placed on the suspension calendar. Bills considered under suspension must be approved by at least two-thirds of the House.
This bill, which does not yet have a number, is skipping all the intermediate steps and going directly from being introduced (which has not happened yet) to a vote under suspension. It is included in the list of legislation on the House Majority Leader's website scheduled for consideration on Tuesday.
Passing a bill so quickly gives the Senate plenty of time to consider its own legislation or pass this version.
Top Republicans and Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) committee today announced details of a new bipartisan NASA Authorization Act that will be introduced next week. The bill avoids budget issues by authorizing funds only for FY2015, for which funding already has been appropriated.
House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Space Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD), and Space Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) issued a joint press release laying out the major provisions of the legislation, which seem to parallel the bill passed the House (but not considered by the Senate) last year. Whether the text is identical to last year's other than updating the budget figures is not clear, but Smith said "this bill was approved unanimously" by the committee and "passed in the House" in the last Congress, suggesting that it must be very close. Last year's bill included budget figures only for FY2014, which was already in progress at the time the bill was under consideration. They have taken the same tack for this bill.
The main theme is that NASA is a multi-mission agency involved in range of aeronautics and space research and development activities. Key elements include the following:
The bill also provides greater public accountability and transparency, requires enforcement of cost estimating discipline, strengthens the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), and provides for additional tools to protect against waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.
The phrasing that NASA is a multi-mission agency is important because some argue that NASA only should be involved in human spaceflight. Science should be done by the National Science Foundation and other government agencies, and aeronautics research should be under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), they argue. This bill makes clear that NASA should continue to have a range of missions as described in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that created the agency.
The language about support for "at least one" commercial crew system and that Orion continue to be able to serve as a backup to commercial crew also is important. Committee Republicans do not necessarily agree that NASA should support two commercial crew companies. SpaceX and Boeing were selected by NASA last year, which believes that it needs two competitors to keep prices down and provide redundancy in case one of the systems has a failure. Some in Congress think there should be only one commercial crew company and the redundant capability could be filled by Orion.
Launching a mission to Europa by 2021 is quite different from NASA's FY2016 budget plan, which foresees such a launch in the mid-2020s.
The bipartisan announcement is in contrast to the partisan wrangling at the committee's organizational meeting last month,
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 2-6, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate will be in session this week.
During the Week
This is budget week in Washington. The President will submit his FY2016 budget request to Congress tomorrow (Monday), kicking off debate over how much the government should spend and on what in the "discretionary spending" portion of the federal budget. FY2016 begins on October 1, 2015. Discretionary spending is generally broken into two parts -- defense and non-defense. NASA and NOAA are part of non-defense discretionary spending. Although by law the sequester goes back into effect in FY2016, a senior administration official told reporters last week that the President's budget request will not adhere to the spending caps set by the law. The President apparently believes that the deeply unpopular sequester rules will be waived again (as they were for FY2014 and FY2015) or repealed or replaced entirely.
Most departments and agencies hold budget briefings the day the budget is released, as does the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Typically the budget is posted on the Office of Management and Budget's website in mid-morning, followed by the individual briefings. Traditionally the NASA Administrator holds a budget briefing in Washington, but this year Administrator Bolden will be at Kennedy Space Center and instead will "address the progress made and the exciting work ahead on the agency's exploration initiative that secures America's leadership in space." That talk will be broadcast on NASA TV, especially to all the NASA field centers, which are holding "State of NASA" events for the public that include tours, briefings, and listening to Bolden. For all the budget-watchers and policy wonks, explaining the budget request will be left to NASA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) David Radzanowski, who succeeded Beth Robinson as CFO last year. He will hold a telecon with the media at 4:00 pm ET that will be broadcast on NASA's News Audio website.
Another big event this week will be the confirmation hearing for Ash Carter to be the new Secretary of Defense. That hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 am ET.
Also on Wednesday, as well as Thursday, is the annual Commercial Space Transportation conference sponsored by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. It will be held at the National Housing Conference Center in Washington, DC, the same locale as the last several years.
On Thursday, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will hold its 2nd annual "State of the Universe" briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight new discoveries about the universe in the past year.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, February 2
Monday, February 2 - Friday, February 13
Wednesday, February 4
Wednesday-Thursday, February 4-5
Thursday, February 5
NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its annual report today. Among its key points is criticism of NASA's commercial crew program for its lack of openness, preventing the panel from offering "any informed opinion" on the certification process or "sufficiency of safety." The report's release coincides with NASA's Day of Remembrance in honor of the astronauts who died as the result of spaceflights. The first of those accidents, the 1967 Apollo fire, led to Congress creating ASAP to advise NASA on safety.
