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ESA Names Reiter Head of New Human Spaceflight Directorate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today a new set of directors for various ESA offices and directorates. ESA announced a reorganization last fall, creating a new Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations and now has named former ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, from Germany, to be its first head. The reorganization takes effect on April 1.

Reiter's directorate will be responsible for ESA's contribution to the International Space Station (ISS) program, ESA human spaceflight activities in general, and flight operations of ESA human spaceflight missions. Reiter spent almost six months aboard the Soviet space station Mir in the mid-1990s, and more than five months on the ISS in 2006. Currently he is Executive Board Member responsible for Space Research and Technology at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Simonetta Di Pippo is currently ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight.

Last week, ESA's Council concurred with the proposal of the United States to extend ISS operations until at least 2020. ESA member states that participate in the ISS committed 550 million Euros to cover ISS costs through 2012 when further financial commitments are decided at the next meeting of the ESA Ministerial Council.

Among other ESA appointments are Mr. Alvaro Gim nez Ca ete as head of the Directorate for Science and Robotics, replacing David Southwood; Mr. Didier Faivre as head of the Directorate for ESA's participation in the European Galileo navigation satellite program, for which he is currently Acting Director; and Mr. Franco Ongaro as head of the Directorate for Technical and Quality Management, replacing acting director Philippe Perol.

The appointments coincide with the beginning of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain's third term, which lasts until 2015. ESA is an international organization with 18 Member States.

Another Step Forward for COTS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program took another step forward today with the inauguration of a new facility at NASA's Wallops Island, VA launch facility.

Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, VA, is one of the two companies vying to provide commercial services to NASA for taking cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the COTS program. While most media attention has been focused on Orbital's COTS competitor SpaceX, Orbital has been moving along with development of its Taurus II launch vehicle which it plans to launch from Wallops.

Located off the southern portion of the so-called Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) Penisula along the Atlantic Ocean east of Washington, DC, Wallops has been the site of many suborbital and some orbital launches throughout its long history. A portion of the facility is now called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new Horizontal Integration Facility that will be used for the Taurus II.

Bolden referred to the "tough mission schedules" facing COTS as the space shuttle program comes to an end and NASA loses the shuttle's significant cargo-carrying capacity. The first Taurus II launch is expected this fall.

Wallops is located in Virginia, but is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D), a strong NASA supporter, praised the effort for bringing "jobs, jobs and more jobs to the Lower Shore -- jobs for today and jobs for tomorrow."

Soyuz Rescheduled to April 4 EDT

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Russians have rescheduled the launch of the next Soyuz to the International Space Station (ISS) to 6:18 pm EDT on April 4 (5:18 pm CDT), which is 4:18 am on April 5 at the launch site in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-21 mission was delayed from its original March 30 launch date because of a problem with the command communications system in the Soyuz capsule.

The launch will take place a few days before Russia celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin. It will take three crew members to the ISS to join the three already there. The Soyuz TMA-21 crew consists of American Ron Garan and Russians Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko.

Events of Interest: Week of March 21-25, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congress is in recess this week while Members meet with their constituents back home.

Monday-Thursday, March 21-24

  • National Research Council (NRC) Propulsion and Power Panel of the Committee on Review of NASA Technology Roadmaps, CalTech, Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, March 23

Wednesday-Thursday, March 23-24

President Signs CR; Congress in Recess for a Week

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama signed the three-week Continuing Resolution (CR) today, as expected.


The House and Senate both are in recess until the week of March 28 while Members head back to their States and Districts to interact directly with constituents and determine the mood of the electorate. As contentious as the last couple of month have been in Washington, they are merely setting the stage for bigger fights ahead. April 8, as the date when this CR runs out, is the next watershed moment.

Government Funding Extended Three More Weeks

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

As expected, the House and Senate have passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating. This one is for three weeks, meaning that agencies can keep the lights on until April 8. The President still must sign it and is expected to do so before midnight tomorrow when the current CR expires.

The CR includes $6 billion in cuts, keeping to a Republican pledge to cut $2 billion per week. The cuts primarily are from earmarks and programs President Obama already decided to cancel. NASA took a $63 million cut, but that amount was designated for earmarks in the FY2010 budget. NASA and most other agencies and departments continue to be funded at their FY2010 level.

While Republicans and Democrats both publicly deplore the use of CRs, reaching agreement on a bill to fund the government for the rest of FY2011 continues to be an uphill battle. What will happen on April 8 remains anyone's guess. Around that time, Congress will have to vote to raise the debt limit or the U.S. will default on its obligations. Republicans are expected to use that as leverage to exact Democratic acquiescence on the deep cuts they want to make to federal spending.

UPDATE: Future of NASA Planetary Flagship Missions in Doubt

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: Jim Green's slides used in conjunction with the PSS subcommittee meeting are available at this website. Look under "Recent NASA Leadership Views" for 03/16/2011.


