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The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) announced today that Ralph Semmel will be the new APL Director, replacing Ralph Roca. Dr. Semmel has been with APL for 23 years, and for the past five headed the Applied Information Sciences Department. He is the eighth director in the Lab's 68-year history.
Space News and the Orlando Sentinel are reporting that NASA notified Congress today that it had sent letters to contractors on the Constellation program telling them to immediately reduce spending on the program to avoid violating the Anti-Deficiency Act. The reports say that the cutbacks could mean a loss of 2,500-5,000 jobs. The Orlando Sentinel says that ATK will be hardest hit, but Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Boeing also will be affected.
Japan's robotic asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa, will return to Earth around midnight on Sunday, June 13, with a sample of the asteroid Itokawa. The final trajectory maneuver was successfully accomplished yesterday, placing the spacecraft on track for landing at Australia's Woomera Test Range in the southern part of that country.
The spacecraft, also called Muses-C, was launched seven years ago from Japan's Uchinoura launch site and has traveled approximately six billion kilometers. It landed on -- and took off from -- asteroid Itokawa in November 2005 and has been on its return trip ever since. A softball-sized target marker that guided the spacecraft to its landing with the names of 880,000 "little prices and princesses" engraved on it remains on the asteroid.
The mission survived many technical challenges, including the failure of all four of its ion engines. Japanese engineers were able to interconnect working components of different engines to create one that worked.
Roger Tetrault, a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) that determined the causes of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, warns against forgetting the lessons of Columbia in a letter to Representative Pete Olson (R-TX). Rep. Olson distributed the letter in a "Dear Colleague" missive to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives (the yellow highlighting in the Tetrault letter is in the Dear Colleague version).
Two other members of CAIB have publicly weighed in on the Obama plan and both support it. Former astronaut Sally Ride, who also was a member of the 2009 Augustine committee, participated in the NASA telecon when the FY2011 budget was released on February 1. George Washington University Professor Emeritus John Logsdon expressed his support in an op-ed for Space News in March.
Tetrault's concern is that while the Constellation program was designed in response to the CAIB report, with safety as its primary design parameter, in his view the Obama plan is repeating history and its tragic results.
"America's path in space is now threatened by the decisions being proposed in the NASA budget. We are cancelling a program built around the findings and lessons learned from Columbia. There is no clear mission or direction given to NASA, and the use of proven-technologies is being shunned. Further, the choice to commercialize our launch capability provides insufficient safety for the brave men and women that will be asked to ride these rockets. Surely, they deserve the best that we can provide."
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel issued a memo today directing federal agencies to identify low priority programs that could be cut to reduce their funding by 5 percent for FY2012. National security-related agencies (e.g. the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security) are exempt.
The memo says in part:
"Your agency is required to identify the programs and subprograms that have the lowest impact on your agency's mission and constitute at least five percent of your agency's discretionary budget. This information should be included with your FY 2012 budget submission, but is a separate exercise from the budget reductions necessary to meet the target for your agency's FY 2012 discretionary budget request."
Considering how little progress has been made in Congress on finalizing the FY2011 budgets, it may be hard to think about FY2012 already, but in fact this is the time of year when agencies are readying their FY2012 requests. Although the FY2012 request will not be submitted to Congress by the President until next February, it takes almost the entire year to negotiate the request first within each agency, and then between the agency and the White House.
This part of the exercise must be completed by September 10, 2010 according to the memo. NASA, NOAA and NSF are among the agencies that will have to comply. NASA was not subjected to the freeze in non-security discretionary spending the Obama Administration mandated for FY2011, so there is no way to know what this means for the agency, but the obvious question is whether that $6 billion increase projected in NASA's FY2011 budget request will turn out to be just a mirage.
Quoting Woody Allen's famous line -- "One path leads to despair, the other to destruction. Let's hope we choose wisely." -- Dan Baker wrapped up a one-day symposium on how the scientific community and the federal government are dealing with the potentially catastrophic effects of a major space weather event. Dr. Baker heads the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder and will head the new National Research Council (NRC) Decadal Survey on Solar and Space Physics.
The comment pretty much captured the mood at the meeting, which was sponsored by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research. Speaker after speaker emphasized the challenge of getting the attention of the public and policymakers to the potentially catastrophic impacts of such a low probability event.
