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Senate Appropriators Would Cut NASA and NOAA for FY2011, But Less Than House

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

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released its version of the "full year" Continuing Resolultion (CR) -- that is, the CR to fund the remaining months of FY2011. The committee proposes to cut both NASA and NOAA, though less than the House-passed full-year CR (H.R. 1).

The committee's press release says the following about the two agencies:

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $18.5 Billion. This level is a reduction of $461 million, or 2.4 percent, below the FY 2011 request. A year of rethinking NASA's investments to ensure a portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments resulted in a NASA Authorization Act signed in October 2010. At this level, NASA will not be provided any funds for requested but new long-range space technology research activities that have the potential to lead to new discoveries and new technologies that could improve life on Earth. However, it avoids an additional $412 million cut by the House that would disrupt ongoing science missions and cause layoffs of 4,500 middle class contractors who provide landscaping, IT, janitorial, and other services for NASA centers."

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) operations and research is funded at $3.2 billion. This is a reduction of $110 million, or 3 percent, below the FY 2011 request level. This funding level removes earmarks and requires the agency to cut administrative and overhead costs. The House cuts an additional $340 million which would threaten critical weather forecasts and warnings."

Glory Launch Fails; Echos of OCO Failure Two Years Ago

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

UPDATE: This article is updated to reflect the NASA press conference that was held at 8:00 am EST.

The much anticipated launch of NASA's Glory earth science satellite ended in failure this morning when the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate about six minutes after launch. NASA lost the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) in a similar launch failure with the Taurus XL in 2009. Orbital Sciences Corp. builds the Taurus XL.

Glory's mission was to collect data on aerosols in the atmosphere and on total solar irradiance. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center managed the mission.

At a press conference, NASA launch director Omar Baez said that no anomalies were detected during launch preparations and liftoff was "right on target." The launch was looking good until 6 seconds after separation between stage 1 and stage 2 when the fairing was supposed to separate. It did not. The spacecraft and launch vehicle were lost and are "somewhere in the South Pacific."

Ron Grabe of Orbital Sciences referenced the OCO launch failure two years ago. He said the most probable cause in that case was a failure of the launch separation system and they had redesigned and tested the system, completely changing out the ignition system to the one used on the Minotaur 4, which has flown successfully three times. Orbital was confident they had "nailed the fairing issue," but that clearly was not the case. He said there is a great deal of emotional investment in any launch, but "doubly so" in a return to flight mission like this one and we are "pretty devastated."

Mike Luther from NASA's earth science directorate said that NASA felt they had an acceptable level of risk, but obviously had missed something. Glory would have made important measurements for understanding Earth as a system and the impacts of climate change, he said. NASA will continue to contribute to this field of science with its existing 13 earth science spacecraft as well as aircraft, and will move forward with a dozen earth science missions slated for launch in the next decade.

NASA is building a replacement for OCO, OCO-2, and a reporter asked if that still will be launched on a Taurus 2. The answer was that NASA would have to evaluate how to proceed.

President Speaks to ISS and Discovery Crews

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama was a couple minutes late, but he finally spoke to the combined crew of the International Space Station and the space shuttle Discovery this afternoon just after 5:00 pm EST.

He asked ISS Commander Scott Kelly how he was doing and said how proud he is of the astronauts. He said they were setting a great example with their courage and commitment to exploration. He said to Discovery commander Steve Lindsey that it must be fun to be the last commander of Discovery and to be completing construction of the ISS. Lindsey said that with their landing now scheduled for Wednesday, Discovery will have flown for 365 days in space and would not be forgotten for a long time.

Obama noted that there is a vehicle from each of the ISS partners as part of the ISS right now, and it was a testament to the partnership. Obama also talked about the new "crew member" who is aboard the ISS -- Robonaut 2. He said it would inspire young people to be interested in science and technology. Linsday said "he" was still in packing foam and Obama laughed and said they should unpack him. Lindsay said he'd been packed in the foam for four months and joked that they think they've heard scratching sounds and "let me out."

Obama ended by saying "We could not be prouder of what you guys are doing." He added that he had recently spoken with "Mark" -- a reference to Scott Kelly's astronaut brother who is married to Rep. Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head -- and that Mark had said that Gabby was making "incredible progress" and she was in their thoughts and prayers. Scott Kelly thanked the President and called Giffords a "true inspiration."

GAO Issues Pair of Reports on NASA Program Management Challenges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a pair of reports today about acqusition and management challenges at NASA. One is the third annual report to Congress on "NASA: Assessments of Selected Large Scale Projects," and the other is a letter to NASA Administrator Bolden identifying "several issues that merit your management attenion."

The report assesses 21 NASA projects costing a total of more than $68 billion. GAO found that of the 16 programs in that set where cost and schedule baselines had been established, development costs had an average growth of 14.6 percent and schedules slipped by an average of eight months. The congressional watchdog agency noted, however, that the cost growth figure was deceptive because it did not include cost growth incurred before NASA was required to report baselines to Congress. Thirteen projects that GAO studied over the past three years "that established baselines prior to 2009 experienced an average development cost growth of almost 55 percent," the report says. It adds that those figures do not include cost growth that is likely to be experienced on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The letter to Bolden stresses that today's fiscal environment means that difficult choices will have to be made, and that NASA's projects "frequently are approved without evidence of a sound business case." The letter recommends that NASA --

"(1) provide increased transparency into project costs to the Congress to conduct oversight and ensure earlier accountability and (2) develop a common set of measurable and proven criteria to assess the design stability of projects before proceeding into later phases of development."

The report acknowledges that NASA is implementing a new cost estimation tool, the Joint Cost and Schedule Confidence Level, and that the agency "continues to take positive steps, but it will be some time before the impact of its efforts can be measured."

Senate Passes Two-Week CR, Now It's the President's Turn

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Senate has passed the Continuing Resolution (CR) that was approved by the House yesterday. It will keep the government operating until March 18. The bill now goes to the President for signature.

Senate Expected to Pass House CR, Avert Shutdown

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Word is that the Senate will indeed pass the Continuing Resolution (CR) that was approved by the House yesterday extending government operations until March 18. That would temporarily avert a government shutdown while debate continues on what will happen with the rest of FY2011.

The House-passed CR (H. J. Res. 44) does not directly affect NASA. NOAA or DOD space programs. It does have indirect effects, continuing the uncertainty about how much money the agencies will get this year. It also leaves in place the restriction against NASA terminating the Constellation program that was in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

President Signs Two-Week CR Into Law

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama has signed into law the two-week CR that passed the House yesterday and the Senate today (H. J. Res. 44). No government shutdown will occur, at least for now.

That finalizes action on the FY2011 budget -- but for only two more weeks, until March 18. The long-term CR that passed the House on February 19 (H.R. 1) is still in play. It would fund the government for the rest of FY2011 (through September 30) and cut $61 billion from current (FY2010) spending levels. NASA's budget for FY2011 would be $18.1 billion under that CR, compared to its current spending level of $18.7 billion and the President's FY2011 request of $19.0 billion.

NIAC2 Gets Underway at NASA, Two Other Technology Solicitations Announced

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's acronym NIAC used to mean the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Established in 1998 to provide an independent source of advanced aeronautical and space concepts for the agency, it was terminated for budgetary reasons in 2007. At congressional direction, the National Research Council (NRC) did a study of what had been accomplished by NIAC and whether it should be resurrected. The study, co-chaired by Robert (Bobby) Braun of Georgia Tech and Dianne Wiley of Boeing, recommended that a NIAC-like entity -- "NIAC2" -- be reestablished. That process has begun.

In 2009, Bobby Braun became NASA's Chief Technologist. NIAC originally was under the purview of the NASA Chief Technologist to ensure that its advanced concepts were broadly applicable to agency needs, but was later transferred to a single mission directorate -- the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate -- where it "lost its alignment with sponsor objectives and priorities" according to the NRC report. Thus, the NRC recommended that NIAC2 report to the Office of the Administrator and not a specific mission directorate. NIAC grants also were available only to external researchers. The NRC recommended that NIAC2 be open to internal NASA participants as well.

