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Events of Interest: Weeks of August 5-18, 2012-UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2012 (Updated: 05-Aug-2012 11:06 PM)

UPDATE:  NASA's industry forum on the commercial crew program on Wednesday, August 8, has been added.

August is a slow month for space policy events -- and most other things -- so we are grouping two weeks together into this one article.   Congress is in recess until September 10 -- after the Republican and Democratic conventions.

During the Weeks

The landing of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover on Mars Sunday night, August 5, at 10:31 pm PDT  (Monday morning, August 6, 1:31 am EDT) is certainly the highlight.   Everyone will have fingers crossed that it lands successfully, but one way or the other, it seems destined to be the top space news story. will be reporting on the landing -- follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline.  The Mars Society and the Planetary Society are having events in Pasadena that coincide with the landing.  The Mars Society event actually began yesterday (Friday, August 3) and the Planetary Society's begins today.

Sunday, August 5

Wednesday, August 8

Monday-Thursday, August 13-16

Tuesday, August 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 14-15


Editor's note:   Your editor was looking forward to be at JPL for the landing, but has been sidetracked by the flu.  The relevent sentence in this article has been modified accordingly, but please do still follow us on Twitter as we report from Washington instead of Pasadena.


Senate Intelligence Committee Supports New Launch Entrants, Some Concerned About Commercial Imagery

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2012 (Updated: 04-Aug-2012 02:17 PM)

The Senate Intelligence Committee is joining the chorus of congressional overseers of U.S. space launch policy and funding in emphasizing the need to let "new entrants" like SpaceX compete for Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office launches.   Some committee members also are unhappy with recent decisions about acquisition of commercial satellite imagery.

The committee released its report on the FY2013 intelligence authorization bill (S. Rept. 112-192) earlier this week.   It said it "believes it is in the nation's economic and national security interests to promote competition among U.S. space launch providers, and to do so as soon as potential competitors are viable."  In particular, it noted distinctions between the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and SpaceX, which wants to compete with ULA for the military's space launch business.

The committee commented that while SpaceX spent $1.2 billion since 2002 developing the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, the Dragon capsule, plus associated infrastructure, by comparison the "current EELV launch capability contract totals approximately $1.2 billion per year just to maintain the infrastructure to launch an EELV." Launch costs are extra, it added.   The committee acknowledged that "costs advertised by new space launch entrants may increase as those companies integrate rigorous Air Force processes" for ensuring mission assurance.  Nonetheless, it made clear its hope that competition will reduce costs while also maintaining "a strong and healthy industrial base."

In the "additional views" section of the report, five of the 15 committee members -- Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mark Udall (D-CO),  and Bill Nelson (D-FL) -- complained about recent decisions by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to reduce funding for the EnhancedView contract through which NGA purchases commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe and GeoEye.   DigitalGlobe and GeoEye recently announced plans to merge after it became clear only one company could survive with the reduced government support.

The five Intelligence Committee members said the cuts were made "even before the completion of the Office of Management and Budget-ordered review to determine future needs" and were "in direct contravention of the President's 'Way-Ahead' strategy," as well the 2010 National Space Policy and the Commercial Remote Sensing Policy.  They added that they were disappointed that their committee did not address the issue in its bill, but hope it will be a matter for consideration during conference with the House.   They also support the Senate Armed Services Committee's recommendation to add $125 million for commercial satellite imagery.

Senator Nelson had a separate "additional view" stating that the committee had adopted an amendment he offered by a vote of 15-0 that "relates to critical decisions regarding replenishment of our nation's imagery architecture.  These decisions must not be rushed, and must be informed by a complete and comprehensive understanding of all available options."  The amendment apparently was to the classified annex to the bill and is not discussed further in the unclassified report.

Senate Appropriators Reveal EELV Contract Savings, Reduce Budget Commensurately

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2012 (Updated: 04-Aug-2012 01:10 PM)

The full Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the FY2013 defense appropriations bill on Thursday.  The committee's report reveals that the Department of Defense (DOD) negotiated significant savings in its launch vehicle program in FY2012.  The committee cut FY2013 funding for that program commensurately.

