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Although some view the Senate Commerce committee's NASA authorization bill as a sharp divergence from the Obama plan, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gave an interview to the Houston Chronicle in which she conveyed that NASA thinks it's a good bill. She did not endorse it entirely, saying that "We continue to work with the Congress," but she complimented the committee's leadership and said "What's nice is that this is a collaborative effort now and we think this is a great place to start. It accomplishes the major shifts the President set out to have for the space program."
The comments are somewhat surprising since the bill would:
- delay the commercial crew program -- the centerpiece of the Obama human spaceflight plan -- and build a parallel government-owned, NASA-managed system to serve as a backup to the commercial system(s),
- adds one more shuttle mission (the "Launch on Need" mission) that extends the life of the shuttle program,
- require development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) beginning in FY2011 instead of FY2015 as in the Obama plan,
- require development of a crew exploration vehicle based on Orion that is capable of taking people to and beyond low Earth orbit as the Orion program was originally designed to do instead of building only a "lifeboat" version of it, and
- taking the money for the HLLV and crew exploration vehicle largely from the "game-changing" technology initiatives in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate loudly touted by NASA and the White House.
The bill does support parts of the Obama plan, such as extending the International Space Station at least until 2020 and supporting the commercial crew concept, even if not buying into it as the only future route to low Earth orbit for U.S. astronauts. It is a compromise, and it is encouraging that the administration is willing to compromise in order to extract NASA from the chaos in which it has been embroiled since February. Why the Obama Administration chose to startle NASA's friends in Congress and industry with its February 1 budget rollout, why it has done such a poor job of selling it, and why it is so apparently eager to compromise just six months later, will make a good Ph.D. thesis someday.
UPDATE 6: A video of a press conference with Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Nelson, Vitter and others is available on Senator Nelson's website.
UPDATE 5: Statement by Senator Vitter from his website.
UPDATE 4: A section-by-section analysis of the bill prepared by committee staff is available here.
UPDATE 3: Senator Hutchison's opening statement can now be viewed on YouTube and a Republican press statement is available on the committee's website.
UPDATE 2: Senator Nelson's press release with a more detailed summary of the bill is now posted on his website.
UPDATE: A link to commitee chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller's opening remarks, including a summary of the key points of the bill, has been added.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee adopted the NASA authorization bill crafted by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other members of the committee on both sides of the aisle. A number of amendments were adopted, but there was little discussion of the bill or the amendments -- just repeated accolades from Democrats and Republicans on how well they worked together and how much better their bill is compared to the Obama proposal. The basic outlines of the legislation have been known for some time, but the committee has not yet publicly released the text. Senator Nelson stated that the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the appropriations bill that includes NASA next week.
The opening statement of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the full committee, is available on the committee's website along with a brief summary of the key points of the bill.
Check back here for more details as they become available.
At a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) Tuesday, the State Department began implementing President Obama's new U.S. space policy, highlighting its emphasis on stability in space.
Frank Rose of the State Department contrasted the Obama policy with that of the Bush Administration saying "in a departure from the 2006 policy, the new National Space Policy also states that the United States will consider space-related arms control concepts and proposals that meet the criteria of equitability and effective verifiability, and which enhance the national security of the United States and its allies."
Rose added: "let me reaffirm that the United States continues to support the inclusion of a non-negotiating, or discussion, mandate in any CD program of work under the agenda item, 'Prevention of an Arms Race in Space,' known as PAROS. This was the basis of a compromise reached at the CD in May 2009."
The speech outlined for the 65 member countries of the CD the major thrusts of the new Obama policy focusing on its emphasis on international cooperation, debris mitigation and space situational awareness, and its call for transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs). A major tenet of the Obama policy is that space has become vital to the interests of most countries in the world and all must work together to ensure that space remains a usable environment.
Markup of the NASA authorization bill is just beginning and can be viewed on the website of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
A new report from the National Research Council (NRC)'s Space Studies Board (SSB) recommends that NASA do a better job of estimating the costs of its space and Earth science missions. An SSB study committee chaired by Ron Sega, former astronaut and former Undersecretary of the Air Force in charge of its space activities, concludes that:
"Unfortunately, instead of motivating and rewarding vigilance in accurately predicting and controlling costs, the current system incentivizes overly optimistic expectations regarding cost and schedule. For example, competitive pressures encourage (overly) optimistic assessments of the cost and schedule impacts of addressing uncertainties and overcoming potential problems. As a result, initial cost estimates generally are quite optimistic, underestimating final costs by a sizable amount, and that optimism sometimes persists well into the development process."
The committee reviewed 10 existing studies on cost growth in NASA programs and "generally concurs with the consensus viewpoints expressed" in those studies, including the facts that the earlier in a program an initial cost estimate is made, the more it will grow. Also, most cost growth occurs after the program has gone through critical design review, meaning that cost reserves must be maintained into the later stages of development.
The committee complimented NASA on recent changes in how it estimates costs for space and Earth science missions, including the decision to cost projects on a 70% confidence level. It added, however, that it is too early to assess how effective that action is, and recommended that NASA develop a "comprehensive, integrated cost containment strategy."
UPDATE: A link to Dr. Williamson's presentation has been added.
Everyone needs to look "at the entire disaster cycle" and communities need "to understand the risks they take" according to experts who met at a July 8 National Research Council (NRC) workshop on how to better use remote sensing data in disaster response and recovery. A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the meeting is available on our website.
Stuart Gill of the World Bank and Ray Williamson from the Secure World Foundation emphasized those points during a panel discussion at the workshop. Gill added that "a top-down modeling exercise" combined with "bottom-up community risk mapping" is needed to get people involved in understanding their environments and attendant risks.
Panel participants believed the biggest impediment to better use of remote sensing data to deal with disasters when they happen, or perhaps to avoid them, is policy development. Jack Harrald, chair of the NRC's Disasters Roundtable, which sponsored the workshop, concluded that there is a "profound leadership challenge" to develop and implement a vision for 2020. The topic of the workshop was "From Reality 2010 to Vision 2020: Translating Remotely Sensed Data to Assets, Exposure, Damage, and Losses."
Today NASA announced three new prize opportunities through its Centennial Challenges program. The three new challenges are the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology, Night Rover Challenge for energy storage technologies, and Sample Return Robot Challenge for automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun said that "there is innovation in this country and we hope to shine it like a laser on our space program and change the way we do business."
The launch challenge carries a prize purse of $2 million; the other two are worth $1.5 million each. Details on what it takes to win will be developed by non-profit organizations that NASA expects to select by early October to manage the competitions.
The three challenges were selected from more than 200 ideas solicited from NASA employees, the public, and the aerospace community. NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and its Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) then worked with NASA's Mission Directorates to narrow the list and select the final three. The chosen challenges are meant to fit in with NASA's plans for the future without being on the critical path since the "results are unpredictable," said Centennial Challenges program manager Andy Petro.
The announcement was made as part of a NASA-sponsored Space Techology Industry Forum that began today at the University of Maryland Inn and Conference Center. The forum continues tomorrow.
UPDATE: The Senate Commerce Committee's website now confirms that the markup of the NASA authorization bill is Thursday morning at 10:00 in 253 Russell.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more details, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional activities are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information. All times are EDT.
During the Week
Congress returns from its July 4 recess. According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the House currently plans to recess again for the traditional August recess in just three weeks. It is waiting for the Senate to act on many pieces of legislation.
There are strong rumors that the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday, but it is not listed on the committee's website or on Congress Daily's Daybook as of Sunday evening.
Monday, July 12
Tuesday-Wednesday, July 13-14
Tuesday-Thursday, July 13-15
Thursday, July 15
Thursday-Friday, July 15-16
It's official. Rumors that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday are now confirmed on the committee's website. Two unrelated bills and a Coast Guard nomination are also on the agenda for the meeting, July 15, 2010 at 10:00 am in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), his counterpart on the appropriations committee, on June 14 outlining the major points of the bill. Reports in the New York Times and other news outlets in the past three days also summarize its general principles. Depending on one's point of view, the bill is either a compromise with the Obama Administration's proposal for the future of human spaceflight or a rejection of it. President Obama wants to rely on commercial companies to build systems to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), for example the International Space Station, instead of NASA. NASA's assignment would be technology development for missions to asteroids and other "beyond LEO" destinations in 2025 and later under the Obama plan.
The Senate bill instead reportedly will keep NASA in the LEO human space transportation business with government development of a new "heavy lift" space transportation system and crew exploration vehicle in the near term. Commercial crew reportedly is supported in the bill, but not to the extent proposed by the President. The bill would also add at least one more space shuttle flight, a move Senator Nelson has championed for many months. Only two shuttle missions remain on the official flight manifest. The bill reportedly is a 3-year authorization and has bipartisan support in the committee.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a statement today responding to what it calls "misperceptions" about commercial crew. The Federation represents businesses and organizations "working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality," according to its website.
President Obama's new national space policy is "reconfiguring the U.S. leadership role in global space exploration," says George Washington University research professor Dr. Linda Billings in a guest blog for Space News.
Noting that the Augustine Committee's report focused more on international space cooperation than commercial space, despite media attention to the contrary, and remarks by NASA Administrator Bolden over the past year also stressing outreach to international partners, Dr. Billings concludes that "at last, we are seeing an ideological shift for the better" away from the notion that "space exploration is a quintessentially American enterprise."
Events of Interest
- MAVEN Arrival at Mars, September 21, 2014, orbital insertion begins 9:37 pm ET. NASA TV coverage 9:30-10:45 pm ET; press conf approx 2 hours later
- Space Policy & History Forum Featuring John Logsdon, September 22, 2014, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, 4:00-5:00 pm ET
- Satellites and Disaster Management Webinar (Secure World Foundation & The Space Show), September 22, 2014, virtual, 8:00 pm ET
- SpaceX CRS-4 Arrival at ISS, September 23, 2014, 7:04 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins at 5:00 am ET)
- NASA Adv Council (NAC) Heliophysics Subcommittee, September 23-24, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
- India's First Mars Spacecraft (MOM) Arrives at Mars, September 23, 2014, 9:47 pm ET (September 24, 7:17 am local time in India)
- AIAA Natl Capital Section Luncheon Featuring State Dept's Frank Rose, September 25, 2014, Army Navy Country Club, Arlington, VA, 11:30 am ET
- Soyuz TMA-14 ISS Crew Launch and Docking, September 25, 2014: Launch, 4:25 pm ET, Baikonur, Kazakhstan (September 26, 2:25 am local time at launch site); Dock, 10:16 pm ET
- International Astronautical Congress (IAC), September 29-October 3, 2014, Toronto, Canada (associated events begin September 25)
- MSBR Luncheon Featuring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), September 29, 2014, Martin's Crosswinds, Greenbelt, MD, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- AIAA-NAE Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship Featuring JPL's Adam Steltzner, September 30, 2014, National Academy of Sciences building, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 1:30-5:30 pm ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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