SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), expressed “extreme disappointment” that NOAA’s FY2013 budget request puts a priority on satellites and climate research.
At Tuesday’s hearing of his Energy and Environment Subcommittee, he also chastised NOAA for failing to deliver the detailed budget justification documents that help explain the rationale behind such decisions in a timely manner. “We’re simply unable to provide a complete assessment of the request,” he asserted, adding that a House Appropriations subcommittee had to cancel its hearing on NOAA last week for that reason.
The agency’s failure to provide the documents fuels a perception on Capitol Hill that “the Administration is not being a good steward of taxpayer money,” he continued. Apologizing for the delay, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco explained that it was the result of lateness in finalizing the FY2012 spending plan, which affected the baseline of many programs. She promised to deliver the documents to the committee by March 14.
Harris chided the overall increase for NOAA, which would receive $5.1 billion under the President’s request, a 3.1 percent increase from FY2012, as inconsistent with budget reality. He further criticized the Administration for prioritizing its “political environmental agenda” ahead of core science needs, with climate research being a “big winner,” in addition to satellites, which account for over 40% of the total request. This emphasis, according to Harris, suggests that the Administration has prioritized understanding climate conditions “decades from now” over predicting weather conditions tomorrow, a misplaced proposal that “should be rejected by Congress.”
To correct the assumption that climate research would be useful only decades from now, Lubchenco explained in her testimony that understanding how the climate system works directly connects with helping people prepare for “what will happen in the months ahead, years ahead and decades ahead; all of those.”
Several Members of the subcommittee expressed concern over cuts to NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), which issues critical weather warnings and forecasts. Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) worried that “we are eating our seed corn” through cuts that may sacrifice services the public relies upon, such as weather forecasting.
Lubchenco explained that NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative – which covers data collection, modeling and forecasting, as well as the ability of communities to act in response to these messages – demonstrates that continuing and improving these capabilities remains critical to the agency’s mission. Furthermore, she said that the increase in satellite funding and the decrease in NWS, mostly in administrative efficiencies, is not a contradiction. The requested increase for satellites is due precisely to their importance because they provide 90 percent of the data that feeds into numerical models used by the NWS, she explained.
She emphasized the need to fully fund the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) not just this year but on a sustained basis to minimize the duration of the expected gap between operations of the recently launched Suomi NPP satellite and the launch of JPSS-1 in 2017. The Administration’s “aggressive” calls for sustained funding of the program stem from the fact that there are no “viable alternative options” to obtain equivalent data during the projected gap. “These satellites are too important to not be on the path to success,” she emphasized.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden faced off against two congressional committees today, one in the Senate and one in the House. A common theme was the Obama Administration's FY2013 budget request for the future of the human spaceflight program and what many see as a competition between commercial crew services to the International Space Station (ISS) and a NASA-developed system to take astronauts further into the solar system.
Both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearings raised questions about other priorities in the NASA budget request -- especially funding for robotic Mars exploration -- but the focus was firmly on commercial crew versus the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) space capsule (called Orion) Congress directed NASA to build in the 2010 NASA authorization act.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) accused the Obama Administration of blatantly taking money from SLS/Orion for the commercial crew program. In an unusually testy public exchange, Bolden insisted to Senator Hutchison that no one in the room was more passionate about SLS/Orion than himself. His confidence that SLS/Orion is on the right track may account for his seeming lack of passion for it, he suggested.
NASA's decision to use Space Act Agreements (SAAs) instead of traditional procurement methods under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs) also was debated. Bolden assured both committees that it had sufficient insight under the SAAs to know if companies planning to compete for commercial crew opportunities would meet NASA's requirements.
The Administration's decision to cut funding for NASA's planetary science program, especially the decision to not participate in what was planned as NASA-European Space Agency joint missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018 -- was also mentioned. While clearly a concern of these two authorization committees, the future of the human spaceflight program obviously was center stage.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has announced that the time for its hearing this afternoon on NASA's FY2013 budget request has slipped from 2:00 pm to about 2:45 pm.
The exact time for the hearing to start will be determined by votes on the House floor. The hearing will begin 5 minutes after the first vote series of the day. The committee expects that to be between 2:45 and 3:00.
NASA's Lessons Learned Information System (LLIS) is rarely used by NASA managers and is of "diminishing and questionable value." Those are the findings of a new report from NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG).
After surveying 28 of NASA's 32 science and space flight projects initiated between January 2005 and May 2011, the OIG found that only 57 percent of the project managers used the LLIS at all and only 43 percent contributed to it. They told the OIG their spotty utilization and input to the system was based on their belief that the LLIS is outdated, not user friendly, and lacking information relevant to their projects. "Taken together, the lack of consistent input and usage has led to the marginalization of LLIS as a useful tool for project managers," the report says. Instead, it continues, other NASA knowledge management tools such Ask Magazine and an annual Project Management Challenge seminar are used.
Consequently, OIG questions whether the "three quarters of a million dollars" spent on LLIS annually is a "prudent investment." The LLIS is overseen by NASA's Chief Engineer, who acknowledged to the OIG that the system has not received sufficient attention. The OIG recommends that he "develop and implement a cohesive, strategic plan for knowledge management and sharing" and determine "if or how LLIS fits into this plan...."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday telling him that cooperation with China on the International Space Station (ISS) is not permissible.
