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Kicza: NPP Not Just Another Satellite

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

NOAA's Mary Kicza stressed today that the NPP satellite being readied for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base for an October launch is "not just another satellite."

Kicza spoke at a press conference at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, CO, prime contractor for the satellite. She focused on NPP's new role as part of the NOAA's operational weather satellite system following the dissolution of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program. NPP - the NPOESS Preparatory Project - is a NASA satellite that was NASA's contribution to the NPOESS program. Its purpose was to reduce technical risk by flying advanced sensors that would later be used on NPOESS, not to be part of NOAA's operational satellite series.

Representatives of NASA, NOAA, and Ball Aerospace and its industry partners provided details on the advanced capabilities of the NPP instruments compared to their predecessors that have flown on a variety of satellite platforms over the years. The bottom line is that weather forecasts will be quicker and more accurate once the NPP data are available. NPP also will provide data for climate studies, its original focus. NASA's Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, spoke about the value of knowing "what tomorrow will bring" whether it is tomorrow's weather or the future of Earth's environment in the decades to come. The value is economic, military, humanitarian, and societal, he said, philosophizing about the relationship between humans and the Earth's environmental system and the need to "optimize that relationship."

Kicza called NPP a "bridge" between NOAA's current polar orbiting weather satellites and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) that is off to a slow start because of lower than requested funding from Congress. The NPOESS program, intended to serve both the civil and military communities, was replaced by NOAA's JPSS for civil users and DOD's Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the national security sector.

NOAA received only about one-third of the funding it requested for JPSS in FY2011 because it was held to its previous year's funding level, before NPOESS was dissolved. The agency has reprogrammed money from other sources into JPSS for FY2011, but still has less than half of what it planned. Its FY2012 request is $1.07 billion. The House Appropriations Committee approved a cut of $169 million. The full House and the Senate have not acted yet.

The last of NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellites, NOAA-19, was launched in 2009. NPP now will be its successor instead of an NPOESS satellite. Kicza said that satellites like NOAA-19 and NPP have a typical lifetime of 5 years, so the agency needs its first JPSS satellite ready for launch by 2016 or 2017. NOAA officials have repeatedly warned Congress than a data gap of as many as 18 months could occur if JPSS is not adequately funded to meet that launch timeframe.

Meanwhile, everyone's fingers are crossed that the NPP launch will be successful. The launch vehicle for NPP is the very reliable Delta II. Two of NASA's last three Earth science satellites, OCO and GLORY, were lost in launch vehicle failures of a different rocket, the Taurus XL. A third satellite, Aquarius, was successfully launched in June on a Delta II.

Getting the Message Across in Congress?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Editorial Comment

I clicked on this article in The Hill newspaper today to read about something going on in Washington politics (the Tea Party Caucus and its role in the debt limit debate) and was astonished to suddenly see a photo of the STS-135 crew appear in the embedded advertisement.

The advertisement is very effective in catching one's attention. The crew, the space shuttle, the space station (though I wonder how many people outside the space community recognize it). Beautiful images.

What message the advertisement is trying to convey is a mystery, though.

The words that appear in the ad are: "30 years of inspiration," "exploration," "leadership," "America's space shuttle," "enduring legacy," and, at the end, "Boeing."

Perhaps this ad has run elsewhere, but it's the first time I've seen it. I can't help but wonder what message Boeing is trying to send to the readership of The Hill, which I imagine are people like me who for whatever reason remain fascinated by the inner workings of Capitol Hill and Washington politics in general. I, at least, follow the space program as closely as I follow Washington politics, but even with an understanding of both, I can't discern what Boeing wants me to take away from the ad.

Is it a simple tribute to the space shuttle now that's it's over? An effort to highlight that Boeing was involved in the shuttle program with the expectation that The Hill's readership therefore will think positively of Boeing? An indirect lament that the shuttle is over and there is no U.S. system to take people to the space station now? An implied statement that the shuttle was part of U.S. "exploration" and "leadership" and we've lost that now?

