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ATK's test of the Ares 1 Development Motor 1 is underway.
UPDATE: The test ended, apparently successfully, after 1 minute 23 seconds.
The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee marked up the FY2010 DOD appropriations bill today. Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow at 2:30 (see our calendar). In total, the subcommittee recommended $636.3 billion, which is $3.9 billion less than requested.
Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who chairs both the full committee and the defense subcommittee, made clear in his opening statement the strong reluctance that he and some of his colleagues share in agreeing with the President's request to cancel certain programs. He used the F-117 stealth fighter and V-22 tiltrotor aircraft as examples of programs that prior administrations had wanted to terminate but that Congress continued to support, concluding that the congressional decisions had proved correct with the passage of time. He pointedly added:
"As we go forward today killing the F-22, the Presidential helicopter, the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, we do so with the hope that today's military and civilian leaders are more prescient than their predecessors in predicting our future needs."
A summary of the bill is available on the committee's website. The only mention of space programs is an addition of $50 million for R&D for next generation military satellite communications.
The United States and Canada signed a new framework agreement for space cooperation today, providing an opportunity for new NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to stress the importance of international cooperation to NASA programs.
"As NASA continues to enhance the scientific observation of our planet and the solar system, we are looking to Canada and our other international partners to play key roles in our future exploration plans."
The framework agreement provides general terms and conditions for future cooperation between the two countries in human space flight, exploration, space science, and earth science.
Canada and the United States have a long history of space cooperation dating back to 1962. Among the more historic NASA launches of Canadian satellites was Canada's scientific satellite Alouette-1 in 1962, and the Anik-A1 communications satellite 10 years later. Anik-A1 was the world's first domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit. (The United States was the first country to have geostationary communications satellites, beginning with Syncom in 1963, but until 1974 the U.S. satellites were used only for international traffic.)
Images from many space shuttle missions show Canada's "Canadarm" robotic arm being used for a multitude of tasks, making it probably the best known example of U.S.-Canadian space cooperation. Canada also is a partner in the International Space Station (ISS), for which it built Canadarm2 and its "special purpose dexterous manipulator," or "Dextre" as it is now known. Several Canadian astronauts have flown on the space shuttle and ISS, including Steve MacLean who is now the head of the Canadian Space Agency.
The House Science and Technology Committee, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space, have each confirmed their hearings next week on the Augustine committee report on the future of human space flight.
- The House full committee hearing is on Tuesday, September 15, from 2:00-4:00 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.
- The Senate subcommittee hearing is on Wednesday, September 16, at 2:30 pm in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.
The House and Senate both return to work today from the August recess. While health care reform continues to hold the spotlight, the two chambers must also work on other issues, notably the FY2010 appropriations bills. The current fiscal year (FY2009) ends at midnight on September 30.
The House has passed all 12 FY2010 appropriations bills while the Senate has passed four. None of those four has emerged from conference committee yet. The Library of Congress' Thomas site has a handy list showing the status of all the appropriations bills. The new fiscal year begins in three weeks. It is unlikely that all the bills will be enacted by then, so a Continuing Resolution (CR) can be expected to keep government agencies operating if their FY2010 appropriations bill is not yet in force.
The appropriations bill that includes NASA and NOAA (the Commerce, Justice, Science bill, H.R. 2847) is awaiting floor action in the Senate. The Department of Defense appropriations bill is scheduled for markup by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, September 9, at 10:30 am in 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
The Augustine committee report is now available on OSTP's website.
The Augustine committee released a summary of its report today outlining its views on the future of the U.S. human space flight program. The committee was created by NASA at the direction of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
The report's opening sentences set the stage for what is packed into the brief 12 pages: "The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practices of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources."
The committee fulfilled its mandate to provide five options (though there really are eight) including two that fit within the current budget. The fact that they describe the two options that fit within the current budget as "not viable" and conclude that the other options require an additional $3 billion per year for the next 5 years (and 2.4% inflationary increases thereafter) paints a sobering landscape.
On a brighter note, the committee extols the benefits of international cooperation and the additional resources that could be made available if the United States is willing to continue playing a "first among equals" role as it does now with the International Space Station program. The committee also gave a thumbs up to the potential for commercial companies to play a greater role in human space flight.