Yesterday, NASA issued a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for proposals for Phase I NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, a program managed by the Office of the Chief Technologist -- essentially NIAC2. According to the NRA --

Concepts proposed for NIAC Phase I studies must be innovative and visionary, technically substantiated, and very early in development (10+ years out; Technology Readiness Level 1, 2, or early 3). Focused technology maturation and incremental improvement are explicitly not of interest in this program. Finally, while NIAC encourages great leaps and accepts the accompanying risk, all proposals must be technically credible, based on sound scientific principles.

Interestingly, a footnote in the NRA explains that NASA is not looking for focused technologies, but architectures, missions, and system concepts. Notices of Intent are due March 29; proposals are due May 2.

NASA also announced two other space technology solicitations. The Game Changing Development Program is for "revolutionary improvements in America's space capabilities," while Technology Demonstration Mission proposals are being sought for high-bandwidth deep space communication, navigation and timing, orbital debris mitigation or removal systems, advanced in-space propulsion systems, and autonomous rendezvous, docking, close proximity operations and formation flying.

With NASA's funding situation uncertain, it is not clear how many, if any, grants will be made for any of these solicitations, however.

NASA Names Lead Centers for Human Spaceflight Roles

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA may be caught between a rock and a hard place -- an authorization law telling them what to do, but continued uncertainty over how much money they will get to do it -- but the agency nonetheless named lead centers to execute the policy enunciated in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) will be the lead center for "enabling commercial human spaceflight capabilities," Johnson Space Center (JSC) will be responsible for developing the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and Marshall Space Flight Center will take the lead for a new Space Launch System.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden unofficially announced these assignments at a breakfast meeting on February 17 sponsored by the National Space Club in Washington, but the agency made it official in a press release yesterday. None is a surprise. JSC and Marshall are continuing familiar responsibilities and NASA's attempts to woo commercial crew providers to use NASA's Florida facilities made KSC a sure bet for that role.

House SS&T Committee Charges Administration with Flipping Priorities in FY2012 Budget Request

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 02-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

During today's hearing of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee (HSS&T), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles Bolden was sharply questioned on the priorities reflected in the President's FY2012 budget request. Members repeatedly said the request does not follow Congress's directives for the agency as laid out in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, particularly with respect to human spaceflight.

Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) began the hearing saying that "the Administration's FY2012 budget proposal completely flips the priorities of the Act, significantly increasing Commercial Crew funding while making deep cuts to the Human Exploration Capabilities accounts." Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the Committee, echoed this sentiment saying, "I had thought the Administration agreed with the compromise [agreed to in the Authorization], but I'm afraid I do not see it reflected in the NASA budget request."

Although some Members attempted to get Bolden to speculate on the impact of cuts that were contained in the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House on February 19, he declined to do so because they are not final yet. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) quizzed Bolden about whether the White House or NASA informed Congress of the potential impact of a $300 million reduction adopted during floor debate, asserting that Republicans had tried to protect NASA while Democrats had not. The amendment was offered by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Gen. Bolden said he would provide an answer for the record about what NASA did or did not tell Congress in that regard.

Brooks neglected to mention that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee also cut about $300 million from NASA's budget in the bill they sent to floor. Thus, that CR (H.R. 1) contains a total cut of $601 million from NASA's FY2010 spending level. Congress continues to consider that CR, which would last through the end of FY2011. It passed a different CR (H. J. Res. 44) this week to fund the government through March 18; that one does not contain NASA-specific cuts.

The main issue of contention during the hearing, however, was the agency's decision to request more money for development of commercial crew services for transport to low Earth orbit (LEO) than authorized in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and less for a new NASA-developed Space Launch System (also called a heavy lift launch vehicle--HLLV) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Members asked whether NASA would comply with the directive in the law to fly a new HLLV and crew capsule by 2016.

Gen. Bolden explained that with budget constraints in mind and with safety still his number one priority, commercial transport to LEO remains the Administration's preferred option. Development of the HLLV and crew capsule are for exploration missions beyond LEO, he said, and while they would serve as backup for LEO access if commercial ventures fail, it would be expensive to use them for that purpose. Developing them by 2016 is "difficult" under current budget constraints, he said, and NASA would be "challenged no matter how much money you give us." An interim report sent to Congress by NASA in January on the preliminary designs for the two systems said the agency could not build them on the timescale and within the funding level authorized in the law.

A summary of the hearing will be available on soon.

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