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Events of Interest: Week of July 25-30, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate both are in session next week.

During the Week

The debt limit/deficit reduction talks undoubtedly will be the focus of attention in Washington next week. Even if agreement is reached over the weekend, as many hope, a bill will have to be written, passed by the House and Senate, and signed into law. This past week has been a roller coaster of announcements that a deal was near, but no, it wasn't, but yes, things were looking up, but no, Speaker Boehner had walked out of talks with the President. Everyone is very frustrated and meanwhile the magic date of August 2 is closing in fast. The President and most others say that the debt limit must be raised by then or there will be "catastrophic" economic consequences for the United States. The current debt limit of $14.3 trillion was reached in May; the Treasury Department is keeping the nation solvent by not paying into the retirement accounts for federal workers. The obstacle to a deal is that Republicans will not vote to raise the debt limit until there is agreement on spending cuts to reduce the deficit. Democrats are willing to adopt some spending cuts, but also want tax increases to reduce the deficit. So far the Republicans have not been willing to compromise on tax increases.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate are keeping busy working on other matters. On Monday, the House is scheduled to start debate on the Interior and Environment appropriations bill. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is part of the Department of the Interior. USGS operates the two functioning Landsat satellites and in the FY2012 budget request proposes to take over the Landsat program completely from NASA. NASA is currently building Landsat 8 and USGS is planning for Landsat 9 and 10. The House Appropriations Committee, however, denied that request in its markup of the bill (H.R. 2584, H. Rept. 112-151), while expressing its support for the Landsat program overall.

The congressional schedule is always subject to change.

Monday, July 25

  • House scheduled to begin floor debate on the the Interior-Environment appropriations bill (H.R. 2584)

Tuesday, July 26

Wednesday, July 27

Thursday, July 28

Thursday-Saturday, July 28-30

  • Space Frontier Foundation NewSpace 2011 conference, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

CNN Poll: Half of Americans Say End of Shuttle is Bad; Just Over Half Prefer Private Sector Replacement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

A CNN poll conducted just before the STS-135 Atlantis mission ended, and with it the space shuttle program, found that half of those polled think that it is bad for the United States.

The poll was conducted July 18-20; STS-135 landed on July 21. Half said the end of the shuttle program was bad for the country, 16 percent said it was good for the country, and one-third said it would have no effect.

Three-quarters of those polled think the United States should build a new system to take astronauts into space, but only 38 percent think the government should build it. The private sector should handle spaceflights in the future according to 54 percent of those polled and nearly 90 percent believe that will happen.

The sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The decision to terminate the space shuttle program was made in 2004 by President George W. Bush, and upheld by President Obama when he took office in 2009. The shuttle program cost about $3 billion per year and both Administrations wanted to use the money for other NASA purposes.

Next Mars Rover Landing Site Announced

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA announced today that its next Mars rover, Curiosity, will land at Gale Crater on Mars.

The probe, also called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is scheduled for launch this fall and will land on Mars in August 2012. It will use an innovative method of delivering the lander to the surface that involves a "sky hook" that will lower the spacecraft using cables from its descent stage. The landing site will be at the foot of a layered mountain inside the crater.

NASA has sent several probes to flyby, orbit or land on Mars since the 1960s. The first to land on the surface were Viking 1 and 2 in the 1970s. They both were orbiter-lander pairs, and a signal from the Viking 1 orbiter was sent to Earth to trigger the ribbon cutting ceremony that opened the National Air and Space Museum, the venue for today's announcement, on July 1, 1976.

Viking was specifically designed to determine if there was life on Mars, but the results were inconclusive. They also were stationary landers and could not move around the surface. Curioisty is a rover and its primary purpose, like Viking, is the search for evidence that life exists or existed on Mars.

NASA, DOD Space Programs Need Better Quality Control Says GAO

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Space programs at NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) suffer from poor quality control on parts according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report also looked at some of DOD's missile programs.

GAO found that "...quality problems exist that have endangered entire missions along with less-visible problems leading to unnecessary repair, scrap, rework, and stoppage; long delays; and millions in cost growth." It reviewed 21 programs at DOD and NASA and quality problems affected all of them, the report states.

The causes of the parts problems included "poor workmanship, undocumented and untested manufacturing processes, poor control of those processes and materials and failure to prevent contamination, poor part design, design complexity, and an inattention to manufacturing risks."

The 21 programs included nine at DOD and 12 at NASA that had completed their critical design reviews by October 2009. GAO determined that 64.7 percent of the parts quality problem were associated with electronic parts, 14.7 percent with mechanical parts, and 20.6 percent with materials used in manufacturing. The problems were "directly attributed to poor control of manufacturing processes and materials, poor design, and lack of effective supplier management."

One example GAO highlighted is DOD's Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite that is slowly making its way to geostationary orbit (GEO). A failure of its apogee engine left the satellite stranded in a low orbit. The Air Force is using other propulsion systems to raise the orbit to GEO, which is expected to take about a year. The failure was traced to "foreign object debris" -- GAO said it was a piece of cloth -- inadvertently left in a fuel line. This problem was on top of earlier quality control problems that GAO said cost the AEHF program at least $250 million and contributed to a launch delay of two years.

The programs studied by GAO were the following:

DOD-Air Force

Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellites
Global Positioning System Block IIF
Space-Based Infrared System High Program
Space-Based Space Surveillance Block 10


Mobile User Objective System


Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
Ground-Based Midcourse Defense
Space Tracking and Surveillance System
Targets and Countermeasures


Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory
James Webb Space Telescope
Landsat Data Continuity Mission
Magnetospheric Multiscale
Mars Science Laboratory
National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project
Radiation Belt Storm Probes
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Replenishment

UPDATE: Atlantis is Home

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: NASA says the official landing time is 5:57 am EDT. Main gear touchdown was 5:57:00, nose gear was 5:57:20, and wheel stop was 5:57:54.

UPDATE: Atlantis is home.

ORIGINAL STORY: The STS-135 (Atlantis) mission is in its final half hour. Landing will take place at 5:56:58 am EDT at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

STS-135 Still on Track for Landing in a Few Hours

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The final space shuttle mission, STS-135 (Atlantis), is still on schedule for landing early tomorrow morning, a few hours from now.

There are two landing opportunities at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, Thursday, July 21. For the first, deorbit burn is in just over 5 hours, at 4:49:04 am EDT. Landing would be at 5:56:58 am. A second opportunity is with a deorbit burn at 6:25:44 am and landing at 7:32:55 am.

LightSquared Continues to Be Scrutinized

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will join the ranks of those looking into LightSquared's plans to implement a mobile broadband communications system that could interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellite receivers. It has scheduled a hearing for August 3.

LightSquared plans to offer "4G" mobile broadband services using a hybrid satellite-terrestrial system. Through predecessor companies, it has offered mobile satellite services since 1996 using the Canadian-licensed MSAT-1 and U.S. licensed MSAT-2 satellites. SkyTerra-1, launched last fall, is a replacement for MSAT-2 and the company wants to use it to expand its mobile broadband communications services in conjunction with a terrestrial network of 40,000 cellular base stations - formally called an "Ancillary Terrestrial Component" or ATC.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates use of radio frequencies by the private sector and its rules for this type of service require the satellites and ATC to work together to provide an "integrated service." The purpose of permitting ATCs was only to fill gaps in satellite service in places where the satellite signals cannot penetrate or where there are too many users. LiqhtSquared wants the FCC to waive the integrated service requirement so it can offer services using its terrestrial component alone instead of necessarily in conjunction with its satellite signals.

The FCC granted LightSquared the waiver in January, but on the condition that LightSquared resolve questions about whether its terrestrial system would interfere with GPS receivers. The FCC directed the company to form an industry "technical working group" (TWG) with representatives of the GPS community to conduct tests and submit a report and LightSquared's recommendation by June 15.

The prospect of the ATC terrestrial network has caused great consternation among GPS users, particularly in the aviation sector. Studies by groups including the RTCA, which functions as an advisory group to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the interagency National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Executive Committee, showed that GPS interference was a significant problem.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on June 23. When scheduled, it would have occurred after the industry TWG report was released, but at the last minute LightSquared requested a two-week delay in submitting the report, which the FCC granted. Thus the hearing was held before that report was out. With the exception of LightSquared itself, the witnesses at the hearing warned of near-calamitous consequences if LightSquared was allowed to proceed.

The day after the hearing, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the FY2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill offered by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) 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 bill (H.R. 2434) has not yet passed the House.

The industry TWG released its report the following week. Like the other studies, it showed that interference is a problem. LightSquared, however, blamed the GPS industry, not its system. The company argues that the GPS receiver manufacturers did not properly design and build the receivers to protect them from picking up neighboring frequencies.

At issue are the L-band frequencies assigned to LightSquared by the FCC for downlinks from its satellite to ground stations, 1525-1559 MHz, which are also authorized for ATC. The company plans to use two 10 MHz-wide portions of that spectrum (1526-1536 MHz and 1545.2-1555.2 MHz) for the ATC. One of GPS's frequency bands, L1, is at 1560-1610 MHz.

LightSquared's report to the FCC based on the findings of the industry TWG agreed that transmissions in the top 10 MHz of its band definitely will interfere with GPS receivers, but the company insists that transmissions in the bottom 10 MHz will not interfere with 99 percent of GPS receivers, only with 1 percent used for specialized purposes. LightSquared's recommendation is that it be allowed to proceed in the bottom 10 MHz of its band while coordinating and sharing the cost of underwriting "a workable solution" for the 1 percent of devices that would be affected. The company would delay using the top 10 MHz of its band while exploring options with the FCC and other government agencies. The RTCA report recommended that the company only be allowed to use the bottom 5 MHz of the band.

The FCC is requesting public comments on the industry TWG report and LightSquared's recommendation. They are due July 30.

The House SS&T Committee has not released a list of witnesses for its hearing. The hearing's title indicates only that it is looking at LightSquared's impact on federal science activities.

End of Space Shuttle Program Commentary

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Commentary from (click the links):

AIAA Commercial Space Forum on the Hill at Lunchtime Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

AIAA is sponsoring a meeting at lunchtime today from noon-1:30 in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building.

The "AIAA Defining Commercial Space Forum" includes speakers from Orbital Sciences Corp., NASA, FAA, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and the United Launch Alliance.

STS-135 Set to Land Early Thursday Morning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

As the nation celebrates the anniversary of the United States winning the race to the Moon against the Soviet Union 42 years ago today, NASA is preparing for the end of the space shuttle program early tomorrow morning and reliance on Russia to take Americans into space for an indefinite number of years.

The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday and after a final inspection of the heat protecting tiles on its belly using Canada's robotic arm, is preparing to land at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) tomorrow morning. A small satellite, PicoSat, was deployed from the shuttle's cargo bay yesterday as well. The 8-pound satellite will relay data about the performance of its solar cells.

The first landing opportunity at KSC calls for the deorbit burn at 4:49:04 am EDT and landing at 5:56:58 am. The second opportunity has the deorbit burn at 6:25:44 am and landing at 7:32:55 am. Whichever time landing occurs will mark the end of the space shuttle program. The United States does not have a replacement for the shuttle. Under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, NASA is subsidizing two commercial companies to develop systems to take crews to the ISS as well as developing its own crew transportation system to serve as a backup to the commercial companies and to take astronauts further out into space. The schedules for those development programs are contingent on many factors, particularly available government funding in these austere economic times. When either will be ready is unclear. Until then, NASA will pay Russia to take astronauts to and from ISS.

Forty two years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were racing to see who could first send astronauts to the Moon. The United States won that race when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface with Mike Collins orbiting overhead on July 20, 1969. Five more U.S. crews landed on the Moon before the Apollo lunar program ended in 1972.

The Soviets abandoned their human lunar landing program and focused on building space stations in Earth orbit, operating seven of them between 1971 and 2001 (Salyut 1, Salyut 3-7, and Mir). In 1975, the first joint U.S.-Soviet space mission took place -- the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. The United States spent the 1970s developing the space shuttle and, beginning in the 1980s, an international space station with Europe, Canada and Japan. In 1993, Russia joined the U.S.-led space station partnership, creating the ISS program. Now, Russia alone has the capability to send astronauts to the ISS (China has launched people into space three times, but is not part of the ISS partnership).

Events of Interest


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