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ROSAT Reentry Predicted for October 21-25

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The German Aerospace Center's (DLR's) most recent prediction for reentry of its ROSAT satelite is between October 21 and 25.

DLR estimates that 30 individual pieces of the satellite could survive the heat of reentry, including its 1.7 ton main mirror.

The ROetngen SATellite (ROSAT) was an x-ray astronomy satellite. Launched in 1990, it is in a 53 degree inclined orbit, meaning that it travels between 53 degrees North latitude and 53 degrees South latitude. The satellite does not have a propulsion system. Like many other satellites, including NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) last month and countless pieces of space debris routinely, it will make an uncontrolled reentry.

Debris could fall anywhere along the defunct satellite's orbital path within an 80 kilometer (50 mile) wide swath of that path according to DLR. The precise time and place for reentry cannot be calculated with precision, but it is important to bear in mind that 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water. DLR estimates the chance of "someone somewhere on Earth getting injured is about 1 in 2000."

ROSAT was a cooperative program among Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.

In addition to DLR's ROSAT reentry website, and the websites of amateur satellite observers such as and, New Scientist reports that a team of programmers in Australia have designed an iPhone App -- ROSAT Reentry -- for those who want to follow the action.

Events of Interest: Week of October 16-22, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. The Senate is in session this week; the House is having a Constituent Work Week and meets in pro forma session only on Tuesday and Friday.

During the Week

The Senate is scheduled to take up the CJS appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and the T-HUD bill, which includes FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, as part of a package that also includes the Agriculture appropriations bill.

The German-US-UK ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) will make an uncontrolled reentry between October 21 and 25 based on current projections by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Sunday-Wednesday, October 16-19

Tuesday-Thursday, October 18-20

  • National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), Board meeting, Irvine, CA (no details are posted on the ASEB website, presumably the meeting is at the NRC's Beckman Center)

Wednesday-Thursday, October 19-20

  • NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee meeting, NASA HQ, Washington DC
    • Wednesday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm, room 9H40
    • Thursday, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm, room 7H45
  • International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), Las Cruces, NM

Thursday, October 20

Friday, October 21

Visiting New York? Check Out the AMNH Future of Space Exploration Exhibit Beginning Nov. 19

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City is about to open a new exhibit on Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.

The exhibit will run from November 19, 2011 to August 12, 2012 and includes a "full-scale recreation of a lunar habitat," as well as a model of a space elevator, a diorama of the Martian surface, and computer interactive exhibits.

The museum is located at Central Park West at 79th Street.

HSS&T Republicans Propose Killing OCO-2, Other Earth Science Reductions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (HSS&T) sent in their recommendations on how to cut the budget deficit to the congressional "supercommittee" today. For NASA, the committee recommended $177 million in cuts to NASA's earth science program, including cancellation of OCO-2.

The supercommittee, composed of 12 members of Congress (six from the House, six from the Senate; six Republicans and six Democrats) are charged with finding $1.2-1.3 trillion in cuts over 10 years from the federal budget. Today was the day for congressional committees to submit their recommendations to the supercommittee. HSS&T Democrats sent a separate letter yesterday. The committee authorizes NASA's activities and sets policy.

The letter from ten of the HSS&T Republicans, including full committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and four of the five subcommittee chairmen, supported the actions of the House Appropriations Committee on the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that includes NASA, and also recommended reductions of $177 million compared to the FY2012 request as follows:

  • Cancellation of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2), which is being built as a replacement for OCO, lost in a launch failure in 2009;
  • Reducing "Other Missions and Data Analysis" within the Earth Systematic Missions by 20 percent; and
  • Reducing "Venture Class Missions" within Earth System Science Pathfinder Missions by 20 percent.

Changes made by the House Appropriations Committee that specifically received endorsement in the letter were cuts to space technology and commercial crew, and increases for the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Yesterday's letter from HSS&T Democrats, signed by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), began by saying that it was her understanding from Chairman Hall that the committee would not be providing recommendations to the supercommittee. Her letter spoke in general terms of the need for the supercommittee to support federal science and technology and STEM education, and to consider "serious revenue enhancements" as well as spending cuts.

The supercommittee, formally called the Joint Select Committee on Defiict Reduction, is due to make its recommendations to the House and Senate by November 23.

Rep. Wolf Ups the Ante on OSTP's China Activities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today asking him to hold Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren "to full account" for discussing science and technology cooperation with China in violation of the law.

The letter follows on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding earlier this week that Holdren's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) violated section 1340 of the FY2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Resolution (CR) by holding meetings in May with the Chinese. GAO found that the meetings violated the law's prohibition on OSTP or NASA spending any funds provided by the law to engage in such activities. OSTP spent $3,500 on the meetings, and since they violated the CR, they were not appropriated. Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, federal departments and agencies cannot obligate funds they do not have, and therefore GAO determined that OSTP violated the Anti-Deficiency Act.

Rep. Wolf also wrote to Holdren today, noting that the two had spoken on the phone yesterday wherein Holdren promised Rep. Wolf that either he or the White House General Counsel would call Rep. Wolf back by the end of the day, but no call was received. Rep. Wolf chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that funds OSTP as well as NASA.