The ad is in an article about Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus, but I clicked on other stories and it appears there as well, so there's no apparent tie between the ad and the content of the articles. Instead it looks like a campaign to bring the human spaceflight program to the attention of Capitol Hill, but to what end?

It's a shame to waste an opportunity to effectively engage Congress and the Washington political establishment about the future of the human spaceflight program. With all due respect to Boeing, this ad seems to contribute to the confusion.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of August 8-12, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The Smallsat Conference has been added.

With Congress out of town until after Labor Day and most other people on vacation, there are only a couple of events of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Congress is not officially in recess. The House and Senate are meeting in pro forma session, but no legislative business can take place without unanimous consent so none is expected in the coming weeks. The members are back in their States and districts hearing directly from constituents about how they think things are going in Washington. This is where elected representatives learn what is important to their electorates, so if you have an issue you think is important, you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with them.

Monday, August 8

Monday-Thursday, August 8-11

Thursday, August 11

  • NASA's 2011 Future Forum, University of Maryland Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center, College Park, MD, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm EDT
  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) teleconference, 1:00 pm EDT

Orlando Sentinel: New Crew System Will Cost $38 Billion

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

The Orlando Sentinel asserts that the new NASA-developed launch vehicle and crew capsule for the future U.S. human spaceflight program will cost $38 billion over the next 10 years.

The newspaper reports that it obtained access to internal NASA documents showing that NASA's preliminary estimate is that the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will cost $17-22 billion between now and the system's first test flight in December 2017, and another $12-16 billion between then and the first flight with a crew around the Moon in August 2021.

The agency has not released its design for the SLS despite repeated requests by Congress. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in July that he is awaiting independent cost assessments and it could be fall before an announcement is made.

Congress directed NASA to build the SLS and MPCV in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The decision was a compromise with the Obama Administration, which wanted NASA to subsidize the emergence of a commercial capability to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and wait until 2015 to make decisions about what type of launch vehicle NASA itself should build for beyond LEO expeditions. Under the law, NASA is to do both, and to proceed immediately with design and development of its own new launch vehicle, the SLS (generically called a "heavy lift launch vehicle" or HLLV). The agency was required to provide a report to Congress about the SLS and MPCV cost and design in January, but only a preliminary report was submitted. Congress is still waiting for the final report. NASA did formally announce that it would continue with the Orion spacecraft from the cancelled Constellation program to fulfill the MPCV role, but the SLS announcement is still pending. With growing impatience, key Senators on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee requested documentation from NASA about its SLS decision making process in May. The agency has not provided what the Senators requested and the committee issued a subpoena in July.

The non-NASA website has posted several stories with detailed accounts of the SLS design, however. If correct, NASA chose a system derived from the space shuttle with some elements of the Ares rocket that NASA was developing under the Constellation program.

How That FAA Bill Got Passed

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

The New York Times has an entertaining account of "pro forma" sessions in Congress this morning for any of you intrigued by congressional procedure.

Usually Congress goes into recess in August, but not this time. Both are in pro forma session, which is how the Senate was able to pass that FAA bill so quickly once Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reached agreement with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on temporarily resolving the impasse.

When in pro forma session, no legislative activity can take place except by unanimous consent. Typically one or two members are present, the House or Senate is gaveled into session and minutes -- or seconds -- later the session is gaveled to a close. Seem silly? Not really. There is a purpose to it, as the New York Times explains.

UPDATE: Juno is Off!

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

UPDATE: There were a few last minute delays due to technical issues and a boat entering restricted waters near the launch site, but at 12:25 pm EDT Juno was successfully launched.

The Juno spacecraft is scheduled for launch this morning at 11:34 EDT. Today's launch window is open until 12:43 pm EDT.

The Atlas V launch vehicle is on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Tropical Storm Emily is not a threat to the launch, and the countdown is proceeding on time as of this moment. The launch will be telecast on NASA TV.

Juno is headed to Jupiter and will arrive there in 2016. It will spend one year orbiting the planet before plunging into the gaseous giant.

