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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch in 2018 only if NASA receives more funding for the program than the flat budget assumed in the President's FY2012 budget request according to an agency official.
JWST is usually described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, although it will study the universe in a different part of the spectrum (infrared instead of visible) and from a very different location (the L2 Lagrange point instead of Earth orbit).
NASA's Rick Howard told the NASA Advisory Council's Science Committee on April 21 that the agency is still looking at how best to "rebaseline" the program to move forward. That effort will be completed in the coming weeks. Howard was designated as JWST Program Director last fall after an independent review faulted the program's "budgeting and program management, not technical performance" as the cause of substantial cost increases. That report said the earliest launch date was 2015 if certain financial resources -- $500 million for each of FY2011 and FY2012 -- were made available. Howard is doing a more detailed assessment and looking more closely at what funds are likely to be provided.
Howard stressed that he is still gathering data to feed into the agency's Joint Confidence Level (JCL) independent cost estimating process before any decisions are made. The last three years of the program preparing for launch are "incompressible," he said. If a launch date prior to 2018 is desired, the schedule could be moved forward only if more money is provided in the immediate future (FY2012 or FY2013). Absent such increases the agency is looking at 2018 as the earliest launch date, which is five years later than the original plan.
Achieving the 2018 date also requires more funds in the longer term than what is in NASA's FY2012 projection. That "runout" shows the program flat funded at $375 million per year for the next five years. Howard said if that really turned out to be the budget for the program, launch would be pushed out into the 2020s.
Howard said funding adjustments would have to be discussed within the agency and with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Several committee members emphasized that programs like JWST cannot be accomplished with flat budgets and said they hoped OMB and OSTP realize that.
NASA plans to spend $471 million on JWST in this fiscal year (FY2011) and Howard insisted the amount for FY2011 would not be lower than that. As an agency, NASA received $561 million less than the $19 billion it requested for FY2011. The agency is developing an operating plan to show how to plans to spend the approximately $18.5 billion that Congress provided. Howard clearly believes that JWST will not be a place where cuts are made to accommodate the lower appropriation.
Meanwhile, JWST hardware is being delivered to NASA. One issue is how to store everything for this unexpectedly lengthy period of time and deal with obsolescence and workforce issues. Howard asked rhetorically how many of the people working on the program would want to stay with it now that the launch date is so many years later than planned.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA, is a long time cheerleader for NASA and its space and earth science programs, many of which are managed at Goddard Space Flight Center in her State. She has been an ardent advocate for JWST, but her displeasure at the new cost overruns that emerged last year was made clear when she demanded the independent review that led to the current replanning effort (the "Casani report," after its chair, John Casani).
At an April 11, 2011 hearing, she expressed her continued support for the telescope, but exasperation at the overruns, pointedly asking NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden what he was doing to make the program succeed. Bolden replied that "no one was more disappointed and angry" than he was when NASA "got to the bottom of the situation." He said he had made management changes at the agency and was working with the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman, but declined to discuss what the company is doing.
Bolden was the first to reveal, at the hearing, that the agency is currently looking at a 2018 launch date. Mikulski asked whether NASA was going to request the extra $500 million for FY2011 and FY2012 identified in the Casani report, but Bolden said he could not "responsibly" make such a proposal, which is why 2018 is NASA's current target. He said the agency does not need more money in FY2011 to meet a 2018 launch date, and is still looking at how much would be needed in 2012. He told the Senator he hoped to have an answer soon. Mikulski said she was all for being "frugal," but not "foolish. " She does not want to scrimp now and end up paying much more in the future. "If we don't spend the money now, when will we spend it, and will it cost more?" she asked. NASA will answer those questions when its review is completed.
The House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday, May 5, on the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. George Nield, director of the office, will be one of the witnesses; others have not yet been announced.
Nield's office is responsible for facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch industry, so is as much in the forefront of the debate over commercial crew as is NASA. Companies wanting to transport people either on suborbital or orbital flights need a license from this office both for launch and reentry.
The office was formally established in the 1984 Commercial Space Transportation Act. That Act and its amendments in 1988 and 2004, and the 1998 Commercial Space Act, set the legal framework for the commercial space launch business. (Link to those laws from our "Space Law" section.) Its activities are authorized by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
The office is somewhat unusual because of its legislated mandate to both facilitate and regulate the industry. Some see those as potentially contradictory responsibilities.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally agreed to extending International Space Station (ISS) operations through at least 2020. Russia and Japan already had agreed to the extension in response to President Obama's decision last year to keep the facility operating past 2015, the end date established by the George W. Bush Administration.
The ISS partnership includes the United States, Russia, ESA, Japan and Canada. President Obama's decision thus was only the first step in getting agreement from the partnership as a whole. The Canadian Space Agency is still "working with its government to reach consensus" about continuing the ISS, according to NASA's press release.
President Bush had planned to terminate ISS operations in 2015 in order to focus the U.S. human spaceflight program on returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020. That program, Constellation, is being terminated by the Obama Administration, which views ISS as the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program for the rest of this decade at least. President Obama announced a goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, not to the Moon, last year.
UPDATES: The ASAP meeting scheduled for Friday has been postponed until May 24. The NASA media teleconference with the CCDev2 winners on Thursday, April 28, has been added.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All times are local. The House and Senate remain in recess this week for the spring break.
Monday, April 25
Tuesday, April 26
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) IT Committee, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm
- NAC Exploration Committee, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, 1:00 - 6:00 PM
Tuesday-Wednesday, April 26-27
Tuesday-Thursday, April 26-28
Wednesday, April 27
Wednesday-Friday, April 27-29
Thursday, April 28
Thursday-Friday, April 28-29
Friday, April 29
The National Journal (NJ), one of the most highly respected inside-the-beltway news sources, really needs to beef up its space expertise.
In an article today (subscription required), a NJ reporter totally misunderstands what happened to the Constellation program. In the article, entitled "Spending Bill Funds NASA Mission to the Moon," the reporter states that "Among the budget cuts that President Obama had to agree to in order to avert a government shutdown, Republicans re-gifted him one that he willingly made long ago: $3.8 billion to further NASA's space exploration. The money will fund NASA's Constellation Program, which was cut entirely under the president's initial fiscal year 2011 budget proposal."
The full year Continuing Resolution (CR) does not, of course, fund the Constellation program at all. In fact, it finally allows NASA to cancel the Constellation program, relieving the agency of constraints imposed by the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that prevented the agency from shutting it down.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, Constellation was the George W. Bush Administration's program to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars using an Orion capsule and the Ares I and V launch vehicles. Ares I and Orion would also have taken people back and forth to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS). That program is dead.
President Obama wants the commercial sector to take care of taking people back and forth to LEO and ISS, while NASA invests in technologies to enable beyond-LEO human missions, starting with a trip to an asteroid by 2025. The President does not want to send people back to the Moon's surface because that is a "been there, done that" objective.
Congress did not agree with the President and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue struck a compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The law permits NASA to facilitate the development of "commercial crew" for LEO as the President wanted, while leaving open the next destination for NASA's human spaceflight program beyond LEO. It could be the Moon, an asteroid, a Lagrange Point, or Mars. As the NJ reporter later correctly states, the CR advances the Orion spacecraft and the creation of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), but the reporter obviously does not understand that that is not the Constellation program. Orion and the HLLV are simply pieces of hardware, not a program. What the new NASA program is, other than going "beyond LEO," remains a work in progress, but if President Obama has his way, it will not be to the surface of the Moon.
Constellation is dead, and the next destination for U.S. human spaceflight beyond LEO is completely up in the air. The CR absolutely does not fund "NASA's Mission to the Moon" as the NJ headline states.
As the House prepared to recess for its spring break, three bills were introduced that would affect NASA. Two address the retirement homes for the space shuttles and one would direct NASA to focus on returning astronauts to the Moon.
