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National Security Council Gets New Space Policy Guru

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Peter Marquez, the White House National Security Council (NSC) staffer who spearheaded interagency consensus-building that led to President Obama's new National Space Policy, is moving on. Where he's headed was not publicly announced, but his successor is Chirag Parikh, who made his debut at the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies' National Space Forum. Marquez' last day in the job is this coming Friday.

The annual Eisenhower Center forum, the fifth in a series on national space issues, followed "Chatham House" rules where everything is said on a non-attribution basis. So we cannot report on what Mr. Parikh said, but we can report that he is an aerospace engineer with 14 years of experience in the Air Force and intelligence communities, and a very approachable person eager to engage with the space community.

He will have the task of developing the implementation strategy to go along with the policy, as well as efforts to update three other specific U.S. space policies on space transportation, commercial remote sensing, and positioning, navigation and timing satellites (i.e., GPS).

U.S. space policy is coordinated at the White House level by the NSC and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Marquez and Parikh each call OSTP's Damon Wells their partner in the process.

Iran's Space Program Summarized

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Secure World Foundation has just released a concise fact sheet on Iran's space program. Authored by SWF's Tiffany Chow, it is a very useful factual snapshot of what Iran's space program has accomplished to date and plans that were recently announced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

No Go on Defense Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Senate Democrats failed to get the required 60 votes to bring the FY2011 defense authorization bill (S. 3454) to the floor for debate. This afternoon's vote was 56-43.

Two Democrats (Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas) voted no, and no Republican voted yes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voted no as a procedural move to allow the vote to be reconsidered later. The bill was already controversial because it could lead to the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, and Senator Reid also wants to add the DREAM immigration reform act to it.

Conventional wisdom is that the bill therefore will not be debated until after the November elections, but with Congress, one never knows!

NASA IG Praises TDRSS Program Management, Clears Boeing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) program to determine if it was being effectively managed and came away primarily with praise. Its few qualifications had to do with how NASA charges non-NASA customers for using the system, but in terms of procuring the next two satellites in the series, K and L, the agency got a tip of the hat.

"Development of TDRS K and L is on schedule and meeting its planned budget. We found that NASA has managed the Project within cost, schedule, and performance requirements and Project managers implemented risk and earned value management (EVM) processes to monitor and mitigate programmatic risks associated with TDRSS development efforts. NASA also effectively administered the TDRSS development and support service contracts. However, we found that NASA has not revised the reimbursable rates it charges TDRSS customers since 2006 and that NASA officials did not know what factors were used to formulate the 2006 rates. Accordingly, NASA does not know whether the rates it has been charging customers during the past 4 years reflected current operating costs. We also found that internal controls for continuity of operations were not established, which led to the possible loss to NASA of reimbursable dollars."

The report noted that it had received a complaint that Boeing low-balled its bid to build the TDRSS satellites and later raised the price through contract modifications. The OIG determined that although Boeing received 13 waivers after the contract was awarded, they "did not alleviate Boeing from performing any of the technical requirements and did not affect the price of the contract." The cost of the contract did, indeed, increase, the OIG found, but only because of changes sought by NASA. "Accordingly, we found no evidence to support the allegation that Boeing 'low bid' the contract in order to win the award and subsequently increased the cost through contract modifications."

NASA Authorization Bill on House To-Do List

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) included the NASA authorization bill on his list of legislation the House plans to consider before it breaks for the mid-term elections according to news reports.

ABC News called Hoyer's list "ambitious." It also includes the Child Nutrition Bill and the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act -- not to mention a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating past September 30 when fiscal year 2010 ends. None of the FY2011 appropriations bills has passed Congress yet. Congress Daily (subscription required) added that an extension of Bush-era tax cuts also may come up.

Speculation is growing that both the House and Senate will adjourn at the end of next week rather than October 8 as earlier expected. Hoyer denied rumors that the House might go home at the end of this week.

GAO: GPS Program Improved, But Needs Better Interagency Requirements Planning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

In its latest report on the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tells Congress that the system is looking better than the last time GAO assessed it, but the process for interagency requirements setting by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Transportation (DOT) needs improvement.

"The GPS interagency requirements process, which is co-chaired by officials from DOD and DOT, remains relatively untested and civil agencies continue to find the process confusing. This year GAO found that a lack of comprehensive guidance on the GPS interagency requirements process is a key source of this confusion and has contributed to other problems, such as disagreement about and inconsistent implementation of the process. In addition, GAO found that the interagency requirements process relies on individual agencies to identify their own requirements rather than identifying PNT needs across agencies."

DOD "did not concur" with GAO's recommendation that the two agencies develop "comprehensive guidance for the interagency requirements process" and DOT "generally agreed to consider it," according to the report.