The defense subcommittee marked up the bill on Tuesday and a committee press release that day highlighted the restoration of funds for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program and the Space Test Program (STP).   The press release said the committee added $100 million for ORS, but its report (S. Rept. 112-196), released two days later, shows that the committee augmented that amount by $10 million that was transferred in bits and pieces from five other space programs.   The total for ORS therefore is $110 million.  No funding was requested.

The committee offered no explanation, stating only that it "reverses the Air Force's request" to terminate ORS as well as STP.  The committee added $35 million for STP, for a new total of $45 million. The committee's action is in line with recommendations from DOD's House and Senate authorizing committees, but the House Appropriations Committee did not recommend any increase for either program.

Separately, the committee's report reveals that DOD and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds and launches the Atlas V and Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), identified $219 million in "efficiencies" for the current fiscal year, FY2012, and the Air Force reinvested those funds by purchasing an additional Delta IV launch that was not included in the FY2012 budget request.   The committee commended them, but added that "because the FY2013 budget could not anticipate the savings coming out of these negotiations, the funds requested in the fiscal year 2013 budget are in excess of what will be required."  Thus, the committee reduced the FY2013 EELV request of $1.68 billion by $220 million, but said the amount still supports the request for four EELV launch services in FY2013.

The committee also split the EELV procurement account into two separate lines:  EELV Launch Services for the launches themselves and EELV Launch Infrastructure for the engineering workforce and infrastructure needed to support the launches.  The committee said it would "increase the budget visiblity of each program."  The committee approved $805 million for EELV Launch Services and $654 million for EELV Launch Infrastructure.

The Air Force's acquisition of EELVs has come under scrutiny in the past two years.  Its plans for a block buy of 40 EELV core vehicles over 5 years was criticized because it could freeze out "new entrants" like SpaceX, and because its assertions that a block buy was needed to provide stability to the industrial base was not premised on independent analysis.   The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently gave the Air Force mixed grades for how well it is complying with seven GAO recommendations on EELV acqusition.

The committee's report expresses continuing concern about DOD's acquisition of space launch services, strongly encouraging the department to ensure that new entrants can compete for DOD launches once they complete DOD's certification process. 

The committee also wants DOD to report on its potential use of the Space Launch System under development by NASA. 



Updated Legislative Checklist Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2012 (Updated: 04-Aug-2012 11:26 AM)

An updated version of's checklist of major space-related legislation in the 112th Congress is now available.

The updated checklist provides links to new bills and committee reports on space-related topics since the last update in June.   It includes links to the report from the Senate Appropriations Committee's markup of the FY2013 defense appropriations bill on August 2 and the Senate Intelligence Committee's version of the FY2013 intelligence authorization bill and accompanying report from July 30.

The checklist is available from our left menu under "Fact Sheets and Reports" or simply by clicking here.

NASA's CCiCAP Partners Have Diverse Design Approaches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2012 (Updated: 03-Aug-2012 04:17 PM)

One factor that led NASA to choose the three companies it did for Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards is their diverse design approaches to meeting NASA's need to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA announced the three winners today:  Boeing, $460 million; SpaceX, $440 million;and Sierra Nevada, $212.5 million.  The awards are milestone-based meaning that each company must meet agreed-upon milestones over the next 21 months to receive payments.  The award amounts are if all the milestones are met, but could be less if they are not met.

Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon are capsule-based systems while Sierra Nevada's design is a lifting body that resembles a small space shuttle.  Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to launch using an Atlas V rocket, while SpaceX would use its own Falcon 9.  By funding a diversity of approaches, NASA hopes to end up with at least two viable commercial crew service providers in the 2017 time frame. 


SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft (cargo version) berthed to the International Space Station, May 2012
Photo credit:  NASA

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser during full scale captive carry test, May 2012
Photo credit:  Sierra Nevada


Artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft
Credit:  Boeing 

NASA and key members of Congress had agreed the agency would choose no more than "2.5" winners, creating the impression there would be two full awards and one partial award and the relative amounts suggest that is what NASA did.   NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo program manager Ed Mango, however, dismissed that paradigm during a news conference today.  He said NASA negotiated what each company could accomplish within the 21-month period and that determined the funding amounts.    NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a later media teleconference that the selections meet the congressional agreement in the sense that two of the companies -- Boeing and SpaceX -- are being funded to take their concepts all the way to Critical Design Review (CDR), but not Sierra Nevada. 

Gerstenmaier said four other companies submitted bids:  Space Operations, American Aerospace, Space Design, and ATK.  He said NASA determined early on that the first three companies did not meet the basic requirements of the announcement and discussions continued with the remaining four.  In the end, the three winners were judged to meet the objectives of the announcement "in a much stronger fashion" than ATK, Gerstenmaier said.

Since the space shuttle program ended last year, NASA has been relying on Russia to take astronauts to and from ISS.   NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden focused his remarks on how the CCiCAP awards will lead to systems built in America by American companies that will create American jobs rather than "outsourcing" to Russia.  He and NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director stressed that some of those jobs will be at KSC or on the "Space Coast" in general, referring to the area of Florida that includes KSC and the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  That section of Florida was hard hit by the layoffs following termination of the space shuttle program.

Boeing's CST-100  would be launched aboard Atlas V rockets, which are built by the United Launch Alliance, a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin company.  Boeing already has received awards from NASA's commercial crew program under two previous "commercial crew development" (CCDev) rounds.  Boeing was the prime contractor for the International Space Station, is part of the United Space Alliance that operated the space shuttle, and over the past decades acquired the companies that built the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules as well as the space shuttle orbiters.

SpaceX is developing the Dragon capsule, which is launched on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rocket.   The company successfully launched a cargo-carrying verison of Dragon in May which was developed through NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.  NASA astronauts berthed it to the ISS and after several days it unberthed and returned to Earth, landing in the ocean.  SpaceX is developing a version capable of carrying people through CCDev2 and the new CCiCAP awards.  Elon Musk said today that his company had invested over $1 billion of its own money in Dragon and Falcon 9 on top of the money it has received through the NASA programs.

Sierra Nevada is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft that, like CST-100, would be launched on an Atlas V.  However, DreamChaser is a "lifting body" with wings rather than a capsule.  The design is based on work done by NASA decades ago under the HL-20 program.   Sierra Nevada received awards under CCDev and CCDev2.  At a press conference, Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems, said the company had received a total of $125 million from NASA to date and the company had invested "more than half" that much.   He downplayed the significance of the discrepancy between the amount his company will receive under the CCiCAP award versus the others, emphasizing that Dream Chaser will be launched on a proven launch vehicle -- the Atlas V has been launched over 30 times already -- unlike the Falcon 9, and Dream Chaser is a "mature design" that NASA worked on for 10 years and Sierra Nevada has worked on for another eight.  Thus he believes his company is not lagging behind the others.

The Atlas V needs to be "human-rated" first.   Today it launches only satellites, not people, and additional systems -- such as a launch abort system -- must be added to make it safer for crews.    The Atlas V is powered by Russian RD-180 engines which may undermine the rationale that these are "American" systems.  Sirangelo dismissed that argument, however, noting that the system NASA currently depends upon -- Soyuz -- is 100% Russian while the majority of the Atlas V is American.

NASA Makes it Official: Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are CCiCAP Winners

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2012 (Updated: 03-Aug-2012 09:20 AM)

NASA officially announced this morning that Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are the winners of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards.  Some news organizations broke the story last night.

The awards are as follows:

  • Boeing, $460 million
  • SpaceX, $440 million
  • Sierra Nevada, $212.5 million

NASA will hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET to discuss the awards that will be aired on NASA TV.