The shuttle retirement home issue arose after NASA Administrator Bolden decided to send the four orbiters to Kennedy Space Center (Atlantis), New York City (Enterprise), Washington, DC (Discovery) and Los Angeles (Endeavour). Folks in Texas and Ohio felt slighted. Some of the Ohio congressional delegation have called for a GAO investigation. Those who want Houston to be one of the locations have taken a different approach -- legislation.
H.R. 1590, introduced by Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee (D-TX) and four co-sponsors would require that space shuttle Discovery be placed on display at Space Center Houston for 15 years and then "returned" to Washington, DC. NASA's decision was to send Discovery to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside of Washington, and since the legislation says that it would be "returned" to Washington it seems to assume that it would be in Washington first. How long it would be in Washington before being sent to Houston is not addressed in the legislation, nor is the money needed to transport it from one place to the other. NASA uses a specially converted 747 to ferry the shuttles around the country and presumably it would have to remain in service to accomplish the goal of this legislation.
H.R. 1536, introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), would send Atlantis to Florida and Discovery to Washington, DC as NASA wants, but Enterprise would go to Los Angeles instead of New York. Endeavour, which NASA plans to send to Los Angeles, would go to Houston instead. New York would lose out. One complaint has been that three of the orbiters would be on the East Coast and none in the center of the country.
Separately, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced H.R. 1641, the Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act or the REAL Act. It directs NASA to plan to return astronauts to the Moon by 2022 and "develop a sustained human presence on the Moon, in order to promote exploration, commerce, science, and United States preeminence in space as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations." The bill does not include any funding, but states that NASA's budget requests and expenditures should be "consistent with achieving this goal."
NASA officially set April 29 at the launch date for STS-134 (Endeavour) today. The mission, commanded by Mark Kelly, will lift off at 3:47 pm EDT if all goes as planned.
The six-person crew is nominally scheduled for a 14 day mission. Kelly and four other NASA astronauts will be joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Roberto Vittori. This will be Endeavour's last space flight. It is delivering a scientific instrument, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), to the International Space Station (ISS). AMS is designed to detect cosmic rays in the hope of discovering particles of antimatter in particular.
The launch is attracting special interest not only because it is the last launch of Endeavour, but because Mark Kelly's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), may be able to attend the launch. She is recovering from an assassination attempt on January 8. Kelly has made clear for weeks that he hopes she will be well enough to attend, but cautions that the decision is in the hands of her doctors.
The Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the launch of STS-134 (Endeavour) is underway. A news conference is expected to be held no earlier than 4:00 pm EDT today. STS-134 is tentatively set for launch on April 29, but the official date will be set at this meeting. The news conference will be available via NASA TV. Check NASA's Twitter feed for the exact time that it will start.
NASA announced today four new Space Act Agreements with Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing in the second round of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) competition. The awards total $269.3 million.
The goal of the CCDev program is for the government to facilitate the commercial development of spacecraft and launch vehicles to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), including the International Space Station (ISS). Instead of NASA contracting for and overseeing these development efforts, it is providing some funding while the companies are expected to provide the rest of the funds themselves -- so-called "skin in the game." Eventually NASA would buy crew transportation services from any successful companies, who presumably would be offering crew space transportation to other customers as well.
The debate over whether NASA should rely on commercial companies for LEO crew transportation has been and remains a subject of intense debate in space policy circles.
NASA hopes at least two companies will succeed so it can benefit from pricing competition and also have a backup if one of the systems fails and is grounded for a lengthy period of time.
The awards today are as follows:
-- Blue Origin, Kent, Wash., $22 million
-- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $80 million
-- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $75 million
-- The Boeing Company, Houston, $92.3 million
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks for the Passover-Easter-Spring holidays. They will return the first week of May.
Monday-Tuesday, April 18-19
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Subcommittee (of the Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington DC.
- April 18, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EDT, room 3H46
- April 19, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- This meeting also is accessible by telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.
Thursday, April 21
Thursday-Friday, April 21-22
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
- April 21, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- April 22, 8:30 am - 2:00 pm EDT, room 5H45
- This meeting also is accessible for telephone and WebEx. See the Federal Register notice for more information.
Events of Interest
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