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Courtney Stadd, a well known member of the space policy community who was Chief of Staff to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and later returned briefly to work with Mike Griffin when he became Administrator pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday. Stadd is charged with conspiring with former NASA deputy chief engineer Liam Sarsfield to steer a $600,000 NASA contract to Mississippi State University (MSU), which then hired his consulting company to perform some of the work according to the Associated Press (AP), which also states that "Stadd was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to probation for a different case for steering a $10 million contract to MSU." Sarsfield pleaded guilty to one count in November, according to the AP.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is introducing legislation "aimed at boosting the commercial rocket industry and attracting thousands of jobs to Florida's Space Coast" according to a press release from the Senator's office.
The text of his "Commercial Space Jobs and Investment Act" is provided in the press release. It would give tax breaks to commercial space entrepreneurs and "create up to five regional business enterprise zones around the country as magnets for commercial space ventures...."
Yesterday's spacewalk was successful and the replacement pump is now in place. Astronauts Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson spent 7 hours and 20 minutes on this spacewalk, added to their two previous expeditions of 7 hours 26 minutes last Wednesday (August 11), and 8 hours 3 minutes the previous Saturday (August 7). Their efforts were needed after a coolant pump failed on July 31.
The task force on how to help Florida's Space Coast workforce transition to a new era of human spaceflight issued its report today. President Obama directed that the task force be created in his April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The Presidential Task Force on Space Industry Workforce & Economic Development was co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Eleven other government departments, agencies and offices were represented in the group.
The President pledged $40 million to help the Space Coast workforce, and charged the task force with deternining how best to spend it. A NASA press release explains that the task force's recommendation is to use $35 million for a competitive grants program to be announced on September 1 by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA). The other $5 million will fund a Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at KSC to support the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportaton's development of standards and regulations for commercial space launch activities.
The report emphasizes that the federal government already has invested "significantly" in the region, such as a $15 million National Emergency Grant by the Department of Labor earlier this year, NASA's creation of a Space Shuttle Transition Liaison Office, and a Department of Commerce investment of $7.5 million to "accelerate investments and infrastructure development in support of regional innovation clusters." The stimulus bill also obligated $19.2 billion to Florida, including $26 million that NASA directed to KSC, according to the task force.
International Space Station (ISS) astronauts Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson are outside the space station again on their third spacewalk to repair the cooling system. A coolant pump failed on July 31 and the intrepid spacewalkers have been working to fix it. During the first two spacewalks they removed the failed pump and today they are installing the new one. Follow the action on NASA TV or get updates on NASA's ISS website.
UPDATE: We've added the NASA commercial crew event on Thursday.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. Things are pretty slow as everyone enjoys the last weeks of summer vacation. We don't have anything on the calendar for the subsequent two weeks, so unless we learn of something new, the next edition of this list will appear for the week beginning Sept. 6.
For more details on these events, see our calendar on the left menu or click the links below.
Monday-Thursday, August 16-19
Tuesday, August 17 and Friday, August 20
Thursday, August 19
The National Research Council (NRC) released its most recent Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics today. Formally entitled New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
, but dubbed "Astro2010," the report lays out the scientific and mission priorities for ground- and space-based astronomy for the next 10 years. It is the sixth NRC Decadal Survey in this field; the first was issued in 1964. Decadal Surveys are so-named because they are conducted about every 10 years - a decade - and look forward to the next decade of research.
(For more on the NRC and Decadal Surveys, visit the National Research Council page on our left menu at SpacePolicyOnline.com.)
The Astro2010 study committee divided its recommendations into three categories of missions: large, mid-sized, and small. For space-based missions, the committee identified a Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) as the top priority for large missions. A collaboration between NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE), it would answer questions about dark energy, determine the likelihood of other Earth-like planets, and conduct other research about the galaxy. The top priority for the ground-based astronomy program is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which also would study dark energy, as well as dark matter, time-variable phenomena, supernovas, Kuiper-belt and near-Earth objects. That project would be a collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and DOE.
The study committee was chaired by Prof. Roger Blandford of Stanford University. It created a set of science panels to identify key science questions and then a set of program panels to recommend ground- and space-based missions to answer them. The three key scientific objectives they identified were deepening our understanding of how the first stars, galaxies and black holes formed; locating the closest habitable Earth-like planets; and using astronomical measurements to "unravel the mysteries of gravity and probe fundamental physics," according to an NRC press release.
For space missions, the committee also emphasized the importance of Explorer-class missions; the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) to search for gravity waves from the Big Bang; and the International X-Ray Observatory. They are the second, third and fourth priorities, respectively, for large space-based missions.
The top priority for mid-sized space missions is a New Worlds Technology Development mission to provide the scientific basis for a future mission to study nearby Earth-like planets.
Understanding dark energy - "dark" because scientists do not understand what it is - has become a compelling field of scientific research. In the mid-1990s, scientists discovered that the universe is expanding more rapidly than theorized and they don't know why. They invented the term "dark energy" to refer to the unknown energy force that is causing the accelerated expansion rate. Data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) led scientists to conclude that the universe is composed about 4.6% of atoms, 72% of dark energy, and 23% of "dark matter" - another unknown phenomenon. That means that they understand only 4.6% of the universe and the rest is unknown dark energy and dark matter.
NASA and DOE had been planning a Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) that was controversial because the agencies had different approaches to studying it and funding was limited. NASA grouped it into a class of missions called "Beyond Einstein" to understand the fundamental physics of the universe. A 2007 NRC report picked JDEM as the top priority of the five Beyond Einstein missions. The Astro2010 report preserves dark energy as a top priority. The report says that WFIRST is based on a JDEM proposal ("JDEM Omega") developed in collaboration between NASA and DOE. and will also search for exoplanets, including Earth-like planets, and perform other research in infrared wavelengths.
NASA is currently building an infrared telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as a follow-on to research conducted with the Hubble Space Telescope, though Hubble primarily looks at the universe in visible wavelengths rather than infrared. At $5 billion, JWST is over budget and behind schedule. Its current launch date is 2014, but that may slip because of recent cost increases. The new WFIRST telescope also would be infrared, but is a wide-field instrument rather than a targeted telescope like JWST. "The small field of view of JWST would render it incapable of carrying out the prime WFIRST program of dark energy and exoplanet studies, even if it were used exclusively for this task," according to the Astro2010 report.
This is the first NRC Decadal Survey required to obtain independent estimates of the cost and technical readiness of its proposed missions. Previous Decadal Surveys were criticized because their cost estimates often turned out to be unrealistically low. The NRC does not have the capability to do cost estimating and had relied on the teams proposing a mission to provide cost estimates. For NASA-related missions, "independent" cost analysis was often performed by NASA centers and did not sufficiently take into account so-called "unknown unknowns" that often add to a project's cost. In addition, missions recommended in Decadal Surveys often changed substantially as they went through the development process and while they retained the same name, the scope and complexity often increased, further adding to the costs.
Section 1104 of the 2008 NASA Authorization Act directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct Decadal Surveys and as part of those efforts for the NRC to obtain independent estimates of life cycle costs and technical readiness whenever possible. For Astro2010, the NRC created a Cost, Risk and Technical Evaluation (CATE) process that involved hiring a contractor, the Aerospace Corporation. The report emphasizes that the contractor operated independently of the committee "so that their final analysis was free from undue influence by either the committee itself or by interests outside the [decadal] survey.....[W]hile the committee worked closely with the contractor ... the final result has been accepted and certified as independent work performed by the contractor alone. Equally important to the independence of the contractor is the committee's responsibility for reviewing the contractor's work and exercising its judgment in accepting the contractor's results."
WFIRST has an estimated cost of $1.6 billion between 2012 and 2021, with launch expected in 2020 if the project begins in FY2013. There is a possibility that the United States will cooperate with the European Space Agency (ESA) on this mission. ESA is planning its own dark energy mission, Euclid. LSST, which would be located in Chile, is estimated at $465 million for 2012-2021 with annual operating costs of $42 million, of which the Federal share is $28 million. Costs are in FY2010 dollars.
NASA, NSF, and DOE funded the study, which was conducted under the auspices of the NRC's Board on Physics and Astronomy and Space Studies Board.
Two spacewalking astronauts successfully disconnected and removed a failed ammonia coolant pump today on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). Another spacewalk, no earlier than Monday, is needed to install the replacement pump and a fourth outing may be needed to clean up the worksite according to NASA.
Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson spent 7 hours and 26 minutes on the spacewalk according to Spaceflightnow.com, after a record breaking 8 hours 3 minutes on Wednesday. ISS managers are anxious to get the new pump working and the ISS back to normal operations. NASA emphasized that no science samples were lost because of the problems with the ISS cooling system, but some science samples had to moved from a freezer in Japan's Kibo module to an operating freezer elsewhere.
It's anything but a usual summer break for Congress. First the House returned for one day of legislative activity on Tuesday, and now the Senate will return briefly on Thursday.
The Senate will recovene to pass an emergency supplemental appropriations bill for border security (H.R. 6080) that was passed by the House when it was in session on Tuesday. The bill is expected to pass the Senate by unanimous consent and is the only legislative business for the day although the Senate is also expected to pass a resolution of condolence on the death of former Senator Ted Stevens. Thus, all Senators do not need to be present and only two are expected to attend -- Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Ben Cardin of Maryland -- according to The Hill newspaper.
Former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, his son, and two others survived the crash of a privately owned airplane in Alaska, but former Senator Ted Stevens and four others did not. Mr. O'Keefe reportedly was "badly injured."
The New York Times has identified those who were aboard the aircraft. The survivors are Mr. O'Keefe, 54, and his teenage son, Kevin; Jim Morhard of Alexandria, VA; and William "Willy" Phillips, 13. The deceased are former Senator Stevens, 86; William "Bill" Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, and Corey Tindall, 16, of Anchorage; and the pilot, Theron "Terry" Smith, 62, of Eagle River, Alaska.
The group was headed to a lodge near Lake Aleknegik for a fishing expedition. The plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T, and the lodge are owned by GCI, the Alaskan telecommunications provider, according to news reports. The cause of the crash is under investigation, but the Times cites an Alaskan bush pilot who says the GCI pilot apparently was lost in cloud cover and was trying to increase his altitude when the crash occurred.
Senator Stevens survived an earlier airplane crash in 1978 that claimed the life of his first wife, Ann. In that case, he was one of two survivors of seven aboard an aircraft that crashed at the Anchorage airport according to news reports.
Events of Interest
- 7th Annual Space Law Conference, November 3, 2014, National Press Club, Washington, DC, 12:00-3:00 pm ET
- NRC Cmte on Astronomy and Astrophysics, November 3-4, 2014, Beckman Center, Irvine, CA (Some sessions are closed. Open sessions will be webcast. See agenda.)
- ELECTION DAY, November 4, 2014 DON'T FORGET TO VOTE
- NRC Space Studies Board, November 5-6, 2014, Beckman Center, Irvine, CA (Some sessions are closed.)
- Farming and Space Exploration--Overlapping Technology Policies, November 6, 2014, American University, Washington, DC, 10:00-11:00 am ET (breakfast reception begins at 9:00 am ET)
- NASA Bfg on Orion EFT-1 Mission, November 6, 2014, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 11:00 am ET (watch on NASA TV)
- WSBR Luncheon Featuring Sierra Nevada's Mark Sirangelo, November 6, 2014, University Club, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- Citizen Forum on Asteroid Initiative (1 of 2), November 8, 2014, Phoenix, AZ, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm local time (2nd forum is Nov. 15 in Boston)
- ESA's Philae lander (part of Rosetta mission) Lands on Comet 67P, November 12, 2014, media events in France and Germany, confirmation of landing expected about 11:00 am Eastern Standard Time
- Congress returns, November 12, 2014
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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