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Japanese Space Agency Confirms Hayabusa Capsule's Landing Site

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

UPDATE: See truly amazing video from a NASA DC-8 of the reentry on YouTube. You can see the mother spacecraft burning up as a fireball while the return capsule continues on its descent.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reports that it has confirmed the landing site of the asteroid sample return capsule from the spacecraft Hayabusa (also known as Muses-C). The capsule landed in the Woomera Prohibited Area in Australia. The mother spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere as planned; only the capsule was designed to survive reentry. The BBC adds that the capsule will not be approached until daylight local time and "safety and sterilisation protocols will not permit the capsule's evacuation and transfer to Japan for several days."

Scientists are wondering what samples are in the capsule. The Hayabusa mission survived a number of technical challenges during its 7 year mission, one of which reportedly was that the mechanism that was intended to grab a sample from the surface of the asteroid after the spacecraft landed malfunctioned. The BBC reports that Japanese scientists remain optimistic that, at a minimum, enough dust would have been generated by the spacecraft's landing that some of it would have made its way into the chamber of the return capsule.

Japanese Asteroid Probe Presumably Back on Earth

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) asteroid sample return spacecraft, Hayabusa, presumably has landed in Australia as planned. The BBC reports that the reentry spacecraft hit the top of the atmosphere at 13:50 GMT (9:50 am EDT), but it would take recovery teams several hours to pinpoint the landing site and determine if it landed intact. No information about the actual landing has yet appeared on JAXA's website. A video of the reentry is on UStream. The fireball begins to emerge at 2:58 into the video. Beautiful!

Events of Interest: Week of June 14-18, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional activities are subject to change; check the appropriate website for up-to-date information. All times are EDT.

During the Week

The House may take up the FY2010 supplemental appropriations bill: the Senate-passed version (H.R. 4899) or its own (not yet reported from committee). The Senate-passed version includes language stating that funds appropriated in FY2010 or before can be used to continue the Constellation program and NASA should not terminate Constellation contracts "for convenience."

It is also possible that the House or Senate will act on a FY2011 budget resolution, or a "deeming resolution" as an alternative, that would set the amount of funds available for each appropriations subcommittee to spend. Technically, the subcommittees cannot act on their FY2011 appropriations bills until those limits are set.

Entirely separate from the U.S. Congress, the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOUS) will continue its meeting in Vienna, Austria through Friday.

Tuesday, June 15

  • The International Space University (ISU) will hold a scholarship fund dinner, 6:30 pm, Westin Grand Hotel, Washington DC

Wednesday, June 16

  • Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on FY2011 DOD budget request, 10:30 am, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC

Thursday, June 17

Text of Letter to NASA From HS&T Asking For Budget Details by June 16

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The bipartisan leadership of the House Science and Technology (HS&T) committee and its Space and Aeronautics subcommittee sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday, the text of which is available here. It asks for budget details by June 16, 2010 so the committee can proceed with writing an authorization bill for the agency, and stresses that the funding projections for NASA's human spaceflight program do not meet what the Augustine Committee said was necessary to fund any of the options it identified.

Signed by committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), full committee ranking member Ralph Hall (R-TX), subcommittee chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and subcommittee ranking member Pete Olson (R-TX), the letter asks NASA to provide budget details about the new plan for human spaceflight taking into account the new initatives announced by President Obama on April 15 (a crew escape vehicle for the International Space Station and a $40 million jobs fund for Florida space workers). Gen. Bolden told the committee at a May 26 hearing that the agency would be submitting a revised FY2011 budget request "in the near future," but would not specify when.

The congressional letter suggests that the committee is skeptical that the new Obama plan is any more executable in terms of budget than the Constellation program the President wants to cancel. It specifically asks NASA to provide not only the planned budgets, but "the budgetary analysis and assumptions used to demonstrate the executability of your proposed plan...."

The letter points out that the amount of human spaceflight funding requested in the FY2011 runout is about the same as what was in the FY2010 runout, which the Augustine committee concluded was insufficient to fund any of its options. It also reveals that budget guidance given to NASA through the year 2025 -- the date by which NASA is supposed to send a human mission to an asteroid -- is "$40-50 billion less than the amount the Augustine panel said would be needed to execute any of its exploration options."

South Korean Navy May Have Recovered Rocket Debris

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The South Korean Navy may have recovered some of the debris from the country's failed rocket launch yesterday, reports the Yonhap News Service. The debris was recovered just south of Jeju Island, Yonhap reported. Latest speculation from Seoul is that the rocket exploded just before the first stage engine was about to reach maximum thrust. The first stage was built by Russia. The two countries are working together to determine the cause of the failure.

House Calls for Development of Standards to Protect Electric Grid from Severe Space Weather Events

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

On Wednesday, the House passed the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act, H.R. 5026 (H. Rept. 111-493), whose purpose is to protect the U.S. bulk-power system and electric infrastructure. Cybersecurity and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats and vulnerabilities are addressed in the bill. The EMP vulnerabilities include severe space weather events, or "geomagnetic storms" as they are called in the bill.

Space weather refers to the effects on Earth and its environs of the Sun's "coronal mass ejections" - more commonly known as solar flares. It has long been known that solar flares disrupt high frequency radio communications, but they can also disrupt the Earth's magnetic field causing voltages in electric transmission lines that can damage the large transformers that are critical components of the electric grid. A 1989 power outage that affected a large swath of northeastern Canada was caused by such an event.

