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NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) is criticizing NASA for making excessive early payments to Orbital Sciences Corp. for Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to the International Space Station (ISS). Orbital is building the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
NASA's commercial cargo program involves two different arrangements with the two competitors, Orbital and Space X. One is COTS, which uses Space Act Agreements for development of the space transportation systems (Antares/Cygnus for Orbital, Falcon 9/Dragon for Space X). The other, CRS, is a Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)-based fixed-price contract. Though neither company had launched their systems at the time, in 2008 NASA awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for 12 CRS missions and $1.9 billion to Orbital for 8 CRS missions. (Cygnus can accommodate more mass than Dragon so can deliver a fixed quantity of cargo to the ISS in fewer launches.) The agency began making payments to both companies for the CRS flights before the companies demonstrated that their systems worked.
SpaceX completed its COTS development last year and is now conducting operational CRS missions. Orbital, which joined the COTS program a year and a half after Space X, flew its first Antares test flight in April. A demonstration mission was expected in June, but slipped to August or September. The OIG report released today is concerned that the demonstration flight could uncover problems that might take "costly rework and redesign" resulting in further delays to the operational CRS flights for which NASA already has paid substantial sums.
The OIG report says that both companies are "more than two years" behind schedule and expressed concern that NASA is taking on too much financial risk by paying Orbital in advance for the CRS missions when the demonstration flight still has not occurred. "Under the current payment schedule, the company is on track to receive up to 70 percent of the funds associated with six of its eight CRS missions prior to having flown a demonstration mission," the report says. "In our judgment, NASA has been too slow to adjust its payment schedule to Orbital under the CRS contract given the substantial slippage in the launch schedule for the company's resupply missions."
The report goes on to say that NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) agreed that NASA needs to slow the pace of payments to Orbital for CRS missions, but did not agree that NASA accepted too much financial risk. Instead, the report cites him as saying "that NASA determined that the programmatic risks of not starting hardware development needed for cargo resupply were substantially greater than the financial risks posed to the Agency by doing so." The OIG agrees "that balancing programmatic and financial risk is critical to ensure the success" of the program, but nonetheless believes that NASA has been to slow in adjusting the payment schedule.
The report says that NASA paid Orbital $910 million, and SpaceX $858 million, under both COTS and CRS as of the end of FY2012. All in all, the 46 page report provides an excellent history of the COTS and CRS programs.
The three person crew of Shenzhou-10 docked with and entered the Tiangong-1 space station today, beginning a roughly two-week stay.
China's official news service Xinhua reports that docking took place at 1:18 am Eastern Daylight Time (1:18 pm Bejing time; 05:18 GMT) and the hatch was opened at 4:17 am EDT (4:17 pm Beijing time; 20:17 GMT). Several western sources, however, say docking was a few minutes earlier (1:11 am EDT).
The three person crew includes Maj. Gen. Nie Haisheng, making his second spaceflight; Col. Zhang Xiaoguang; and Maj. Wang Yaping, China's second woman in space. They are two days into a 15-day mission that includes conducting experiments aboard Tiangong-1, Wang teaching a physics class, and a manual docking test.
Shenhzou-10 crew. Photo Credit: Xinhua
The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2014 Defense Appropriations bill today. Few changes were made to the bill as it was reported from the defense subcommittee last week.
The committee approved the bill and report on a voice vote after adopting three amendments:
Links to the texts of the bill and report are on the committee's website.
Notable portions of the report that relate to the national security space program include the following. The committee --
A number of space programs received mostly modest cuts (numbers are rounded):
The committee also rescinds $123 million from FY2013 funding for the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), which is being terminated.
The bill, which funds the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, provides a total of $512.5 billion in non-war spending plus $85.8 billion for war funding ("Overseas Contingency Operations," for the war in Afghanistan, for example). The $512.5 billion is $3.4 billion less than the President's request, but $28.1 billion more than the current budget when sequestration is taken into account. The bill does not assume that the defense budget will be subject to sequestration in FY2014. It is working under the terms of the FY2014 budget resolution passed by the House on March 21 that protects defense spending and makes cuts elsewhere in the budget to compensate.
