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Three ISS Crew Members Set to Return Home Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Three members of the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 25 crew are getting ready to return home tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day. Soyuz TMA-19 is scheduled to undock from the ISS at 8:23 pm EST and land in Kazakhstan at 11:46 pm EST (10:46 am November 26 at the landing site).

NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker will be aboard, along with Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, who will be commander of the Soyuz during descent. One American, Scott Kelly, and two Russians, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, will remain on the ISS and be joined by three new colleagues in mid-December. That crew, which will launch from Kazakhstan on December 15 EST (December 16 in Kazakhstan), is composed of Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Cady Coleman, and Italian Paolo Nespoli, representing the European Space Agency.

For more on ISS crew comings and goings, check NASA's ISS website.

Shuttle Press Conference Today at 3:00 pm EST

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The rest of us may be busy getting ready for Thanksgiving, but NASA is hard at work. The agency has scheduled a press conference for 2:00 pm CST (3:00 EST) this afternoon to update everyone on the launch of Discovery.

The press conference will follow a space shuttle program requirements review control board meeting to discuss the progress of repairs associated with two cracks in "stringers" on Discovery's external tank. The press conference will be shown on NASA TV. Bill Gerstenmaier and John Shannon are the briefing participants.

European Space Council Press Briefing Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

For anyone who won't be preparing Thanksgiving dinner or watching the Macy's Day parade tomorrow at 16:00 European time (10:00 am EST), the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union (EU) will be webstreaming a press conference about their seventh Space Council meeting. The meeting of ESA and EU ministers in charge of space activities will take place that day in Brussels, Belgium.

According to ESA's press release, the theme of the meeting is "Global Challenges: Taking Full Benefit of European Space Systems." ESA says the theme "reflects the important synergies that can be created to benefit Europe's citizens when placing the technical expertise provided by ESA at the service of a range of EU policies."

Discovery Launch Delayed Indefinitely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Space shuttle managers feel that more analysis is needed before they can clear space shuttle Discovery for its final launch. The launch was scrubbed twice in November and slipped to no earlier than December 3. Shuttle program manager John Shannon said at a press conference today that it will not be ready for the December 3-7 window at all. The next window, December 17-20, is an option, but he is not sure they will be ready by then either. If not, the launch will have to wait untl February.

Two cracks were found in "stringers" on Discovery's external tank after the tank was filled and emptied several times during the previous launch attempts. NASA needs time to do additional analysis to ensure that cracks do not develop during ascent and cause foam to be shed. Damage to the space shuttle Columbia orbiter from external tank foam shedding caused Columbia to disintegrate during reentry in 2003, killing all seven aboard.

Shannon said repeatedly today that NASA needs to understand its risk exposure better before commiting to launch. The shuttle is still on the launch pad and engineers have access to only one side of the tank. Rolling it back to the Vehicle Assembly Building so they can study the opposite side is one option they are considering, but no decisions have been finalized.

SpaceX Gets First Commercial Reentry License

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the first commercial reentry license to SpaceX, which plans to use its Dragon spacecraft not only to take cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but back to Earth as well. A test to demonstrate that capability is planned for next month.

The FAA was given regulatory authority over commercial reentry, in addition to its existing authority to regulate launches, in the 1998 Commercial Space Act (P.L. 105-303) At the time, Lockheed Martin was developing a commercial single-stage-to-orbit vehicle called Venturestar as a successor to the space shuttle. NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin on the program, agreeing to invest about $1 billion in research and development (the NASA program was designated X-33). Technical hurdles proved difficult to overcome and Lockheed Martin declined to contine funding the program on its own once the NASA cap was reached. The exact amount Lockheed Martin paid into the program is unclear.

Now, a decade later, another company is attempting to achieve the same fundamental goal -- commercial transportation of people to and from orbit -- but with more traditional technology, a rocket and a capsule. SpaceX plans to use its Falcon 9 rocket, which succeeded in its first test launch last summer. A second launch is scheduled for December. That launch will test the launch and reentry of the Dragon capsule. It is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA issued a press release praising the action by the FAA. The agency is anxious for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to succeed in their attempts to develop commercial cargo services for the ISS. Russia's Progress spacecraft and the space shuttle have been the mainstays of cargo delivery to ISS throughout its lifetime. With the shuttle program ending in 2011, the commercial cargo program is critical to ISS operations.

