SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
We have once again updated our checklist of space-related legislation working its way through the 112th Congress.
We've added the bill and report number for the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which are now formally introduced.
We also have added the Financial Services appropriations bill to the list of legislation we are tracking, for those of you who are interested in the LightSquared issue (section 603 of that bill).
Since we are folllowing six appropriations bills with important space-related items in them -- though some have little or no money associated with them -- we also have added a crosswalk table to indicate which issue is in which bill.
The updated checklist is available by clicking here or looking on our left menu under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports."
Kathy Sullivan, former astronaut and current Deputy Administrator of NOAA, will testify to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week.
The committee is looking at how to mitigate the impact of severe weather events through long-term budget planning. Other witnesses are from the Small Business Administration, the Government Accountability Office, University of Illinois (a professor of atmospheric sciences), and the Reinsurance Association of America.
The hearing, "Federal Disaster Assistance Budgeting: Are We Weather-Ready?," will be held in 138 Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 28 at 2:00 pm. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the committee's website for up to date information.
NASA will hold a press conference to discuss the upcoming Juno mission to Jupiter next week.
The press conference will be held at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, July 27 at 1:00 pm EDT. It will be carried on NASA TV. Juno is scheduled for launch from the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5. The launch window is open until August 26. It will reach Jupiter in July 2016 and remain in orbit for about one year and then plunge into Jupiter's gaseous atmosphere.
Juno is the first solar powered spacecraft to travel so far from the Sun. Usually such probes require nuclear power sources because the Sun's energy is too diffuse at that distance -- 25 times less than on Earth. The solar panels thus are quite large, and the spacecraft will be in a highly elliptical orbit to avoid Jupiter's radiation field and its shadow.
The last NASA probe to visit the Jovian system was Galileo, which studied the planet and its many moons.
Hans Mark, former Secretary of the Air Force and former NASA Deputy Administrator, will testify to a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee next week about defense investments in technology to meet emerging threats.
Mark, currently a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is a renowned figure in aerospace engineering, defense policy, and space policy. National Journal's Daybook (subscription required) lists Mark as one of the witnesses although the Committee's website does not yet. Other witnesses according to Daybook are from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the National Defense University's Center for Technology and National Security Policy, and the Pipeline Financial Group.
The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing is on July 26 at 1:30 pm EDT in 2212 Rayburn House Office Building. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the committee's website for up to date information.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate both are in session next week.
During the Week
The debt limit/deficit reduction talks undoubtedly will be the focus of attention in Washington next week. Even if agreement is reached over the weekend, as many hope, a bill will have to be written, passed by the House and Senate, and signed into law. This past week has been a roller coaster of announcements that a deal was near, but no, it wasn't, but yes, things were looking up, but no, Speaker Boehner had walked out of talks with the President. Everyone is very frustrated and meanwhile the magic date of August 2 is closing in fast. The President and most others say that the debt limit must be raised by then or there will be "catastrophic" economic consequences for the United States. The current debt limit of $14.3 trillion was reached in May; the Treasury Department is keeping the nation solvent by not paying into the retirement accounts for federal workers. The obstacle to a deal is that Republicans will not vote to raise the debt limit until there is agreement on spending cuts to reduce the deficit. Democrats are willing to adopt some spending cuts, but also want tax increases to reduce the deficit. So far the Republicans have not been willing to compromise on tax increases.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate are keeping busy working on other matters. On Monday, the House is scheduled to start debate on the Interior and Environment appropriations bill. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is part of the Department of the Interior. USGS operates the two functioning Landsat satellites and in the FY2012 budget request proposes to take over the Landsat program completely from NASA. NASA is currently building Landsat 8 and USGS is planning for Landsat 9 and 10. The House Appropriations Committee, however, denied that request in its markup of the bill (H.R. 2584, H. Rept. 112-151), while expressing its support for the Landsat program overall.
The congressional schedule is always subject to change.
Monday, July 25
- House scheduled to begin floor debate on the the Interior-Environment appropriations bill (H.R. 2584)
Tuesday, July 26
Wednesday, July 27
Thursday, July 28
Thursday-Saturday, July 28-30
- Space Frontier Foundation NewSpace 2011 conference, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
A CNN poll conducted just before the STS-135 Atlantis mission ended, and with it the space shuttle program, found that half of those polled think that it is bad for the United States.
The poll was conducted July 18-20; STS-135 landed on July 21. Half said the end of the shuttle program was bad for the country, 16 percent said it was good for the country, and one-third said it would have no effect.
Three-quarters of those polled think the United States should build a new system to take astronauts into space, but only 38 percent think the government should build it. The private sector should handle spaceflights in the future according to 54 percent of those polled and nearly 90 percent believe that will happen.
The sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The decision to terminate the space shuttle program was made in 2004 by President George W. Bush, and upheld by President Obama when he took office in 2009. The shuttle program cost about $3 billion per year and both Administrations wanted to use the money for other NASA purposes.
NASA announced today that its next Mars rover, Curiosity, will land at Gale Crater on Mars.
The probe, also called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is scheduled for launch this fall and will land on Mars in August 2012. It will use an innovative method of delivering the lander to the surface that involves a "sky hook" that will lower the spacecraft using cables from its descent stage. The landing site will be at the foot of a layered mountain inside the crater.
NASA has sent several probes to flyby, orbit or land on Mars since the 1960s. The first to land on the surface were Viking 1 and 2 in the 1970s. They both were orbiter-lander pairs, and a signal from the Viking 1 orbiter was sent to Earth to trigger the ribbon cutting ceremony that opened the National Air and Space Museum, the venue for today's announcement, on July 1, 1976.
Viking was specifically designed to determine if there was life on Mars, but the results were inconclusive. They also were stationary landers and could not move around the surface. Curioisty is a rover and its primary purpose, like Viking, is the search for evidence that life exists or existed on Mars.
Space programs at NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) suffer from poor quality control on parts according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report also looked at some of DOD's missile programs.
GAO found that "...quality problems exist that have endangered entire missions along with less-visible problems leading to unnecessary repair, scrap, rework, and stoppage; long delays; and millions in cost growth." It reviewed 21 programs at DOD and NASA and quality problems affected all of them, the report states.
The causes of the parts problems included "poor workmanship, undocumented and untested manufacturing processes, poor control of those processes and materials and failure to prevent contamination, poor part design, design complexity, and an inattention to manufacturing risks."
The 21 programs included nine at DOD and 12 at NASA that had completed their critical design reviews by October 2009. GAO determined that 64.7 percent of the parts quality problem were associated with electronic parts, 14.7 percent with mechanical parts, and 20.6 percent with materials used in manufacturing. The problems were "directly attributed to poor control of manufacturing processes and materials, poor design, and lack of effective supplier management."
One example GAO highlighted is DOD's Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite that is slowly making its way to geostationary orbit (GEO). A failure of its apogee engine left the satellite stranded in a low orbit. The Air Force is using other propulsion systems to raise the orbit to GEO, which is expected to take about a year. The failure was traced to "foreign object debris" -- GAO said it was a piece of cloth -- inadvertently left in a fuel line. This problem was on top of earlier quality control problems that GAO said cost the AEHF program at least $250 million and contributed to a launch delay of two years.
The programs studied by GAO were the following:
Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellites
Global Positioning System Block IIF
Space-Based Infrared System High Program
Space-Based Space Surveillance Block 10
Mobile User Objective System
Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
Ground-Based Midcourse Defense
Space Tracking and Surveillance System
Targets and Countermeasures
Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory
James Webb Space Telescope
Landsat Data Continuity Mission
Mars Science Laboratory
National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project
Radiation Belt Storm Probes
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Replenishment
UPDATE: NASA says the official landing time is 5:57 am EDT. Main gear touchdown was 5:57:00, nose gear was 5:57:20, and wheel stop was 5:57:54.
UPDATE: Atlantis is home.
ORIGINAL STORY: The STS-135 (Atlantis) mission is in its final half hour. Landing will take place at 5:56:58 am EDT at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The final space shuttle mission, STS-135 (Atlantis), is still on schedule for landing early tomorrow morning, a few hours from now.
There are two landing opportunities at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, Thursday, July 21. For the first, deorbit burn is in just over 5 hours, at 4:49:04 am EDT. Landing would be at 5:56:58 am. A second opportunity is with a deorbit burn at 6:25:44 am and landing at 7:32:55 am.
Events of Interest
Subscribe to Email Updates: