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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."
Orbital Sciences Corporation officially announced today that Kate Kronmiller is its new Senior Vice President (SVP) of Government Relations.
Kronmiller has an extensive background in the aerospace industry. Most recently she was Vice President of Washington Operations for United Space Alliance, which operated the space shuttle. Her background in space includes jobs both with traditional aerospace companies like Boeing and Rocketdyne when it was part of Rockwell International as well as entrepreneurs. In the early 1980s, she worked at Space Services Inc., the first entrepreneurial company to successfully launch a payload into orbit in 1982 aboard its Conestoga rocket.
Kronmiller succeeds Mark Bitterman, who left Orbital for SpaceX, but shortly thereafter switched to United Launch Alliance, which launches the Atlas and Delta rockets.
Orbital is on the cusp of launching its new Taurus II launch vehicle that will take cargo to the International Space Station in competition with SpaceX's Falcon 9. Orbital currently launches satellites with its Pegasus and Minotaur rockets, and with Taurus XL, although the last two launches of that rocket failed, dooming two NASA earth science satellites (OCO and GLORY). Orbital also manufactures a variety of satellites, is involved in missile defense programs, and built the launch abort system for the Orion crew capsule.
CORRECTION: The estimate for the likelihood of an individual being hit by debris from the UARS satellite last month has been corrected. See editor's note at bottom.
For those who enjoyed following the reentry of NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) last month, another opportunity is coming up next week. Germany's ROentgen SATellite (ROSAT) is expected to reenter between October 20 and October 25.
Like UARS, ROSAT was launched two decades ago when issues about satellite reentries and space debris were of less concern. Neither satellite had its own propulsion system to allow for a controlled reentry. Both incorporated components that are expected to survive the heat of reentry and reach Earth's surface.
UARS circled the Earth at a 57 degree inclination, while ROSAT's inclination is 53 degrees. In both cases, that takes the satellite over the most populated areas of the Earth (between 53 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees south latitude in the case of ROSAT), but the Earth is 70 percent covered with water, so the chance of it hitting a populated area is less than one might initially assume.
ROSAT's mission was x-ray astronomy. Launched in 1990, it operated through 1999. The United States and the United Kingdom were partners with Germany in the project, and it was launched by a U.S. Delta II from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Germany's space agency, DLR, has a website with information about the reentry. It says that 30 individual pieces could survive. The largest fragment is the telescope's mirror "which is very heat resistant and may weigh up to 1.7 tons." The debris footprint is estimated at 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide.
As with UARS and any uncontrolled satellite reentry, there is no way to predict with certainty where the reentry will occur other than the boundaries established by the inclination of the orbit. DLR estimates the probability of "someone somewhere on Earth getting injured is about 1 in 2,000." The comparable number for UARS was 1 in 3,200, which analysts pointed out did not mean that a particular individual had that likelihood of being hit. The chance of "a" person -- YOU -- being hit by UARS debris was about 1 in 20 trillion according to a September 19 tweet by The Weather Channel. UARS reentered over the Pacific Ocean and there have been no credible reports of damage or injuries.
Editor's Note: The estimate of the likelihood of a particular person like you being hit by UARS debris as cited by a tweet from the Weather Channel (@twcspacewx) on Sept. 19 was 1 in 20 trillion, not 1 in 20 million as earlier stated in this article.
Jeffrey Carlisle, Executive Vice President of LightSquared, has been added to the witness list for the House Small Business committee hearing tomorrow.
LightSquared is under attack from some quarters because of concerns that its mobile broadband system will interfere with GPS signals. Several congressional hearings have been held. The hearing tomorrow is the first to focus on the impact on small businesses.
According to The Hill newspaper, Carlisle will tell the committee that his company will create jobs for small business and "support over 15,000 jobs a year for each of the five years that it will take to construct this network..." LightSquared has a satellite, SkyTerra, and plans to build 40,000 cell towers nationwide to provide mobile broadband service. Service may involve the satellite only, the "ancillary terrestrial component" cell towers only, or both.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is in violation of a provision of the FY2011 Department of Defense and Full Year Continuing Resolution (CR) with regard to contacts with China, according to the office of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Rep. Wolf chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds OSTP, as well as NASA, NOAA and other agencies. In an email message, Rep. Wolf's office provided the letter he wrote to GAO in May and GAO's reply dated today.
GAO found that OSTP is in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act for spending $3,500 in connection with an Innovation Dialogue and a U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in May 2011 in violation of Sec. 1340 of the CR (P.L. 112-10). Since the CR prohibited the use of funds for such meetings, the expenditure was in excess of appropriated funds, triggering the Anti-Deficiency Act. That Act essentially says that federal departments and agencies cannot obligate money they do not have.
In its report, GAO cites discussions it had with OSTP wherein OSTP did not dispute that it engaged in activities in contravention of Sec. 1340. Instead, OSTP argued that the law was an "unconstitutional infringement on the President's constitutional prerogatives in foreign affairs." GAO insisted that "It is not our role nor within our province to opine upon or adjudicate the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes..."; that is the province of the courts. The government watchdog agency went on to say, however, that "In our view, legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by the President ... is entitled to a heavy presumption in favor of constitutionality."
Rep. Wolf is a long-standing and vocal opponent of cooperating with China because of its human rights abuses. He included Sec. 1340 in the law so that any such cooperation and any steps leading to it requires congressional authorization first. The exact language of the section is as follows:
"None of the funds made available by this division may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop, design, plan, promulgate,implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this division."
The chair of the White House's Export Control Task Force, Brian Nilsson, will provide an update on President Obama's plans and strategy on Thursday morning. Joining him will be Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a leading figure on Capitol Hill with regard to export controls and the space program.
The discussion is being held in conjunction with a meeting of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and is sponsored by the National Capital Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Remy Nathan, Vice President for International Affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association, is the third member of the panel.
The panel will begin at 8:30 am on Thursday, October 13, at the National Housing Center, 1201 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC. It is free and open to the public, but will not be streamed or webcast.
UPDATE: The Marshall Institute et al event on Wednesday has been added and the dates for the University of Nebraska meetings clarified (Wed-Thurs, not Thurs-Fri).
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.
The House and Senate are in session this week, except for Monday, which is a federal holiday -- Happy Columbus Day!
Wednesday, October 12
Wednesday-Thursday, October 12-13
Thursday, October 13
Thursday-Friday, October 13-14
- Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EDT each day
- FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), National Housing Center, 1201 15th St., NW, Washington, DC
- Oct. 13, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm EDT
- Oct. 14, 8:30 am- 4:30 pm EDT
- Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, SAFTAS Conference and Innovation Center, 1550 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA -- most of the meeting is closed, but it is open on October 13 from 8:45 - 9:45 am and 1:15-2:15 pm.
The controversy over LightSquared is far from over. Another congressional hearing is scheduled for next week about that company's plans to implement a mobile broadband system that critics assert will interfere with reception of GPS signals. At the same time, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee continues to demand reports from certain federal agencies about the impact of LightSquared on their operations.
Next week's hearing is by the House Small Business Committee. It will feature witnesses representing the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Agriculture Retailers Association, and the Aircraft Electronics Association.
LightSquared is facing opponents from many quarters because it is using spectrum that is next to that used for signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS) of navigation satellites. The GPS system is owned and operated by the Department of Defense (DOD), but GPS receivers are ubiquitous throughout American (and global) society. Not only is GPS embedded in many smartphones and installed in automobiles and aircraft, but it is the foundation of precision agriculture and myriad other applications.
The frequency bands assigned to LightSquared originally were intended for satellites -- and LightSquared's system does include a satellite, SkyTerra -- but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permitted the addition of an Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC). That means LightSquared also can use terrestrial cell towers for its system, and plans to build about 4,000 of them nationwide. It is the terrestrial component that is causing distress.
LightSquared argues that it has been developing this system for many years and, in response to concerns raised throughout that process, has ensured that its transmissions will not interfere with GPS. At a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing in September, a LightSquared official asked rhetorically why these new concerns are being raised only now. The company asserts that it is the GPS receiver manufacturers who have not properly designed their receivers who are at fault, not LightSquared.
Although the debate does have a technical component, it increasingly is drifting into the political realm. Philip Falcone, a major financial backer of LightSquared, charged in a September 19 interview with Fox News that competitors were fueling the controversy now that it appears that LightSquared will succeed.
The involvement of President Barack Obama in LightSquared has become the most recent lightning rod in the debate. According to the Fox News segment, in 2005-2006, Mr. Obama invested "up to $90,000" in the company that is now known as LightSquared. Falcone said in the interview that Obama sold his shares later, but did not indicate when. LightSquared critics allege that the Obama Administration is giving favorable treatment to LightSquared. Raising the stakes, Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, asserted that Gen. William Shelton told subcommittee members in private that the White House tried to force him to change his September 15 testimony to the subcommittee to make it more favorable towards LightSquared. Shelton is commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command.
Rep. Turner has called for an investigation. In addition, following its own hearing into the matter, Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote a letter to two White House offices requesting documents related to the impact of LightSquared on the science activities of various federal agencies. Yesterday, the committee issued another press release criticizing some agencies for not providing that information to the committee. It also released information that other agencies did provide.
Events of Interest
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
- Legal Subcommittee of UN Cmte on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), March 27-April 7, 2017, Vienna, Austria (audio recordings available in near real time)
- Natl Acad of Sci (NAS) Space Science Week, March 28-30, 2017, National Academy of Sciences bldg, 2100 C St., NW, Washington, DC (the committee meetings are available by WebEx/telecon, see each agenda for details)
- 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
- UPDATED LAUNCH TIME SpaceX 1st Launch of Flight Proven Falcon 9, March 30, 2017, Kennedy Space Center, FL, launch window 6:27-8:57 pm ET
- NASA Advisory Council, March 30-31, 2017, NASA HQ, Washington, DC (WebEx/telecon)
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