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Hutchison, Nelson: "Urgent Need to Comply" with Law

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that the contingency plans being drawn up for International Space Station (ISS) operations underscore the need for NASA to develop a new crew space transportation system as required by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

In a press statement today, the Senators said:

"This is a very serious situation that bears close attention. Obviously, we must satisfy ourselves that the problem with the Russian rocket is identified and corrected as soon as possible. Perhaps the problems can be resolved quickly. But the very fact that NASA must make contingency plans for reducing the size or evacuating the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) if the Russian Soyuz cannot return to flight by November, is a compelling illustration of the urgent need to comply with the law and proceed immediately with the development of alternative and backup launch capabilities. Failure to take this action undermines U.S. leadership in space and jeopardizes our huge investment in the ISS."

NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are developing contingency plans for ISS operations following the failure of a Soyuz U launch vehicle last week that doomed a Progress cargo spacecraft destined for the ISS. NASA ISS program manager Mike Suffredini outlined the possibilities at a press conference earlier today.

Florida Senators Write Obama About SLS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Florida's Senators, Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), joined forces to write to President Obama about funding for facilities at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The letter was written to clear up what the two Florida Senators believe was a "misunderstanding" in a letter written to President Obama by five Senators from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi on August 15.

One of the complaints in that letter was that NASA's FY2011 operating plan would transfer money from the congressionally-mandated Space Launch System (SLS) to KSC to pay for facility upgrades.

The new letter from Nelson and Rubio seeks to clarify that there are funds in separate parts of NASA's budget for facilities at KSC. They emphasize their support for the SLS, but argue that ground systems for a new launch vehicle like the SLS are just as necessary as the "design and build phase." They point to a difference between NASA's budget categories for "21st Century Ground Systems" that are part of the SLS budget and "21st Century Launch Complex" that is part of "general construction updates" at KSC. Their bottom line is that they support the "continued use of SLS funds to develop a complete heavy-lift rocket, including the KSC projects in question."

DOD A Tad Softer on China's Military Space Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released its annual report on China's military power last week. Regarding space activities, it contains few surprises, but seems just a tad softer in its assessment of China's military space goals, if not its capabilities.

One interesting comment in the newly released report, for example, is that the commander of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), General Xu Qiliang, publicly retracted a statement he made last year about the likelihood of militarization of space.

DOD stated in its 2010 version of the report that General Xu "said that the trend of military competition extending to space is 'inevitable' and emphasized the transformation of the PLAAF from a homeland defense focus to one that 'integrates air and space,' and that possesses both 'offensive and defensive' capabilities." This year, DOD reveals that General Xu retracted his "assertion that the militarization of space was a 'historic inevitability' after President Hu Jintao swiftly contradicted him."

That does not mean China is any less interested in military uses of space, however. Both the 2010 and 2011 versions of the report assert in slightly different words that the PLA regards the ability to utilize space and deny adversaries access to space as "central to enabling modern, informatized warfare."

The 2010 report goes on to say that "China is developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets, accelerating the militarization of space. PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ....and communications systems."

This year's report seems somewhat softer, however. While it uses the same quote about the PLA writings, it omits the assessment China is "accelerating the militarization of space."

This year's report notes that in 2010 China successfully conducted 15 launches, "a national record." Among the Chinese satellites were five Beidou-2 navigation satellites and nine remote sensing satellites for both military and civilian uses. China also buys commercial imagery from European, Canadian, Indian, and U.S. companies to supplement their own imagery, DOD says.

As for the Chinese human spaceflight program, this report asserts that China plans a "permanently manned space station by 2020 and landing a human on the moon by 2030."

As it has in the past, DOD asserts that China is developing a range of antisatellite (ASAT) technologies, not only the direct ascent ASAT whose test created a tremendous cloud of space debris in 2007. China was subjected to international condemnation for conducting that test and creating a hazard to everyone's space operations. Nonetheless, DOD asserts that China continues to "develop and refine this system," as well as "other kinetic and directed-energy... technologies for ASAT missions."

This annual report is required by Congress. DOD put a note on the front page of this edition to let the taxpayers know that it cost just over $73,000 to produce.

Spaceflightnow.com: ISS Could be "Abandonded" if Soyuz Delayed

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

If the next launch of Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is delayed too long, the International Space Station (ISS) could be "abandoned in November" according to Spaceflightnow.com's headline.

The website quotes ISS program manager Mike Sufferdini as saying that "Logistically, we can support [operations] almost forever, but eventually if we don't see the Soyuz spacecraft, we'll probably going [sic] to unmanned ops before the end of the year."

With the space shuttle program terminated, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft -- launched by the Soyuz launch vehicle -- is the only way to get crews back and forth to ISS. A Soyuz launch vehicle boosting a Progress cargo spacecraft (with no one aboard) failed last week. There are several variants of the Soyuz launch vehicle. Russia is investigating what happened and what effect it will have on other launches involving the Soyuz launch vehicle.

Sufferdini is due to give a press briefing tomorrow morning at 9:00 am CDT (10:00 am EDT) that will be aired on NASA TV.

NASA to Provide ISS Update Monday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Mike Sufferdini, NASA's program manager for the International Space Station (ISS) program, will provide an ISS update on Monday and discuss the impact of the launch failure of Russia's Progress cargo spacecraft last week.

The briefing will be at 10:00 am EDT (9:00 am CDT). It will be broadcast on NASA TV.

The launch failure is of concern not only because the cargo that was intended for ISS was lost, but because the Soyuz launch vehicle that failed is also used for launching crews to the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft. Sufferdini's press conference will address the status of Russia's investigation of the accident.

Politicians on both sides of the debate over the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program have used the Progress launch failure to press their respective cases.

