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The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
Monday, February 21
- Final day of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 12:45 pm EST
Tuesday, February 22
Tuesday- Wednesday, February 22-23
Thursday, February 24
- Scheduled launch of the STS-133 (Discovery), 4:50 pm EST. Launch dates and times are subject to change. Check NASA's shuttle website or follow NASA on Twitter to keep up to date.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the February 17, 2011 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the federal research and development budget is now available. Dr. John Holdren, Science Adviser to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was the witness. Our hearing summary focuses on those aspects of the hearing that concerned the space program, which was not the dominant topic.
During today's plenary lecture at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President, said that "NASA has been a big challenge."
Holdren's speech was a status report on the Obama Administration's progress on science, technology, and innovation policy. Though the talk focused on federal initiatives in other fields, such as energy and education policy, Holdren spoke for a few minutes about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Referencing the Bush Administration's Moon-and-Mars focused Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), Holdren said the Obama Administration had inherited a program in disarray in an agency that was largely dispirited after "years of mismatch of resources and vision." Because the VSE was not properly funded, NASA's scientific activities were "gutted [to] feed [the] Constellation [Program]," referring to the program developed to implement the VSE. He described the Obama Administration's alternative plan for NASA, unveiled and hotly debated since February of last year, which cancelled the Constellation program, extended the International Space Station, and opted to rely on the commercial sector for human space transportation to low Earth orbit. This, he said, was a "comprehensive plan to balance NASA's programs."
Holdren later mentioned the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, signed last year, which he described as "a compromise." While it "reflected Congressional preference for using existing technologies [and] contracts" for building a heavy lift launch vehicle, he said he was pleased because it had "a lot of what we wanted in it."
Carrying out the mandates of the Authorization Act, of course, requires funding. Holdren said he hoped Congress would approve a FY2012 budget, speaking to the fact that because Congress so far has failed to approve a budget for FY2011, most agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution since October when FY2011 began. He said the President's FY2012 budget request, released last Monday, "funds every element of the Authorization," but he admitted that its outcome is still very much uncertain.
The House finally completed debate on and passed H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) for the rest of FY2011, in the wee hours this morning (Saturday). For all the hundreds of amendments introduced and debated, as far as we can tell, only one directly affects NASA. We will double check the Friday-Saturday Congressional Record when it is issued to make sure nothing snuck in at the last moment, but for now, this is the best information we have.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) won approval to cut $298 million from NASA's Cross-Agency Support account and use it to fund Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), a program in the Justice Department. NASA and the Justice Department are in the same section of the CR because they are both within the jursidiction of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee. The way the rules worked for debate on this bill, if a Member wanted to add money for something, the "offset" had to be in the same part of the bill.
Rep. Weiner was apologetic about taking it from NASA. On February 15 (Congressional Record, page H 891), he said:
Now, do I like the idea we have to take it from NASA space exploration? I don't know any of the crime statistics on Mars, and I'm interested, but it's a bad choice. If any of you like space exploration, so do I. In a way, I'm playing the game too. I'm taking from one place to give to another. But I do believe it's in the interest of all of us to try to set these priorities straight. ... So I hope you support the Weiner amendment by taking from Mars and putting it in the streets of your district."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the CJS subcommittee, opposed the amendment, but it passed 228-203. The money was not taken from Mars exploration as Rep. Weiner's comments suggested. It was taken from Cross Agency Support, which funds Center Management and Operations, Agency Management and Operations, and Institutional Investments.
The appropriations committee already had cut NASA $303 million below its FY2010 appropriated level. With the $298 million cut in the Weiner amendment, NASA would be cut $601 million from its FY2010 appropriation, giving the agency a total of $18.123 billion for FY2011. Compared with President Obama's request of $19.000 billion for NASA in FY2011, it is a $877 million reduction.