China's human spaceflight program, Project 921, officially began in 1992. The launch of Shenzhou-10 today is the tenth flight in the series, but only the fifth to carry a crew.
Shenzhou 1-4 were automated tests of the spacecraft; Shenzhou-8 was an automated test of rendezvous and docking procedures with the Tiangong-1 space station.
Tiangong-1 itself was launched in 2011. It first hosted a crew with Shenzhou-9 and now awaits the crew of Shenzhou-10. The following table provides information on the five Chinese human spaceflight missions with crews launched to date. (A SpacePolicyOnline.com list of ALL Chinese human spaceflight launches, including the automated flights, is also available.) Chinese astronauts are often called "taikonauts" in the West. English-language Chinese reports call them astronauts.
The Tiangong-1 space station is a small (8.6 metric ton) module. As first space stations go, it is rather modest -- just less than half the mass of the world's first space station, Salyut 1. Launched in 1971, it had a mass of about 18.6 metric tons. The first U.S. space station, Skylab, launched in 1973, had a mass of about 77 metric tons. Today's International Space Station (ISS), a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada, has a mass of about 400 metric tons and has been permanently occupied by 2-6 person crews rotating on 4-6 month missions since the year 2000.
China successfully launched the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft this morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), sending a three-person crew to its Tiangong-1 space station.
Launch from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center took place on time at 5:38 am EDT (5:38 pm Beijing time, 09:38 GMT).
Launch of Shenzhou-10, June 11, 2013. Photo credit: Xinhua
The crew includes China's second woman in space, Maj. Wang Yaping. She was a transport aircraft pilot before joining the astronaut corps. The Chinese are heralding her as China's first "teacher in space," comparing her to Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan, because she will teach a physics class from orbit. She is 33 and China also is trumpeting her as the first astronaut born "in the 1980s" (she was born in 1980).
The other two crew members are Maj. Gen. Nie Haisheng and Col. Zhang Xiaoguang. Nie, a pilot, is making his second spaceflight. He was a member of the Shenzhou-6 crew in 2005. He is 48. Zhang, 47 and also a pilot, was born in 1966. All are members of the Communist Party of China and of the People's Liberation Army.
Shenzhou-10 crew. Photo credit: Xinhua
The Shenzhou-10 mission is scheduled for a total of 15 days. Bob Christy at Zarya.info calculates that docking with the Tiangong-1 space station will take place on June 13 at 05:10 GMT (1:10 am EDT). Part of the mission is to test manual docking procedures where the crew will undock and redock with the space station. Christy shows that exercise taking place on June 20. A final undocking and landing is expected on June 25 according to his timeline, but with the note that it may be June 26 instead.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved the nominations of Anthony Foxx to be Secretary of Transportation and Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce.
The votes were unanimous. Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said both were "excellent nominees" with "strong bipartisan support" and urged his colleagues to quickly schedule a floor vote to confirm them.
Both departments play important roles in space policy. The Department of Transportation is home to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). AST facilitates and regulates the commercial space launch business.
The Department of Commerce is the parent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the nation's weather satellites and licenses commercial remote sensing satellites, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees federal government use of spectrum. It also is in charge of exports of dual use items and is working with the State Department in the effort to transition commercial satellites from the State Department's Munitions List and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Commerce Department's less strict Commerce Control List. The Secretary of Commerce position has been vacant for a year. Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank was serving as acting Secretary, but she recently left the Administration to become Chancellor of the Unviersity of Wisconsin-Madison.
Peter Marquez, well known and highly regarded in Washington space policy circles, is joining asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc.
Marquez was a national security space policy analyst in the Department of Defense when, in 2007, he moved to President George W. Bush's National Security Council (NSC) as Director of Space Policy. He remained at the NSC when Barack Obama became President and spearheaded the efffort to produce a new National Space Policy just 17 months after Obama took office - lightning fast in Washington terms. He left the Obama White House in November 2010 and joined Orbital Sciences Corp. as Vice President of Strategy and Planning. He also is a Fellow of the George C. Marshall Institute. He is a frequent participant in panel discussions around town on a wide range of space policy issues.
