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Events of Interest: Week of August 22-26, 2011

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

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Monday, August 22

Monday-Wednesday, August 22-24

Wednesday, August 24

  • Women in Aerospace (WIA) Decades of Storytelling: A Women's Equality Day Panel Discussion, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm EDT

Thursday-Friday, August 25-26

Comprehensive NEO Survey Needed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

NASA should make a comprehensive survey of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) a priority according to a report from the "Target NEO" workshop held last February.

The workshop was held on February 22, 2011 at George Washington University (GWU) under the sponsorship of GWU's Space Policy Institute and Ball Aerospace. The stated purpose was to look at what is involved in meeting President Obama's goal of sending humans to an asteroid in 2025 as the next step in human space exploration. One of the challenges is knowing what asteroids will be in the right position as the target for a human mission in that time frame.

A summary of the workshop was recently released. The bottom line is that scientists know of very few worthy candidates proably because they are limited to seeing only a small portion of the sky and thus a small portion of the total asteroid population. What is needed, they argue, is a space-based telescope located perhaps at a Lagrange point or in a Venus-like orbit that can see the entire sky and discover additional NEO targets.

"The paucity of viable candidate destination NEOs can be attributed to the fact that NEO observing assets are currently confined to Earth's vicinity," according to the report. A number of concepts already exist on how to accomplish a space-based NEO survey, and the first necessary step is "intercomparisons of capabilities and costs using a common set of assumptions...." Discovery of more NEOs would be followed by other steps, but the report concludes that ground- and space-based assets could "greatly reduce unknowns about the NEO population within 10 years."

Sending humans to an asteroid requires overcoming many other challenges, which also were discussed at the workshop. International coordination is an important element in moving forward, the report asserts.

Sen. Hutchison Demands NASA Release SLS Cost Analysis

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) called on NASA to release the independent cost analysis of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) choice, which she says the agency was scheduled to receive today.

"I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months -- that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately," she said.

Hutchison is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee and a key figure in passage of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that directed NASA to build a new heavy lift launch vehicle, called the SLS in the law. In her statement today, she said Commerce committee staff had been briefed by Booz Allen, which is performing the independent cost analysis, and NASA "has committed to deliver the report to Congress later today."

Expressing continued concern about the delay in initiating the SLS program, her statement includes a timeline from June 2010 to today that summarizes NASA's activities on the SLS and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) crew capsule that it is intended to launch. The purpose is to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. President Obama wants the first destination to be an asteroid by 2025, but the debate over the destination is ongoing.

OMB Tells Agencies To Reduce Funding Requests

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The tough budget environment that lies ahead for agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD that are part of the government's discretionary spending became clear in the annual budget guidance put out by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Wednesday.

OMB issues guidance to all the federal departments and agencies about this time each year as they prepare to submit their funding requests to OMB for review. The federal government's fiscal year (FY) is from October 1 - September 30. FY2011 is coming to a close and Congress is debating the request for FY2012. The President's budget request for FY2013 should be submitted to Congress on the first Monday of February 2012.

Between now and then, the departments and agencies must submit and defend their budget requests through the OMB, which determines how much will be contained in the President's request to Congress. High level issues that cannot be resolved at the OMB level are sent to the President. Typically, agencies submit their budget requests to OMB in late August or early September, OMB replies by issuing its "pass back" around Thanksgiving, and the two negotiate over the final numbers between then and when the budget goes to Congress.

Telling agencies to submit requests that are less than what they previously expected is also fairly standard procedure in recent years unless they are given an exemption. Typically they are told to request five percent less than a certain amount and to also show what the impact would be of a 10 percent cut. That is true this year as well. The key is what base year is used.

Last year, the OMB guidance for FY2012 budget requests was to cut five percent from what OMB projected for FY2012 in the FY2011 request. In NASA's case, for example, in the FY2011 budget request OMB projected $19.45 billion for NASA, so the OMB guidance required the agency to submit a request five percent less than that. Whatever NASA requested is not public, but the end result was a President's request to Congress of $18.72 billion, the same as what the agency received in FY2010 and an increase of $27 million above what Congress provided for FY2011 ($18.45 billion)

This year's guidance, however, tells agencies to submit requests that are five percent less than what they received for FY2011. For NASA, that means five percent less than $18.45 billion, or $17.52 billion. In its FY2012 request, the agency assumed a level budget of $18.72 billion per year for the next five years. Agencies must also show the impact of a 10 percent cut from the FY2011 enacted level, which in NASA's case would be $16.6 billion.

The OMB guidance is just that, guidance, and the beginning not the end of the negotiating process within the administration for what will be included in the President's FY2013 budget request to Congress. It is indicative, however, of the extremely constrained budgetary environment that all discretionary agencies are facing as Congress and the Administration strive to reduce the deficit. Knowing at least in general terms how much money will be available in future years is especially important for agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD that are involved in projects that take many years to execute like building and launching satellites.

NASA Invites Nominations for Advisory Committees

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is inviting members of the public to nominate themselves or others to serve on one of NASA's federal advisory committees.

The Federal Register notice sets a deadline of September 20, 2011 for submitting nominations to fill "intermittent vacancies" that occur throughout the year. NASA selects people based on their expertise, knowledge and contribution to the relevant subject area. Procedures for nominating yourself or someone else are in the notice. NASA's federal advisory committees, as listed in the notice, are the following:

  • NASA Advisory Council
  • Aerospace Safety Advisory Council
  • International Space Station Advisory Committee
  • International Space Station National Laboratory Advisory Committee
  • National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board

NASA FY2011 Initial Operating Plan

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Elon Musk Interview on Science Friday Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, will be interviewed on National Public Radio's Science Friday program today.

The program airs on NPR stations and on the web from 2:00-4:00 pm EDT. According to the show's program listing, Musk will be the final interview at the end of the second hour.

NASA To Announce Tech Demo Mission Winners

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA will announce on Monday the winners in the agency's Technology Demonstration Mission program.

NASA's Office of Chief Technologist is selecting proposals for crosscutting technology demonstrations with the potential to infuse high-impact capabilities into NASA's future space operations missions.

The media teleconference, on August 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm EDT, will be streamed live at

Heritage: China Threatens U.S. Space Superiority

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

China's space program is threatening U.S. space superiority according to a new report from the Heritage Foundation.

A 2010 Chinese test involving two ballistic missile launches that resulted in a deliberate collision, and a 2010 mission where two Chinese satellites "engaged in orbital maneuvers that appears to include 'bumping' into each other" that could be useful for "practicing docking maneuvers or anti-satellite operations" are examples of Chinese activities that cause concern according to the report's author, Dean Cheng.

"The U.S. government needs to take steps to ensure that it maintains the ability to secure space superiority. Such a position of strength is necessary for the Sino-American space relationship to develop along the oft-touted lines of mutual respect and mutual benefit," he continues.

Cheng recommends that the United States must maintain a "robust" military space capability; increase alternatives to space systems to reduce our reliance on them; and increase knowledge of Chinese space capabilities by expanding the pool of people able to analyze China's space capabilities "in the original language." To that latter end, interaction between U.S. and Chinese space experts is "probably both inevitable and necessary" in his view. These interactions should not be "guided by the hope that American openness will be reciprocated," but instead "predicated on efforts at mutual, equitable interaction." Congress therefore should specify the areas where the Department of Defense, NASA and NOAA can and cannot interact with the Chinese, he advised.

DARPA Wants To Head for the Stars

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The two flights of its Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic test vehicle may not have turned out as planned, but that isn't stopping the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from working on plans to travel to another star.

Writing in the New York Times today, Dennis Overbye recaps DARPA's 100-year Starship Study through which DARPA will award $500,000 in seed money to an organization to study what it would take "organizationally, technically, sociologically and ethically" to send people on an interstellar voyage. NASA's Ames Research Center is partnering with DARPA on the project. David Neyland, director of technical technology at DARPA, is quoted as saying that the agency is not trying to design an interstellar craft itself, but instead wants to find an organization that will carry the concept forward for the next 100 years with private sector, not government, funding.

The idea is that new technologies would be developed over the decades as the effort unfolds that will be useful to the Department of Defense and NASA. DARPA's announcement of the project last year said that the study "looks to develop the business case for an enduring organization designed to incentivize breakthroughs enabling future spaceflight."

A three-day symposium will be held in Orlando, FL September 30-October 2 to discuss the responses to DARPA's request for information. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Events of Interest


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