The letter is in response to a media report that bringing China into the ISS partnership was discussed at a recent meeting in Canada of the heads of the agencies already participating in the multinational ISS partnership. Wolf is a staunch opponent of U.S.-China space cooperation because of China's human rights violations. He chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.
Calling any effort to involve China in the ISS program "misguided, and not in our national interest," Wolf asked for a detailed briefing on what was said about China at the Canadian "Heads of Agencies" meeting. The Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), and NASA are partners in the ISS program.
Wolf sponsored language in the FY2011 and FY2012 appropriations bills that fund NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) sharply limiting U.S.-China cooperation on science and technology, especially the space program.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will release a report tomorrow morning at the National Press Club on the role of aerospace and defense in the U.S. economy.
The briefing starts at 9:30 am in the Conference Room of the National Press Club, 539 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC.
NASA will launch five sounding rockets in five minutes from its Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia to study the high altitude jet stream. It should make quite a show for people along the mid-Atlantic coast and inland.
NASA will provide a briefing on its "launch madness" campaign on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm ET. The launches will take place sometime within the window of March 14 to April 4.
This NASA map shows where the rockets may be visible.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session.
During the Week
This week is chock full of congressional hearings on space activities at NASA, DOD, NOAA, and USGS (which operates the Landsat satellites), not to mention a number of NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee meetings leading up to the full NAC meeting on Thursday and Friday. Not sure how much the hearings on NOAA and USGS will focus on space activities since their responsibilities are quite varied, but something of interest may be said. Separately, NASA is sponsoring a day-long seminar on Thursday at George Washington University in connection with Women's History Month on "Woman, Innovation and Aerospace."
Rather than listing these events day-by-day as we usually do, this week they are grouped into categories for those of you interested primarily in the NAC meetings, the congressional hearings, or the other events. A day-by-day listing is available on our "Events of Interest" list and on the calendar on our website as always.
NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meetings, all at NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
Congressional Hearings (all times EST) Many congressional hearings are webcast and can be viewed on the relevant committee's website, although most hearings held in rooms in the U.S. Capitol are not.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported today that the overrun on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is $3.6 billion -- 140 percent. The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, currently enroute to Mars, suffered an 84 percent overrun. Together, the two projects account for 51 percent of the life-cycle costs of 15 programs that have reached the implementation phase that GAO studied as part of its annual assessment of large projects at the agency.
GAO reviewed 21 NASA projects that have an estimated life-cycle cost over $250 million. Combined, their life-cycle costs exceed $43 billion. Six of the 21 are in the formulation stage, while the other 15 are in implementation where cost and schedule baselines have been established. Five of the 15 were launched last year and only two of them met their baselines.
MSL, one of the three launched last year that did not meet its baseline cost and schedule estimate, was 26 months late and $813 million over its original 2008 baseline budget (GAO noted that it was rebaselined in 2010). GAO stated that NASA took money from other projects to pay for the overruns. Nonetheless, the MSL "launched with a risk that the rover's sample analysis drill will short circuit" and "the project did not complete all of the software for entry, descent and landing, and surface activities." NASA plans to finish the software while the spacecraft is enroute to Mars. Landing is scheduled for August 5, 2012 PDT (August 6 EDT).
JWST's current life-cycle cost estimate is $8.835 billion, a 140 percent increase over its baseline, with a launch date of October 2018, 52 months late. GAO warned that the overrun "may lead to the postponement and possible cancellation of other science projects."
NASA received credit from GAO for implementing the Joint Cost and Schedule Confidence Level (JCL) process. Five of the projects GAO reviewed completed a JCL, but GAO said it "was unable to confirm" that they were budgeted at the approved confidence level. It cites NASA officials as saying it will take several years to know the extent to which the JCL process will improve cost and schedule estimating.
The 21 projects GAO reviewed are:
The bottom line, GAO said, is that NASA needs to develop a sound business case for any new mission before proceeding. "A sound business case underpins successful acquisition outcomes," the congressional watchdog agency said. That means NASA must determine that the "customer's needs are valid and can best be met with the chosen concept" and that concept "can be developed and produced within existing resources -- that is, proven technologies, design knowledge, adequate funding, adequate time, and adequate workforce to deliver the product when needed."
GAO did not make any new recommendations, instead pointing to previous recommendations in earlier reports. This is its fourth annual assessment.
Linda Billings, a research professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, chastised the space science community for assuming that the work they do is an entitlement program. She was "appalled" at a meeting this week of NASA's Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) to discover how little those scientists understand about the basics of the federal budget process and their assumption that it is NASA's responsibility, not their own, to justify spending on Mars exploration.
In a blog post, Billings recounts the history of the rationale for federal investments in "big science" and how the situation has changed since the end of the Cold War. The aerospace community in general, she argues, needs to update its perspective on the cultural context in which federal spending takes place. "In the space community, even today too many scientists who receive NASA funding for their work appear to believe that they are entitled to continue receiving the funding they want and that NASA is responsible for ensuring that they get their money," she writes.
Space scientists need to learn about the federal budget process and advocate for their own programs, not expect that NASA will do it for them, she warns.
Billings has worked in the space business for almost 30 years. She is currently a principal investigator with NASA's astrobiology program working on communications issues.
Events of Interest