Latest News

Discovery Launch Waiting for Clearance on Voltage Issues

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

In a press conference late this afternoon, NASA shuttle mission managers said that a final decision on when to launch space shuttle Discovery will not be made until engineers have thoroughly investigated the reasons for voltage irregularities that developed during launch preparations. Two instances of a backup main engine controller malfunctioning were observed today. NASA thinks it understands the problem, but wants to take an extra day to make sure. Launch has been delayed until at least Thursday, though the weather forecast is not favorable that day.

STS-133 Pre-Launch Mission Management Team chair Mike Moses said that if the controller failed at main engine start, the shuttle would have lifted off OK, but NASA nevertheless wants to make certain that it understands what happened. For example, he wants to know that both malfunctions were caused by a corroded circuit breaker as they currently believe.

The launch window ends on November 7 (because of sun angles at the International Space Station) and reopens on December 1.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of November 1-5, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The GWU lecture on aerospace medicine on Wednesday has been added.

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. See our calendar on the right menu for more details or click the links below.

Tuesday, November 2

  • NASA press conference on 10 years of permanent occupancy of the International Space Station. Watch NASA TV beginning at 9:30 am EDT.

Wednesday, November 3

  • Last launch of space shuttle Discovery currently scheduled for 3:52 pm EDT. If there are additional schedule delays, we will post them as soon as we know.

Friday, November 5

Space Policy Experts Point to Continuing Uncertainty for Civil Space As a Challenge

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 31-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Just four days before an election that may directly impact the recently agreed upon plans for NASA and the human spaceflight program, the George Washington University held an event discussing implementation challenges of the 2010 National Space Policy (NSP). Stakeholders from industry, academia, government, and the military included the outcome of the election as one of several elements increasing the sense of lingering uncertainty, a challenge in implementing the guidelines laid out in the NSP.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute, which co-organized the event, described the NSP's section on space exploration as problematic. He said it reads like President Obama's April 15, 2010 speech in Florida where he fleshed out his proposals for NASA that were revealed in the FY2011 budget request, and reflects that integration is still "a work in progress." Issues of implementation, said Pace, would come up at the interfaces between policy, programs, and budget: "problems happen at the seams," he added.

Where the policy is clear, as in the direction it lays out for the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), implementation has already begun. Mary Kicza, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services at NOAA, lauded the policy for providing more clarity and direction to the agency. Already, NOAA has been engaging countries, like Japan, China, India, Canada, and others, in data sharing and other initiatives.

Participants also mentioned elements like the push for increased international cooperation as a positive and implementable aspect of the policy. Not only an opportunity for government agencies, international engagement may also provide a boost to U.S. industry, suggested Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. "International business opportunities may be our industry's best and only opportunity for growth," she said, and mentioned India and South Korea as two potential markets. Opening up the U.S. industry further to the international market would require changes in export control rules, also an important priority for the Administration. Participants discussed recent developments in the move to reform export controls with optimism. Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation, said that in this area "implementation is happening very rapidly." Blakey added that the elections next Tuesday add an element of change, but that maintaining good discussion and engagement with newcomers and those already in Congress should be enough to keep momentum going for reform. It will take advocacy, she said, but there is a real opportunity for change.

Where the policy is less clear, on the other hand, implementation issues abound. Victoria Samson, of the Secure World Foundation, for example, praised the policy for its initiatives towards securing the sustainability of space, but pointed to several lingering questions. The possibility of space arms control measures is back in the policy, which states that they would be considered if they prove to be equitable and verifiable - elements she pointed out have yet to be defined.

Some aspects of the NSP are the cause of considerable disagreements. With regard to the new direction to NASA about the commercialization of crew transport to low Earth orbit, a fundamental aspect of the policy, participants repeatedly brought up differences of opinion on what constitutes "commercial." Pulham, for example, believes that something that is government funded is not commercial and will not be until a "Rockets-R-US" for the commercial launch industry exists. He offered that "things that are too hard, too risky" ought to be governmental, but provided no specific examples.

The human spaceflight (HSF) aspect of the policy, which has been a focal point of the heated debates this summer, remains unclear despite the approval of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act this month. John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of the George Washington University and founder of the Space Policy Institute, said that in contrast to other aspects of the policy, there is "no agreed-upon policy to implement" the HSF portion of the NSP. He described the environment of the discussions today as "the most confused situation" since December 1960, when President Eisenhower announced the country would no longer have a HSF program - an announcement that was reversed the next year in President John F. Kennedy's famous speech that initiated the Apollo lunar program. Logsdon described the 2010 authorization act as an "uneasy compromise" and said that in the next 6 months there would be either "more clarity or more compromise and uncertainty."

Keys for success are program stability and funding security. Robert Dickman, Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, referred to a common idiom, saying that "policy with resources is vision, but policy without resources is fiction." With the potential that the Republicans may take over Congress on Tuesday, some fear that the resources to implement these programs may not materialize. Charles Baker of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce said that "the unknown" of agency budgets was tied to future economic performance. If the economy performs well, he added, there would be fewer ventures dependent on government money.

Until that day comes, clarity, direction and stability are essential for the implementation of the NSP. "What's the endgame?" asked Dickman early in the discussion. Several participants agreed that without a long-term strategy in space, lack of clarity could stall or doom many initiatives, hurting the U.S. space program in the long run. Phil McAlister, Special Assistant for Program Analysis at NASA Headquarters, agreed that "we'd be moving farther faster if there was a little more strategy."

An interesting discussion at the end centered on the idea that a priority-setting process akin to the National Research Council's science Decadal Surveys could bring such needed direction to the HSF program.'s Marcia Smith, former Director of the NRC's Space Studies Board that produces many of the Decadal Surveys, was in the audience. She offered reasons why a Decadal-like NRC study might not be successful in setting an agenda for HSF that would be any less subject to the political winds than the many studies already published. She said that it was "an interesting idea," but "not a panacea." She questioned whether the hard-to-define HSF community would fall in line behind the recommendations of such a study as do the well-defined academic research communities affected by the current Decadal Surveys. She also pointed out that the NRC issued a report about the rationale and goals of the HSF program last year, but it received little notice because the Augustine Committee review was ongoing at the time.

The day's discussion, reflecting a wide variety of views on this very issue, suggests that consensus on the future of HSF indeed will be difficult to find. Nevertheless, the 2010 NASA Authorization Act includes a provision requiring NASA to request such a study from the NRC in FY2012. Time will tell how successful it is in setting 10-year HSF priorities that stand the test of time.

Job Opening at State Department for Space and Advanced Technologies Expert

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The State Department has a posting open for a GS-14 to work in the Office of Space and Advanced Technology in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. The individual will serve as "an authority in analyzing the foreign policy implications of, and recommending policies concerning, space and advanced technologies." Applications can be submitted through November 5. See the posting for more details.

Shuttle Slips Another Day, to Wednesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Space shuttle Discovery's launch has slipped another day and now is scheduled for Wednesday, November 3 at 3:52 pm EDT.

According to NASA's shuttle website, NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding said that the launch team is confident that repairs to Discovery's Orbital Maneuvering System will allow a launch at that time. The weather forecast is 70% go for launch that day. The launch window remains open until November 7.

Shuttle Launch Slips One Day

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The last launch of space shuttle Discovery has slipped one day to November 2 at 4:17 pm EDT. According to NASA's shuttle website:

"Managers are meeting to discuss the plan to repair helium and nitrogen leaks in the pressurization portion of space shuttle Discovery's right-hand Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod. The leaks must be fixed before launch and the decision was made to delay picking up the launch countdown by at least a day."

Two NRC Workshops in November on Implementing Astro2010 Recommendations and on Grand Questions in Space Science and Exploration

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The National Research Council (NRC) released its most recent Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics in August. The "New Worlds New Horizons" (NWNH) report, dubbed Astro2010 while it was being formulated, lays out a plan for U.S. ground- and space-based research in those fields for the next 10 years. On Sunday, November 7, the NRC will convene a workshop to discuss implementation of the report's recommendations. It will be held at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA and is open to the public from noon until 6:00 pm local time.

The NWNH workshop precedes another NRC workshop, this one sponsored by the Space Studies Board. The SSB workshop will illuminate the "Grand Questions" in space science.and exploration and try to answer a related question -- how to better communicate with the public about NASA's research efforts to answer them. Held over three days, November 8-10, also at the Beckman Center, it features renowned scientists, policy-makers, journalists, and communicators. The entire workshop is open to the public.

Student Essay Competition Reminder: Win Over $700!

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The journal Space Policy would like to remind graduate students in space policy and law school students that the deadline for the 2010 Maxim Tarasenko Essay Competition is December 31, 2010. The competition is sponsored by the journal and the Secure World Foundation, with a prize of 500 ($788 at today's exchange rate), a one-year subscription to the journal, and publication of the winning essay in the journal.

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.

NASA Clears Shuttle for Launch on Election Eve

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

As if next week isn't exciting enough with the mid-term elections on Tuesday, NASA has approved the launch of space shuttle Discovery at 4:40 pm EDT the day before. Discovery will make its last scheduled flight as STS-133 with a crew of six commanded by Steve Lindsay.

Only one more space shutle flight is scheduled after this one, currently expected in February 2011. The 2010 NASA authorization act allows one additional shuttle flight to be flown if NASA determines that it is safe. The act authorizes the launch and recommends funding for it, but whether the funding actually will be provided through the appropriations process remains up in the air.

The election may have some bearing on that. If the Republicans gain control of the House and/or Senate, deficit reduction is their major theme and funding for domestic discretionary agencies like NASA will be that much more difficult to obtain. Still, NASA's activities enjoy wide bipartisan support, so the funding could be provided. Some NASA supporters fear, however, that NASA will be directed to fly the mission and have to redirect funds from its other activities.

NAC Planetary Defense Task Force Makes Five Recommendations to NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Task Force on Planetary Defense made five recommendations to NASA in its report to NAC, which accepted the report on October 6. The Task Force was co-chaired by two former astronauts, Tom Jones and Rusty Schweickart. In this context, planetary defense means defending Earth from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) -- asteroids and comets -- headed our way.

The recommendations are:

  • Organize for Effective Action on Planetary Defense
  • Acquire Essential Search, Track and Warning Capabilities
  • Investigate the Nature of the Impact Threat
  • Prepare to Respond to Impact Threats
  • Lead U.S. Planetary Defense Efforts in National and International Forums

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently sent letters to Congress in response to a provision in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act on agency roles and responsibilities in dealing with the NEO threat. It gave NASA a lead role in many aspects of NEO detection and cataloging, but deferred decisions on who is in charge of mitigating the threat. It did identify NASA as the lead agency to perform analysis and simulation to inform future decisions on mitigation options.

Events of Interestl

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


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