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House Passes Intelligence Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-May-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House passed the FY2011 intelligence authorization bill (H.R. 754) today by a vote of 392-15.

House approval came despite objections by the White House in a Statement of Administraiton Policy (SAP) issued Wednesday. Among other complaints, the SAP states that the bill includes a "signification reduction of funds below the current funding level ... from a technical collection program [that] will negatively impact an acquisition that is successfully achieving acquisition milestones. This action comes at a time when the [Intelligence Community] is conducting a Congressionally-requested assessment of an alternative to the Administration's program. Until that assessment is complete, a significant reduction or redirection of funds is unwarranted and will likely jeopardize the scheduled operational capability of this critical national security collection system."

The reference to a "technical collection program" is assumed by many to refer to a satellite intelligence collection system. The disagreement between Congress and the White House seems to continue a long-running dispute about whether building a few, large, "exquisite" electro-optical imagery collection satellites is better than building a constellation of more, but smaller satellites. This dispute is one of the reasons it was so difficult for Congress to pass the last intelligence authorization bill.

In April 2009, the Obama administration chose a policy of updating the exquisite capabilities on which the nation has long relied instead of pursuing the alternative of buiding a constellation of smaller satellites. Boeing's Future Imagery Archiecture (FIA) program, cancelled because of significant cost overruns and schedule delayes, was emblematic of the latter approach and was going to be replaced by the Broad Area Satellite Imagery Collection (BASIC) program. Lockheed Martin builds the traditional "exquisite" systems.

The National Journal (subscription required) reports that the Administration's objections to H.R. 754 took lawmakers by surprise. The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), issued a statement after the vote praising the bipartisan support of his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD).

Action now moves to the Senate. The Senate Intelligence Committee has reported a bill (S. 719) that seems very similar to what the House passed. Senator Dianne Feinsten (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a strong proponent of the BASIC approach. Critics assert that the requisite technology is not yet available for such a system.

The Administration had other objections to H.R. 754, but they do not appear to be directly related to satellite capabilities.

Rep. Wolf Reaffirms Opposition to Space Cooperation with China

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-May-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House appropriations subcomittee that funds NASA, restated his well known opposition to U.S. space cooperation with China at a hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission today.

The commission was created by Congress in 2000 to report on the national security implications of the trade and economic relationships between the two countries. It held a hearing today about the implications of China's military and civil space activities. Witnesses included DOD's Greg Schulte and Rep. Wolf as well as two panels of experts. Rep. Wolf's statement was circulated by his staff. He began by expressing disappointment that NASA declined to participate in the hearing and that it was "reflective of this administration's abysmal record on American leadership in space."

He went on to restate his well known views about why the United States should not cooperate with China because of human rights abuses and Chinese arms sales to countries like Iran, for example. He asserted that Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren told his subcommitee at a hearing last week that the Obama Administration does not intend to comply with a provision Wolf included in the Continuing Resolution that prohibits spending funds to work with China in any manner to plan or execute space cooperation. "I take this blatant disregard for the law very seriously and the committee is currently reviewing its options," he said.

NASA Sets May 16 for Endeavour Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-May-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

May 16 it is! NASA has announced that space shuttle Endeavour will launch on May 16 at 8:56 am EDT. This is the final launch of Endeavour on its STS-124 mission.

Events of Interest: Week of May 9-13, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-May-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings and other activities are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.


During the Week

The House is in session Tuesday-Friday and is scheduled to debate the FY2011 Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 754) on Thursday and Friday. The Senate is in session Monday-Friday.

Monday, May 9

  • NASA news conference on progress of repairs to space shuttle Endeavour, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 3:00 pm EDT (watch on NASA TV)

Monday-Thursday, May 9-12

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 10-11

  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), National Housing Center, 1201 15th St., NW, Washington, DC
    • Tuesday, working group meetings, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm EDT
    • Wednesday, meeting of full committee, begins at 8:00 am EDT
  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Protection Subcommittee, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
    • Tuesday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
    • Wednesday, 9:00 am - 1:00 pm EDT, room 9H40

Wednesday, May 11

Wednesday-Thursday, May 11-12

Thursday, May 12

New Endeavour Launch Date to be Set Tomorrow

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

NASA is expected to set a new launch date for space shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) Friday afternoon.

A post on NASA's shuttle website states that "Endeavour's no earlier than launch date remains May 10, but senior NASA managers will meet Friday to evaluate the progress of repairs and select a new launch date for the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station." Technicans are replacing a faulty Load Control Assembly needed for the shuttle's Auxiliary Power Units that control hydraulic systems that steer the vehicle. This mission was intended to launch on April 29.

FAA Defends Requested 74 Percent Budget Increase for FY2012

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

George Nield, director of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Office of Commercial Space Transportation, defended his office's request for a 74% budget increase at a hearing today. Nield fielded numerous questions - some surprisingly antagonistic - from members of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

According to Nield, the office is requesting $26.6 million for FY2012, of which $15.8 million is to pay for 103 full time employees and $10.8 million is for "non-pay" activities. That compares to $15.2 million and 71 full time employees in FY2010 (the same level at which it is funded for FY2011) according to the FAA's FY2012 budget submission. Nield defended the increase by saying that his office anticipates a ten-fold increase in the number of commercial launches in FY2012 and his office's responsibilities are expanding as the industry expands. He also pointed to new initiatives to stimulate the industry, including $5 million and 50 employee positions for a Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, and $5 million for a "prize" program for the first non-governmental team to develop and demonstrate the ability to launch a 1 kilogram cubesat to orbit using a partially reusable system. His office also plans to continue funding the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.

The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) Gerald Dillingham noted that the request is a 74 percent budget increase compared to FY2010, and the number of employees would increase by 45 percent. Dillingham said in his opening statement that he agreed the request is "reasonable," but that Congress should give it careful consideration given today's budget constraints.

Several members of the subcommittee questioned the increase, including Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes Kennedy Space Center. She lambasted Nield for requesting such a large increase in these difficult budget times. She asked how creating a regulatory regime for commercial human spaceflight based on a lot of unknowns would be helpful. Nield replied that industry leaders are asking for it because they want a "consistent and compatible set of results" that will satisfy both NASA and FAA requirements. Later, ending a harsh interrogation of Nield over how long it took his office to issue the first reentry license and after getting GAO's Dillingham to reverse himself and say that he did not believe the increase was necessary, she lectured Nield that a "74 percent increase in a time of economic restraint ... you're asking us to increase your budget for what-if. I have great concern about that. I just want you to know that."

Other members focused on the perennial question of whether there is a conflict of interest between the office's dual role as both a regulator and promoter of commercial space launch and reentry services. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and others noted that originally the FAA had a similar dual role for aviation, but as the years passed the two roles became contradictory and Congress removed the facilitator role so the FAA could focus on safety. Dillingham suggested that the Department of Commerce might one day take on promoting the commercial space launch industry while the FAA focuses on regulation. He said, however, that GAO did not see any conflicts of interest in its most recent review of the office a few years ago.

George Washington University Professor Henry Hertzfeld went further in discussing potential conflicts of interest, noting that originally the office regulated only expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). Today it regulates several competing modes of transportation -- ELVs, reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), suborbital launch vehicles, and perhaps unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), he said. He sees a potential conflict of interest among those responsibilities as well. However, he said there were no complaints from industry yet about the dual role, and one measure for determining when it is time to review the issue would be when such complaints arise. He agreed with Dillingham that the time is not yet ripe for Congress to reconsider the office's mandate, but that someday other agencies might be charged with promoting the industry to "preserve the integrity of the regulatory process."

Regulating the safety of commercial human spaceflight was also a focus of attention. The 2004 Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments directed that the FAA take no action to regulate the safety of passengers on commercial human spaceflight missions for eight years after the law was enacted. That time period will expire in 2012. Instead, "informed consent" is all that is required - the commercial operator must tell passengers what the risks are, but it is up to the passenger to decide whether or not to board the craft. When the Act was passed, commercial human spaceflight was expected to occur within a few years and after eight years there would be sufficient experience to inform regulatory efforts. No such flights have yet occurred, however, so the question is whether the time period should be extended. The FAA Reauthorization Act that passed the House on April 1 (H.R. 658) contains a provision (sec. 1301) that would prohibit such regulations until eight years after the "first licensed launch of a spaceflight participant" instead of after enactment of the law.

GAO's Dillingham said that he did not know how eight years was selected in the first place, and did not think that a specific number of years is appropriate. Instead, such regulations should develop as the industry matures, he said, stressing that regulations should not be made in times of crisis, such as after an accident: "We're for incrementalism." Hertzfeld agreed, arguing that it is a matter of the maturity of the industry. He also alerted the committee that some states are developing their own passenger waivers of liability for commercial human spaceflight, including Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, and Texas, and each law is worded differently. "Federal preemption on this issue might be warranted," he said, "to prevent competition among states on an issue that involves interstate commerce and may adversely affect safety decisions" by the companies.

Nield pointed out that his office is holding a meeting at the end of this month in Florida to solicit input from the public about how to approach regulating commercial orbital human spaceflight. (The meeting is on May 26 -- see our calendar for a link to the announcement.)

A webcast and statements are available on the subcommittee's website.

Endeavour Launch Date Moves to NET May 16

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

NASA has set May 16 as the newest "no earlier than" launch date for space shuttle Endeavour (STS-134). It also extended the mission, once it launches, from 14 to 16 days.

The agency said that launch opportunities continue through May 26, with May 21 as the only day when it cannot launch. If it did, its arrival at the International Space Station on May 23 would conflict with the departure of three of the Expedition 27 crew members who are due to return to Earth that day. NASA said that it determined that all of Endeavour's tasks could be accomplished with only three ISS crew members aboard.

A news conference will be held on May 9 at 3:00 pm to discuss the progress of repairs to the Launch Control Assembly that failed and scrubbed the April 29 launch attempt. NASA TV will cover the news conference live.

NASA's Planetary Program Picks Three Mission Candidates Plus Three Technology Development Projects

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

NASA announced today its selection of three planetary mission candidates as part of its Discovery program, as well as three planetary exploration-related technology development projects.

Next year, one of the three mission candidates will be selected for a 2016 launch. In the meantime, each project team will receive $3 million to conduct the concept phase or preliminary design studies and analyses. The three, which were chosen from 28 submissions, are the following:

  • Geophysical Monitoring Station (GES) to study the interior of Mars (Bruce Banerdt, JPL, principal investigator; JPL would manage the project),
  • Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) to land in and float on a methane-ethane sea on Saturn's Moon Titan (Ellen Stofan, Proxemy Research, principal investigator; Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab would manage the project), and
  • Comet Hopper to land on a comet multiple times and observe its changes as it interacts with the Sun (Jessica Sunshine, University of Maryland, principal investigator; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center would manage the project)

Discovery missions are cost-capped at $425 million not including launch costs. Eleven spacecraft in the Discovery series have been launched so far, including the MESSENGER spacecraft that recently entered orbit around Mercury.

NASA also selected three technology development proposals. Each team will receive an amount of money yet to be negotiated to bring the technologies to a higher level of readiness. The three that were selected are the following:

  • Primitive Material Explorer (PME) to develop a mass spectrometer that can provide highly precise measurements of the chemical composition of a comet and the role of comets in delivering volatiles to Earth (Anita Cochran, University of Texas at Austin, principal investigator),
  • Whipple: Reaching into the Outer Solar System to develop and validate a technique called blind occultation that could lead to discovery of various celestial objects in the outer solar system (Charles Alcock, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA, principal investigator), and
  • NEOCam to develop a telescope to study the origin and evolution of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) -- comets and asteroids -- and study the present risk of Earth impact (Amy Mainzer, JPL, principal investigator)

Bolden: 50 Years Later "We Are Just Getting Started"

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

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard's historic spaceflight, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said in a statement today that "we are still driven to reach for new heights in human exploration" and "we are just getting started."

Calling May 5, 1961 "a good day," Bolden noted that he was a teenager at the time and while "I never dared dream it growing up in segregated South Carolina, I was proud to follow in Alan's footsteps several years later and become a test pilot myself."

The statement went on to extol the Obama Administration's policy of using NASA to facilitate the development of commercial crew for access to low Earth orbit, "allowing NASA to focus on those bigger, more challenging destinations and to enable our science missions to peer farther and farther beyond our solar system."

NASA Celebrates 50 Years of American Human Spaceflight Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-May-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Fifty years ago tomorrow, May 5, Alan Shepard became the first American to reach space. Although his 15 minute flight was only suborbital, not orbital like Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's on April 12, it gave President John F. Kennedy enough confidence to announce just three weeks later the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.

Shepard launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), FL in a Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket. The event is being commemorated tomorrow at CCAFS, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, at 9:00 am EDT and will be covered live on NASA TV. Shepard died in 1998. He was one of the original seven astronauts selected in 1959. Scott Carpenter, another member of that group, will be at the event tomorrow. It includes a recreation of the flight and recovery, and a tribute to Shepard's second spaceflight, Apollo 14. (Shepard was grounded for most of the 1960s because of an inner ear disorder.)

The U.S. Postal Service released a stamp honoring Shepard's flight earlier today.

Events of Interest 

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


 

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