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A new report from the National Research Council (NRC) asserts that using "reasonable assumptions," the orbital debris environment has reached a "tipping point" where debris will "continually collide with itself" creating more debris. The report calls on NASA to develop a strategic plan for its programs that address the problem.
The NRC report, "Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA's Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs," was written in response to a request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) via NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. A workshop was held as part of the NRC study committee's deliberations and a report of that workshop was published separately.
The NRC stresses in the new report that its study committee was not asked to comment on "the degree of the threat posed by meteoroids and debris, nor was the committee asked to determine which technology or path is best suited for the remove of debris from orbit." Instead, "this study is more a review of NASA's meteoroid and orbital debris programs than an attempt to solve the threat posed by meteoroids and orbital debris."
With its task so delineated, the NRC praised many aspects on NASA's ongoing programs in what the agency calls micrometeoroid and orbital debris (MMOD). It notes that NASA does not have a single MMOD program, but "numerous program elements spread across NASA mission centers," and recommends that NASA review the management structure of these activities to "achieve better coordination, provide improved central decision making, and establish a framework for setting priorities." Its overarching recommendation is that NASA "develop a formal strategic plan that provides the basis for prioritizing the allocation of funds and effort over various MMOD program needs."
The NRC also found that removal of space debris would cross "crucial national and international legal thresholds" and therefore NASA's MMOD programs should engage NASA's General Counsel's Office and the State Department "regarding the legal requirements and diplomatic aspects of active debris removal."
UPDATE 3: But the speech will be at 7:00 pm EDT instead of 8:00 pm so it will be over before the NFL pre-game coverage begins. Hardly ideal, since it will be only 4:00 pm on the West Coast when people are still at work, but this is, after all, the art of compromise.
UPDATE 2: Boehner wins. Obama will address Congress on Thursday, September 8.
UPDATE: House Speaker John Boehner has declined the President's request to address a joint session of Congress on September 7, suggesting the next night as an alternative according to The Hill newspaper, which points out that September 8 is the opening night of the NFL season.
President Obama has sent a letter to Congress asking for permission to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, September 7, to talk about jobs and the economy.
The address would begin at 8:00 pm EDT, exactly the same time as one of the Republican presidential debates. The New York Times commented that while it was expected that Obama would make a speech next week, "it is remarkable that he would choose to do so in such an elevated setting, and at the same time that Republican candidates for president will be laying out their own vision for how to get the country out of the economic doldrums." It adds that September 7 is actually the third date for this debate, having first been scheduled for May 2, then changed to Sept. 14, and then to Sept. 7.
NASA has scheduled a media teleconference for tomorrow, September 1, to provide an update on the Mars rover Opportunity.
Opportunity recently reached the edge of the Endeavour crater on Mars. The briefing is at 12:30 pm PDT (3:30 pm EDT) and will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.
The teleconference participants are:
-- Dave Lavery, program executive, Mars Exploration Rovers, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- Steve Squyres, principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
-- Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Washington University in St. Louis.
-- John Callas, project manager, Mars Exploration Rovers, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has rescheduled its hearing on LightSquared for next Thursday, September 8.
The hearing had been scheduled for August 3, but the House went into recess (or, officially, pro forma session) earlier than expected once the debt limit/deficit reduction deal was reached. The new time and date are September 8 at 2:00 pm EDT. The witness list is the same:
- Mr. Anthony Russo, Director, The National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
- Ms. Mary Glackin, Deputy Under Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Mr. Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator, Space Communications and Navigation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Mr. Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Department of Transportation
- Dr. David Applegate, Associate Director, Natural Hazards, U.S. Geological Survey
- Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
UPDATE: Here is a link to a YouTube video of Griffin's remarks in Huntsville. Thanks to the reader who sent it in.
Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has put down in writing what he was reported as saying during a panel session in Huntsville last week.
In an op-ed for today's Space News, Griffin blasts the Obama Administration's handling of the U.S. human spaceflight program. He accuses President Obama of having no interest in human spaceflight until during his campaign for President he "realized that he had to win Florida" and "changed his tune." Thus it should be no surprise, Griffin argues, that, once elected, Obama cancelled the Constellation program and has repeatedly ignored laws passed by Congress to build a new Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) instead.
Griffin initiated the Constellation program during his tenure as NASA Administrator under President George W. Bush to implement Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. Its goal was to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars. President Obama proposed cancelling Constellation in February 2010. Following months of intense debate, Congress agreed, but only after Obama agreed to replace it with the SLS/MPCV program.
Griffin attacks virtually every aspect of Obama Administration's management of the human spaceflight program, especially what he calls a "smear campaign" against SLS. Charging that the Administration "is focused on killing human spaceflight by the death of a thousand cuts," he nevertheless hails "some true heroes at NASA who are clearly focused on affordability and sustainability" and "should be commended for their innovation and their approach, which is closer to what Congress approved and the president signed into law."
Griffin was quoted by the Huntsville Times last week as making similar comments during a panel discussion moderated by Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle. Griffin is currently Eminent Scholar and Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.
In his op-ed, Griffin icily rejects a claim published in the Orlando Sentinel that the SLS would cost $38 billion. Although the headline of that Orlando Sentinel article did assert that $38 billion "could be" the cost for the "new moon rocket," the text of the story was about SLS and MPCV combined. Regardless, Griffin claims that such data would be available only to NASA's leadership and releasing it was an example of "the tiresome Washington game of leaking a highly biased story in order to set the terms for an upcoming debate." He ends his commentary by saying "Let the games begin."
The Senate has subpoenaed NASA documents relating to the SLS program because NASA has not provided them voluntarily. The House Appropriations Committee marked up the FY2012 appropriations bill that includes NASA in July and increased the amount of funds that would be available for SLS and MPCV compared to what the President requested. It cut the amount for the commercial crew program that the Obama Administration champions. The full House has not acted on the bill yet, nor has the Senate.
The International Space Station (ISS) management team is preparing contingency plans in the wake of the failure of Russia's Progress M-12M spacecraft to reach orbit last week. Under one set of assumptions, it might be necessary to operate the ISS without a crew beginning in November.
The Progress M12-M cargo-carrying spacecraft was aboard a Soyuz rocket that is very similar to the type used to launch Russia's crew-carrying Soyuz spacecraft. Thus, the Soyuz rocket failure affects launches of both crews on Soyuz spacecraft and cargo on Progress spacecraft.
NASA's ISS program manager, Mike Suffredini, said at a press conference today that the return of three of the current ISS crew members probably will be delayed for a week, to mid-September, because the launch of the next Soyuz spacecraft with their replacements is delayed indefinitely. Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported that Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, said it would be September 16. The next Soyuz crew launch had been scheduled for September 21 CDT (September 22 at the launch site).
Russia continues to investigate what caused the third stage of the Soyuz U rocket to fail during ascent. Progress M-12M (called "Progress 44" by NASA because it is the 44th to go to the ISS), filled with cargo for the ISS, crashed into a remote area of Siberia. Russia continues to search for remains of the spacecraft, but bad weather and difficult terrain have slowed those efforts. Russia announced today that they would increase the number of aircraft involved in the search, but they expect that the spacecraft broke into many pieces.
Until more is known about the failure, the Russians cannot set a date for launching the next ISS crew. However, Itar-Tass said that preparations are continuing for the possible launch of the next Progress spacecraft - Progress M-13M - in October.
With the termination of the U.S. space shuttle, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is the only way to get crews to and from the ISS. Suffredini stressed that the six crew members aboard the ISS are in no danger. The Soyuz spacecraft that are needed to bring them back to Earth are already attached to the ISS, and the ISS was thoroughly stocked with supplies by the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, last month.
However, the Soyuz spacecraft that are attached to the ISS have a limited on-orbit lifetime, approximately 200-210 days. For safety reasons, there can only be as many crew aboard ISS as can be returned to Earth in an emergency. Each Soyuz spacecraft has three seats, and with two docked at the ISS, that allows six crew members to be aboard.
With the roughly 6-month orbital lifetime of a Soyuz spacecraft, crews therefore rotate on a 6-month schedule, and the lifetimes of the two Soyuz that are attached are ending.
Other considerations are ensuring that landings can take place in daylight, which is dictated by orbital dynamics, and to not plan landings during the winter when weather conditions in the landing area are problematical at best. With all of those considerations, the ISS management team is currently planning to return three of the crew in mid-September and the other three in mid-November.
Thus, how many crew - if any - will be aboard the ISS after that is dependent on when Russia can certify that the Soyuz rocket is ready to launch a crew. Suffredini said that if the Soyuz is not flying by mid-November, the ISS would have to be destaffed. NASA has continually warned about problems that could develop if the ISS is left in an unoccupied condition for a lengthy period. Suffredini reiterated that today.
These contingency plans could also impact the scheduled test flight of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX are considering combining SpaceX's next two test flights such that the next Falcon 9/Dragon mission would involve berthing Dragon to the ISS. However, a crew needs to be aboard ISS to conduct the berthing operation using the Remote Manipulator System. Without a crew, that operation could not take place. November 30 is the currently planned date for the SpaceX launch.
The key is what went wrong with the Soyuz rocket last week. Until Russia makes that determination and fixes it, the fate of ISS operations will be in limbo.
Russia's Itar-Tass news service is reporting that the cause of the Progress spacecraft launch failure last week has been identified.
The news service quotes Alexei Kuznetsov from Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, as saying "Members of the emergency commission have determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket's third stage engine. It is a malfunction in the engine's gas generator."
The Progress cargo spacecraft was launched on a Soyuz U rocket last Wednesday, but did not achieve orbit and fell into the Altai region of Siberia. Russia is still searching for the wreckage in difficult terrain and bad weather. NASA and Roscosmos are working on contingency plans for operations of the International Space Station (ISS) in light of the launch failure, which could affect launches not only of cargo, but crews, to the ISS.
Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that the contingency plans being drawn up for International Space Station (ISS) operations underscore the need for NASA to develop a new crew space transportation system as required by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
In a press statement today, the Senators said:
"This is a very serious situation that bears close attention. Obviously, we must satisfy ourselves that the problem with the Russian rocket is identified and corrected as soon as possible. Perhaps the problems can be resolved quickly. But the very fact that NASA must make contingency plans for reducing the size or evacuating the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) if the Russian Soyuz cannot return to flight by November, is a compelling illustration of the urgent need to comply with the law and proceed immediately with the development of alternative and backup launch capabilities. Failure to take this action undermines U.S. leadership in space and jeopardizes our huge investment in the ISS."
NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are developing contingency plans for ISS operations following the failure of a Soyuz U launch vehicle last week that doomed a Progress cargo spacecraft destined for the ISS. NASA ISS program manager Mike Suffredini outlined the possibilities at a press conference earlier today.
Florida's Senators, Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), joined forces to write to President Obama about funding for facilities at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The letter was written to clear up what the two Florida Senators believe was a "misunderstanding" in a letter written to President Obama by five Senators from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi on August 15.
One of the complaints in that letter was that NASA's FY2011 operating plan would transfer money from the congressionally-mandated Space Launch System (SLS) to KSC to pay for facility upgrades.
The new letter from Nelson and Rubio seeks to clarify that there are funds in separate parts of NASA's budget for facilities at KSC. They emphasize their support for the SLS, but argue that ground systems for a new launch vehicle like the SLS are just as necessary as the "design and build phase." They point to a difference between NASA's budget categories for "21st Century Ground Systems" that are part of the SLS budget and "21st Century Launch Complex" that is part of "general construction updates" at KSC. Their bottom line is that they support the "continued use of SLS funds to develop a complete heavy-lift rocket, including the KSC projects in question."
