Latest News

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.

NPOESS Restructuring One Year Later

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

The FY2012 budget requests for NOAA and DOD tell more of the story of the restructuring of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) ordered last year by the White House.

The DOD budget request includes $445 million for its component of the restructured program, called the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The budget is based on the assumption that DOD will get $352 million in FY2011, although Congress is still debating the FY2011 spending figures. In 2012, the department says that the $445 million will pay for Northrop Grumman to redesign the spacecraft that it was planning to build for NPOESS into a "smaller and lighter version." It also will pay for development of two sensors that were originally planned for NPOESS (VIIRS and MIS), spacecraft and sensor subsystems and materials, algorithms, and DOD-specific elements of the common ground system. It is consolidating DWSS funds in its research and development (R&D) account instead of splitting it between R&D and procurement as in the past two years.

NOAA is requesting $1.07 billion for its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). That is an increase of $688 million above what the agency is assuming it will get for FY2011, the same as it had for FY2010 ($382 million). Its FY2011 request had included a steep increase for transitioning from NPOESS to JPSS, but NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level under the Continuing Resolution (CR). Thus the increase is pushed to FY2012. The request includes funds to acquire and process data from NASA's NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft. NPP was designed as a testbed for NPOESS, but with the restructuring now will be the first operational satellite in the new civil weather satellite system. It is scheduled for launch this year. The NOAA funds will also continue development of instruments and spacecraft for the first two JPSS satellites.

NOAA is in a more difficult situation than DOD. All of its polar orbiting weather satellites are already in orbit, while DOD has two of its older satellites still awaiting launch.

The NPOESS program was created during the Clinton Administration to reduce the costs associated with having separate military and civil weather satellite systems. After years of cost growth and schedule slips, however, the Obama Administration decided to split the program so that each sector will have its own system again. NPOESS was being procured through the Air Force, which is maintaining its contract with Northrop Grumman and rescoping it to reflect the change to the DWSS program. NOAA is using NASA as its acquisition agent for JPSS, as it does for its other satellites. The first JPSS satellite will use the same spacecraft bus as NPP, being built by Ball Aerospace.

Stardust-NExT Press Conference Rescheduled to 3:30 pm EST Today

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

Minutes before it was scheduled to start, NASA announced that it was rescheduling today's Stardust-NExT press conference for 12:30 pm PST (3:30 pm EST). The spacecraft flew by comet Tempel 1 late yesterday.

Rhetoric Heats Up Over FY2011 Spending

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Democrats today turned up the heat on House Republicans over the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, FY2011. President Obama threatened to veto the House version of the CR, H.R. 1, and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), made clear that the bill in its current form is unacceptable.

The House began debate today on the version of H.R. 1 recommended last Friday by the House Appropriations Committee. It would cut $100 billion in federal spending for the remaining months of FY2011, which ends on September 30. Although both Republicans and Democrats have publicly stated that they do not want the governnent to shut down at midnight March 4 when the current CR expires, the chasm between the two sides seems to grow wider every day. The House Republican leadership promised an "open rule" to debate H.R. 1, and hundreds of amendments are expected, many demanding even deeper cuts.

Senator Inouye complained that the House bill is using a meat axe to cut programs with no consideration of their merit. In a press release, he said "...many of the reductions ... were made not because programs were ineffective or wasteful, but out of desire to meet an arbitrary dollar figure cited during a political campaign. Many of the recommendations ... resulted in a 'meat cleaver' approach to budget cuts, when we should be using a scalpel -- responsibly identifying specific programs that are wasteful or unneeded."

Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) saying that it "strongly opposes" the bill and that "If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill."

The House expects to pass the bill this week. Both the House and Senate are in recess next week. That leaves only the week of February 28 for a resolution to be reached. Talk continues to grow that there will be another short-term CR to give both sides more time to find a compromise, as challenging as that will be.

UPDATE 2: Events of Interest: Week of February 14-18, 2011

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

UPDATE 2: Minutes before it was scheduled to start, NASA rescheduled the Stardust-NExT press conference for today (Tuesday) until 12:30 pm PST (3:30 pm EST).

