SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
The Senate is beginning debate on the "minibus" appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, that combines the bills for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-HUD (T-HUD). The Obama Administration said today that it "strongly supports" passage of the bill.
The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA. In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), the Administration supported the Senate Appropriations Committee's actions. For NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, which would receive $920 million instead of the $1.07 billion requested, the SAP notes that it is less than what is needed to maintain the current launch date of 2017 for JPSS-1 and "encourages" the Senate not to cut any further.
For NASA, the SAP "appreciates" support for the Space Launch System, Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and James Webb Space Telescope. Although the committee significantly cut funding for space technology, the SAP simply "urges" the full Senate to provide that level of funding ($637 million instead of the $1.02 billion requested). Similarly for commercial crew, which would be cut from $850 million to $500 million, the SAP "encourages" the Senate to provide sufficient funding to prevent delays in the program.
The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation is not mentioned in the T-HUD part of the SAP. Its FY2012 request of $26.5 million was cut in half by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today recommending that the Department of Defense (DOD) reconsider the number of years its block buy of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) will last. SpaceX, in particular, has expressed concern that if DOD commits to buying 40 EELVs over the next five years, it will effectively preclude the company from competing with its Falcon Heavy design because it is not clear that the government will need that many launches.
The GAO report comes on the heels of an announcement by NASA, the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) last week that could create opportunities for emerging launch service suppliers like SpaceX. On Friday, the three agenices announced a coordinated certification process for commercial launch services, including "new entrants."
To date, DOD's focus has been on stabilizing the launch industry industrial base. The argument is that DOD's current approach of purchasing launch services one at a time creates uncertainty that wreaks havoc with suppliers, especially at the sub-tier level. DOD relies primarily on the Atlas V and Delta IV EELVs built and launched by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. DOD therefore is working on revising its acquisition strategy to a block buy approach, guaranteeing the purchase of eight EELV cores per year for the next five years at an expected cost of $15 billion.
Whether the government demand for launches requires that many vehicles is uncertain, however. If the 40 vehicles satisfy demand, there would no opportunity for other companies, like SpaceX, to compete.
GAO agrees that DOD should leave the door for competition from new entrants. The report notes that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation are potential providers "that may be capable in the near future" to compete for the type of services DOD requires. Both companies told GAO that they needed a "clear set of criteria" from DOD; the deparrment was supposed to issue them by July 31. Those apparently are the NASA-USAF-NRO criteria announced on Friday.
GAO's recommendations about DOD's acquisition strategy are much broader, however. The agency concludes that DOD should resolve a number of questions before finalizing the block buy. DOD is planning to release it by the end of the year, but GAO found "some critical knowledge gaps" and was particularly critical of DOD for relying on "contractor data and analyses" about the industrial base rather than independent reviews.
Considering that the purpose of the block buy is to stabilize the launch vehicle industrial base, it is somewhat surprising that GAO found DOD's knowledge of the state of the industrial base lacking. Flaws and "metholodological weaknesses" were found in surveys conducted by ULA that were used in several DOD studies, and the data generated by the surveys were not "reviewed or independently assessed by DOD officials," GAO said.
Among its recommendations, GAO called on DOD to do an independent study of the launch vehicle industrial base, reassess the block buy contract length, work closely with NASA to facilitate its ability to negotiate EELV launch contract prices, refrain from waiving federal regulatory requirements that prevent the department from knowing more about EELV costs, and ensure mission assurance activites are "sufficient and not excessive."
DOD concurred with six of the seven recommendations and partially concurred with one -- the recommendation to reassess the block buy contract length. On that one, DOD said that it would make its decision "balanced among price, operational requirements, budget realities and the potential for new entrant competition."
GAO conducted the study at the request of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. It apparently was completed some time ago since it refers to the need for DOD to obtain knowledge about NASA's design for the Space Launch System. The design was released on September 14.
The German Aerospace Center's (DLR's) most recent prediction for reentry of its ROSAT satelite is between October 21 and 25.
DLR estimates that 30 individual pieces of the satellite could survive the heat of reentry, including its 1.7 ton main mirror.
The ROetngen SATellite (ROSAT) was an x-ray astronomy satellite. Launched in 1990, it is in a 53 degree inclined orbit, meaning that it travels between 53 degrees North latitude and 53 degrees South latitude. The satellite does not have a propulsion system. Like many other satellites, including NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) last month and countless pieces of space debris routinely, it will make an uncontrolled reentry.