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released its annual report on China's military power last week. Regarding space activities, it contains few surprises, but seems just a tad softer in its assessment of China's military space goals, if not its capabilities.
One interesting comment in the newly released report, for example, is that the commander of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), General Xu Qiliang, publicly retracted a statement he made last year about the likelihood of militarization of space.
DOD stated in its 2010 version of the report that General Xu "said that the trend of military competition extending to space is 'inevitable' and emphasized the transformation of the PLAAF from a homeland defense focus to one that 'integrates air and space,' and that possesses both 'offensive and defensive' capabilities." This year, DOD reveals that General Xu retracted his "assertion that the militarization of space was a 'historic inevitability' after President Hu Jintao swiftly contradicted him."
That does not mean China is any less interested in military uses of space, however. Both the 2010 and 2011 versions of the report assert in slightly different words that the PLA regards the ability to utilize space and deny adversaries access to space as "central to enabling modern, informatized warfare."
The 2010 report goes on to say that "China is developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets, accelerating the militarization of space. PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ....and communications systems."
This year's report seems somewhat softer, however. While it uses the same quote about the PLA writings, it omits the assessment China is "accelerating the militarization of space."
This year's report notes that in 2010 China successfully conducted 15 launches, "a national record." Among the Chinese satellites were five Beidou-2 navigation satellites and nine remote sensing satellites for both military and civilian uses. China also buys commercial imagery from European, Canadian, Indian, and U.S. companies to supplement their own imagery, DOD says.
As for the Chinese human spaceflight program, this report asserts that China plans a "permanently manned space station by 2020 and landing a human on the moon by 2030."
As it has in the past, DOD asserts that China is developing a range of antisatellite (ASAT) technologies, not only the direct ascent ASAT whose test created a tremendous cloud of space debris in 2007. China was subjected to international condemnation for conducting that test and creating a hazard to everyone's space operations. Nonetheless, DOD asserts that China continues to "develop and refine this system," as well as "other kinetic and directed-energy... technologies for ASAT missions."
This annual report is required by Congress. DOD put a note on the front page of this edition to let the taxpayers know that it cost just over $73,000 to produce.
Events of Interest
- Searching for Life Across Space and Time Workshop (Natl Acad), December 5-6, 2016, Beckman Center, Irvine, CA (webcast)
- WSBR Luncheon with Panel on Spectrum Sharing, December 6, 2016, University Club, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- MSBR Luncheon Featuring NASA's Jim Garvin, December 6, 2016, Martin's Crosswinds, Greenbelt, MD, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- Space Resiliency Summit 2016, December 6-7, 2016, Alexandria, VA
- EU-US Space Policy Conference, December 7, 2016, GWU Space Policy Institute, 1957 E St, NW, Washington, DC, 8:00 am - 1:45 pm ET (RSVP required, limited seating)
- Eilene M. Galloway Symp on Critical Issues in Space Law, December 7, 2016, Cosmos Club, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm ET (pre-registration required, limited seating)
- Natl Space-Based PNT Adv Bd, December 7-8, 2016, Redondo Beach, CA
- NASA Applied Science Adv Cmte, December 7-8, 2016, NASA HQ, Washington, DC (WebEx/telecon)
- Natl Acad Cmte on Large Strategic NASA Science Missions, December 7-9, 2016, Beckman Center, Irvine, CA
- Launch of Japan's HTV6 to ISS, December 9, 2016, Tanegashima, Japan, 8:26 am EST (13:36 GMT; 10:26 pm local time in Japan)
- Shaping the Space Force for the 21st Century (AFA Mitchell Institute), December 9, 2016, Capitol Hill Club, Washington, DC, 8:00 am ET (pre-registration is REQUIRED, seating is limited)
- STA Luncheon Featuring NASA's Robert Lightfoot and ESA's Jan Woerner, December 9, 2016, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:15 pm ET (invitation only)
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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