Planetary Resources is an entrepreneurial company that wants to mine asteroids and recently started a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $1 million to help launch a very small space telescope. The company said Marquez will "engage with key U.S. government entities on matters of strategic domestic and global interest" to help the company achieve its goals.
As part of its commemoration of the centennials of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, the National Archives is having a special exhibit on "Nixon and the U.S. Space Program" this month and a panel discussion on Thursday on the roles both presidents played in the space program.
Nixon was President during all of the Apollo lunar landings and the Skylab program, but is best known for his lack of enthusiam for bold new steps in human spacefight like those championed in the 1969 Space Task Group report chaired by Vice President Spiro Agnew -- a space shuttle, a permanently occupied space station, and people on Mars by the 1980s. Instead, he gave only grudging approval of the space shuttle program in 1972. It was 12 more years before a permanent space station was endorsed by President Ronald Reagan, and human trips to Mars seem as distant now as they did then (unless you don't care about radiation exposure).
Nixon resigned in August 1974 and was replaced by his second Vice President, Gerald Ford. By then, the last Skylab mission was over and the only human spaceflight mission remaining on the books was the July 1975 U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). No U.S. human spaceflights took place for six years after ASTP while the space shuttle was built.
Basically, both presidents oversaw lean years for the space program and the end of the first era of U.S human spaceflight. On Thursday, June 13, John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, and Bill Barry, NASA chief historian, will give a more complete picture of their contributions to space. The National Air and Space Museum's Roger Launius is the moderator. The event will be broadcast on Ustream.
The panel discussion will be held at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, where the Nixon space exhibit also is located. The exhibit will be on display through the end of June and includes the telephone Nixon used to talk to the Apollo 11 astronauts after the Moon landing and tongs used by the Apollo 12 crew to collect moon rocks.
Space may be a big place, but on May 22 NOAA's GOES-13 weather satellite was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A micrometeoroid hit the solar array arm, jolting the spacecraft and causing its instruments to shut down. NOAA announced that the satellite is returning to normal operations today.
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-13 (GOES-13) is one of three GOES satellites currently in orbit. It is in the "GOES-East" position while GOES-15 is the "GOES-West" spacecraft and GOES-14 is an on-orbit spare positioned in-between. When GOES-13 suddenly stopped working on May 22, NOAA initially used GOES-15 to provide additional coverage of the eastern United States and surrounding waters, but soon activated GOES-14, which is there just for such emergencies. It filled in for GOES-13 last year during another temporary outage.
NOAA revealed today that "tests showed a micrometeoroid, likely hit the arm for the [GOES-13] solar array panel on May 22, knocking the spacecraft off its delicate, geostationary balance." The collision caused the satellite's instruments to automatically shut down and engineers put the spacecraft into safe mode while they analyzed the problem. They reactivated GOES-13 on May 29 as part of the troubleshooting process while GOES-14 continued to provide operational service.
Ultimately the engineering team from NASA, NOAA, Boeing and Excelis determined "the collision did not damage GOES-13's instruments, or the satellite itself." GOES-13 is now back on duty and GOES-14 will resume its on-orbit spare status.
China will launch a three-person crew tomorrow, June 11, to its Tiangong-1 space station on the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. The crew includes two men and one woman.
Launch is scheduled for 5:38 pm Beijing time (5:38 am Eastern Daylight Time; 09:38 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center using a Long March-2F rocket.
The crew are Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang, and Wang Yaping. Wang will become China's second woman astronaut.
Shenzhou-10 crew. Photo credit: Xinhua
It is a 15-day mission that includes two docking tests with Tiangong-1, one manual and one automatic. Medical and technical tests and a lecture by the crew while they are inside Tiangong-1 to a group of students are planned.
Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011 and the unoccupied Shenzhou-8 spacecraft performed docking tests with it that fall. In 2012, the small space station (8.5 metric tons) hosted the three-person Shenzhou-9 crew, which included China's first woman in space, Liu Yang. They remained in space for just under two weeks.
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