Latest News

House Passes CR With Further NASA Cut

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House finally completed debate on and passed H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) for the rest of FY2011, in the wee hours this morning (Saturday). For all the hundreds of amendments introduced and debated, as far as we can tell, only one directly affects NASA. We will double check the Friday-Saturday Congressional Record when it is issued to make sure nothing snuck in at the last moment, but for now, this is the best information we have.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) won approval to cut $298 million from NASA's Cross-Agency Support account and use it to fund Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), a program in the Justice Department. NASA and the Justice Department are in the same section of the CR because they are both within the jursidiction of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee. The way the rules worked for debate on this bill, if a Member wanted to add money for something, the "offset" had to be in the same part of the bill.

Rep. Weiner was apologetic about taking it from NASA. On February 15 (Congressional Record, page H 891), he said:

Now, do I like the idea we have to take it from NASA space exploration? I don't know any of the crime statistics on Mars, and I'm interested, but it's a bad choice. If any of you like space exploration, so do I. In a way, I'm playing the game too. I'm taking from one place to give to another. But I do believe it's in the interest of all of us to try to set these priorities straight. ... So I hope you support the Weiner amendment by taking from Mars and putting it in the streets of your district."

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the CJS subcommittee, opposed the amendment, but it passed 228-203. The money was not taken from Mars exploration as Rep. Weiner's comments suggested. It was taken from Cross Agency Support, which funds Center Management and Operations, Agency Management and Operations, and Institutional Investments.

The appropriations committee already had cut NASA $303 million below its FY2010 appropriated level. With the $298 million cut in the Weiner amendment, NASA would be cut $601 million from its FY2010 appropriation, giving the agency a total of $18.123 billion for FY2011. Compared with President Obama's request of $19.000 billion for NASA in FY2011, it is a $877 million reduction.

It is important to keep the fiscal years straight in this complicated budget debate. Many press reports say that the House voted to cut in total about $60 billion from federal spending, far less than the $100 billion Tea Party Republicans promised in their campaigns. That is correct. However, it is also correct to say that it is a $100 billion cut if the baseline is the President's request for FY2011, which is what the House Appropriations Committee says. (Added to the complexity in following the debate is that President Obama submitted his request for FY2012 on Monday; congressional hearings have begun on that request.)

Whatever number one wishes to use for the cut that is in the House-passed CR, it is unlikely that the Senate will agree. Such deep cuts when at least five months of the fiscal year will have expired by the time anything is signed into law significantly magnifies the impact, and many Senators have indicated they are not willing to go that far.

The House and Senate are in recess next week while Members and Senators return home to face their constituents and see how all of this is playing in the rest of America. When they return to Washington, they will have one week to reach a compromise or pass another temporary spending bill. Without some sort of appropriations bill passed by midnight on March 4, the government will shut down. The Congressional Research Service has a handy report on government shutdowns that is available via the Federation of American Scientists website.

STS-133 To Launch Next Thursday, Feb. 24

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Following a Flight Readiness Review today, NASA confirmed February 24 as the launch date for STS-133. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:50 pm EST.

The mission originally was scheduled to launch last November, but was delayed first by a gas leak and then by problems with "stringers" on its External Tank. This is the last flight of the Discovery orbiter. At least one more shuttle mission, STS-134 (Endeavour) is scheduled, and if Congress does not cut NASA's FY2011 budget too deeply, the agency plans one more flight of Atlantis (STS-135). Congress directed the agency to fly that "Launch-on-Need" mission and the agency is willing to do so as long as the money is available.

Currently STS-134, commanded by Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who continues her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head last month, is scheduled for April 19. Kelly told a news conference on February 4 that he expects his wife to be at Kennedy Space Center for his launch. STS-135 is tentatively scheduled for launch in June. That would be the last flight of the shuttle program.

FY2012 NASA Budget Debate Begins While FY2011 Remains Uncertain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, will hold hearings on NASA's FY2012 budget request on March 2 and March 3 respectively.

Congress may still be wrangling over how much NASA and other federal agencies will get for FY2011, but the FY2012 budget clock starting ticking on Monday when President Obama sent his request to Congress. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to pass the new budget before the next fiscal year begins on October 1. As everyone can see from the heated battles underway on FY2011 -- five months after that fiscal year began -- it does not always work out that way. In fact, it hardly ever works out that way.

Nonetheless, the authorization committee and appropriations subcommittee in the House are going to get the ball rolling after Congress returns from a one-week recess to reconnect with constituents face-to-face.

Better SSA, More Partnerships, at Heart of National Security Space Strategy

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 18-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) released by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Director of National Intelligence earlier this month "recogniz[es] reality: we are not alone, we can't do everything alone," said the Honorable Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force. His comment was made during an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that featured a conversation with top U.S. military officials on the implications of the strategy for the DOD. The event was moderated by CSIS's President and CEO, Dr. John J. Hamre.

Of this first dedicated national security space strategy, the Honorable William J. Lynn III, Deputy Secretary of Defense, explained that it demonstrates the importance of the space domain to U.S. national security and is meant to deal with "these changed circumstances" where space is congested, competitive, and contested. These factors require a new way of thinking of ways to protect not only U.S. space assets, but also the industrial base.

Critical to the first task are improvements in space situational awareness (SSA). SSA, simply put, is the ability of knowing precisely the location of space objects and where they are going. General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that space deterrence made improved SSA a critical need both for identifying anomalies and for attribution in the event of an attack. The NSSS states that the United States reserves the right of self-defense, but "all of space is not in space," he added, and norms are needed to know what the appropriate response to a potential attack would be. SSA, which he said "raises the bar in deterrence," has to be part of the discussions because "absent that, you really are in a large area of ambiguity."

With respect to protecting the industrial base, Lynn said that the DOD was taking steps to modify its acquisition approach, with a goal to infuse greater stability. Block buys and fixed price contracts are needed to increase predictability. The changes also include a different approach to buying launch vehicles. Donley described interagency coordination efforts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to "decouple launchers from payloads," allowing agencies to buy launchers on a more routine basis.

A vital step to support the industrial base, added Lynn, is export control reform, which has been an important priority of President Obama's Administration. The current rules date back to the Cold War, and now "seem to be designed to keep technologies from our allies," he said. This, agreed Cartwright, is part of the old approach to "go it alone," which he said was simply not affordable. Just as new constructs are needed for transactions with industry, so are new constructs needed for partnering with other countries. "If we are gonna fight in a combined way, we gotta find a way to operate in a combined way," he argued. He said that Russia was one of the countries where space could provide an opportunity for cooperation.

Greater cooperation may require greater coordination. The European Union's draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities has been a topic of discussion recently as one potential way forward in developing norms for responsible behavior in space. In response to a question about the code, Lynn said that while it was not in the national security space strategy, the code is "frankly, very consistent with some of the goals of the [NSSS]" and was therefore of a lot of interest. Discussing the benefits of this approach, he said that as opposed to other proposals that tend to be restrictive, the code had "important protections," including acknowledgement of the right of self-defense, and that, as a voluntary move, it had "strong potential of being a positive step" forward.

A webcast of the event is available on the CSIS website.

UPDATE: HSS&T Hearing on Federal R&D Budget Postponed to Later This Morning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The hearing has started. I'm tweeting it: SpcPlcyOnline.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee's hearing this morning with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren on the federal government's FY2012 budget request for research and development has been delayed. Instead of starting at 10:00, it will start "10 minutes after this morning's series of votes. (Last votes are expected between 11:30 - 11:45 a.m.)" according to a committee press release.

NASA IG Says NASA Could Save Money By Using Minotaur for Medium-Class Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin released a report today criticizing NASA's acquisition strategy for commercial launch vehicle services because it does not take advantage of the Minotaur rocket for medium-class missions.

"Our analysis shows that use of the Minotaur for certain NASA science missions offers significant savings when compared to the available commercially provided intermediate class launch vehicles cited in NASA's report to Congress. Moreover, it also would be less expensive than SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is still under development and not yet certified to carry NASA science missions. For example, if NASA used the Minotaur rather than Falcon 9 or the intermediate-class Atlas V for the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission scheduled for launch in November 2014, the Agency could save between $61 million and $156 million..."

The IG report continued that NASA's explanation for not using Minotaur is that it "could have a negative impact on the domestic commercial rocket industry because it might discourage companies from entering the launch services market," but the IG concludes that it is unlikely they would be ready in time for the SMAP mission. "Accordingly, while we appreciate the legal and policy reasons for promoting commercial launch providers, we believe that NASA should consider using the Minotaur as a launch vehicle for appropriate science missions until cost-effective and reliable commercial launch services are available."

Minotaurs are based on decomissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs.) The IG report says that NASA does consider Minotaur for small missions in its launch services acquisition strategy, but not for medium-class missions.

Learn the Details of NASA's FY2012 Budget Request at a March 4 Symposium

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

There is still time to register for the March 4 symposium at NASA headquarters on "State of the Space Agency: NASA Future Programs Presentation." NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and the Associate Administrators of NASA's mission directorates will present NASA's FY2012 budget request in some detail with plenty of time for Q&A. The event is sponsored by the NASA Alumni League, the American Astronautical Society, AIAA, Women in Aerospace, and CES. Advance registration is required, but there is no fee. RSVP to Pat Smith at Check our calendar for March 4 for more information. Fact Sheet on Where To Find Agency FY2012 Budget Requests Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Finding the NASA and DOD FY2012 budget requests is easy, but for anyone looking for how much is being requested for the Landsat program (at USGS) or NOAA's satellite activities, perhaps our latest fact sheet will help. FY2012 Budget Documentation: Where To Find Agency Budgets is now available on our left menu under Our Fact Sheets and Reports, or simply by clicking here .

Solar Flare Affects China's Shortwave Communications

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Yesterday's massive solar flare affected shortwave communications in southern China according to its Xinhua news agency.

As trumpted by NASA's 3D Sun free iPhone App, this first "X-flare" of the new solar cycle is the "strongest solar flare in more than four years." It was observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and peaked at 01:56 Universal Time yesterday (Monday evening in the United States). NASA warns that X-flares are the strongest kind of solar flares and are likely to produce geomagnetic storms on Earth within about 48 hours.

Second Try's the Charm for ATV

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

UPDATE: The second upper stage firing was successful and it has now separated from the ATV. The spacecraft will take one week to reach the ISS.

ORIGINAL STORY: The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo spacecraft was launched successfully by an Ariane V this afternoon. The launch was aborted yesterday. Everything appears well at the moment. The upper stage engine is due to be restarted in about 20 minutes to circularize the orbit.

The ATV is carrying about 7 tons of equipment and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft weighs 20 tons overall and is the heaviest payload lofted by an Ariane launch vehicle. This is the 200th Ariane launch since the first launch of Ariane 1 in 1979. This second ATV mission is named Johannes Kepler. The first was called Jules Verne. The spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry and will burn up in the atmosphere at the end of its resupply mission.

Events of Interest

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: