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NOAA, NASA, GAO To Testify on JPSS at HSS&T Hearing

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

The House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee has released the names of the witnesses who will testify about the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) next Friday.

The September 23 hearing will feature Kathy Sullivan, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Christopher Scolese, Associate Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The topic is "From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nation's Restructured Polar Weather Satellite Program." NPOESS was a joint Department of Defense(DOD)-NOAA-NASA program to build a single U.S. weather satellite system to service both the civil and military sectors. After many years of cost overruns and schedule delays, the Obama White House restructured the program last year, restoring the historical arrangement of separate civil and military systems.

NOAA has been struggling to build support for its new system, JPSS. (NASA is NOAA's acquisition agent for the program.) The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have each recommended almost, but not quite, as much as NOAA requested for FY2012 ($1.07 billion) after a significant shortfall in FY2011.

DOD also is struggling to build support for its new system, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The Senate Appropriations Committee just recommended terminating DWSS and starting all over again with a new competition to build the system. The House Appropriations Committee cut DOD's request ($445 million) in half.

Many in Congress are skeptical of the agencies' abilities to manage these programs after years of problems with NPOESS.

Maria Zuber to Join Witnesses At HSS&T Human Spaceflight Hearing

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

MIT's Maria Zuber has been added to the list of witnesses for the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee hearing on human spaceflight next week. The geophysicist is the principal investigator of the GRAIL robotic mission to the Moon launched earlier this month.

The other witnesses are well known advocates of human spaceflight: Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, and former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. They are expected to argue that human exploration of the Moon should be a national priority.

The hearing is on Thursday, September 22, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00 am EDT.

UPDATED: Senate Approps Approves Defense, CJS Bills, but CR Looms

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The committee now has posted the reports to accompany the four bills it approved yesterday. This article has not been changed to reflect that additional information, but a new article will be posted soon.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved four FY2012 appropriations bills yesterday, including defense and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS). The latter
includes NASA and NOAA. Congress is far from completing action on the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government after midnight September 30, however, so a Continuing Resolution (CR) is inevitable.

The Senate Appropriations Committee still has not posted details of what is in the defense or CJS bills. What is known publicly at the moment is that defense was frozen at last year's level of $513 billion, $26 billion less than requested and $17 billion less than what the House approved. NASA's budget was reduced to its FY2009 level of $17.9 billion, $509 million less than its current spending level and $785 million less than the request, but $1.1 billion more than what the House Appropriations Committee approved. The Senate committee not only restored funding for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but provided more money than NASA requested so that it could be launched in 2018. The House Appropriations Committee voted to terminate JWST because of its cost overruns. The House has not yet considered the CJS bill; it only has been approved at the committee level.

Where the Senate committee cut the NASA FY2012 request is not publicly known yet.

NOAA fared better overall in the Senate committee's markup than in the House committee, but funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is about the same. The House committee cut NOAA's budget request of $5.5 billion to $4.5 billion; the Senate committee approved $5 billion. The Obama Administration requested $1.07 billion for JPSS as part of the NOAA budget. The House committee approved $901 million; the Senate committee approved $920 million.

In total, House has passed six of the 12 annual appropriations bills and the Senate has passed one. With FY2011 quickly drawing to a close, House Republicans -- who sharply criticized Democrats during last year's elections for not being able to complete work on the appropriations bills in a timely manner -- are conceding that they will not either. They are proposing a CR that would last through November 18 and includes an across-the-board cut of 1.5 percent from current levels according to a summary posted on the House Appropriations Committee's website.

Note: This article has been clarified to indicate that the amount approved by the committee for NASA is $509 million less than its FY2011 spending level of $18.448 billion. It is $775 million below the FY2012 request of $18.724 billion.

UPDATE 4: Three ISS Crew Undock, Headed Home

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 4: Touchdown!

: NASA TV announcer says that an Antonov aircraft has confirmed it is in voice contact with the crew and they are OK.

UPDATE 2: Capsule separation should have occurred at 11:33 pm EDT (about 7 minutes ago), but there appears to be a communications problem and Moscow ground control has not been able to confirm it with the crew.

UPDATE 1: The deorbit burn is underway.

ORIGINAL STORY: Three of the six International Space Station (ISS) crew members are in their Soyuz spacecraft and have undocked from the ISS as they head back to planet Earth.

Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Alexandr Samokutayev and NASA astronaut Ron Garan are in the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft. They undocked from the ISS at 8:38 pm EDT (00:38 GMT Friday). Landing is expected at 12:00 am EDT Friday (11:00 pm CDT Thursday).

NASA TV is providing live coverage.

Senate Appropriators Rue Cuts to NASA Technology, Constrain Availability of Commercial Crew Funds

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

An updated edition of our fact sheet on NASA's FY2012 budget request is now available reflecting the actions taken by the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. The committee posted the report to accompany the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill (S. 1572) today, providing details on the "puts and takes" that resulted in the final total of $17.9 billion recommended for the agency.

The Senate committee-approved amount is $509 million less than NASA's current spending level and $775 million less than the FY2012 request. That sounds like bad news, but it is $1.1 billion more than what the House Appropriations Committee approved, so in these austere budget times, it actually seems like good news! It is roughly the same amount as the agency received in FY2009.

The report (S. Rept. 112-78) shows that the $775 million in cuts from the requested level were taken from every NASA budget account except science, education, and the Inspector General's (IG's) office. Science received $84 million more than requested while education received the same as the request and the IG office received $1 million more than requested.

The biggest cuts were to space technology and commercial crew. Space technology was provided with $638 million compared to its $1.024 billion request. The committee said that it "regrets not being able to fund this promising new program more robustly." Commercial crew was allocated $500 million compared to the request of $850 million. The committee made availability of $192 million of that contingent upon NASA moving forward with the Space Launch System, however.

The committee added $156 million to the $374 million requested for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) so that the telescope can be launched in 2018. The total amount for the Science Mission Directorate, of which JWST is part, was increased by $84 million. Cuts to Earth science ($32 million) and planetary exploration ($40 million) made up the difference. The committee blamed NASA for not requesting adequate funds for JWST in prior years, saying that "budget optimism led to massive ongoing cost overruns." It capped the development cost for JWST at $8 billion, noting that NASA's current cost estimate for the project is $8.7 billion (which includes some funding for science operations).

Neither the House nor Senate has voted on the CJS appropriations bill yet, so there are several more steps to go before NASA's FY2012 budget will be finalized. Assuming no changes are made when the bills are debated by those bodies, they still need to reach a compromise between the two very different versions of the bill.

Nobelist John Mather to Headline Rescheduled JWST Webinar

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

The webinar scheduled by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) to make the case for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be on September 21 instead of September 19 and the speaker's list has grown in number and clout. Among those joining the event is Nobel Prize winner John Mather whose name is almost synonymous with JWST.

The webinar will take place at 2:00 pm EDT. To register for it, go to this website. The current speakers list includes the three originally scheduled (Mountain, Smith and Abraham) plus four others. The complete list is:

  • John Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Nobel Prize (2006), Senior JWST Project Scientist and Chair of the JWST Science Working Group
  • Rick Howard, JWST Program Director at NASA Headquarters
  • Eric Smith, JWST Deputy Program Director at NASA Headquarters and former JWST Program Scientist
  • Matt Mountain, STScI Director
  • Julianne Dalcanton, University of Washington
  • Roberto Abraham, University of Toronto
  • Jonathan Lunine, Cornell University

JWST supporters were cheered by the Senate Appropriations Committee's decision yesterday not just to approve the $374 million requested for JWST for FY2012, but to increase it to $530 million so the telescope can be launched in 2018. By contrast, the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) directed that the project be terminated and included no funds for it when marking up its version of the FY2012 appropriations bill that includes NASA (the Commerce-Justice-Science or CJS bill).

Neither the full House or Senate has voted on the CJS bill yet, and after that they must reach agreement on a final compromise version of the bill, so there are still many steps in the process to determine how much money the project will get. HAC wants to terminate the project because of significant cost overruns and schedule delays. Advertised by its advocates as the successor to the wildly popular Hubble Space Telescope, they are hoping to convince those who pay the bills that the resulting science is worth the cost. The current estimate is $8.7 billion.

NASA to Hold Commercial Crew Forum Friday

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

NASA will hold a commercial crew program forum on Friday (tomorrow) at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

The forum is from 11:00 am - 12:00 pm EDT and will be broadcast via a webcast at

ISS Crew Lands, Partners Announce New Schedule

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Three International Space Station (ISS) crew members have returned home, landing at midnight EDT (10:00 am local time in Kazakhstan) after a somewhat nail biting descent when communications were temporarily lost.

Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Alexandr Samokutayev and NASA astronaut Ron Garan returned in their Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft. Everything proceeded normally until capsule separation at 11:33 pm EDT. At that point, Russian Mission Control lost voice contact with the crew. Search and recovery forces in an Antonov aircraft eventually were able to reestablish communications with the crew and reported that they were OK. Landing took place on schedule; the spacecraft landed on its side. The recovery forces are now extracting the crew from the Soyuz capsule.

Earlier in the day, the Space Station Control Board, composed of representatives of all the partners in the ISS program, released a tentative schedule for the next cargo and crew flights to the ISS. The dates are slightly different from what was reported in the Russian media on Tuesday.

The next Progress cargo craft will be launched to ISS on October 30, as earlier announced. The next crew launch, Soyuz TMA-22, will be on November 14 instead of November 12, however. That means docking with the ISS on November 16. The three ISS crew members currently aboard ISS (NASA's Mike Fossum, Japan's Satoshi Furakawa and Russia's Sergei Volkov) will stay until November 22 instead of returning on November 16. That will provide a few days to hand over operations from one crew to the next.

Once they return, the ISS once again will be staffed with only three instead of six crew. The other three - NASA's Don Pettit, Russia's Oleg Kononenko and Europe's Andre Kuipers - will launch on December 26, arriving two days later. That will restore the ISS to a 6-person crew.

NASA's press release said the dates "may be adjusted to reflect minor changes in vehicle processing timelines."

The schedule for launching cargo and crew flights to the ISS was disrupted when the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft failed to reach orbit because of a launch vehicle malfunction on August 24.

The ISS partners had to consider the possibility that the ISS would have to be destaffed temporarily if the Soyuz rocket could not be recertified for flight quickly. A Russian investigating commission concluded that the failure was due to a blockage in a fuel line in the third stage of the Soyuz rocket that was "accidental." Russia is resuming flights of the Soyuz rocket, which has several variants. One variant is now scheduled for launch on October 1 carrying a navigation satellite. The October 30 Progress launch will be a second opportunity to test the system before committing it to launching crews.

UARS Reentry Expected Next Week

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

NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will reenter on September 24 plus or minus one day according to the agency.

NASA announced last week that UARS is on its way back to Earth and pieces are expected to survive reentry. It posts updates on its website with current information as the orbit decays. The exact moment when it reenters is dependent on factors such as solar activity so is very difficult to predict with certainty until close to the event. When it reenters determines where the pieces land and hence that also cannot be known with certainty until close to the end. The Earth is 70 percent covered with water, reducing but not eliminating the chances of the debris harming anyone or anything on the planet.

The NASA UARS website will be updated more frequently as reentry nears. NASA is using the hashtag #UARS on its Twitter feed to provide updates as well.

Russia OK's Soyuz and Proton Rockets for Return to Flight

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

Russia is quickly recovering from the double rocket failures experienced in August.

Itar-Tass reports today that the Proton rocket will return to service on September 22. Its payload is identified only as a "defence satellite." On August 18, a Proton rocket with a Briz upper stage malfunctioned stranding the Express-AM4 communications satellite in the wrong orbit. An investigating commission determined that it was caused by human error in programming the upper stage.

A few days later, on August 24, the third stage of a Soyuz U rocket failed dooming the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft it was carrying. The spacecraft was taking cargo to the International Space Station. A different, but similar, version of the Soyuz rocket is now scheduled to launch a navigation satellite on October 1. That launch originally had been scheduled for late August, but was postponed pending the review of the August 24 failure.

The Russians determined that a clogged fuel line was responsible for the Progress M-12M failure and that it was "accidental." The next launch to ISS is now scheduled for October 30. It will be another Progress spacecraft. The first flight of a Soyuz (yet another variant) with a crew is scheduled for November 12.

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