In addition to Russia's Progress, Europe and Japan have spacecraft, ATV and HTV respectively, that can take cargo to the ISS. None of those three can survive reentry, however. To date, the space shuttle has been the only way to bring cargo back to Earth, except for a very small amount that can be accommodated in Russia's Soyuz capsule when it brings crews home.

NRC Recommends Agencies Go It Alone on Space and Earth Science Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A National Research Council (NRC) report that assesses impediments to collaboration on space and earth science missions recommends that unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, agencies should not partner on them. The report was released today.

The committee that wrote the report was co-chaired by Dr. James Baker, former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Dr. Daniel Baker, Director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Dan Baker also is a member of the NRC's Space Studies Board and co-chair of the ongoing NRC Decadal Survey on solar and space physics.

An NRC press release quotes Dr. James Baker as saying "A common misperception among policymakers and individual agencies is that collaboration on these missions will save money or somehow boost capabilities. ... However, multiagency partnerships generally have just the opposite effect and drive up overall mission costs because of schedule delays, added levels of management, and redundant administrative processes."

While international collaboration "suffers from the same increase in cost and complexity" such missions "typically receive much more planning upfront..." according to the press release.

In those cases where interagency partnering is mandated, the NRC lists criteria that should be met. If the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) or Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Congress, want interagency cooperation, it says, specific incentives and support should be provided and a new governance mechanism may be needed for coordinated oversight since "OMB and OSTP are not suited to day-to-day oversight."

Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct the study in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 110-422).

WIA Panel on the Future of Human Spaceflight

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Women in Aerospace (WIA) held a panel discussion on Thursday, November 18, 2010, about the The Future of Human Spaceflight: Prospects, Programs and Educating the Pipeline. Read a SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the meeting by looking on our left menu under Our Meeting Summaries, or simply by clicking here.

Events of Interest: Thanksgiving Week, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The space policy community, like everyone else in the United States, is celebrating Thanksgiving this week. There are no space policy-related events to list. Hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving!!

Bolden Summarizes Recent Trip to China

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Last week, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had an "all hands" meeting with Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) employees. Among the topics was a brief summary of his recent trip to China. Other than a brief press release after the trip, few details have publicly emerged until now.

Traveling there with Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight, and Peggy Whitson, Chief of the Astronaut Office, Bolden said "we got an opportunity to see everything." That is in contrast to the 2006 trip by then-NASA Administrator Michael Griffin where the NASA group reportedly was provided little access to Chinese space facilities. Gerstenmaier and astronaut Shannon Lucid were part of the 2006 delegation.

Bolden reported that his NASA delegation started in Beijing and visited "most of their facilities where they produced the Long March" rocket, and also traveled to the Gobi Desert. China launches its human spaceflight missions from the Jiuquan launch center there. It is the original Chinese space launch site (now there are two more and a fourth under construction) and is the site for launching many Chinese satellites destined for high inclination orbits, including those that support military space missions.

He said that he stressed to the Chinese that if they are seeking to cooperate with the United States in space that "they will have to demonstrate to us that they could be transparent in all dealings," "demonstrate that they were willing to exercise reciprocity," and the cooperation "had to be mutually beneficial to both nations." He also emphasized that he went there to listen, not "to propose or to make any deals or anything." The latter was a matter of controversy before the trip. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and others in Congress insisted that Bolden assure them before the trip that he would not broker any deals on human spaceflight cooperation while he was in China.

During the MSFC meeting, Bolden observed that the Chinese were "struggling right now with how they split up responsibility for programs," and that the head of their human spaceflight program is also in charge of the Chinese anti-satellite program, which he found ironic. He did not name the individual, but said that his host started the conversation by saying that China does not need the United States and vice versa, but that if the two worked together "the potential...is incredible," according to Bolden's account.

Many other topics, mostly domestic, were also discussed. A transcript provided to SpacePolicyOnline.com by NASA is available here. Space News, which first revealed the existence of the transcript in a story posted Friday, reported that the meeting was held on November 16. NASA provided the transcript to SpacePolicyOnline.com upon request. It does not appear to be posted on any of NASA's websites as of this moment.

The Space Show's Interview with Laura Delgado Now Online

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Space Show's interview with SpacePolicyOnline.com correspondent Laura M. Delgado is now available on the Space Show's website.

For those of you who couldn't listen live yesterday, here is your chance to hear this really interesting discussion about how corporations are portrayed in science fiction movies and whether that could influence public perception of space commercialization efforts. On that home page, scroll down to the list of shows and select the one for November 19. It takes a while to download -- please be patient.

Events of Interestl

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