Debris could fall anywhere along the defunct satellite's orbital path within an 80 kilometer (50 mile) wide swath of that path according to DLR. The precise time and place for reentry cannot be calculated with precision, but it is important to bear in mind that 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water. DLR estimates the chance of "someone somewhere on Earth getting injured is about 1 in 2000."
ROSAT was a cooperative program among Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.
In addition to DLR's ROSAT reentry website, and the websites of amateur satellite observers such as Heavens-Above.com and Zarya.info, New Scientist reports that a team of programmers in Australia have designed an iPhone App -- ROSAT Reentry -- for those who want to follow the action.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. The Senate is in session this week; the House is having a Constituent Work Week and meets in pro forma session only on Tuesday and Friday.
During the Week
The Senate is scheduled to take up the CJS appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and the T-HUD bill, which includes FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, as part of a package that also includes the Agriculture appropriations bill.
The German-US-UK ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) will make an uncontrolled reentry between October 21 and 25 based on current projections by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Sunday-Wednesday, October 16-19
Tuesday-Thursday, October 18-20
- National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), Board meeting, Irvine, CA (no details are posted on the ASEB website, presumably the meeting is at the NRC's Beckman Center)
Wednesday-Thursday, October 19-20
- NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee meeting, NASA HQ, Washington DC
- Wednesday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm, room 9H40
- Thursday, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm, room 7H45
- International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), Las Cruces, NM
Thursday, October 20
Friday, October 21
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City is about to open a new exhibit on Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.
The exhibit will run from November 19, 2011 to August 12, 2012 and includes a "full-scale recreation of a lunar habitat," as well as a model of a space elevator, a diorama of the Martian surface, and computer interactive exhibits.
The museum is located at Central Park West at 79th Street.
Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (HSS&T) sent in their recommendations on how to cut the budget deficit to the congressional "supercommittee" today. For NASA, the committee recommended $177 million in cuts to NASA's earth science program, including cancellation of OCO-2.
The supercommittee, composed of 12 members of Congress (six from the House, six from the Senate; six Republicans and six Democrats) are charged with finding $1.2-1.3 trillion in cuts over 10 years from the federal budget. Today was the day for congressional committees to submit their recommendations to the supercommittee. HSS&T Democrats sent a separate letter yesterday. The committee authorizes NASA's activities and sets policy.
The letter from ten of the HSS&T Republicans, including full committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and four of the five subcommittee chairmen, supported the actions of the House Appropriations Committee on the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that includes NASA, and also recommended reductions of $177 million compared to the FY2012 request as follows:
- Cancellation of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2), which is being built as a replacement for OCO, lost in a launch failure in 2009;
- Reducing "Other Missions and Data Analysis" within the Earth Systematic Missions by 20 percent; and
- Reducing "Venture Class Missions" within Earth System Science Pathfinder Missions by 20 percent.
Changes made by the House Appropriations Committee that specifically received endorsement in the letter were cuts to space technology and commercial crew, and increases for the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
Yesterday's letter from HSS&T Democrats, signed by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), began by saying that it was her understanding from Chairman Hall that the committee would not be providing recommendations to the supercommittee. Her letter spoke in general terms of the need for the supercommittee to support federal science and technology and STEM education, and to consider "serious revenue enhancements" as well as spending cuts.
The supercommittee, formally called the Joint Select Committee on Defiict Reduction, is due to make its recommendations to the House and Senate by November 23.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today asking him to hold Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren "to full account" for discussing science and technology cooperation with China in violation of the law.
The letter follows on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding earlier this week that Holdren's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) violated section 1340 of the FY2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Resolution (CR) by holding meetings in May with the Chinese. GAO found that the meetings violated the law's prohibition on OSTP or NASA spending any funds provided by the law to engage in such activities. OSTP spent $3,500 on the meetings, and since they violated the CR, they were not appropriated. Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, federal departments and agencies cannot obligate funds they do not have, and therefore GAO determined that OSTP violated the Anti-Deficiency Act.
Rep. Wolf also wrote to Holdren today, noting that the two had spoken on the phone yesterday wherein Holdren promised Rep. Wolf that either he or the White House General Counsel would call Rep. Wolf back by the end of the day, but no call was received. Rep. Wolf chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that funds OSTP as well as NASA.
In his letter to the Attorney General, Rep. Wolf asked the Justice Department to rescind a September 19 memorandum it issued that argued section 1340 infringed upon the President's constitutional power to conduct foreign policy, and to "hold Dr. Holdren to full account for his violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act by ensuring that he complies with all reporting requirements and other provisions of that law."
In its letter to Rep. Wolf, GAO insisted that "It is not our role nor within our province to opine upon or adjudicate the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes," but "In our view, legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by the President ... is entitled to a heavy presumption in favor of constitutionality."
Politico reports that the Senate will try to pass a "cluster" of three appropriations bills, including those that fund NASA, NOAA, and the FAA's space office, in an attempt to catch up with the FY2012 appropriations process. If this approach succeeds, they could cluster other bills together.
Grouping several appropriations bills together is quite common these days. When all or most of the 12 regular appropriations bills are combined it usually is called an "omnibus" or a "consolidated" bill. When fewer bills are acted upon jointly it is sometimes called a "minibus."
According to Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to start with the Agriculture-FDA bill. The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) and Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) bills would be "grafted" onto it. CJS funds NASA and NOAA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. T-HUD funds the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
To date, the Senate has passed only one of the 12 regular appropriations bills (Military Construction/Veterans Administration). The House has passed six (Agriculture, Defense, Energy & Water, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch,and Milcon/VA). FY 2012 began on October 1. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will expire on November 18.
Politico notes that the Senate plan to merge Agriculture, CJS and T-HUD would create a $182 billion package, "big enough to stumble into what could be a minefield of amendments." Nonetheless, the party leaders expect to bring the bill to the floor tomorrow, with passage anticipated next week.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, told a House subcommittee today that he is confident of the failure analysis conducted by Russian experts of the Progress launch failure last month. He also revealed that the agency wants Congress to grant another waiver from the restrictions on paying Russia for International Space Station (ISS)-related activities contained in the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).
The hearing before the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee focused on the impact on ISS operations and lessons learned from the Russian Progress launch failure in August. Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, determined that a clogged fuel line caused the third stage of the Soyuz U rocket to malfunction, dooming the Progress spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the ISS. Similarities between that version of the Soyuz rocket and the one used to launch crews to ISS delayed the next planned launch of ISS crewmembers. The current schedule calls for crew flights to resume in mid-November.
Many of the questions posed by subcommittee members concerned the level of insight that NASA had to the accident investigation and whether NASA and its safety advisory panels are comfortable with Russia's analysis, conclusions, and plans for moving forward. In addition to Gerstenmaier, witnesses were Tom Stafford and Joe Dyer. Stafford chairs NASA's ISS Advisory Committee. Dyer chairs NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). All three expressed confidence in Russia's investigation and conclusions.
Several members linked the questions about how transparent the Russians have been with their investigations to what NASA expects from commercial companies when they begin launching cargo and crews to the ISS.
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) asked about a report in Aviation Week and Space Technology that the commercial cargo flights have fallen behind schedule. Gerstenmaier replied that the commercial companies are having "normal transients" as they develop their systems. He cited Orbital's delays in building its launch site at Wallops Flight Facility and the Taurus II engine fire during testing this summer, and software problems being experienced by SpaceX. He stressed that these are typical of development activities and that is why NASA was so anxious to launch the final shuttle mission, STS-135, to take supplies to the ISS to assure there would be no concerns if the cargo flights were delayed well into next year. The STS-135 crew attended the hearing.
As for commercial crew, subcommittee chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) stated that subcommittee staff were told by NASA last week that the first mission would be in 2017, not 2015-2016 as Gerstenmaier stated in his testimony. Palazzo wanted to know why there was a discrepancy. Gerstenmaier said that it is dependent on what assumptions are made with regard to how much money NASA will have to facilitate those efforts.
NASA must rely on Russia to take crews to and from the ISS, and for ISS "lifeboat" services, until the commercial crew option is available. NASA recently negotiated a new contract with Russia for ISS crew support services that expires in 2016. To sign that agreement, and previous ISS-related agreements with Russia, NASA needed a congressional waiver from INKSNA. The law is intended to restrain Russia from proliferating certain technologies to Iran, Syria and North Korea. Originally passed as the Iran Nonproliferation Act in 2000, one section prohibits the U.S. Government from paying Russia in connection with the ISS program unless the President certifies that Russia is not proliferating those technologies.