Events of Interest: Week of August 29-September 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

As Hurricane Irene's rains begin here in the Washington DC suburbs, thought it would be good to post this now is case we lose electricity as everyone is forecasting. This last week of Washington's summer break is quiet in terms of meetings, but here are the ones we know about. Hope all of you in Irene's path weather the storm safely. I hope to be posting to Twitter from time to time at least. Follow me @SpcPlcyOnline

Monday, August 29

  • NASA press conference on impact of Progress launch failure on International Space Station operations, 10:00 am EDT (9:00 am CDT), watch on NASA TV

Monday-Wednesday, August 29-31

Tuesday-Thursday, August 30-September 1

Wednesday, August 31

Report: U.S. Should Engage with Emerging Space Countries

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

An analysis by three master's degree students at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute argues that the United States should relook at its policy for engaging with emerging space countries in South America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

Current U.S. policies focus on preventing technology transfer, but "preclude a valuable avenue for the United States to relay space sustainability norms to the increasing number of actors that are just learning to operate in the space environment," according to the report's authors, Megan Ansdell, Laura Delgado Lopez and Dan Hendrickson. They presented their findings at a seminar sponsored by the Secure World Foundation (SWF) on Monday. SWF was a sponsor of the project.

The three looked at the space efforts of six countries in three regions: Brazil and Venezuela in South America, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa, and India and Malaysia in the Asia-Pacific region. The countries' attention to and views about space sustainability, especially the principles espoused in the draft European Code of Conduct, was a particular focus of the study.

The authors concluded that those topics are not at the top of the list of concerns for most of the countries they studied. India is an exception in many respects since it has a very mature space program.

Delgado emphasized in her remarks that there is a need for the United States to engage with everyone, "not just the established space actors," because everyone is impacted by the problems addressed by space sustainability. She cited space debris as a specific example.

Hendrickson said that most of the countries they studied may agree with the ideas in the Code of Conduct, but not the Code itself. He added that Nigeria, South Africa and Malaysia have made no formal statements about it, but are engaged in international forums where it is discussed. Venezuela, he said, is opposed to the fact that it is nonbinding, but accepts it as a first step towards a potential treaty.

The countries share both similarities and differences in their approaches to space activities, the authors said, and regional leadership is more of a driver than being part of the global "space club." Regional coordination mechanisms exist in each of three regions that were studied, they said.

Building public support for investments in space activities is a challenge in some of these countries. Ansdell pointed out, for example, that "the vast majority of everyday Africans and a lot of their leadership" view space spending as "a waste of money or another corrupt government program because they don't understand how to connect space applications to their everyday lives."

A short version of the report is available on SWF's website; a longer version will be posted at the Space Policy Institute website.

Process to Choose New Orbiter Homes OK with IG

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found no evidence of political influence or other improper consideration in the choice of locations for the four space shuttle orbiters.

In a report released today. the OIG said that while NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was "subject to a great deal of pressure from Members of Congress and other interested parties," it found "no evidence" that it affected his ultimate decisions. "Moreover, we found no attempt by White House officials to direct or influence Bolden's decision making" and the NASA process was "consistent with applicable Federal law."

Some congressional delegations, especially from Texas, home NASA's Johnson Space Center and the astronaut corps, were extremely upset by the decision not to locate one of the orbiters there. The four remaining orbiters are scheduled to be placed on display in these four locations:

  • Discovery, National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center (replacing the Enterprise which is there now), outside Washington DC
  • Enterprise, Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York City
  • Endeavour, California Science Center, Los Angeles
  • Atlantis, Kennedy Space Center, FL

The OIG did criticize NASA for managing the process as though it was a competitive procurement, and for taking so long to make its decision and announce the winners, however.

Politicians Use Progress Failure to Tout Their Positions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The launch failure of Russia's Progress cargo ship destined for the International Space Station (ISS) provided fuel for politicians on both sides of the debate over the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program.

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) used it to argue the criticality of the U.S. developing its own national capabilities to deliver cargo to the ISS. Both Senators champion NASA development of a new rocket, the Space Launch System, and crew module, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Although the main purpose of that system is taking astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, it would be a backup capability for supplying the ISS if commercial cargo and commercial crew systems do not materialize. The two Senators are skeptics of the commercial initiative and want NASA to develop a new system.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), on the other hand, is an enthusiastic promoter of commercial crew and cargo. He used the failure to call on NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to "propose an emergency transfer of funding from unobligated balances in other programs, including the Space Launch System, to NASA's commercial crew initiative." Rohrabacher wants to accelerate and possibly expand the efforts of the companies working on commercial crew.

Russia is continuing to investigate yesterday's launch failure. Progress was launched by the usually reliable Soyuz rocket. That rocket is used for launches of many other Russian spacecraft -- including the crew-carrying Soyuz capsules -- but there are several versions of it. Russian space officials announced that a planned launch of a navigation satellite from its Plesetsk cosmodrome using a different variant of the rocket would be postponed until more is known about the failure.

Although there are not likely to be immediate impacts of the launch failure on ISS crew, which was recently resupplied by STS-135, it does highlight the operational risks of discontinuing the space shuttle program. Except for the 29 months that the space shuttle stood down after the 2003 Columbia tragedy, the ISS has been able to rely on a robust set of international spacecraft to bring crews and supplies.

Russian Progress Cargo Ship Fails to Reach Orbit

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A routine launch of a Russian Progress spacecraft filled with cargo for the International Space Station ended in failure today.

The ITAR-TASS news agency reports that debris from the spacecraft fell in the Republic of Altai in southern Siberia. The cause of the incident is unknown at this time.

Events of Interest


 

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