The panel's criticism of the commercial crew program was direct and unambiguous and levied at the very beginning of the report so as not to be missed:
"Within NASA, there are outstanding examples of programs that have inculcated a culture of clear and candid communications. Their approach to accountability, good systems engineering, and respect, both up and down the organization chart, would find strong favor with the authors of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report.
"The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is an exception to the culture of open communications. Regrettably, the Panel has been denied the necessary timely access to information and is therefore unable to offer any informed opinion regarding the adequacy of the certification process or the sufficiency of safety in the CCP. The NASA Administrator has committed to making the changes necessary to resolve this situation and to ensuring that these barriers are removed going forward into 2015."
ASAP's complaint comes just two days after NASA held a press conference with its commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, to herald the progress they are making to provide services to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of 2017.
In a color-coded "traffic signal" chart later in the report, ASAP rated "risk transparency -- Insight and communications" as red, meaning an issue of "long-standing concern or an issue that has not been adequately addressed by NASA." It is the only one of nine areas designated that way. In describing its concerns in that area, ASAP includes not only commercial crew, but the Space Launch System and Orion programs.
"Risk communications concerning commercial crew activities by the Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development has been less than forthcoming. Because Probabilistic Risk Assessment results provide a risk assessment of the design capability at maturity, actual risks for early operations of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion could be significantly higher than the calculated or 'advertised' risk. Because the perception of external stakeholders is vitally important, NASA's Office of Communications must be cautious not to create or reinforce inaccurate perceptions of risk."
A second key concern of the panel is what it calls the need for "constancy of purpose" at NASA. It reflects the panel's assessment that there is a "perceived lack of a well-defined mission for NASA's space program" and a mismatch between NASA's budget and what it is expected to do. Reiterating what it said in prior years, ASAP finds that it is "imperative that NASA unambiguously articulate a well-defined purpose, including a path toward the execution of that mission, the technologies that need to be developed and matured, and the resources needed to accomplish that mission."
ASAP criticizes NASA's current "capabilities-based approach" which it believes is driven by budgets rather than a "purposeful, schedule-driven, goal-oriented endeavor." While acknowledging that may be a pragmatic approach that could bridge a transition between presidential administrations, ASAP believes NASA would be better served to "focus on doing fewer things and on doing them better."
Without a clear and consistent goal, ASAP worries that schedule will become a "casualty" that could affect SLS and Orion in particular.
The panel expressed other concerns about Orion and its use for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The panel assessed ARM itself as "a reasonable approach to a mission that is achievable," but worries that the lack of an airlock on Orion adds risk because the entire capsule will have to be depressurized to allow the crew to exit and collect samples of the asteroid. That means the crew will be entirely reliant on their spacesuits. The spacesuits used for ISS spacewalks are "unworkable" for Orion, ASAP said, and although NASA officials have indicated that they have no plans to develop new spacesuits for ARM, ASAP suggests otherwise: "design and development of new-design suits, while underway, are still preliminary and untested." In addition, the panel notes, Orion is small and does not have much room for astronauts to move about or exercise even though the missions may last as long as three weeks: "This long duration, crew habitability risk remains to be assessed and evaluated in order to develop an objective mission risk estimate."
ASAP also is concerned about the small number of flights planned for SLS in terms of maintaining ground crew proficiency. SLS and Orion are part of NASA's Exploration Systems Development (ESD) program, which ASAP rates as "progressing very well." but "there is much more work to be done ... [in] defining the risks and the road to Mars. These risks should continue to be communicated openly and transparently."
The full ASAP report is posted on NASA's website. ASAP submits it both to NASA and to Congress. ASAP chairman Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer (retired) typically is invited to testify to Congress about the panel's findings each year.
ASAP was created by Congress in the NASA Authorization Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-67) following the January 27, 1967 Apollo fire that killed Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch ground test of what was expected to be the first Apollo mission. Fourteen more astronauts subsequently died in two space shuttle accidents. The January 28, 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy killed NASA astronauts Francis "Dick" Scobee, Mike Smith, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Judy Resnik; Hughes Aircraft engineer Greg Jarvis; and New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during its return to Earth, killing NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Each year NASA holds a Day of Remembrance honoring all the astronauts who lost their lives in spaceflights. Today is NASA's 2015 Day of Remembrance, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, members of the Challenger families and others participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery. Several NASA centers held their own remembrance events.