UPDATE: A link has been added to the webcast of the OSTP budget briefing at 1:30 today (Monday). Also, NASA plans to post its budget on its website at 1:30 pm today.

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All times are EST unless otherwise noted. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

During the Week

The House is expected to take up the latest FY2011 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) this week. See our fact sheet for the budget numbers it recommends for NASA. Amendments to cut the federal budget more deeply are expected during floor debate.

Monday, February 14

  • Happy Valentine's Day!!
  • Today is "Budget Day." The President will submit his FY2012 budget request to Congress. The budget request should be available on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website by 10:30 am, possibly earlier. The NASA budget should be on its website at 1:30. (Update: 1:30 is the new time for when NASA plans to post its budget)
    • OMB Director, Jacob Lew, will have a press conference at 12:30 pm.
    • Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren will have a press conference at 1:30 pm. The event will be webcast at
    • NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will have a press conference at 2:00 pm at the NASA auditorium (watch on NASA TV). Associate Administrators will have subsequent teleconferences as follows: Space Operations, 3:30 pm, Exploration Systems, 4:15 pm, Office of Chief Technologist, 5:00 pm, Aeronautics, 5:45 pm, Science, 6:30 pm.
    • Defense Secretary Bob Gates will have a press conference at 2:00 pm. Service secretaries will hold subsequent briefings at the Pentagon. The Air Force briefing is at 4:45 pm.
    • The National Science Foundation will have a press briefing at 3:00 pm at NSF Headquarters in Arlington, VA
  • NASA's Stardust-NExT mission will encounter comet Tempel 1 at 11:37 pm EST (8:37 pm PST). Watch on NASA TV.

Tuesday, February 15

Wednesday, February 16

  • House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on FAA's research and development programs (not space-related, but may be of interest anyway), 10:00 am, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Armed Services Committee hearing on DOD's FY2012 budget request, 10:00 am, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building
  • CSIS meeting on National Security Space Strategy, 1800 K Street, NW, Washington, DC, 10:30 -11:30 am EST

Wednesday-Thursday, February 16-17

  • NAC Astrophysics Subcommittee (of the Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
    • Wednesday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm EST, room 3H46
    • Thursday, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EST, room 7H45

Thursday, February 17

  • Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense budget request for FY2012, 9:30 am, Dirksen Senate Office Building room SD-G50
  • House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the FY2012 budget request for research and development, 10:00 am, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
  • FAA COMSTAC Space Transportation Operations Working Group telecon, 11:00 am EST, virtual
  • House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Air Force's FY2012 budget request, 1:00 pm, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building

NASA's New Vision and Mission Statements Revealed in New Strategic Plan

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Together with its FY2012 budget request, NASA released its new Strategic Plan today. The document reveals NASA's new vision and mission statements.

NASA's Vision is:

"To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown,
so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."

NASA's Mission is:

"Drive advances in science, technology, and exploration
to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality,
and stewardship of Earth."

Government agency strategic plans usually are revised every three years, but this version is two years late. The last one, in 2006 while Mike Griffin was Administrator, expressed NASA's Mission as "To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research." Its Vision reflected President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration and the document says that "NASA enthusiastically embraced the challenge of extending a human presence throughout the solar system as the Agency's vision...."

NASA's FY2012 Budget Request is $18.7 Billion, Same as FY2010, Amid Much Uncertainty

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The one word that best describes NASA's FY2012 budget request is uncertainty. The agency does not know how much money it will get for the current fiscal year - FY2011 - or what to really expect for its "out-years" -- FY2013-2016. All the agency knows is what the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is allowing the agency to request for FY2012: $18.7 billion, the same as its FY2010 level.

There are other uncertainties, too. The FY2012 budget request does not reflect the results of pending detailed studies of the extra costs associated with the James Webb Space Telescope program or the costs for the new Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle required by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Those answers may require adjustments to spending within the agency's mission directorates or divisions.

For an agency like NASA whose programs take many years to execute, uncertainty about the out-years is particularly problematic. While projected funding figures are always notional, they do usually reflect a President's policy priorities.

Last year, despite a widespread misperception that President Obama cut NASA's budget, in fact the White House envisioned a $6 billion increase over 5 years for the agency. The upswing would have relatively robustly funded NASA's space and earth science programs, aeronautics, space technology development, and a dramatic shift in the human spaceflight program to government support of companies seeking to build the next human spaceflight system for access to low Earth orbit (LEO) instead of NASA. In a compromise with Congress, the agency ended the year with direction to do both --build a new government Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to take astronauts to LEO and beyond and support the commercial sector's LEO human spaceflight efforts.

Fitting those 10 pounds of potatoes into the sack NASA was expected to have at the time was going to be a challenge, but now the sack is smaller. When Congress completes action on the FY2011 budget, it looks as though NASA will be lucky to keep the $18.7 billion level it had for FY2010, not the $19 billion it requested. Furthermore, its outlook for the next five years is, at best, to remain level at $18.7 billion.

That is the best scenario. Although NASA was allowed to develop its budget plans for the next 5 years on the assumption that its budget will be flat for the next 5 years, the President's budget request tells a different story, one of decline.

In OMB's Table 33-1, NASA's budget is shown dropping to $18.03 billion in FY2013 and $17.97 billion in FY2014 before starting a very slow rise to $18.08 billion in FY2015 and $18.50 billion in FY2016. Longer term projections in that table show NASA rising to $20.91 billion in the year 2021, roughly the same level President Obama projected for FY2015 last year.

Agencies usually are required to plan their out-year budgets to match whatever is in the President's budget. NASA officials said this year they were nonetheless given permission to plan for a higher budget, level at $18.7 billion, because all projections are notional anyway.

With deficit reduction the overriding concern today, however, the President's figures may well turn out to be more realistic. As a matter of his policy priorities, last year the President exempted NASA from a freeze on other domestic discretionary spending. This year, there is no such exemption for the agency suggesting a change in the President's priorities. While space advocates might hope that it is a reflection of the overall effort to reduce federal spending, three other science and research and development agencies got increases in their FY2012 budget requests. The National Science Foundation would get a 13% increase over its FY2010 spending; the National Institutes of Health would increase from $30.8 billion in FY2010 to $31.8 billion requested for FY2012; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would rise from $863 million in FY2010 to $1 billion in FY2012. NOAA's budget also would go up appreciably, from $4.85 billion in FY2010 to $5.5 billion in FY2012, but it is not possible to determine how much of that is for NOAA's satellite programs with the information released this morning.

The message for NASA seems to be that its activities do not carry the same weight as those other agencies in meeting the President's "innovate, educate, build" goals. Congressional authorizers who want NASA to move out full force on a new crew space transportation system in addition to pursuing its science, aeronautics and technology development programs, not to mention making the International Space Station a robust national laboratory, are likely to be disappointed. The only certainty facing the agency seems to be that it will be another tense year.

FY2012 Budget Is Now Available at OMB's Website

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has released the FY2012 budget request. It can be viewed on OMB's website. Top level information for government departments and agencies is provided. Detailed budget information is usually released by each department or agency later in the day.

NASA's detailed budget is expected to be posted on NASA's website at 1:30 today. The total requested for NASA for FY2012 is $18.7 billion, the same as its FY2010 level. For NOAA, the OMB documents state that $1.9 billion is requested for NOAA's satellite programs, including geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites. The only mention of space systems in the brief write-up about DOD is $975 million for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite system. It also says that DOD will implement an "innovative satellite acquisition approach in order to reduce costs and strengthen the industrial base."

The OMB site in general has lots of other useful budget information as well, including analytical perspectives and historical tables.

Detailed NASA FY2012 Budget Request is Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

NASA has posted its detailed budget request on its budget website. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson are holding a press conference (watch on NASA TV).

Events of Interest

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


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