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Aerospace Corp. Paints Picture of NPOESS Program Doomed From the Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) was doomed to failure according to a set of lessons learned identified by the Aerospace Corporation. Its December 2010 report to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was posted on NOAA's website today.

Historically, NOAA and DOD operated separate civil and military polar-orbiting weather satellite systems; NOAA also operates a geostationary weather satellite system. The decision to pursue a "converged" polar-orbiting system to meet both NOAA and DOD requirements was made in 1994 by the Clinton Administration. The Powerpoint briefing by the Aerospace Corporation cites Vice President Al Gore and then-NOAA Administrator James Baker as the architects of the "convergence" plan that became NPOESS. It was a tri-agency partnership among NOAA, DOD and NASA, with NASA serving in a technoiogy development capacity.

The Obama White House dissolved the NPOESS partnership in February 2010 after years of cost growth and schedule slippage. The program was restructured and DOD and NOAA now are returning to building separate systems. NASA is the acquisition agent for NOAA's satellites and its NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft, originally designed as a technology testbed for NPOESS sensors, will be repurposed as an operational satellite for NOAA when it is launched later this year. Congress is still debating funding the new NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System and DOD's Defense Weather Satellite System as part of the FY2011 budget process.

The Aerospace Corporation pulled no punches in its findings about what went wrong. The findings state --

  • Chronic unrealistic cost estimation tainted the budget process, dictated the acquisition strategy, distorted management decisions, and set the program up for overruns
  • Incomplete, inaccurate assertions of heritage contributed to cost estimation problems and led to significantly optimistic assessments of technical and programmatic risk
  • The Government and the prime contractor failed to establish clear, detailed supplier performance expectations and appropriate incentives
  • Multiple factors constrained and eventually eliminated the SPD's authority to make performance trades
  • From the start, the mission priorities of the key Convergence stakeholders were divergent. The formulation of the NPP mission created a "nested", interagency partnership with conflicting risk reduction and climate monitoring mission objectives. The lack of synergy in these partnerships created significant tension in program cost, schedule and performance.
  • The acquisition strategy contained two major flaws, including assumption of the future use of the capability trade space to maintain cost and schedule baselines, and an ill-conceived interagency risk reduction mission that co-mingled the DoD and NASA acquisition paradigms
  • Lack of a sufficent number of talented, sufficiently experienced staff appropriate to the complexity and scope of the acquisition plagued the program and were [sic] a root cause of program execution problems
  • Outside events and pressures impinged on the NPOESS program as it co-evolved with its context, complicating an already difficult program management environment with significant consequences
  • Program management decisions were ill-informed and/or distorted by a combination of factors that worked to divert attention from the core, priority mission requirements. The factors included:
    • politically pressured baseline cost constraints
    • a flawed acquisition strategy
    • cost estimation pathologies
    • dysfunction in the governance structure
    • weak staff support
    • subjective and inaccurate assessment of, and credit for, instrument heritage
    • lack of agility in adapting to the changing program context
    • weak/ineffective oversight of contractor efforts
    • constraints on the capability trade space along with the authority to utilize it

U.S. Should Support but Not Yet Sign EU Code of Conduct Say Former Bush Administration Officials

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Three former Bush Administration officials, one of whom stayed on in the Obama Administration to help craft the current National Space Policy (NSP), agreed today that the United States should indicate support for the European Union (EU) Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, but not officially sign on to it yet. They spoke at a meeting sponsored by the Marshall Institute on Capitol Hill.

Recent stories in the Washington Times, including one this morning, report that the United States is about to sign up to the draft document, which was adopted by the Council of the European Union on September 27, 2010.

Paula DeSutter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Scott Pace, former NASA Associate Administrator for Policy Analysis and Evaluation, and Peter Marquez, former Director of Space Policy at the White House National Security Council under both President George W. Bush and President Obama, support the EU draft as an alternative to a draft treaty China and Russia are promoting through the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD).

The EU code of conduct is a set of voluntary guidelines with no enforcement or verification mechanisms. Instead it spells out what constitutes good behavior that space-faring nations should follow. One question was why the United States or any other country should bother signing a document that cannot be enforced. The answer from the speakers involved aphorisms such as "idle minds are the devil's playground" or "nature abhors a vacuum" to indicate the document's ability to divert other countries from promoting less welcome approaches. The prime example cited is the Chinese-Russian Draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). DeSutter went so far as to say that the EU code would "undermine" the PPWT and possibly lead to the end of the CD, both positive developments in her view.

All three speakers stopped short of endorsing a formal U.S. adoption of the EU code, noting that the European Union is consulting with many countries and others might insist on changes. They recommend that the United States wait until the end of the process or risk losing its own leverage over the final wording. The draft code was adopted as an internal EU document that is not subject to negotiation with third countries, but it "invites the [EU] High Representative to pursue consultations with third countries" and "All States will be invited to adhere on a voluntary basis to the Code...."

Another question was, if the United States does agree to it, whether it should be sent to the Senate for advice and consent as is required for treaties. DeSutter said that strictly speaking that is a question for lawyers, but in general she thinks it would be a good idea to put it through though those "tests" to see if the country really supports it. Pace and Marquez agreed.

Each of the speakers offered several tweaks in wording, but overall thought the document was solid. DeSutter and Marquez agreed that it was better than anything the United States could have drafted, although Marquez asserted that we already have expressed our own code of conduct in the principles section of the Obama National Space Policy. He finds the overlap between those principles and the EU code of conduct to be quite close, making it fairly straightforward for the United States to agree with the European document.

Senate Dubiously Reacts to House Budget Cut Proposals, Another Short Term CR May be in Offing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the National Journal (subscription required) today that he expects a need for another short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) instead of a CR to cover the remaining seven months of FY2011. The Senator made his comments after the chairmen of the House Budget and Appropriations committees revealed the level of cuts they are proposing for the rest of the current fiscal year.

Senator Inouye pointed out that the Senate will have to carefully consider the House proposals, but will not be in session the week of February 21. The House is not in session this week, but will return next week and is expected to vote on a 7-month CR during the week of Feb. 14. With the Senate in recess the following week, however, it would not have time to consider and vote on it in time to avoid a government shutdown on March 4 when the current CR expires, Inouye explained. The top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran (R-MS), told the publication that he needs to study the House proposal more, too.

Other Democratic and Republican Senators quoted by the publication were skeptical about the House cuts being able to pass the Senate or said they needed to see the specifics before making any judgments. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking Republican on the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations subcommittee, was quoted, for example, as supporting "exploring" the budget for cuts, while adding that it was necessary to "look carefully at where we can cut right now."

National Security Space Strategy Released

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence just released the long-awaited National Security Space Strategy. An unclassified summary is available at this website.

NASA Press Conference Tomorrow on Kelly's Plans for Commanding STS-134

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of STS-134 and husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss his plans regarding the mission. A backup commander, Rick Sturckow, was named on January 13 in case Kelly is unable to fly the mission. Final word on which astronaut will be commander has been anxiously awaited. The press conference is at 2:00 pm CST (3:00 pm EST) and will be carried on NASA TV.

Astronaut office chief Peggy Whitson and Brent Jett, chief of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate, will also participate in the briefing. Kelly tweeted yesterday that his wife's rehabilitation from a gunshot wound to the head on January 8 is going well "Today was a huge day for GG. Lots of progress." Rep. Giffords was shot while she was holding a constituent event in Tucson, AZ. Six people were killed and 12 others were wounded.

Mark Kelly's twin brother, Scott Kelly, is currently one of the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). STS-134 is currently slated for launch in April.

Kelly Resumes Training as STS-134 Commander

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

No need to wait for the press conference this afternoon to find out if astronaut Mark Kelly will command STS-134 or not. NASA released a press statement this morning announcing that he is resuming training as commander of the mission.

Kelly is married to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head suffered on January 8 during a constituent event in Tucson. She is in rehabilitation at a Houston facility. Kelly has been spending almost full time with her since the shooting and there was a question as to whether she would be sufficiently recovered in time for him to return to his astronaut duties.

Kelly Expects Wife To Be At His Shuttle Launch in April

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Astronaut Mark Kelly responded to a reporter's question today by enthusiastically saying that he expects his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), to be at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-134 on April 19. Kelly is resuming his duties as commander of STS-134 while his wife recuperates from being shot in the head on January 8.

In explaining his decision to return to work, Kelly told reporters that Giffords is busy all day every day, seven days a week, with speech, occupational and physical therapy. He declined to provide any specifics about her current condition, but said she makes progress every day. He remarked on how fast she is recovering, and quoted one of her doctors as saying that she is in the one percentile group for recovering from this type of injury.

Kelly said that her family and his family are unanimously supportive of his decision. He also said that he knows his wife very well and she is strongly supportive not only of his career, but of NASA, and would want him to fly.

Peggy Whitson, chief of the astronaut office, and Brent Jett, chief of flight crew operations, emphasized that they have been observing Kelly for the past week while he resumed training to ensure that he is, in fact, ready to focus fully on a shuttle commander's responsibilities. The decision to let him command the mission went all the way up to NASA Administrator Bolden, they said.

Hutchison Replaces Shelby as Top Republican on Senate CJS Subcommittee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Senate Appropriations Committee announced subcommittee assignments today. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will remain as chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that handles NASA and NOAA. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) will replace Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) as the ranking Republican on the subcommittee.

Senator Hutchison is a strong NASA supporter, particularly of its human spaceflight program, and was instrumental in passage of the 2010 NASA authorization act last year as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Shelby will become the ranking member of the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee and remains as a member of the CJS subcommittee. A list of all subcommittee assignments is available on the commitee's website.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cuts $74 Billion in FY2011 Domestic Discretionary Spending

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced today the budget limits he is setting for the rest of FY2011. The Republican-led House passed a resolution last month giving the Budget Committee chairman the power to set those limits himself without need of legislation that would have to pass though the Budget Committee and on the House floor.

His decision cuts $58 billion from the President's request for non-security domestic discretionary spending for the rest of the current fiscal year. NASA and NOAA are both in this category. How much each of the appropriations subcommittees will have to cut to amass that total was not announced. NASA and NOAA both are part of the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations subcommittee. Chairman Ryan also mandated that security spending be reduced by $16 billion, for a total of $74 billion that must be cut from the President's FY2011 request.

Earlier, Republicans pledged to cut $100 billion from non-security domestic discretionary spending in FY2011, so today's action does not meet that target. The Hill newspaper cites Republican aides as saying the cut is pro-rated to take account of the fact that five months of the fiscal year will have passed by the time the funding is appropriated, although Chairman Ryan's statement did not assert that.

This is just one step in a long process that ultimately will have to find agreement in the Senate and on the President's desk. The government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on March 4; Congress must pass another appropriations bill by then or the government will have to shut down. As many point out, the FY2011 cuts will especially difficult for agencies to bear since they will have to be absorbed over seven months instead of 12.

Rep. Ryan's action is also a harbinger of the harsh fiscal environment facing government agencies as debate begins soon on the FY2012 budget request, which will be submitted to Congress on February 14.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Rep. Ryan was a Democrat not a Republican. We are mortified by our error.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Drops the Other Shoe for FY2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Feb-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) released the details of how much money each of his subcommittees will have to cut for the remainder of FY2011 this afternoon. The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that includes NASA and NOAA will have to cut 11 percent from the President's FY2011 request for all the agencies in that bill, or 16 percent from current (FY2010) levels.

The announcement follows action by the House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI), earlier today setting the overall spending limits by which the appropriations committee must abide in writing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to cover the rest of FY2011. The current CR expires on March 4 and Congress must pass a new appropriations bill before then to avoid a government shutdown. The cuts will have to be absorbed by the agencies in the seven remaining months (March-September) of FY2011.

The so-called "302(b) allocations" call for an 11 percent cut to the total for the CJS subcommittee, which also includes the Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Science Foundation, and several smaller commissions and offices. It does not specify what will happen with NASA and NOAA, but it is difficult to imagine they will not be impacted. The subcommittee will send a recommendation to the full committee and eventually the bill will have to be voted on by the full House. That vote may come next week.

CJS is not the hardest hit subcommittee. Compared to the FY2011 request, five other non-security subcommittees will have to make deeper cuts, and one other also is at 11 percent. The three subcommittees that deal with security spending (Defense, Homeland Security and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs) also must make cuts in the 2-3 percent range compared to the President's request for FY2011. When compared to current funding (FY2010), it is second only to the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development subcommittee, however, in the percentage of cuts that must be made.

Chairman Rogers made a statement that says in part:

"...I am instructing each of the twelve Appropriations subcommittees to produce specific, substantive and comprehensive spending cuts. We are going go line by line to weed out and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful, or excess spending - and produce legislation that will represent the largest series of spending reductions in the history of Congress. These cuts will not be easy, they will be broad and deep, they will affect every Congressional district, but they are necessary and long overdue."

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