SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
The new charter for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is "lost in space" according to DODBuzz, which has been tracking the development of a new charter for the agency that builds and operates U.S. spy satellites. Though DODBuzz predicted in November that the new charter was imminent, apparently the Department of Defense (DOD) general counsel's office is worried that that it may expand NRO's "powers into areas governed by the military services," according to the website, which adds that the issue revolves around what constitutes "overhead reconnaissance systems." Stay tuned.
The Wall Street Journal's attention grabbing headline yesterday reiterates the rumors heard in space policy circles since the Augustine committee report was released last fall -- that NASA will turn to the commercial sector to build the new space transportation systems to take American astronauts into space. The article also dampens expectations of a significant budget increase for NASA in FY2011. Although there had been talk of a $1 billion increase a few weeks ago, more recent rumors are that those hopes will not be met. The FY2011 budget is due to be released a week from today, which should finally answer some of the questions about whether President Obama supports a robust NASA space program or not.
The House Science and Technology Committee is hot off the mark on NASA issues this year, with a hearing scheduled for February 3 on "Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency's Watchdogs." The NASA Inspector General, the top Government Accountability Office (GAO) staff person on NASA issues, and the chairman of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel are the witnesses.
The FY2011 federal budget, including NASA, is expected to be released on February 1. The most recent rumors are that it will not contain much of an increase for NASA, and will focus on facilitating commercial companies to develop new human space flight capabilities instead of building the Ares launch vehicle on which NASA has been working for the past four years. Many members of the House S&T Committee expressed strong support for the current program during hearings last year, so this could be shaping up to be a contentious year between Congress and the White House on space issues.
The hearing will be in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building beginning at 10:00 a.m.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click on the links below. Note that dates, times and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check with the committee for up to date information. All the meetings are in Washington, D.C.; all times are EST.
Tuesday, January 26
Wednesday, January 27
- State of the Union address by President Obama to a joint session of Congress. 9:00 p.m.
Thursday-Friday, January 28-29
- NRC Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space: Panel on Translation to Space Exploration Systems. Keck Center, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Room 105. Some or all sessions of this meeting may be closed; an agenda has not been posted on the NRC website as of January 24.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce) reorganized its headquarters leadership structure in October, creating a new Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction whose responsibilities encompass NOAA's satellite programs, including the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for President Obama's nominee for this position, Timothy McGee, on January 26 at 2:30 p.m.
The new Assistant Secretary will "drive policy and program direction for weather and water, integrated mapping, and observing architecture, including satellites" according to NOAA's announcement of the realignment. In that press release, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said that it was the first NOAA headquarters management restructuring since 1970 when NOAA's budget was $250 million, compared to its $4.5 billion budget today.
President Obama announced that he would nominate Rear Admiral Timothy McGee (Ret.) to the Assistant Secretary position on December 17, 2009. McGee most recently served as Commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Stennis, Mississippi. A Naval Academy graduate, he has a Master's degree in Meteorology and Oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate School.
The hearing is in Room 253 Russell Senate Office Building.
The long-troubled NPOESS program could be well-served by getting more high level attention at NOAA, although everyone is still waiting for the Obama White House to make a decision on whether the current NPOESS management structure should be changed. NPOESS is jointly managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and NOAA through an integrated program office (IPO), with DOD as the acquisition agent. The beleaguered history of the program's schedule slips and cost growth has been the subject of many congressional hearings and reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Research Council (NRC).
A blue ribbon "independent review team" (IRT) chaired by A. Thomas Young reported to the White House last spring that the program needed urgent attention or it had "a very low probability of success." The IRT recommended that "responsibility for NPOESS execution be assigned to NOAA with NASA acting as NOAA's acquisition organization." The White House's response was to set up another task force to determine what to do. The NPOESS program executive officer, Dan Stockton, stepped down from his position on January 8, 2010, fueling expectations that a White House decision is imminent.
NASA is participating in the NPOESS program by building the NPOESS Preparatory Program (NPP) satellite to test new technologies, but NPOESS itself is funded by DOD and NOAA.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the January 21, 2010 seminar on "Space Security Index 2009: The Status of and Future Trends in Space Security" is now available on our left menu under "Our Meeting Summaries" or simply by clicking here. Participants in the seminar were:
- Cesar Jaramillo, Project Ploughshares
- Clay Mowry, Arianespace, Inc.
- Marcia Smith, SpacePolicyOnline.com
- Peter Hays, SAIC and National Security Space Office
Obama Administration experts wrestling with development of a new U.S. space policy are divided into four camps according to SAIC's Dr. Peter Hays. Dr. Hays supports the National Security Space Office at the Department of Defense (DOD) and spoke to a seminar on space security on January 21.
He described the four camps as those who believe that not much has changed since the 2006 National Space Policy was released and therefore no change in policy is needed; those who acknowledge that things have changed and believe we need to do better; those who argue for more international cooperation, partnering, development of Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs), and leveraging commercial space capabilities; and those who want to increase DOD's "less benign" capabilities.
The current deadline for releasing the new space policy is summer 2010, he said, while cautioning that the disparate points of view make meeting that deadline a challenge. As he noted, it took four years (2002-2006) for President George W. Bush's national space policy to emerge. He also predicted that a "non-prescriptive" version of the congressionally required Space Posture Review would be released along with the FY2011 budget request to meet the congressional deadline (which actually has passed already - it was December 1, 2009), with the "bulk of the work" merged into a national space strategy that would be released after the new national space policy.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the seminar, including more of Dr. Hays' comments, is available on the left menu of our home page (see Our Meeting Summaries) or by clicking here. The other speakers were Cesar Jaramillo of Canada's Project Ploughshares, which spearheads production of the Space Security Index - the main topic of the seminar; Clay Mowry from Arianespace, Inc.; and Marcia Smith of SpacePolicyOnline.com.