In practice, NASA has required Russian services to support crews on the ISS. The White House has not been willing to make the necessary certification, meaning that Congress must pass waivers to the Act. It did so first in 2005 and again in 2008. In the 2008 waiver, NASA did not request permission to purchase additional cargo services from Russia on the premise that U.S. commercial cargo services would be available by 2011, when the 2005 waiver expired. NASA needs the commercial cargo companies to succeed. The only other options are Europe's ATV or Japan's HTV, but those are launched only about once per year.
By 2008, with the end of the space shuttle program looming and no U.S. replacement expected until at least 2014, NASA knew that it would need to purchase more Russian crew services using the Soyuz spacecraft. Congress agreed to extend the waiver for Soyuz flights until 2016.
NASA's commercial crew effort is focused on those services becoming available by then, but at today's hearing, Gerstenmaier revealed that NASA wants another INKSNA waiver anyway. He did not state that the agency is worried the commercial crew systems will not be operating by 2016, saying only that even if NASA does not need crew services, there would be other ISS-related services that would be needed. He did not specify what they are. He said that NASA would need Congress to act on a waiver request by late 2012 or early 2013. That will allow about three years to negotiate a new contract with Russia.
The website of the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph and the French news agency AFP are reporting that Iran's deputy science minister acknowledged today that the country failed in an attempt to launch a monkey into space last month.
The story in The Telegraph quotes Iran's deputy science minister Mohammed Mehdinejad-Nouri as saying "The Kavoshgar-5 rocket carrying a capsule with a live animal (a monkey) was launched during Shahrivar...However, the launch was not publicised as all of its anticipated objectives were not accomplished..." The newspaper said that Shahrivar is an Iranian month spanning August 23 - September 22. AFP carries the same story.
Iran launched its first satellite into orbit in February 2009; it reentered in April 2009. At the time, an Iranian official said the country planned to launch a person into space "before 2021."
Events of Interest
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
- Space Law Symposium in conjunction with UNCOPUOS (IISL/ECSL), March 27, 2017, Vienna, Austria, 15:00-18:00 local time
- Legal Subcommittee of UN Cmte on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), March 27-April 7, 2017, Vienna, Austria
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Technology, Innovation & Engineering (TI&E) Cmte, March 28, 2017, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET (WebEx/telecon)
- ISU-DC Space Cafe Featuring SWF's Brian Weeden, March 28, 2017, Cotton & Reed, 1330 5th St., NE, Washington, DC, 7:00 pm ET
- NAC Human Exploration & Operations Cmte, March 28-29, 2017, NASA HQ, Washington, DC (WebEx/telecon)
- Natl Acad of Sci (NAS) Space Science Week, March 28-30, 2017, National Academy of Sciences bldg, 2100 C St., NW, Washington, DC
- HASC Sbcmt Hrg on Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security, March 29, 2017, HVC 210 Capitol, Washington, DC, 2:00 pm ET (usually webcast)
- NAS Public Lecture by Kevin Hand of JPL on Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth, March 29, 2017, National Academy of Sciences bldg, 2100 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 7:00-8:00 pm ET
- NAS Cmte on Space Radiation Effects Testing Infrastructure, March 29-31, 2017, Keck Center, 500 5th St., NW, Washington, DC
- ISS Spacewalk, 2 of 3 (Kimbrough and Whitson), March 30, 2017, approx 7:00 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET)
- Space Policy for the Next Generation (Mitchell Inst), March 30, 2017, Capitol Hill Club, 300 1st St, SW, Washington, VA 8:00-9:00 am ET (preregistration required)
- SASC Hearing on Heather Wilson's Nomination to be SecAF, March 30, 2017, G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 9:30 am ET (usually webcast)
- Space Situational Awareness: Research for Today, Training for Tomorrow (USRA/GWU-SPI), March 30, 2017, Capitol Hill Holiday Inn, Washington, DC, 1:00-5:00 pm ET
- Space Law at 50: Past, Present and Future (SAIS), March 30, 2017, Kenney-Herter Auditorium, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 2:00-6:00 pm ET
- NASA Advisory Council, March 30-31, 2017, NASA HQ, Washington, DC (WebEx/telecon)
Subscribe to Email Updates: