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SBSS Launch Should Mean Better Space Situational Awareness

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) System satellite was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base last night on a Minotaur 4 rocket.

SBSS is intended to provide space-based data on the locations of satellites and space debris. Knowing exactly where objects in space are -- and where their operators plan to move them if they are active -- is critical to avoid collisions like the 2009 Iridium-Cosmos collision that created a cloud of space debris. That event, and China's intentional destruction of one of its own satellites in a 2007 antisatellite test, added substantially to the amount of "stuff" in Earth orbit and catalyzed governments and commercial satellite operators to pay more attention to Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA and the need for nations and companies to behave responsibly in space to ensure it remains a sustainable environment for all to use is a major feature of President Obama's new National Space Policy.

Today, only ground-based sensors are available to locate and track space objects. Approximately 22,000 pieces are tracked by the Joint Space Operations Center (part of U.S. Strategic Command). They are 10 centimeters or more in diameter. Thousands more smaller pieces also are thought to be in orbit.

Spaceflightnow.com quotes SBSS mission director Col. J. R. Gordon as saying that the satellite will "revolutionize the way we track objects in space by not being constrained by weather, the atmosphere or the time of day."

Second Try's the Charm

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 successfully undocked from the International Space Station tonight, after failing to do so last night, according to NASA. Landing is at 1:21 am EDT.

ISS Crew Lands Safely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 landed safely in Kazakhstan at 1:23 am this morning (Saturday) with three ISS crew members: Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko and American Tracy Caldwell Dyson. They spent 176 days in space. The landing was delayed one day after the Soyuz spacecraft failed to undock because of technical issues.

Soyuz Fails to Undock

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

The Soyuz spacecraft that should have brought three International Space Station (ISS) crew members home failed to undock last night.

According to NASA, "The planned undocking was prevented when commands being sent to disengage the hooks and latches holding the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft failed." Engineers are troubleshooting the problem and another attempt is scheduled for tonight at 10:02 pm EDT.

Soyuz spacecraft will soon become the only way for astronauts to come and go from the ISS once the space shuttle is retired. It also is the only crew rescue vehicle -- lifeboat -- that is supposed to be able to quickly take ISS crew members away from the ISS in an emergency. This failure to undock is a serious problem.

Naval War College Releases "Economics and Security: Resourcing National Priorties"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The Naval War College (NWC) today released a monograph of the papers presented at a May workshop on Economics and Security: Resourcing National Priorities.

The monograph offers a very interesting view of national security issues and while the theme is economics, the papers are much broader. Panels included Economics and Security; Federal Budget: Resourcing National Priorities; Quadrennial Defense Review; Defense Budget and Risks; Land and Special Operations Forces; Air and Maritime Forces; and Strategic Nuclear, Space and Cyber Forces.

I was privileged to be the "space" speaker, and found it fascinating to learn about national security issues from the perspectives of the others. I highly recommend this monograph, which can be downloaded for free. This is the fifth William B. Ruger Chair workshop. Monographs from the previous seminars are available on the Ruger website. Dr. Richmond Lloyd currently holds the William D. Ruger Chair of National Security Economics at the NWC and sponsored the workshop.

Summer is over, so SpacePolicyOnline.com is transitioning its "Summer Reading List" on the left menu into a "Top Picks" reading list, and this will be added to it.

ISS Crew To Attempt Undocking Again Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

NASA reports that the three ISS crew members who tried to return to Earth last night but could not because the Soyuz would not undock from the space station will try again tonight at 10:02 pm EDT. Following is NASA's explanation of what happened and how they think they have solved it.

"The first undocking attempt Thursday was delayed after hooks failed to open and mission controllers in Moscow had not received the expected hatch locked signal from the Poisk module [where the Soyuz is docked].

"Though leak checks between the station and the Soyuz were good, commands to open hooks between the station and the Soyuz were not received....

"Flight Engineer Fyodor Yurchikhin encountered some resistance Thursday night when closing the Poisk module hatch. He began troubleshooting the hatch when commands to open the hooks on the Poisk docking interface were not received. He discovered a loose star-shaped sprocket with two broken teeth behind the hatch cover.

"To re-initiate the "hatch locked" signal, Yurchikhin installed jumper cables to bypass a component in the docking mechanism. This allowed the hooks on Poisk to be opened overnight which will allow the Soyuz TMA-18 to undock when hooks on the Soyuz are commanded open."

If undocking is successful, the crew will land at 1:21 am EDT tomorrow in Kazakhstan.

UPDATE: New House Committee Version of NASA Authorization

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This is updated to reflect House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon's comments.


The House Science and Technology Committee reportedly has reached agreement on a new version of the FY2011-2013 NASA authorization bill. Here are the text of the "amendment in the nature of a substitute," which means a replacement for what was introduced earlier that will be taken up by the House as an amendment to the original bill, and a short summary provided to SpacePolicyOnline.com.

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said the following:

"This is House compromise language, with bipartisan support. It reflects months of discussions and input from many Members. As a result, we believe we have a bill that both builds on and improves on H.R. 5781, the NASA Authorization Act that was marked up by the Science and Technology Committee earlier this year. Moreover, we believe this compromise helps move the discussion about the future of NASA closer to a final product.

This is a good, bipartisan, and fiscally responsible bill. For too long, NASA has not been given the resources to complete the many missions the nation has asked of it. NASA is too important to the nation to continue on that path. This will provide a clear and sustainable direction for NASA, in light of the current fiscal environment."


As reported earlier, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer included the NASA authorization bill on the list of legislation he plans to bring to the floor before the House leaves for the mid-term elections (likely the end of next week). If it passes the House, it would still have be voted on in the Senate. If the Senate were to agree without any changes, it could then go the President for signature. If the President agreed, it would become law. Those are a lot of "ifs," but this is at least a step forward in the process.

National Academies Warn Again about Nation's S&T Competitive Position

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Few reports from the National Academies have had as much impact as the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." A clarion call to the country about the waning U.S. ability to compete globally because of inadequate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and federal funding for basic research, the report catalyzed action from both the White House and Congress. Today the National Academies released a report assessing what has happened in the intervening 5 years.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5 concludes that America's ability to compete has deteriorated since the original report was released, according to a press release. Progress in the United States due to the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which authorized solutions to some of the recommendations of the original report and is now awaiting reauthorization in Congress, was more than matched by progress in other countries, the study committee found. Acknowledging the difficulty of doubling government basic research budgets, as recommended in the original report, during the current economic downturn, the report nonetheless cautions that "such investments will need to be made if the nation is to maintain the economic strength to provide health care, social security, national security, and other basic services to its citizens."

The National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, along with the National Research Council, comprise the National Academies. The study was funded by the Academies. Unfortunately one must pay to get even a PDF copy of the full report, but a PDF of the executive summary can be downloaded for free.

NASA was omitted from the original report to the consternation of space program advocates who point out that NASA is very much involved in basic research and STEM education. There is no mention of NASA in the executive summary of the new report either.

JPSS Moves Ahead

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Congress may not yet have voted on NOAA's FY2011 appropriations bill, but NASA moved forward today with acquisition of the first satellite for NOAA's restructured polar orbiting environmental satellite program. The first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft will be a clone of NASA's NPOESS Preparatory Project satellite being built by Ball Aerospace, and the agency awarded a sole source control to Ball for JPSS-1. It is a firm fixed price contract for $248 million with a performance period through 2015; launch is expected in 2014.

In February, the White House announced that it was abandoning the Clinton-era policy of merging NOAA's civil and DOD's military polar-orbiting weather satellite programs and letting the agencies return to separate systems. The converged program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) suffered repeated cost overruns and schedule delays for many reasons.

NOAA is proceeding with its new program, JPSS, with NASA as its acquisition agent. NASA was involved in the NPOESS program in a technology development role only; DOD was the acquisition agent. DOD's portion of the new program is the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). Congressional appropriators have expressed significant reservations about the future of JPSS and DWSS, but the need for moving quickly on JPSS-1 is not disputed. All of NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellites already are in orbit, while DOD has two of its legacy satellites awaiting launch when needed.

Half of ISS Crew Headed Home Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Three of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will head home tonight. Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko and American Tracy Caldwell Dyson are scheduled to undock from the ISS at 9:35 pm EDT. Landing is expected at 12:55 am EDT in Kazakhstan.

NASA TV will cover the action live, as will Spaceflightnow.com.

That will leave three crew aboard the space station: Americans Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker, and Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin. They are due to be joined by Russians Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and American Scott Kelly, whose Soyuz spacecraft is set to launch on October 7. They will dock with ISS two days later.

To follow ISS comings and goings, visit NASA's ISS website.

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