As far as the GPS system itself is concerned, GAO noted that the first GPS IIF satellite was launched earlier this year -- almost 3 1/2 years late -- and future launches of that version of the spacecraft still face risks, as does the follow-on version, GPS IIIA. GAO warned that if GPS IIIA satellite launches are delayed, the size of the constellation could dip below 24, the number needed for global three-dimensional coverage.

The new GPS IIF version was not given a clean bill of health. GAO noted that usually DOD retains some of an older version of a satellite to launch in case problems develop with a new version once it is on-orbit. The previous version of GPS is the GPS IIR-M, but because of the delays with GPS-IIF, all the GPS IIR-Ms have been launched: "Two GPS Wing officials expressed concern that the GPS program is now in a riskier position than it has been for many years because it does not have any IIR-M satellites in inventory and ready to launch." If the freshly launched GPS IIF spacecraft encounters problems and those in construction need to be modified, launch delays could result, GAO says, not to mention the tight availablity of launch vehicles and facilities.

In short, the congressional watchdog agency seemed to give DOD credit for getting the GPS IIF and IIIA programs on a better footing, but is not willing to give the program a clean bill of health yet.

Pricetag is Staggering for New Weather Satellites Say Senate Appropriators

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

In its report on the FY2011 defense appropriations bill (S. 3800, S. Rept. 111-295), the Senate Appropriations Committee calculates the cost of cancelling the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and restructuring it so that DOD and NOAA once again have separate systems at more than $20 billion, what it calls a "staggering" cost.

The total includes $5 billion already spent on NPOESS, and an estimated $15.4 billion for the replacement NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and DOD Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS): $9.4 billion for JPSS and $6 billion for DWSS. Funding for DWSS is included in this bill. Funding for JPSS is in the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (S. 3636, S. Rept. 111-229). The committee also expressed reservations about the cost of the restructured program in its report accompanying that bill.

Calling it "premature" for DOD to set up a program office for DWSS, the committee said there "must be a more cost-effective way for DOD to utilize NOAA's significant investment." The committee zeroed DOD's $325.5 million request for NPOESS and included $50 million for DWSS specifically and only for development of unique sensors DOD needs.

NASA IG Clears Bolden of Ethics Law Violation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has cleared NASA Administrator Bolden of violating ethics laws or regulations regarding a phone call he made to an official of Marathon Oil, a company in which he has a financial interest. However, the IG report said that Bolden's actions "raised concerns about an appearance of a conflict of interest" and disagreed "with the determination made by NASA attorneys that it was not necessary to report Bolden's contact with Marathon to OIG."

The matter involved a conversation Bolden had with a Marathon Oil official regarding algae-based fuels while NASA was considering whether to fund a project called Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA). The OIG report says that Bolden has $500,000-$1 million of Marathon stock and had served on its Board of Directors for six years prior to becoming Administrator. The report noted that "When interviewed by the OIG about this matter, Bolden readily acknowledged that he had erred in contacting Marathon. Bolden said he has since recused himself from issues involving OMEGA and has received supplemental training regarding his ethical responsibilities."

LRO Reveals the Moon's Complex Youth

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 19-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Analysis from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) topographic map of the Moon featured in the most recent issue of Science (subscription required) points to the Moon's "complex, turbulent youth," according to a NASA press release.

Using new data from the LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter and the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment Instrument, scientists have been studying the geologic processes that formed the lunar surface and the history of numerous meteoric impacts that considerably transformed the landscape. According to the release, "a rich record of craters is preserved on the Moon," data which is hoped will help researchers uncover the implications of such early activity on the Earth and other bodies in the Solar System.

This milestone marks completion of the spacecraft's one-year exploration mission and its transition to a science phase, expected to last from two to four more years. Program management has now been moved from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Events of Interest: Week of September 20-25, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Sep-2010 (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.

Monday (Sept. 20)

Monday-Tuesday (Sept. 20-21)

  • NAC Heliophysics subcommittee, Room 3H46, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
    • Monday, 9:00 am - 5:30 pm EDT
    • Tuesday, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm EDT

Tuesday (Sept. 21)

  • The Senate is slated to vote on a motion to bring up the FY2011 Department of Defense authorization act. At last report, the Senate leadership plans to attach the DREAM immigration reform act to the DOD bill and other measures also may be added. This is a procedural vote. Debate over the underlying bill and any other measures attached to it is expected to take some time. Congress Daily (subscription required) cites Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as saying that final passage of the bill is not expected until after the November elections.
  • NAC Exploration Committee, Glennan Conference Room, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC, 1:00 - 6:30 pm EDT

Thursday (Sept. 23)

Thursday-Saturday (Sept. 23-25)

Events of Interest    

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


 

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