NBC Announces CCiCAP Winners! We'll See If They're Right Tomorrow-MODIFIED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Aug-2012 (Updated: 03-Aug-2012 08:24 AM)

MODIFICATION:  We have modified the fourth paragraph in response to Alan Boyle's comment (posted below) that his story quoted the Wall Street Journal as to which companies were the big winners and which would get the partial funding.

NBC News reports tonight on the winners of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards.  NASA will not officiallly announce them until tomorrow (Friday) morning, though.

Alan Boyle has a story this evening citing his colleague Jay Barbree -- a veteran NBC reporter based at Cape Canaveral, FL --identifying the winners and losers.

NASA and key members of Congress agreed in June that NASA would make no more than "2.5" awards, meaning that two companies would get full funding and one would get partial funding.

According to NBC, citing the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX and Boeing are the big winners, with Sierra Nevada getting the partial award.  That makes ATK, which partnered with Lockheed Martin and Europe's EADS on its proposal, the loser.

NASA will make the announcement at 9:00 am ET tomorrow where we will see if Barbree's sources are correct.  NASA will hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) featuring NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, KSC Director Bob Cabana, and NASA commercial crew program manager Ed Mango.


Tauri Group Forecasts Robust Suborbital Market, House Hearing Examines Issues

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Aug-2012 (Updated: 02-Aug-2012 07:02 PM)

The Tauri Group, an Alexandria, VA -based consulting firm, forecasts a robust business for suborbital reusable launch vehicles (SRVs) in a report prepared for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Space Florida.  Tauri Group President Carissa Christensen testified to Congress about the report yesterday.

The 102-page report assesses the demand for SRVs in eight markets:  commercial human spaceflight, basic and applied research, technology demonstration, media and public relations, education, satellite deployment, remote sensing, and point-to-point transportation.   It presents three different scenarios:  a baseline scenario, a growth scenario, and a constrained scenario.  It also differentiates between two user communities:  "individual" and "enterprise" (government, business, non-profit).

The report is full of caveats about the assumptions used in the six-month study and even has a section entitled "major uncertainties" that lays out the sensitivities that readers should bear in mind.  Nonetheless, it provides hard numbers forecasting the "seat/cargo equivalents" one might anticipate and revenue for companies involved in the business that are likely to be remembered long after the caveats are forgotten.

In its baseline scenario, the report forecasts 370 seat/cargo equivalents per year in the first year of operations, growing to 500 per year in the 10th year, for a total of 4,518 over 10 years.    Revenue over the 10-year period is forecast to be $600 million in the baseline scenario.  The growth scenario forecasts $1.6 billion in revenue while the constrained scenario forecasts $300 million. 

The report identifies six companies that are developing a total of 11 SRVs to serve the market.  The companies are UP Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, and Blue Origin.

Representatives of three of those companies -- Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo), Blue Origin (New Shepard), and XCOR (Lynx) -- testified along with Christensen before the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday.  Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, and Stephan McCandilss, Johns Hopkins University, also testified.

George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic and Andrew Nelson of XCOR said their companies expect to begin commercial operations by the end of next year.   Brett Alexander of Blue Origin said his company's system is still in development and did not provide a start-date for commercial operations.

The key message from the company representatives was that they want Congress to provide a full eight-year learning period before the FAA is allowed to issue new regulations governing passenger safety on these missions.   In 2004, Congress passed a law requiring only "informed consent" for passengers.  Essentially the company must explain the risks, and it is then up to the customer to decide whether or not to take those risks.  The FAA was prohibited from issuing any other regulations for eight years.

The eight years was to give the companies and the government time to gain experience with commercial human spaceflight to determine what, if any, regulations are needed.  Those eight years passed without any of the companies offering commercial flights, however.   Earlier this year, Congress extended the learning period to October 1, 2015, but since the earliest any of the companies will be operating is 2013, that would be only a two year learning period.   The companies want the full eight years -- and eight years from the first commercial SRV flight, not eight years from whenever new legislation is passed -- or even an indefinite prohibition on regulations.  Nevertheless, they said they welcome the FAA's decision to begin what could be monthly telecons to discuss the issues.  The first is scheduled for later this month.

Stern and McCandliss discussed the utility of SRVs for scientific research.   Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and principal investigator of the New Horizons mission that is on its way to Pluto, believes there will be a very strong market for scientific researchers.  He stressed that it is not that SRVs will go anyplace that is new, but that they will be launched routinely, providing researchers with frequent, inexpensive access to the space environment, unlike sounding rockets which have been used for decades for certain types of research.   McCandliss, an astrophysicist, focused on the differences between using SRVs and sounding rockets, emphasizing that each has their own unique capabilities and some experiments will continue to need sounding rockets.

Whatever the scientific demand may be, Christensen and the company representatives all conveyed that they expect human spaceflight to be the core business by far.

NASA IG Finds Parkinson Violated Advisory Committee Rules in LightSquared Case, But Not Intentionally

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Aug-2012 (Updated: 02-Aug-2012 04:36 PM)

NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the results of an investigation into whether Brad Parkinson and others on the government's GPS advisory board violated conflict of interest rules when reviewing LightSquared's proposal to build a broadband system that might interfere with GPS.  The OIG found that Parkinson did violate the conflict of interest rules, but did not do so intentionally.  The report faults NASA's Office of General Counsel and the board's executive director for not advising Parkinson sooner that it might be a problem.

Parkinson is credited as being "the father" of the GPS navigation satellite system and is Vice Chairman of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board.  NASA provides administrative support for the interagency board.  Board members are not compensated, but must submit financial disclosure forms that are reviewed by NASA's Office of General Counsel to ensure members do not have financial conflicts of interest.  Board members also are briefed on their responsibilities to avoid conflicts of interest on "particular matters" while serving.

The OIG found that Parkinson owns "a substantial amount" of stock in Trimble Navigation, a manufacturer of GPS units.  By signing a letter along with the chairman of the advisory board in August 2011 to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging that LightSquared's application be denied, the OIG found that he violated the conflict of interest rules because Trimble's business could suffer if the application was granted.  Trimble had warned investors of that potential outcome in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Lightsquared later complained and asked the NASA OIG to investigate if Parkinson or any other Board member violated the conflict of interest rules.  The OIG report says that it presented its preliminary findings to the Department of Justice, but it "declined to open a criminal investigation."  

The OIG found that Parkinson had properly disclosed his holdings of Trimble stock and did not fault Parkinson "for not immediately recognizing that what he viewed as a general matter of public policy concerning the efficacy of the country's existing GPS network was a 'particular matter' under the statute that he should avoid."  Instead, the report faults NASA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) for not overseeing the advisory board's activities sufficiently to determine the potential for a conflict of interest and warning Parkinson earlier than it did to recuse himself.    It also faults the advisory board's executive director who it says "could have acted more diligently."  NASA's OGC did advise Parkinson and four other board members in November 2011 to recuse themselves with regard to LightSquared matters and they complied.

LightSquared's proposal to build a hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband network was attacked from many quarters because it would use frequencies adjacent to those used for, and could interfere with, GPS.   The company countered that the FCC assigned those frequencies and it complied with every FCC requirement; any interference problems were because the GPS receiver manufacturers did not design them correctly.   The FCC ultimately denied the company's application and LightSquared filed for bankruptcy in May 2012.


Video of NASA's John Grunsfeld's Appearance on Colbert Report

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Aug-2012 (Updated: 02-Aug-2012 08:43 AM)

For those who missed it, here's a link to John Grunsfeld's appearance on Stephen Colbert's show last night. 

Sorry for all the annoying commercials one must sit through to watch it; no way to fast forward through them that we could find.

Grunsfeld's segment starts at 15:00.  He talks about the upcoming Mars Curiosity landing.

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