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Bolden to Speak at National Press Club One Hour From Now

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Admininistrator Charlie Bolden will speak at the National Press Club in about an hour.

According to the Press Club, Bolden will be joined at the head table by Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and astronaut Mark Kelly. Bolden will discuss "America's continued commitment to leadership in human spaceflight, Bolden will also speak about NASA's plans to extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit."

The event will be webcast on the Press Club's website, which currently states that the webcast will begin at 12:50 pm EDT, though elsewhere it says that Bolden's comments begin at 1:00. It also will be carried on NASA TV and C-Span.

Bolden Optimistic About Country's Future in Space; Kelly Says He Won't Run for Office

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden shared the podium with astronaut Mark Kelly at the National Press Club this afternoon. Both were upbeat about the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program and Kelly humorously refuted speculation that he might run for political office.

For space aficionados, there was nothing new in Bolden's speech. Bolden insisted that the end of the shuttle program is not the end of U.S. preeminence in human spaceflight. Reiterating themes he has used many times, he emphasized the need for new ways of doing business, especially turning crew transportation to low Earth orbit over to the commercial sector. He repeatedly praised the commercial companies.

Questions had to be submitted in advance and were asked by the moderator. One asked about the safety of the commercial crew systems and whether Bolden himself would ride on one. Bolden replied that many of his former astronaut colleagues now work for the companies building the commercial systems so he is confident about their safety. As to whether he would fly on one - "in a heartbeat," he said, adding jokingly "don't tell my wife." He also said that he would not be standing there promoting a system that he did not personally believe would be safe.

He imparted no news on the most controversial issue at NASA today - choosing the design of the new Space Launch System. -- saying only that they were "nearing a decision" and "will announce it soon." On June 16, quoted from a memo that was said to reflect decisions made by Bolden about the design, but no official announcement has been forthcoming.

Bolden also touched on NASA's other mission areas, science and aeronautics, and focused on the need to get kids interested in science and math.

It is the human spaceflight program that is on everyone's mind, however, as the final space shuttle launch draws near. Bolden vowed that "I'm not about to let human spaceflight go away on my watch" or "let it flounder" because the program is unsustainable.

Astronaut Mark Kelly also spoke briefly, admitting that he will be sad after the last shuttle flight lands. A new chapter is opening up, however, and the space program will continue to be "a great investment for the American people," he said. Thanking everyone for the "outpouring of support" for his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who is recovering from an assassination attempt in January, Kelly responded to rumors that he might be considering a run for office himself. Some of the speculation, fueled by his decision to retire from NASA, is that if Giffords is not able to run, he would take her place. Kelly joked that it must be a "slow summer" for the press to be speculating about that and he has no such plans. His wife "is the politician in the family; I'm the space guy, and I see no reason to change that."

UPDATE: ORS-1 Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: It's OFF! And I saw it! First ever launch I've seen from my own front yard (just outside Washington, DC).

UPDATE: Launch remains on track for 11:09 liftoff.

UPDATE: The current planned launch time is 11:09 pm tonight.

UPDATE: They are going to try to launch tonight at the end of the launch window, which closes at 11:28 pm.

UPDATE: They are trying again to switch to internal power as part of their troubleshooting.

UPDATE: The launch is on hold because of a problem switching internal power on and external power off for the flight termination system. The length of the hold is being determined.


The view of the ORS-1 launch should be even better since it was postponed until 10:05 pm -- about 10 minutes from now. Follow the countdown at Wallops's website and if you're on the mid-Atlantic coast, look up!

NASA IG Cautions on Commercial Crew Challenges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Just one day after NASA issued a newsletter trumpeting the success of its Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) effort, NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a cautionary report about the challenges NASA faces in the commercial crew arena.

Crediting NASA with making "sustained progress" on commercial crew over the past two years, the OIG said that the agency faces "multiple challenges and risks as it expands its Commercial Crew Transportation program." The OIG identified the following challenges and risks:

  • Modifying NASA's existing safety and human-rating requirements for commercially developed systems
  • Selecting an acquisition strategy for commercial crew transportation services
  • Establishing the appropriate insight/oversight model for commercial partner vehicle development
  • Relying on an emerging industry and uncertain market conditions to achieve cost savings, and
  • Managing the relationship among commercial partners, the FAA, and NASA

The report does not make specific recommendations to NASA for corrective actions, but advises the agency to pay attention to the challenges it highlights. According to the report, the NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems concurred and assured the OIG that no decision has yet been made on an acquisition strategy for this program.

In the newsletter released yesterday, NASA reviewed the milesones that have been met by the four companies that received CCDev2 awards -- Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX.

Second Try for Sunset Launch Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Yesterday's sunset launch of ORS-1 was scrubbed due to thunderstorms in the area. A second attempt will be made tonight between 8:28 and 11:28 pm EDT.

As noted here yesterday, the launch should be visible along the mid-Atlantic coast. A map of where the best viewing opportunities are is available on the Wallops Flight Facility website.