Taken as a whole, however, the report underscores the difficult choices that face the Obama Administration. The President's February 2009 budget message said that NASA "will create a new chapter in this legacy as it works to return Americans to the Moon by 2020 as part of a robust human and robotic space exploration program." Today's report could not be more clear that such a robust program needs significantly more money than the President's budget provides. Adding more funding for NASA could be a tough sell in these woeful economic times. The President will have to decide if he wants to take it on. As the committee makes clear: "If ... the nation cannot afford to fund the effort to pursue the goals it would like to embrace, it should accept the disappointment of setting lesser goals."
Perhaps one of the more telling remarks in the report is the committee's observation, in arguing for program stability, that "One way to ensure that no successes are achieved is to continually pull up the flowers to see if the roots are healthy."
The committee lists its key findings as the following:
- Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.
- Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, ramping to approximately $3 billion per year above the FY 2010 guidance in total resources.
- Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore Moon First or one that follows a Flexible Path of exploration. Either could produce results in a reasonable timeframe.
The committee lists five "Key Questions to Guide the Plan for Human Spaceflight." Here is a synopsis of the committee's input on those questions.
Future of the Space Shuttle: The committee concluded that the space shuttle is the only way to close what it calculates as a 7-year gap between when the shuttle is to be terminated and a new system becomes available. However, flying the shuttle for additional years appears in only one of the options; all the others assume the shuttle will be terminated once the remaining six flights are completed. The committee estimates that the six flights will run through the second quarter of FY2011 and advises the administration to budget accordingly.
Future of the International Space Station: Extending the ISS to 2020 clearly is a consensus position of the committee in order to achieve a reasonable return on the investment made in the ISS and to ensure the United States remains in a position to successfully "develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships."
Next Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle: The committee punted on this issue, explaining that each of the options it reviewed, both those with a NASA heritage and an EELV heritage, had "distinct advantages and disadvantages."
Crew Transport to Low Earth Orbit (LEO): The Ares I rocket now under development by NASA will not be ready in time to take crews to the ISS under the current plan according to the committee. It estimates Ares I will be ready no earlier than 2017 and ISS is scheduled to be de-orbited in 2016. Instead, the committee concluded that "it is an appropriate time to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector." That does not rule out development of Ares I, but the Ares I/Orion system appears in only two of the committee's options: the current program of record, which the committee deems to be not viable; and the current program of record with additional funding and pushing the return to the Moon out to the mid-2020s.
Most Practicable Strategy for Exploration Beyond LEO: The committee concludes that Mars should a goal, but not the next goal: "The Committee finds that Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination." It offers the "Moon First" and "Flexible Path" options instead, with no definitive choice between them. Instead, the committee argues they are not mutually exclusive.
The key question now is: what's next? The committee was given its short deadline ostensibly because guidance was needed for both the FY2010 and FY2011 budgets. The House decided to hold funding for the Constellation program to its FY2009 level instead of approving the requested increase for FY2010 pending the Augustine committee's report (H.R. 2847, H. Rept. 111-149). The Senate appropriations committee recommended the requested funding level (S. Rept. 111-34), adding that "The opportunity for directing a well constructed and thoughtful approach to manned space flight should be as a budget amendment to the 2010 budget request that is received in a manner that is timely for consideration by the Committee, or as part of the 2011 budget request."
The full Augustine report is expected in mid-late September. The House Science and Technology Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the report on September 15. The congressional appropriations process for FY2010 is ongoing. Meanwhile, NASA's website for the committee conveys no sense of urgency, saying only that NASA is working with OSTP and other parts of the White House "to plan the next steps leading to a decision by the President about future U.S. human space flight policy."
On Friday, the White House released a list of 10 administration officials who were granted ethics waivers. Among them is Ashton Carter, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. (See our separate story about the waiver granted for NASA Administrator Bolden).
The May 11 memo granting the waiver, signed by Jeh Charles Johnson, the Designated Agency Ethics Official, is available here. The memo concludes that Dr. Carter's work for Textron, Inc. involved providing "strategic" advice except for one instance of providing "specific business advice" on the Sensor Fuzed Weapon. DOD production funding of that weapon ended in FY2007, according to the memo. Consequently, Mr. Johnson waived restrictions on Dr. Carter's dealings with Textron that might have been applicable under paragraph 2 of the Ethics Pledge, and went further by saying that "while a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts may question your impartiality in matters relating to Textron, I have made a separate determination, pursuant to 5 C.F.R. 2635.502, that the Government's interest in your ability to participate in these matters, given the critical responsibilities associated with your position as DoD's chief acquisition official, outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of DoD's programs and operations."
The space shuttle Discovery astronauts are getting ready to depart from the International Space Station (ISS). Farewells and hatch closure are scheduled for 10:30 pm EDT. Undocking is scheduled for tomorrow, with return to Earth two days later. Discovery delivered new equipment and scientific experiments, as well as a new ISS crew member, Nicole Stott. She is replacing Tim Kopra who will return with the Discovery crew.
Meanwhile, Japan is preparing for the first launch of its H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), which will bring more cargo up to the ISS. HTV will be launched on the maiden flight of a new version of Japan's H-II launch vehicle, the H-IIB, on Friday, September 11, at 2:04 am Japan Standard Time (JST), or 1:04 pm Thursday, September 10, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will begin broadcasting launch activities over the Internet beginning about a half hour earlier. The launch window is open until September 30 JST should any contingencies arise. The HTV will join Russia's Progress and Europe's ATV as one-way cargo delivery spacecraft for the ISS. None of those is currently designed to survive reentry so cannot return anything to Earth.
If all goes according to plan, tomorrow (Tuesday, September 8) will open the next chapter in determining the future of the U.S. human space flight program. The "summary report" of the Augustine committee is due to be transmitted to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NASA that day. How much detail will be contained in the summary report is unclear, but it should at a minimum outline the committee's determination of which options the White House and NASA should include in their "trade space" as the future of the program is debated once more.
The Augustine committee is tasked with providing options, not making recommendations. Many who are eagerly -- perhaps anxiously -- awaiting the committee's report point out that options can be written in such a manner as to telegraph intentions, and perhaps that will be the case, but one can certainly expect firm statements of findings. What is clear from the public meetings is that the committee has concluded that --
- the current Obama budget will not allow the United States to pursue any human space flight program that involves travel beyond low Earth orbit (LEO),
- it is time for the government to more fully embrace commercial launch providers as part of the human space flight program, and
- the Obama Administration must plan on spending at least $1.2 billion more in FY2011 to fly out the remaining six scheduled flights of the space shuttle.
Many of the committee members also seem to have a preference for extending the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2020. How they will handle the other major issues -- whether additional shuttle flights should be flown beyond the six currently scheduled, what should be the next destination for human space flight if the country decides it is willing to spend the money and, if so, whether NASA should continue with Ares/Orion or choose a different architecture -- is less clear from the public record.
With congressional action on the FY2010 budget and formulation of the FY2011 budget by the Administration actively underway, the key to the report's impact is how quickly decisions are made based on it and by whom. Mr. Augustine briefed the White House and NASA several weeks ago so those officials have had time already to weigh the options and assess budgetary implications. If the decisions are made by OSTP and/or NASA, not the President himself, winning congressional support may be that much more difficult. It is important to remember that Congress has twice passed laws (the 2005 and 2008 NASA authorization acts) endorsing the current program.
NASAspaceflight.com quotes NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director Mike Coats as telling JSC workers that Administrator Bolden "has scheduled a NASA Executive Summit for all Senior Executive Service employees in Washington on Oct 6 and 7 to discuss strategic direction for the Agency." Whether that is a venue for further discussion about the path forward or a two-day rallying of the troops to support firm decisions already made remains to be seen.
Events of Interest
- Lunabotics Mining Competition 2013, May 20-24, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- International Space Development Conference (ISDC), May 23-27, 2013, San Diego, CA
- Soyuz TMA-09M Launch and Docking with ISS, May 28, 2013, launch from Kazakhstan at 4:31 pm ET, docking at ISS at 10:17 pm ET (watch on NASA TV)
- Planetary Resources Inc. Press Conference, May 29, 2013, Seattle, WA, 10:00 am PT (1:00 pm ET)
- IPEWG, May 29-31, 2013, Nice, France
Full calendar with filters »
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