NASA, NOAA and their international counterparts have many spacecraft designed to study the sun and improve the ability to forecast coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that could disable or destroy satellite systems like the Global Positioning System (GPS) and government and commercial communications satellites, not to mention terrestrial systems like the electric power grid. Dealing with the consequences is another matter. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator W. Craig Fugate emphasized the need to build resiliency into systems that could be disrupted. He also rued the fact that no one is unambiguously in charge of dealing with the impacts of such disruptions.
Dr. Chris Beck, a staff member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that a bill (H.R. 5026) that includes provisions related to protecting the electric power grid from space weather events ("geomagnetic storms" in the language of the bill) is expected to be debated in the House tomorrow.
Overall, the message was that no one in the government is in charge of dealing with the effects of disruptions caused by solar storms. Not only does that need to be fixed, but it is critical for the scientific community to develop better ways to forecast the storms and communicate to policymakers the siginificant harm that could result from them.
The NRC's Space Studies Board (SSB) published a report last year on the societal and economic impacts of space weather. Dr. Baker chaired that study and is also chair of the SSB's standing Committee on Solar and Space Physics. SSB Senior Program Officer Art Charo announced at the meeting today that Dr. Baker will chair the new NRC Decadal Survey on Solar and Space Physics, with Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen of the University of Michigan as co-chair. That report is due on March 31, 2012. Dr. Charo is the study director.
South Korea will proceed with its planned launch of KSLV-1 (Naro-1) on Wednesday according to the Yonhap News Service. The launch is currently scheduled for 5:00 pm Seoul time (4:00 am EDT).
South Korea scrubbed the launch of its KSLV-1 (Naro-1) launch vehicle today after the launch pad's fire extinguisher system activated about three hours before the scheduled liftoff according to Yonhap News Service. All three fire extinguishers released liquid. None of it reportedly reached the launch vehicle although technicians are checking to see if any leaked under the pad. Until the investigation of what happened and why is completed, a new launch date cannot be set, said the news service.
Hotel magnate and space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow is the only non-NASA customer for commercial human spaceflight to low Earth orbit according to the New York Times. The newspaper quotes Bigelow as saying that "nobody" is his competition.
Bigelow Aerospace has launched two experimental inflatable space modules already and plans to launch its first "real" modules in four years, creating the first private space station. In a rare interview about his spaceflight plans, Bigelow told the newspaper that his company plans to assemble a second space station in 2016. The two together could house 36 people "providing ample business for the private companies" championed by the Obama Administration is its plan for the future of U.S. human spaceflight. The newspaper adds that the "soundness of the business case is unknown to outsiders."
The FY2011 appropriaions process is still on hold waiting for the House and Senate to pass an actual budget resolution or a "deeming resolution" instead. The budget resolution sets the amount of funding that each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees is allowed to spend.
As the Memorial Day recess neared, rumors were that the Senate would pass something before the July 4th recess. However, Congress Daily (subscription required) is reporting that Senate Budget Committee chaiman Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) no longer is optimistic that it can be accomplished by then. The Senate Budget Committee agreed to a 5-year budget resolution in April, but ran into difficulty getting the bill to the floor because of higher prioirty legislation. The committee-passed resolution would reduce the deficit by 70% by FY2015 according to Congress Daily.
Action in the House has been even slower than in the Senate. Members of the leadership in both chambers now say that they are likely to pass only those appropriations bills associated with national security before the November elections. Those would be the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Military Construction-VA bills. The other nine bills, including the one that funds NASA (Commerce-Justice-Science), would not be passed until sometime thereafter.
Absent action on a CJS bill, Congress could include language in any of the three bills that are expected to pass by November, or in a supplemental appropriations bill, resolving whether NASA must continue to spend funds on the Constellation program as directed in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Or they may not. The expectation is that Congress and the White House will reach a compromise, but the features of that comproise are anyone's guess at this point.
Events of Interest
- ISS Spacewalk by Russian Crew, August 18, 2014, Earth orbit, NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 am ET
- MSBR Luncheon Featuring NASA's Mike Gazarik, August 19, 2014, Martin's Crosswinds, Greenbelt, MD, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- ESA Pre-Launch Press Bfg for Galileo Launch, August 20, 2014, virtual, 13:00 CEST (7:00 am ET)
- NEW NASA-NSF-Smithsonian panel on Ancient Earth, Ancient Aliens, August 20, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 5:30 - 6:30 pm ET
- NRC Survey of Surveys Committee, August 25-27, 2014, Keck Center, 500 5th St., NW, Washington, DC
- NASA Advisory Council Planetary Science Subcommittee, September 3-4, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm both days
- NRC Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS), September 3-4, 2014, NRC Beckman Center, Irvine, CA
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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