NASA Trumpets CCDEV-2 Progress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA issued what it describes as the first in a bimonthly series of newsletters reporting on the "return on investment" for the Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) program. NASA issued awards to several companies in two rounds of bids --- CCDev1 in 2010 and CCDev2 in 2011.

The newsletter reviews milestone achievements met by the CCDEV2 awardees: Boeing, Blue Origin, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. The program is designed to fund companies that are attempting to develop commercial crew capabilities. NASA says that all four companies have met their milestones so far.

Sunset Launch Visible Along Mid-Atlantic Coast Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Weather permitting -- and there's a really good chance it will not be -- the first Operationally Responsive Space satellite, ORS-1, will be launched at sunset today. The launch from Wallops Island, Virginia should be visible along portions of the Mid-Atlantic East Coast.

Launch of the Minotaur 1 rocket with the ORS-1 satellite is scheduled for 8:28 pm EDT. The Air Force satellite will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) at the southern portion of the DELMARVA (Delware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula. A NASA map showing areas where the launch should be visible is available on WFF's website. The website states that as of yesterday evening there was a 70 percent chance that weather will prevent the launch. Launch opportunities extend through July 10.

ORS-1 is a small reconnaissance satellite that is part of an effort to build and launch comparatively simple satellites more quickly than traditional satellites in response to urgent needs of field commanders. The goal for ORS-1 was to launch within 24 months of getting approval to build it. It fell short of that time frame. It is the first operational satellite of its type; two precursors (TacSat-2 and TacSat-3) were previously launched.

GPS Interference Concerns Spark Congressional Action on LightSquared

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The controversial proposal by LightSquared to operate a satellite-terrestrial wireless mobile broadband communications system that might interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers encountered rough sledding in Congress on two fronts last week.

Two subcommittees of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (HT&I) committee held a hearing on June 23 where LightSquared opponents offered dramatic testimony about what would happen to GPS users if the terrestrial segment of the system is allowed to operate. The next day, the House Appropriations Committee acted to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from allowing the company to proceed until the GPS interference issues are resolved.

The FCC granted a provisional license to LightSquared on January 26. It required the company to work with the GPS community to determine the extent of interference and report back by June 15. The FCC granted the company's recent request for a two-week extension; the report is now due on Friday, July 1. The license prohibits the company from commercial operations of its terrestrial network until the interference issues are settled.

At the hearing, aviation interests in particular lambasted the FCC for granting a provisional license at all. RTCA, Inc., which functions as a federal advisory committee to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), did a study that determined that LightSquared's plans to use three spectrum deployment phases would be "incompatible with the current aviation use of GPS," although use of a single lower channel could be acceptable.

The government's National Space-Based PNT Systems Engineering Forum (NPEF) issued a separate report in mid-June recommending that the FCC rescind the license.

At the hearing, a LightSquared Vice President, Jeffrey Carlisle, defended his company's plan. He assured lawmakers that the company "has no intention of conducting its operations in a way that interferes with government or commercial aviation or maritime operations in the United States..." The system involves the use of a geostationary satellite - SkyTerra, launched last fall - and 40,000 terrestrial cellular base stations. Users can use the satellite, the base stations, or both, depending on their needs. SkyTerra Communications, Inc. was purchased by Harbinger Capital Partners, a hedge fund and major investor in Lightsquared, earlier in 2010. LightSquared's supporters praise the company's promise as a mobile wireless broadband provider.

The House Appropriations Committee, however, was not persuaded. The day after the hearing, it adopted an amendment to the FY2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill that would prohibit the FCC from spending funds to remove the conditions it placed on the license or to otherwise permit LightSquared to proceed until the FCC has resolved the GPS interference issues. The Financial Services appropriations bill includes the FCC. The amendment was offered by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and adopted by voice vote.

At a Secure World Foundation meeting on June 16, Peter Marquez, who oversaw development of President Obama's National Space Policy when he was on the staff of the National Security Council, and Andrew Palowitch from the Air Force/National Reconnaissance Office Space Protection Office, expressed exasperation at the FCC for granting the license as well. Marquez, who now works for Orbital Sciences Corp. and is a member of the NPEF's parent advisory committee, said the issue is consuming an inordinate amount of time at the White House and elsewhere in the Obama Administration. The National Space Policy reaffirms the U.S. Government's commitment to GPS services and interference mitigation for GPS and similar systems.

Atlantis Officially Set to Go on July 8; Press Conference at 3:30

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA has officially set the launch date for the final space shuttle mission for July 8. The post-FRR press conference is scheduled to begin at 3:30 pm EDT. Watch on NASA TV.

Atlantis FRR Press Conference No Earlier Than 3:30 pm Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA will hold a press conference today after the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the STS-135 (Atlantis) mission concludes. NASA currently says that it will occur no earlier than 3:30 pm EDT. Check back here for updates.

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