In his letter to the Attorney General, Rep. Wolf asked the Justice Department to rescind a September 19 memorandum it issued that argued section 1340 infringed upon the President's constitutional power to conduct foreign policy, and to "hold Dr. Holdren to full account for his violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act by ensuring that he complies with all reporting requirements and other provisions of that law."

In its letter to Rep. Wolf, GAO insisted that "It is not our role nor within our province to opine upon or adjudicate the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes," but "In our view, legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by the President ... is entitled to a heavy presumption in favor of constitutionality."

Politico: Senate to Attempt Passing "Cluster" of Appropriations Bills, Including CJS and T-HUD

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Politico reports that the Senate will try to pass a "cluster" of three appropriations bills, including those that fund NASA, NOAA, and the FAA's space office, in an attempt to catch up with the FY2012 appropriations process. If this approach succeeds, they could cluster other bills together.

Grouping several appropriations bills together is quite common these days. When all or most of the 12 regular appropriations bills are combined it usually is called an "omnibus" or a "consolidated" bill. When fewer bills are acted upon jointly it is sometimes called a "minibus."

According to Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to start with the Agriculture-FDA bill. The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) and Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) bills would be "grafted" onto it. CJS funds NASA and NOAA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. T-HUD funds the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

To date, the Senate has passed only one of the 12 regular appropriations bills (Military Construction/Veterans Administration). The House has passed six (Agriculture, Defense, Energy & Water, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch,and Milcon/VA). FY 2012 began on October 1. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will expire on November 18.

Politico notes that the Senate plan to merge Agriculture, CJS and T-HUD would create a $182 billion package, "big enough to stumble into what could be a minefield of amendments." Nonetheless, the party leaders expect to bring the bill to the floor tomorrow, with passage anticipated next week.

NASA Confident of Russian Launch Failure Analysis; Wants Another INKSNA Waiver

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, told a House subcommittee today that he is confident of the failure analysis conducted by Russian experts of the Progress launch failure last month. He also revealed that the agency wants Congress to grant another waiver from the restrictions on paying Russia for International Space Station (ISS)-related activities contained in the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).

The hearing before the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee focused on the impact on ISS operations and lessons learned from the Russian Progress launch failure in August. Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, determined that a clogged fuel line caused the third stage of the Soyuz U rocket to malfunction, dooming the Progress spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the ISS. Similarities between that version of the Soyuz rocket and the one used to launch crews to ISS delayed the next planned launch of ISS crewmembers. The current schedule calls for crew flights to resume in mid-November.

Many of the questions posed by subcommittee members concerned the level of insight that NASA had to the accident investigation and whether NASA and its safety advisory panels are comfortable with Russia's analysis, conclusions, and plans for moving forward. In addition to Gerstenmaier, witnesses were Tom Stafford and Joe Dyer. Stafford chairs NASA's ISS Advisory Committee. Dyer chairs NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). All three expressed confidence in Russia's investigation and conclusions.

Several members linked the questions about how transparent the Russians have been with their investigations to what NASA expects from commercial companies when they begin launching cargo and crews to the ISS.

Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) asked about a report in Aviation Week and Space Technology that the commercial cargo flights have fallen behind schedule. Gerstenmaier replied that the commercial companies are having "normal transients" as they develop their systems. He cited Orbital's delays in building its launch site at Wallops Flight Facility and the Taurus II engine fire during testing this summer, and software problems being experienced by SpaceX. He stressed that these are typical of development activities and that is why NASA was so anxious to launch the final shuttle mission, STS-135, to take supplies to the ISS to assure there would be no concerns if the cargo flights were delayed well into next year. The STS-135 crew attended the hearing.

As for commercial crew, subcommittee chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) stated that subcommittee staff were told by NASA last week that the first mission would be in 2017, not 2015-2016 as Gerstenmaier stated in his testimony. Palazzo wanted to know why there was a discrepancy. Gerstenmaier said that it is dependent on what assumptions are made with regard to how much money NASA will have to facilitate those efforts.

NASA must rely on Russia to take crews to and from the ISS, and for ISS "lifeboat" services, until the commercial crew option is available. NASA recently negotiated a new contract with Russia for ISS crew support services that expires in 2016. To sign that agreement, and previous ISS-related agreements with Russia, NASA needed a congressional waiver from INKSNA. The law is intended to restrain Russia from proliferating certain technologies to Iran, Syria and North Korea. Originally passed as the Iran Nonproliferation Act in 2000, one section prohibits the U.S. Government from paying Russia in connection with the ISS program unless the President certifies that Russia is not proliferating those technologies.

In practice, NASA has required Russian services to support crews on the ISS. The White House has not been willing to make the necessary certification, meaning that Congress must pass waivers to the Act. It did so first in 2005 and again in 2008. In the 2008 waiver, NASA did not request permission to purchase additional cargo services from Russia on the premise that U.S. commercial cargo services would be available by 2011, when the 2005 waiver expired. NASA needs the commercial cargo companies to succeed. The only other options are Europe's ATV or Japan's HTV, but those are launched only about once per year.