If anything should delay the launch today, the mission's overall launch window runs through August 26.

Senate Passes FAA Bill

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

Today the Senate passed the FAA bill as announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) yesterday.

The bill extends FAA funding only through September 16, so it is only a temporary respite. The House and Senate still must resolve their underlying disagreements, which center on subsidies to small airports and union rights. For now, at least, the 4,000 government workers and 70,000 construction workers can resume their jobs and get their paychecks.

Public Disapproval of Congress Hits New High

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

A New York Times/CBS News poll found that public disapproval of Congress hit a new high -- 82 percent of those polled disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, the highest number since the newspaper began asking the question in 1977.

The poll was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday with 960 adults and has a three percent margin of error.

Both parties in Congress received high disapproval ratings for how they dealt with the debt ceiling issue, though it was higher for Republicans: 72 percent disapproved of Republicans and 66 percent disapproved of Democrats. As for President Obama, 47 percent disapproved of how he handled the debt ceiling negotiations and 46 percent approved. More than four out of five believe that the debate was more about gaining political advantage than doing what is right for the country.

Eighty-four percent are either angry or dissatiffied but not angry with how things are going in Washington overall.

Temporary Ceasefire in FAA Feud

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced this afternoon that the House and Senate have agreed on a temporary resolution of their differences that will allow the FAA to resume normal operations -- and 70,000 construction workers to return to their job sites -- while Congress is on its August break.

Senator Reid said that the fundamental differences between the two chambers are not resolved. This is just a way to fix the problem until Congress returns in September. The President and others had been pressuring Congress to resolve the issue before the House and Senate left town for their summer vacation. Most members have left already, but both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in pro forma session tomorrow.

According to The Hill newspaper, the Senate will pass the bill that the House passed earlier. The House-passed bill contains a provision to which Senate Democrats strongly object that would cut subsidies to small airports in states like Nevada and West Virginia. The Senate had passed a "clean" bill that simply extended the FAA's authority to collect airline taxes. Each side refused to pass the other's bill. Under the agreement, although the Senate will pass the House bill, the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, will use his authority to waive the airports from the cuts.

The House and Senate presumably will return to their feud in September.

Revised: Panetta Reassures DOD Personnel on Potential Budget Cuts if Supercommittee Fails to Agree

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sent a letter to DOD personnel yesterday reassuring them that although DOD must share in budget cuts, he would "fight for you and your families" as the debt limit/deficit reduction deal plays out. His specific concern is the potential across-the-board cuts that would take effect if the 12-person congressional commission -- or "supercommittee" as it has come to be known -- fails to reach agreement on more cuts.

The debt limit/deficit reduction deal signed into law on Tuesday included immediate agreement on $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years of which $350 million is from defense. However, it creates a 12-person congressional supercommittee that is chartered to put forward by Thanksgiving --- and that Congress must pass by Christmas -- another round of cuts totalling $1.2 - 1.5 trillion over 10 years. As an incentive, a provision is included that says that if the supercommittee fails to reach agreement or Congress fails to pass it, a set of automatic across-the-board cuts would take place. Those cuts would be distributed evenly between defense and non-defense spending. Potential cuts to Medicare providers are permissible, but other cuts are not, including cuts to Medicare benefits and Social Security. The New York Times has a helpful graphic of how the deficit deal works.

Panetta said in his letter that the across-the-board cuts were designed to be "unpalatable" to force the congressional supercommittee to reach agreement and Congress to approve it. Panetta, a former congressman and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), referred back to the problems created after the Vietnam War with across-the-board funding cuts. He insisted that DOD must think carefully about what its requirements are for the future and cut in specific areas: "By better aligning our resources with our priorities, the Department can lead the way in moving towards a more disciplined defense budget."

Note: The title and text of this article was revised to indicate that the congressional "commission" set up by the debt llimit/deficit reduction deal has come to be known as a "supercommittee" and to include a more specific reference to the deal.

Events of Interest


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