With the world increasingly dependent on terrestrial electrical power grids, as well as terrestrial and space-based communications systems and satellite-based navigation and timing (GPS), the consequences of severe space weather events could be catastrophic. The National Research Council published a report in 2008 describing the potential societal and economic effects of severe space weather events and asked whether U.S. institutions are prepared "to cope with the effects of a 'space weather Katrina,' a rare, but according to historical records, not inconceivable eventuality?"

The GRID bill focuses on the electric grid only. Among its provisions is directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), through its electric reliability organization, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), to establish a reliability standard to protect the bulk power system from geomagnetic storms. FERC must "identify the nature and magnitude of the reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm events against which the standards should protect, similar to the identification of a 'design basis threat.' The standards must balance risks against the cost of protecting against those risks."

At a meeting on space weather issues Tuesday, Dr. Chris Beck, a staff member for the House Homeland Security Committee, noted that there is no companion bill in the Senate. With the Senate moving slowly on most legislation, he does not expect the bill to reach the Senate floor, but was relatively optimistic that it might be incorporated into an appropriations bill.

Text of Bolden Letter to Congress on Constellation Termination Liability

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The text of the letter NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden sent to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and other Members of Congress yesterday is available here. The letter informs Congress that NASA is facing a shortfall in Constellation funding for FY2010 and is reprioritizing FY2010 activities. NASA also is reminding contractors again that they are responsible for managing all costs associated with the contracts, including potential termination costs.

The letter states that after taking into account potential termination costs and other constraints on Constellation's FY2010 budget, the program is facing a $991 million shortfall for FY2010 and therefore NASA cannot continue all of its planned FY2010 activities. Otherwise the agency would violate the Anti-Deficiency Act (which essentially says that government agencies cannot spend money that they do not have). The letter states that the contractor workforce will be reduced by "30-60 percent, or 2,500-5,000, for the balance of the year."

The letter lists the Constellation activities that will not be supported, or for which funding will be reduced, for the rest of FY2010 as follows:

  • "Ares: The program will generally provide no additional funding for the first stage
    contract, descope remaining contracts, and reduce support contractor levels.
  • "Orion: The program will adjust prime contract work, suspend planned
    procurements, and defer and reduce non-prime contract efIort.
  • "Ground Ops: The project scope will be reduced by $89 million. Reductions will
    be made in support contractor levels, task order scope and, operating cost. Effort
    will be made to preserve work to enable flight test strategy but with schedule
  • "Mission Ops: The project scope will be reduced by $12 million. Reductions will
    be made in planned program content.
  • "Extra-Vehicular Activity: The program will delay the Preliminary Design
    Review for the prime suit, as well as reduce in prime and non-prime content.
  • "Program Integration: The project scope will be reduced by S31 million.
    Reductions will be made in support contractor levels."

South Korea's Rocket Apparently Explodes After Liftoff

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

South Korea's Science Minister told reporters that the KSLV-1 rocket launched today apparently exploded after liftoff. "An inboard camera detected a bright flash of light at 137 seconds into the flight, which coincides exactly with the loss of communication with the two stage rocket," Yonhap News Service quoted the Minister, Ahn Byong-man, as saying. The camera was on the second stage. The first stage of the rocket was built by Russia, the second stage by South Korea.

South Korea to Try Again on Thursday for Launch of KSLV-1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

South Korea will try again to launch its KSLV-1 (Naro-1) launch vehicle on Thursday according to the Yonhap News Service. The launch was scheduled for today, but had to be postponed when the launch pad fire extinguisher system accidentally activated three hours before the planned launch. The weather for Thursday is a little iffy, however.

Senator Hutchison Lashes Out at NASA Leadership

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, issued a press release today taking NASA to task for the actions outlined in Administrator Bolden's June 9 letter to Members of Congress. That letter describes NASA's plans to scale back Constellation program activities because of funding shortfalls in FY2010. It also informs Congress that the agency reminded Constellation contractors of their obligations to absorb termination costs if the program is cancelled as President Obama proposes, with potential layoffs of 2,500-5,000 workers before the end of the fiscal year.

"The leadership of the world's preeminent space agency has strained its credibility to the breaking point and something has to change," she said. Among her complaints is the timing of NASA's action. She points out that a bill (the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill, H.R. 4899) recently passed the Senate that "clearly affirms Congressional direction that work [on Constellation] should continue." The language in the Senate version of H.R. 4899 states that funds made available for Constellation in FY2010 and prior years "shall be available to fund continued performance of Constellation contracts" and NASA may not terminate those contracts "for convenience." The FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117) already prohibits NASA from spending funds to cancel Constellation or initiate a new program until directed to do so by Congress in a subsequent appropriations act.

It should be noted that under the WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, P.L. 100-379), in certain circumstances contractors must give 60 days notice to workers before layoffs can occur. With only three and a half months remaining in the fiscal year, if the WARN Act applies contractors would have to send out notifications soon, which might also have a bearing on the timing of NASA's actions. Constellation supporters argue that NASA should not be cutting back on Constellation funding at all while Congress continues to debate the President's proposal.

Events of Interest    

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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