By 2008, with the end of the space shuttle program looming and no U.S. replacement expected until at least 2014, NASA knew that it would need to purchase more Russian crew services using the Soyuz spacecraft. Congress agreed to extend the waiver for Soyuz flights until 2016.

NASA's commercial crew effort is focused on those services becoming available by then, but at today's hearing, Gerstenmaier revealed that NASA wants another INKSNA waiver anyway. He did not state that the agency is worried the commercial crew systems will not be operating by 2016, saying only that even if NASA does not need crew services, there would be other ISS-related services that would be needed. He did not specify what they are. He said that NASA would need Congress to act on a waiver request by late 2012 or early 2013. That will allow about three years to negotiate a new contract with Russia.

Media Reports: Iran Fails in Attempt to Send Monkey into Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The website of the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph and the French news agency AFP are reporting that Iran's deputy science minister acknowledged today that the country failed in an attempt to launch a monkey into space last month.

The story in The Telegraph quotes Iran's deputy science minister Mohammed Mehdinejad-Nouri as saying "The Kavoshgar-5 rocket carrying a capsule with a live animal (a monkey) was launched during Shahrivar...However, the launch was not publicised as all of its anticipated objectives were not accomplished..." The newspaper said that Shahrivar is an Iranian month spanning August 23 - September 22. AFP carries the same story.

Iran launched its first satellite into orbit in February 2009; it reentered in April 2009. At the time, an Iranian official said the country planned to launch a person into space "before 2021."

Kate Kronmiller New Orbital Sciences Corp. SVP

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Orbital Sciences Corporation officially announced today that Kate Kronmiller is its new Senior Vice President (SVP) of Government Relations.

Kronmiller has an extensive background in the aerospace industry. Most recently she was Vice President of Washington Operations for United Space Alliance, which operated the space shuttle. Her background in space includes jobs both with traditional aerospace companies like Boeing and Rocketdyne when it was part of Rockwell International as well as entrepreneurs. In the early 1980s, she worked at Space Services Inc., the first entrepreneurial company to successfully launch a payload into orbit in 1982 aboard its Conestoga rocket.

Kronmiller succeeds Mark Bitterman, who left Orbital for SpaceX, but shortly thereafter switched to United Launch Alliance, which launches the Atlas and Delta rockets.

Orbital is on the cusp of launching its new Taurus II launch vehicle that will take cargo to the International Space Station in competition with SpaceX's Falcon 9. Orbital currently launches satellites with its Pegasus and Minotaur rockets, and with Taurus XL, although the last two launches of that rocket failed, dooming two NASA earth science satellites (OCO and GLORY). Orbital also manufactures a variety of satellites, is involved in missile defense programs, and built the launch abort system for the Orion crew capsule.

CORRECTION: Next Up (Er, Down) -- ROSAT

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

CORRECTION: The estimate for the likelihood of an individual being hit by debris from the UARS satellite last month has been corrected. See editor's note at bottom.

For those who enjoyed following the reentry of NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) last month, another opportunity is coming up next week. Germany's ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) is expected to reenter between October 20 and October 25.

Like UARS, ROSAT was launched two decades ago when issues about satellite reentries and space debris were of less concern. Neither satellite had its own propulsion system to allow for a controlled reentry. Both incorporated components that are expected to survive the heat of reentry and reach Earth's surface.

UARS circled the Earth at a 57 degree inclination, while ROSAT's inclination is 53 degrees. In both cases, that takes the satellite over the most populated areas of the Earth (between 53 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees south latitude in the case of ROSAT), but the Earth is 70 percent covered with water, so the chance of it hitting a populated area is less than one might initially assume.

ROSAT's mission was x-ray astronomy. Launched in 1990, it operated through 1999. The United States and the United Kingdom were partners with Germany in the project, and it was launched by a U.S. Delta II from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Germany's space agency, DLR, has a website with information about the reentry. It says that 30 individual pieces could survive. The largest fragment is the telescope's mirror "which is very heat resistant and may weigh up to 1.7 tons." The debris footprint is estimated at 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide.

As with UARS and any uncontrolled satellite reentry, there is no way to predict with certainty where the reentry will occur other than the boundaries established by the inclination of the orbit. DLR estimates the probability of "someone somewhere on Earth getting injured is about 1 in 2,000." The comparable number for UARS was 1 in 3,200, which analysts pointed out did not mean that a particular individual had that likelihood of being hit. The chance of "a" person -- YOU -- being hit by UARS debris was about 1 in 20 trillion according to a September 19 tweet by The Weather Channel. UARS reentered over the Pacific Ocean and there have been no credible reports of damage or injuries.

Editor's Note: The estimate of the likelihood of a particular person like you being hit by UARS debris as cited by a tweet from the Weather Channel (@twcspacewx) on Sept. 19 was 1 in 20 trillion, not 1 in 20 million as earlier stated in this article.

Events of Interest

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