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Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) each issued statements today defending the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in the wake of action by a House appropriations subcommittee to kill the troubled program.
Senator Mikulski, who represents Maryland, home to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center that manages the JWST program, called the action by the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee a "shortsighted and misguided move" that would "kill 2,000 jobs nationwide and stall scientific progress and discovery." She called on the Obama Administration to "step in and fight" for the telescope, which is the successor to the immensely popular Hubble Space Telescope. Operations of Hubble are conducted at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), also in Maryland. STScI is also slated to operate JWST. Senator Mikulski , who chairs the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee, is known as an enthusiast for space and earth science research generally.
The American Astronomical Society (AAS), the leading professional society for astronomers and astrophysicists, said terminating JWST "threatens American leadership in the fields of astrophysics and advanced space technology while likely eliminating hundreds, if not thousands, of high-tech jobs."
The House subcommittee recommended terminating JWST because of cost overruns and poor management. The recommendation will be taken up by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 13. Whatever decision is made then still must be considered by the full House, and the Senate also must act on its own version of the CJS appropriations bill. Thus, the subcommittee action is just the first step in a long process.
Everything is "go" for the launch of Atlantis -- the final space shuttle mission -- on Friday, except possibly the weather.
According to NASA's shuttle website, shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters provided the following update today.
"Winters predicted an 80 percent chance of weather preventing tanking operations, with a 70 percent chance of it standing in the way of launch at 11:26 a.m. EDT on Friday. The forecast for the following days improves to 60 percent no-go on Saturday and 40 percent on Sunday."
We've updated our fact sheet on NASA's FY2012 budget request to reflect the action recommended by the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee today. The fact sheet tracks the budget request as it works its way through Congress.
The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft bill for FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations that will be marked up at subcommittee level tomorrow. The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA, and the recommended budget is not good news for NASA.
According to the committee's press release, the subcommittee wants to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) because it is "billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management."
In total, NASA would be funded at $16.8 billion, $1.638 billion less than what it received for FY2011, and $1.914 billion less than the request.
In these austere budget times, a cut to the request was widely expected, but not to this extent. Republicans are seeking to reduce federal spending to FY2008 levels, but this would be even less than what NASA received that year ($17.3 billion).
In the draft bill that also was posted to the committee's website, the subcommittee recommends that not less than $1.063 billion be spent in FY2012 on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and not less than $1.985 billion on the Space Launch System (SLS, or heavy lift launch vehicle) "which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously." Both figures are increases above the NASA request of $916.3 million for the MPCV and $1.690 billion for the SLS. However, the total amount for the Exploration account that includes those systems would be cut by $300 million from the request: from $3.949 billion to $3.649 billion. That means Exploration would have to find an additional $147 million for MPCV and an additional $295 million for SLS while cutting its total budget by $300 million.
The recommendations are just the opening salvo in what is expected to be a long and drawn out battle. The draft bill will be marked up at subcommittee level tomorrow and by the full committee on July 13. The bill can be amended at either of those meetings, as well as on the floor when the bill is debated by the full House. The Senate also must act on the bill, and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate CJS appropriations subcommittee, has been a determined supporter of JWST. Even she was taken aback by the cost overruns announced last year, however, and demanded an independent review of the program. That review, chaired by JPL's John Casani, blamed poor NASA management, not technical issues. The project is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor. In response to the Casani report, NASA changed how the project is managed at Goddard and overseen at NASA Headquarters. It was separated from the rest of the astrophysics program and now has its own line in the NASA budget request; the request is $373.7 million for FY2012. Recent rumors have been that JWST would not launch earlier than 2018 and might slip as far as 2023. Last year at this time, the launch date was scheduled for 2013. The subcommittee recommendation now adds the possibility that it might never be launched.
As for the MPCV and SLS issues, NASA already announced that the Orion capsule will serve as the MPCV, but Congress continues to await NASA's overdue announcement of what design it has chosen for the SLS and the associated costs. Rumors have swirled for weeks that an announcement will be made before the final shuttle launch on Friday, but officially Administrator Bolden has said only that it will be sometime this summer. The report was supposed to be issued in January, but only an interim report was provided.
The 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267) lays out the direction for the U.S. human spaceflight program; a compromise between what the Obama Administration proposed and what Congress wanted. The difference is largely the extent to which the United State should rely upon commercial providers to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) where the International Space Station is located, called "commercial crew," and what systems should be developed by NASA itself as a backup to the commercial systems, but primarily to take astronauts beyond LEO to destinations such as asteroids. The commercial crew program relies on NASA funding to help the companies develop their systems. The law tells NASA to do both -- spend money on its own system as well as provide funds to the commercial companies, but Congress and the Administration disagree on where the emphasis should be in this budget constrained envrionment. Congress wants to focus on a NASA-developed system; the Obama Administration wants to focus on commercial crew. For the past several months, Congress has made clear that it feels NASA is thwarting the intent of Congress in the Act by requesting more money for commercial crew and less for the NASA-developed system for FY2012 than was authorized in the law.
The countdown for the final space shuttle launch is underway, but the weather may not cooperate on Friday.
NASA reported today that there is a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms at launch time on Friday (11:26 am). Apart from that, everything appears "go".
A Pew Research Center poll released today shows that a majority of the American people -- 58 percent -- think that it is "essential" for the United States to be a world leader in space exploration.
The poll also showed that 38 percent do not think it is essential. The remaining 4 percent did not know or did not answer. In addition, 55 percent think the space shuttle program has been a good investment, while 36 percent think it has not (the remainder did not know or did not answer).
The poll asked a number of questions about how Americans view the space program and the results are broken down by political party and demographic data. Republicans and Independents believe U.S. leadership is essential more than Democrats do. Those who earn more than $75,000 and those who earn less than $30,000 think it is essential more than those who earn between those amounts, but it's close in the latter two categories.
The poll was conducted by telephone between June 15-19, 2011 and has a sampling error of 3.5 percentage points. Except for the question about the space shuttle, the questions were about the space program in general; they did not differentiate between human and robotic missions.
Dennis Overbye of the New York Times offers his lament about the end of the shuttle program with no clear path forward.
"... But America still has no vision at all for its space program, no plan for where to go next or how.
"I can't blame NASA for that. NASA works for the president, and the president can do only what Congress will give him or her the money for. And Congress answers to the people - that is to say, its campaign contributors. They've all just been doing what they think they have to do, but an astronomer I know who grew up with the same science fiction dreams and expectations as I did once described himself as a member of the 'cheated generation.'"
"I no longer expect to see boot prints on Mars during my lifetime, nor do I expect that whoever eventually makes those boot prints will be drawing a paycheck from NASA, or even speaking English."
Hope that everyone is enjoying the July 4 holiday! This is a slow week for space policy related events, despite the fact that both the House and Senate will be in session. The House had its break last week and the Senate planned to be off this week, but after President Obama criticized Congress for leaving town while the debt limit talks were still underway, the Senate changed its mind.
During the Week
The BIG EVENT this week, of course, is the final launch of the space shuttle. Atlantis is scheduled to lift off at 11:26 am ET from Kennedy Space Center, FL. We will be there covering the event live. Follow us on Twitter: @spcplcyonline
Also important is the House Appropriations subcommittee markup of the appropriations bill that includes NASA and NOAA, and the separate appropriations bill that includes the U.S. Geological Survey, on Thursday. That will be the first official congressional action on the FY2012 budget requests for those agencies.
Wednesday-Friday, July 6-8
Thursday, July 7
- House Appropriations Committee Interior-Environment subcommittee markup of the Interior-Environment bill, which includes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which operates the Landsat satellites and is proposing to take over the entire Landsat program from NASA, 9:00 am EDT, B-308 Rayburn.
- House Appropriations Committee Commerce-Science-Justice subcommittee markup of the CJS bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, 10:15 am EDT, H-140 Capitol.
Friday, July 8
- Final launch of the space shuttle program. Atlantis launch scheduled for 11:26 am EDT from Kennedy Space Center, FL.
The Washington Post also has an article by Joel Achenbach today entitled "Final NASA shuttle mission clouded in rancor" that exposes the deep rift between current NASA leadership and some of the most iconic members of the space community over the future of the human spaceflight program.
Here are just two notable quotes from the article:
- "We have a program. We have a budget. We have bipartisan support. We have a destination," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "We are just putting finer points on the rocket design."
- Here's Bob Crippen, who was the pilot of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, back in 1981: "I've never seen NASA so screwed up as it is right now. ._._. They don't know where they're going."
Josh Hartman, a former congressional staffer and Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition official, believes "we need to change what we buy and how we buy it" to meet DOD space requirements.
Now a principal at the Center for Strategic Space Studies (CS3), Hartman made the comments in opening a meeting sponsored by CS3 and the Space Foundation on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Hartman said the goal of the meeting was to start a government-industry dialogue on how to make that happen.
Under Secretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton, herself a former Hill staffer, made the keynote address and said she welcomed the opportunity to engage in that dialogue. Recounting the difficult financial straits in which the government finds itself today, she made clear that the Air Force would not be exempt from the constrained budgets that lie ahead. The only question is how limited they will be and how to juggle all the competing demands within the Air Force. Space activities are up against major force modernization programs such as the F-35 and ICBMs, she pointed out.
Conaton is one of the architects of the proposed Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE) strategy to change the way DOD acquires space systems. On Thursday, she focused on the need to use block buys in order to provide stability to prime contractors, to improve systems incrementally instead of looking "for the next best thing," and to encourage and demand better prices for the taxpayers. EASE "is not the answer to everything," she said, but it can "help on the industrial and cost profile" issues.
Acquisition of space systems has a long and troubled history in both the defense and civil arenas. Programs like the SBIRS-High early warning satellites, the Advanced EHF communications satellite system, and the NPOESS environmental satellites are poster children for the need to change the way business is done. Joanne Maguire, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, offered a long list of reviews Lockheed Martin is performing in response to the "long nightmare of the past decade" and the "self-inflicted wounds" of the "faster, better, cheaper" era. Her company will "not sacrifice mission assurance for affordability," however, she said. She pointed to the need for stable requirements as a key factor in improving the situation. EASE can make a difference, she said, but only if the entire government "is in."
Jim Armor of ATK, a second tier supplier, said that EASE is "OK with us," though he noted that EASE calls for long term commitments while they are not yet well defined. Calling today's environment "crunch time for the space industrial base," he pointed to the successful launch of ORS-1 the night before, noting that there are no follow-on satellites in that series, it is one-of-a-kind. Praising the Obama National Space Policy released last year and the National Space Security Strategy issued early this year, he nonetheless asked "where's the implementation?" Jim Simpson of Boeing said that block buys of satellites save 30 percent in the commercial sector, but it has to be implemented in "production mode," after risk has been reduced in the development phase.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected EASE at its markup of the defense appropriations bill last month because it would require advance appropriations. Thus, this meeting also undoubtedly was part of an effort to better explain EASE to congressional staff.
Acquisition of launch services to put DOD and intelligence satellites in orbit was a key topic throughout the meeting and the subject of a special panel. The Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and NASA recently signed a memorandum of agreement that commits the government to buying eight Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) cores per year for the next five years - a total of 40. The United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Lockheed Martin- Boeing joint venture, builds the Delta and Atlas families of EELVs and sells services to the government. The Air Force will fund five per year and the NRO will fund three. Gil Klinger, currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Space and Intelligence Office, and a long time player in the defense and intelligence space arena, commented that EELVs are the fifth largest expense center in the Air Force budget.
Chris Andrews from ULA traced the long history of the EELV program, which has endured many ups and downs and contract restructurings over the past decade and a half. The government bought a block buy of EELVs in the late 1990s - 28 vehicles - that were to be launched by 2006, but some still have not been launched, he said.
Larry Williams of SpaceX picked up on that point in criticizing the government's decision to commit to 40 EELV cores. Why make such a commitment when "competition is just around the corner" with new entrants like SpaceX, he asked? Based on how long it is taking to launch the 28 vehicles bought years ago, he believes it will take to the end of the decade to launch these 40. Meanwhile, new entrants might be able to offer much lower costs if given the chance. He also took issue with those who claim that there is overcapacity in the launch services market today. His company is signing lots of orders, he said, and is bringing that business back to the United States.
The government speakers made it clear, however, they were not willing to risk mission success on unproven launch capabilities like those SpaceX is offering. To the defense community, mission assurance is the key and they want launch vehicles with a proven track record. Klinger said DOD would "apply competition when and where it makes sense."
Events of Interest
- NASA Applied Sciences Advisory Committee, March 30, 2015, virtual, 1:00-4:00 pm ET
- Space Policy & History Forum, Featuring Teasel Muir-Harmony, March 30, 2015, National Air & Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC, 4:00-5:00 pm ET
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Subcommittee, March 30-31, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
- NAC Heliophysics Subcommittee, March 30-31, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
- NRC Space Studies Board's Space Science Week, March 31-April 2, 2015, National Academy of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC (some sessions are closed, incl all day April 2)
- FAA Commercial Space Transportation Adv Cmte (COMSTAC), April 1, 2015, NTSB Conferrnce Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- NRC SSB Space Science Week Public Lecture on "Our Place in the Universe," April 1, 2015, National Academy of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
- Planetary Society Press Conf on Humans Orbiting Mars, April 2, 2015, GWU Elliott School of Intl Affairs, Washington, DC, 11:00 am - 12:00 pm ET
- NAC Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education, April 3, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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