The fate of future "flagship" missions for the Planetary Science Division (PSD) at NASA seems more imperiled today even than last week.

When the National Research Council (NRC) released its planetary science Decadal Survey 10 days ago, it was clear that plans for future planetary science flagship missions, the largest and most complex of those the agency launches, would have to go on a diet. The first two priorities are MAX-C, a Mars mission that would collect samples for later return to earth, and a mission to Europa, the moon of Jupiter that may have a liquid ocean under its icy crust. The Decadal Survey recommended that NASA proceed with MAX-C only if costs can be reduced from $3.5 billion to $2.5 billion (all cost estimates are in FY2015 dollars). If that cannot be achieved, then NASA would move to the second priority, Europa, but only if that mission cost could be reduced from $4.7 billion to an unspecified amount that would not imperil other NASA missions and allow the agency to have a balanced planetary science program.

The Decadal Survey emphasized strongly that funding for NASA's small-class Discovery missions, medium-class New Frontiers missions, technology development, and research and analysis (R&A) should not be raided in order to enable flagship missions.

NASA provided the Decadal Survey committee with guidance on how much money the agency expected to receive for planetary science missions over the next decade. The committee built its programmatic recommendations based on those figures. Thus, the $2.5 billion figure for MAX-C appeared to signal the level of funding NASA thought it would have for a flagship mission in the next decade.

During a meeting with the Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council today, however, PSD Director Jim Green made clear that the total amount of funds he thinks he will have for a flagship mission is only $1 billion. The rest of the funds would have to come from an international partner.

The news appeared to be quite a surprise to subcommittee members. As one pointed out, $1 billion is what the Decadal Survey recommended as the new cost cap for medium-class missions in the New Frontiers series, and that excludes launch costs. Green made clear that the $1 billion for a flagship mission includes launch costs "if we launch it." If a partner launches it, the launch costs would not fall on NASA's side of the ledger.

Partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) thus is critical to NASA's future planetary science ambitions. The two space agencies already cooperate extensively and agreements exist, but the expectations in the Obama Administration's FY2012 NASA budget request are sharply different from the FY2011 request. The NASA-ESA agreements now must be renegotiated, Green said. A meeting is scheduled for the end of this month.

NASA is getting ready to launch - two years late - the Mars Science Laboratory, a $2.4 billion mission. Green stressed that the agency would not be able to mount such a mission today. He described the $1 billion figure for a flagship mission as a "back of the envelope" calculation based on the President's budget request and the Decadal Survey's recommendations on the importance of protecting funds for Discovery, New Frontiers, technology development and R&A. He complimented the Decadal Survey committee for providing clear decision rules on how NASA should proceed if it did not obtain the amount of funding anticipated when the Decadal Survey was written. He added that the Decadal Survey report was completed, though not released, before the President's FY2012 budget request was known so could not have incorporated those figures.

Soyuz Lands Safely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Soyuz TMA-01M and its three-man crew landed safely on the wintery steppes of Kazakhstan at 3:54 am EDT this morning.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and his two Russian crewmates, Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri, returned to Earth amid snow and high winds, but the landing apparently took place without any technical difficulties. The crew successfully tested the roll rate sensors after undocking at 12:27 EDT am. Kaleri repaired the sensors during his stay on the ISS after a failure during ascent, and new software was uploaded from the ground.

Three crew members remain on the International Space Station (ISS): American Cady Coleman, Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, and Italian Paolo Nespoli. They will be joined by three more crewmates in several weeks, although the Soyuz launch has been delayed for technical reasons and the exact date is unknown. The three who are waiting for launch are American Ron Garan and Russians Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev.

Those are human crewmates, of course. A humanoid robotic member of the ISS crew, Robonaut-2, has been unpacked and is ready to "teach engineers how dextrous robots behave in space and through upgrades and advancements could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work" according to NASA's ISS website.

Senators Quiz NASA AA's About Implementing Authorization Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee heard from top NASA Associate Administrators (AAs) today and quizzed them about how the agency is implementing the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The committee has posted what it calls "key quotes" from the hearing as well as the opening statement of committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) released a statement after the hearing. The webcast is also available.

The witnesses were the Associate Administrators for Space Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier), Exploration (Doug Cooke), Science (Ed Weiler), Aeronautics (Jaiwon Shin), Education (Leland Melvin) and Mission Support (Woodrow Whitlow).

NASA to Unveil New Women@NASA Website Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will debut NASA's new Women@NASA website today at 1:00 pm EDT. Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson will join Garver and about 200 students at NASA headquarters to learn about the roles women have played in the agency's history.

NASA TV will cover the event, as well as a pre-event from 12:00 - 12:50 pm that features the Science Cheerleaders, described by NASA as a group of professional cheerleaders turned scientists and engineers.

Events of Interest   

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


 

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