Wayne Hale has a very interesting blog post today on how NASA's human spaceflight safety culture got to where it is today -- the hard way -- and how difficult it will be to get a "staid, grey, old, inflexible bureaucracy [to] approve flying its people on somebody else's rocket? Experience has been a hard teacher...."
The National Research Council (NRC) concluded in a report released today that NASA cannot meet the schedule mandated by Congress in 2005 for identifying 90% of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) 140 meters or more in diameter by 2020. NEOs are asteroids or comets that come close to Earth. The NRC said that inadequate funding was the culprit: "...for the past 5 years, the administration requested no funds, and the Congress appropriated none, for this purpose."
The report, Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies, offers two options for proceeding depending on whether cost or schedule is most important. The earliest the goal could be achieved is 2022 if funding is provided to launch a spacecraft mission to augment searches by ground-based telescopes. If funding is limited and only ground-based telescopes are used, the goal could be reached by 2030. NASA currently spends about $4 million per year looking for NEOs, but that effort is focused on an earlier congressional mandate to catalog larger NEOs -- 1 kilometer or more in diameter -- that are easier to find.
The NRC committee that wrote the report, chaired by Irwin Shapiro of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, warned that objects smaller than 140 meters also could inflict substantial damage on the Earth and recommended that smaller NEOs also be catalogued. The 1908 event near Tunguska in Siberia that leveled 2,000 square kilometers of forest was cited as an example. Current estimates are that an asteroid between 30 and 70 kilometers in diameter exploded above the site, creating devastation with the resulting atmospheric shock wave.
Radars at the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico and NASA's tracking station in Goldstone, California are needed to characterize NEOs based on their orbits and physical properties, according to the report. Any attempt to deflect one to protect Earth would be dependent upon having such information. Therefore, the committee recommended that funding for NEO studies at Arecibo and Goldstone be assured. Arecibo's future has been in doubt since a 2006 NSF "senior review" that recommended it be closed by 2011 unless NSF could find other partners to contribute personnel and funds. Some want NASA to be one of those partners and increase its support for Arecibo. NASA argues that ground-based observatories are NSF's responsibility (NASA funds space-based observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope) and NASA's budget for space science already is constrained.
The committee was asked to identify the "optimal approach" to defending the Earth from NEO impacts - called "mitigation" in the report - but concluded that efforts in this area are too new and immature to determine an optimal approach. Instead, it recommended a "peer-reviewed, targeted research program in the area of impact hazard and mitigation of NEOs," stressing that funds for it should not be taken from science programs.
Noting that Congress already directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to identify by October 2010 what U.S. agency or agencies should be responsible for protecting the United States from a NEO collision, the report recommends that a standing committee with members from each relevant agency be created to develop a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO threat. This NEO committee would apportion responsibility among the various U.S. agencies and coordinate and collaborate with other nations. One agency would be designated by the Administration as the lead and chair the NEO committee. The report did not comment on what agency should have that role. In addition, the report recommends that the United States "take the lead in organizing and empowering a suitable international entity to participate in developing a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO hazard."
The report was written under the auspices of the NRC's Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB). Congress directed NASA to request the study in the report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008. NASA and NSF jointly sponsored it.
Congress has a full plate of NASA-related issues to confront this year according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS specialist Daniel Morgan lays out the panoply of issues ranging from broad -- "is there a national consensus for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, despite the inherent risks and the substantial cost" -- to narrow -- "Are the currently planned Orion and Ares vehicles the best choices for delivering astronauts and cargo into space."
CRS does not make recommendations. Instead, its job is to provide non-partisan, objective research and analysis exclusively for Members and committee of Congress. It identifies issues, provides context, and analyzes possible solutions. By law, its reports are available only to Members of Congress and their staffs and not to the public, though Members may distribute them to anyone. Many CRS reports make their way onto the Web. This one is available via the Federation of American Scientists website.
Events of Interest
- AGU Fall Meeting, December 9-13, 2013, San Francisco, CA Press conferences on special topics will be webstreamed each day. See our "favorites" list. Note that times are in PST.
- NAC Audit, Fin & Analysis Cmte, December 9, 2013, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- Secure World Foundation panel on "Gravity" in Real Life [re the movie Gravity], December 9, 2013, Washington, DC, 12:00-2:00 pm ET
- NAC Human Expl & Ops Cmte, December 9-10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- NAC Technology & Innovation Cmte, December 10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- House SS&T Committee markup of NASA termination liability bill, December 10, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building 2:00 pm ET (The committee confirmed that this markup would, indeed, resume at this time/date)
- NAC IT Infrastructure Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- FAA Commercial Space Trans Adv Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Washington, DC
- House SS&T Sbcmte Hearing on Relationship Between Climate and Weather, December 11, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. 10:00 am ET
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC), December 11-12, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- Senate Commerce Hrg on Weather Readiness (incl satellites), December 12, 2013, G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am ET
- America's Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Expl (Marshall Institute re its new book of that title), December 13, 2013, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, 2:00-3:30 pm ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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