It is important to keep the fiscal years straight in this complicated budget debate. Many press reports say that the House voted to cut in total about $60 billion from federal spending, far less than the $100 billion Tea Party Republicans promised in their campaigns. That is correct. However, it is also correct to say that it is a $100 billion cut if the baseline is the President's request for FY2011, which is what the House Appropriations Committee says. (Added to the complexity in following the debate is that President Obama submitted his request for FY2012 on Monday; congressional hearings have begun on that request.)
Whatever number one wishes to use for the cut that is in the House-passed CR, it is unlikely that the Senate will agree. Such deep cuts when at least five months of the fiscal year will have expired by the time anything is signed into law significantly magnifies the impact, and many Senators have indicated they are not willing to go that far.
The House and Senate are in recess next week while Members and Senators return home to face their constituents and see how all of this is playing in the rest of America. When they return to Washington, they will have one week to reach a compromise or pass another temporary spending bill. Without some sort of appropriations bill passed by midnight on March 4, the government will shut down. The Congressional Research Service has a handy report on government shutdowns that is available via the Federation of American Scientists website.
Following a Flight Readiness Review today, NASA confirmed February 24 as the launch date for STS-133. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:50 pm EST.
The mission originally was scheduled to launch last November, but was delayed first by a gas leak and then by problems with "stringers" on its External Tank. This is the last flight of the Discovery orbiter. At least one more shuttle mission, STS-134 (Endeavour) is scheduled, and if Congress does not cut NASA's FY2011 budget too deeply, the agency plans one more flight of Atlantis (STS-135). Congress directed the agency to fly that "Launch-on-Need" mission and the agency is willing to do so as long as the money is available.
Currently STS-134, commanded by Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who continues her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head last month, is scheduled for April 19. Kelly told a news conference on February 4 that he expects his wife to be at Kennedy Space Center for his launch. STS-135 is tentatively scheduled for launch in June. That would be the last flight of the shuttle program.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, will hold hearings on NASA's FY2012 budget request on March 2 and March 3 respectively.
Congress may still be wrangling over how much NASA and other federal agencies will get for FY2011, but the FY2012 budget clock starting ticking on Monday when President Obama sent his request to Congress. Theoretically, Congress is supposed to pass the new budget before the next fiscal year begins on October 1. As everyone can see from the heated battles underway on FY2011 -- five months after that fiscal year began -- it does not always work out that way. In fact, it hardly ever works out that way.
Nonetheless, the authorization committee and appropriations subcommittee in the House are going to get the ball rolling after Congress returns from a one-week recess to reconnect with constituents face-to-face.
The National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) released by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Director of National Intelligence earlier this month "recogniz[es] reality: we are not alone, we can't do everything alone," said the Honorable Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force. His comment was made during an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that featured a conversation with top U.S. military officials on the implications of the strategy for the DOD. The event was moderated by CSIS's President and CEO, Dr. John J. Hamre.
Of this first dedicated national security space strategy, the Honorable William J. Lynn III, Deputy Secretary of Defense, explained that it demonstrates the importance of the space domain to U.S. national security and is meant to deal with "these changed circumstances" where space is congested, competitive, and contested. These factors require a new way of thinking of ways to protect not only U.S. space assets, but also the industrial base.
Critical to the first task are improvements in space situational awareness (SSA). SSA, simply put, is the ability of knowing precisely the location of space objects and where they are going. General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that space deterrence made improved SSA a critical need both for identifying anomalies and for attribution in the event of an attack. The NSSS states that the United States reserves the right of self-defense, but "all of space is not in space," he added, and norms are needed to know what the appropriate response to a potential attack would be. SSA, which he said "raises the bar in deterrence," has to be part of the discussions because "absent that, you really are in a large area of ambiguity."
With respect to protecting the industrial base, Lynn said that the DOD was taking steps to modify its acquisition approach, with a goal to infuse greater stability. Block buys and fixed price contracts are needed to increase predictability. The changes also include a different approach to buying launch vehicles. Donley described interagency coordination efforts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to "decouple launchers from payloads," allowing agencies to buy launchers on a more routine basis.
