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Congress has yet to approve President Obama's proposal to extend U.S. support for the International Space Station (ISS) to 2020, but the partners in the ISS program are working on certifying the ISS for operating eight years even beyond that -- to 2028. That year will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first ISS modules, Zarya and Unity.
There seems to be strong support in Congress for extending ISS to "at least 2020" as proposed by the President, but the cost for operating it beyond 2015 is one of factors cited by Administration officials for also proposing the cancellation of the Constellation program. In their view it is a zero-sum game. If extending ISS operations and investing in more science and technology development activities is desired, then the Constellation program has to go; there is not enough money for it all. The idea of cancelling Constellation has not been warmly received in Congress, however.
SpaceflightNow.com reports that a problem with the space shuttle Discovery could threaten its scheduled launch on April 5. According to NASA, a problem was identified in a helium isolation valve in the Right Reaction Control System. Engineers will meet on Monday to discuss options and April 5 remains the targeted launch date according to NASA, but SpaceflightNow.com says that the "engineering options are limited" for resolving the problem without taking the shuttle back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee ranking member Frank Wolf (R-VA) and other Members of the House pressed their case for an alternative to President Obama's plan for NASA this past week. At a Thursday press conference, available on YouTube, Congressman Wolf and several other Republican Members and at least one Democrat -- Rep.Gene Green (TX) - asked for an alternative to cancelling the Constellation program and turning U.S. human access to low Earth orbit over to commercial companies.
They and a total of 15 bipartisan House Members sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden calling for a 30-day NASA study "to review how exploration spacecraft and launch vehicle development and testing may be maintained within the proposed budget request to ensure uninterrupted, independent U.S. human space flight access to the International Space Station and beyond." The letter specifies that the members of the team be selected by the Directors of the Johnson, Marshall and Kennedy Space Centers. The 15 Members who signed the letter are predominantly, but not completely, from districts that would be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the Constellation program.
After years of struggling with cost growth and schedule slips in most of its satellite acquisition programs, the Department of Defense (DOD) is poised to see the launches of the first satellites in four new spacecraft series in 2010 according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Testifying before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, GAO's Cristina Chaplain credited DOD for taking the "important step of acknowledging the acquisition problems of the past and ... action to address them, including better management of the acquisition process and oversight of its contractors." Several programs have gotten past "technical and other obstacles and are close to begin delivering capability." This year, the first satellites in the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF, Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), and Space Based Surveillance Satellite (SBSS) series are expected to be launched. In addition, the first launch for the geostationary component of the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) is scheduled, but GAO was not quite convinced that the December 2010 launch date will be met.
In presentations to the National Research Council (NRC) and the American Astronautical Society's (AAS) Goddard Memorial Symposium this week, Dr. Robert ("Bobby") Braun, NASA's new Chief Technologist, outlined plans for his new office. Braun is a highly respected space technologist from Georgia Tech who started his career at NASA's Langley Research Center.
In his presentation to the NRC's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) on Tuesday and later in the week to AAS, Braun talked about the need to conduct research on low TRL (Technology Readiness Level) technologies. NASA's low TRL efforts have suffered in recent years because of budget constraints. Reestablishing the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is one step in that direction, he said. Braun co-chaired a 2009 NRC study on why the original NIAC was dissolved in 2007 and whether the research conducted under its auspices had been worthwhile.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee and five other Republican Congressmen tomorrow will hold a press conference calling for NASA Administrator Bolden to appoint a team to report back before President Obama's April 15 "space conference" on how to maintain uninterrupted human access to space.
According to a press statement from Congressman Wolf's office, Bolden will be asked to appoint a team of "NASA experts to review how exploration spacecraft and launch vehicle development and testing may be maintained within the proposed budget request to ensure uninterrupted, independent U.S. human space flight access to the International Space Station and beyond. The team should report back within 30 days in order to provide the administration and Congress with this necessary information - before the President's space summit in Florida on April 15."
Saying he was neither attacking nor defending the Obama Administration's new plan for NASA, Jeff Greason said that there are no good options: "They all suck. Tough. Deal with it." Mr. Greason is President of XCOR and was a member of the Augustine committee on the future of the human space flight program. He spoke at the American Astronautical Society's Goddard Memorial Symposium today.
Mr. Greason's message was that everyone needs to be realistic in looking at where the human space flight program was headed under the previous plan and debate on their merits the issues about its future. Whatever the answer is, it is likely to be painful for someone. Stressing that he was expressing his own views and had no special knowledge of the Obama plan other than what he reads in the media, he recounted some of the discussions that transpired in the Augustine committee deliberations that led to the conclusion that the Constellation program was not executable. "Constellation was designed for a budget twice what it got. That's what unexecutable means," he said, adding that it would require "four, five, six billion dollar increases every year for the rest of time" to be successful, including operations.
The quarterly journal Space Policy and the Secure World Foundation have announced the 2010 Maxim Tarasenko Essay Contest for law school students or graduate students in space policy for a publishable article on a topic of current debate. The contest offers a prize of 500, publication of the essay, a certificate, and a one year subscription to Space Policy. Essays are due to Frances Brown, editor of Space Policy, by December 31, 2010. Complete rules are available in the announcement. The contest honors Maxim Tarasenko, a highly respected Russian space policy analyst and member of Space Policy's Editorial Board who tragically died in 1999.
Commercial human space flight is the topic of the day, but what about commercial human flight to the edge of space -- a jump from a very high altitude balloon.
At some point this year, aeronaut Felix Baumgartner, the first person to cross the English Channel on a carbon wing, will attempt to free fall out of a stratospheric balloon at a height of 36 km, potentially becoming the first human to break the speed of sound.
According to the initiative's website, this "mission to the edge of space will attempt to transcend human limits that have existed for 50 years." But the goal goes beyond just making it into the record books. If Baumgartner is successful (there is the possibility he may not survive), important medical and scientific information is expected to come out of this experiment, with benefits to the future of human activities in space.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) offered President Obama a lot of advice about what he should say at the April 15 "space conference" the White House is planning for April 15 in Florida. In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday (pages S1254-1256), he reiterated many of the concerns he expressed during a Feburary 24 hearing. Basically he feels there are many good elements of the FY2011 budget request, but he faults the roll-out of the request as creating the misperception that President Obama is killing the U.S. human spaceflight program. He sees the April 15 conference as the President's opportunity to clarify and amplify his position, for example by explcitly saying that human exploration of Mars is the goal, perhaps with intermediate stops along the way. He urges the President to:
"Stop listening just to the budget boys and OMB. Listen to the cries of an American people who once again want to be challenged and inspired, as President John F. Kennedy inspired the Nation and the Nation came together and did what was considered to be almost the impossible. It wasn't impossible. It was extraordinary, and it was an American achievement.."
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