A vital step to support the industrial base, added Lynn, is export control reform, which has been an important priority of President Obama's Administration. The current rules date back to the Cold War, and now "seem to be designed to keep technologies from our allies," he said. This, agreed Cartwright, is part of the old approach to "go it alone," which he said was simply not affordable. Just as new constructs are needed for transactions with industry, so are new constructs needed for partnering with other countries. "If we are gonna fight in a combined way, we gotta find a way to operate in a combined way," he argued. He said that Russia was one of the countries where space could provide an opportunity for cooperation.
Greater cooperation may require greater coordination. The European Union's draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities has been a topic of discussion recently as one potential way forward in developing norms for responsible behavior in space. In response to a question about the code, Lynn said that while it was not in the national security space strategy, the code is "frankly, very consistent with some of the goals of the [NSSS]" and was therefore of a lot of interest. Discussing the benefits of this approach, he said that as opposed to other proposals that tend to be restrictive, the code had "important protections," including acknowledgement of the right of self-defense, and that, as a voluntary move, it had "strong potential of being a positive step" forward.
A webcast of the event is available on the CSIS website.
UPDATE: The hearing has started. I'm tweeting it: SpcPlcyOnline.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee's hearing this morning with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren on the federal government's FY2012 budget request for research and development has been delayed. Instead of starting at 10:00, it will start "10 minutes after this morning's series of votes. (Last votes are expected between 11:30 - 11:45 a.m.)" according to a committee press release.
NASA Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin released a report today criticizing NASA's acquisition strategy for commercial launch vehicle services because it does not take advantage of the Minotaur rocket for medium-class missions.
"Our analysis shows that use of the Minotaur for certain NASA science missions offers significant savings when compared to the available commercially provided intermediate class launch vehicles cited in NASA's report to Congress. Moreover, it also would be less expensive than SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is still under development and not yet certified to carry NASA science missions. For example, if NASA used the Minotaur rather than Falcon 9 or the intermediate-class Atlas V for the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission scheduled for launch in November 2014, the Agency could save between $61 million and $156 million..."
The IG report continued that NASA's explanation for not using Minotaur is that it "could have a negative impact on the domestic commercial rocket industry because it might discourage companies from entering the launch services market," but the IG concludes that it is unlikely they would be ready in time for the SMAP mission. "Accordingly, while we appreciate the legal and policy reasons for promoting commercial launch providers, we believe that NASA should consider using the Minotaur as a launch vehicle for appropriate science missions until cost-effective and reliable commercial launch services are available."
Minotaurs are based on decomissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs.) The IG report says that NASA does consider Minotaur for small missions in its launch services acquisition strategy, but not for medium-class missions.
There is still time to register for the March 4 symposium at NASA headquarters on "State of the Space Agency: NASA Future Programs Presentation." NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and the Associate Administrators of NASA's mission directorates will present NASA's FY2012 budget request in some detail with plenty of time for Q&A. The event is sponsored by the NASA Alumni League, the American Astronautical Society, AIAA, Women in Aerospace, and CES. Advance registration is required, but there is no fee. RSVP to Pat Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check our calendar for March 4 for more information.
Events of Interest
- International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Academy Day, October 11, 2015, Jerusalem, Israel (in conjunction with the IAC)
- International Astronautical Congress (IAC), October 12-16, 2015, Jerusalem, Israel
- Columbus Day (U.S. Govt holiday), October 12, 2015
- Natl Academies Cmte on Solar and Space Physics, October 14-15, 2015, Keck Center, 500 5th St., NW, Washington, DC (open sessions both days; available via WebEx)
- NASA Bfg on Small Satellite Launch Contract, October 14, 2015, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 1:00 pm ET (watch on NASA TV)
- NEW Google+ Hangout on Starshares and Coronagraphs, October 16, 2015, virtual, 3:00 pm ET
- New Worlds 2015, October 16-17, 2015, Austin, TX
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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