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UPDATE 2: NASA: UARS Will Not Hit United States

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE (FRIDAY MORNING): NASA reports the satellite's decay rate slowed, pushing reentry later, and the United States may be at risk after all.

): NASA says reentry "is possible sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time."

ORIGINAL STORY: NASA still isn't sure exactly where debris from its Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will land, but it will not be on the United States.

The agency's latest update is that UARS will reenter tomorrow (Friday) afternoon and its path will not take it over North America at that time. The reentry will be sometime tomorrow afternoon Eastern Daylight Time. The agency will continue to post updates as it refines the decay trajectory.

UARS Will Reenter on Friday

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

NASA's update today on the reentry of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) confirms that it will reenter on Friday, September 23. NASA no longer includes the plus or minus one day caveat -- Friday is it.

The date is in United States time, but NASA stresses that does not mean it will reenter over the United States. "It is simply a time reference," according to the agency's UARS website.

Knowing the day it will reenter still does not provide a specific time and therefore specific location as to where the debris will fall. NASA will continue to update its website as the event nears.

House Rejects CR

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

In a surprise result, the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government after October 1 failed in the House.

Politico reports that the CR failed on a 195-230 vote as some Republicans joined "an overwhelming majority of Democrats."

The CR, intended to keep the government operating after October 1, is controversial because it halves the amount of money voted by the Senate to deal with recent natural disasters and requires an "offset" -- a reduction in federal spending to take account of the disaster relief efforts.

UPDATE: Ariane V Launch Postponed Due to Labor Strike

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: It was a short strike -- one day. The Ariane successfully launched the two satellites on September 21.

ORIGINAL STORY: The launch of two communications satellites on an Ariane V launch vehicle scheduled for tonight is being postponed because of a labor strike.

Arianespace, the European company that launches from Kourou, French Guiana, announced that the Trade Union of French Guiana Workers had declared a strike within the Telespazio company. Consequently, "means of measurement" necessary for the launch are unavailable.

A new launch date for the SES-2 and ARABSAT 5C satellites will be announced as soon as possible, Arianespace said.

UARS Reentry Prediction Unchanged - What is Your Risk of Being Hit?

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

Today's update on NASA's website about the impending reentry of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) retains the prediction that it will come back to Earth on Friday, plus or minus a day. The prediction has been the same for the past several days.

Exactly when it will reenter remains uncertain. NASA says predictions will become more refined in the next two days. Where it reenters depends on when it reenters, so stay tuned.

The Weather Channel's space weather twitter channel (@twcspacewx) tweeted some interesting statistics about the chances of a particular individual being hit by the debris. NASA's assessment that there is a one in 3,200 chance of "a" human casualty does not mean that a particular individual -- you -- will be hit. TWC calculates that any single individual on Earth has about a one in 20 million chance. Check out their math on Twitter!

More Brinksmanship and Another Possible Government Shutdown

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Anyone who thought Capitol Hill would be chastened by public dismay over the brinksmanship that characterized the debt limit debate may have to think again.

One may cast blame on whichever party one chooses, but the two sides are again at odds, this time using a possible government shutdown on October 1 as hostage.

Republicans, who castigated Democrats during the election last year for being unable to pass the appropriations bills that fund the government in a timely manner, have not been able to achieve that goal either. Fiscal Year 2012 begins on October 1 and none of the 12 appropriations bills has cleared Congress (six have passed the House; one has passed the Senate).

Washington finds itself once more in need of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until action can be completed on those bills. Both the House and Senate plan to be in recess next week as some members observe Rosh Hashanah, which means a CR must be passed this week.

The House Appropriations Committee proposed a CR last week that would fund the government through November 18, with a 1.5 percent cut in spending during that period.

That part is not controversial. But the two parties and two chambers are at odds over funds for disaster relief for recovering from tornados, floods, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, the east coast earthquake, wildfires in Texas and other natural disasters that have afflicted the United States this year.

The Senate passed legislation last week providing $6.9 billion for disaster relief (H. J. Res 66, as amended). Historically, disaster relief funds are treated as emergency spending for which budget offsets are not immediately required.

House Republicans instead want to include the disaster relief funds in the CR, are proposing only half that amount ($3.5 billion), and are demanding a $1.5 billion spending cut to clean-energy loans in return. According to The Washington Post blog, that is a program created by the Bush Administration for "loans to auto companies for developing electric cars and other fuel efficiency innovations."

House and Senate Democrats are opposed to the Republican proposal both generally because disaster funds should not require offsets and specifically because cutting the loans would put tens of thousands of jobs at risk, they say.

The House is expected to pass its bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has vowed to amend the bill with the legislation that already passed the Senate providing $6.9 billion in disaster relief and no offset. If that passes the Senate, the two sides would have to reach a compromise before the CR could be enacted.

Republican leaders are saying there will be no government shutdown, but Reid said today that "I'm not so sure" and "We're not going to cave on this," according to The Hill. Reid indicated that the Senate could change its schedule to be in session next week if necessary.

GAO: New Government Contract for Commercial Satcom Could Lower DOD Costs

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

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today that reviews the current state of the fixed communications satellite marketplace and how the government acquires commercial communications satellite services. The landscape has changed significantly over the decade since Congress passed the ORBIT Act in 2000. GAO focuses on how today's environment affects how much the government, and the Department of Defense (DOD) in particular, pay for such services.

DOD has a sizeable communications satellite fleet of its own, but its communications appetite is voracious. A significant amount of unclassified DOD traffic is routed over commercial communications satellites, especially in support of Central Command operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its report, GAO cites DOD statistics that its use of commercial communications satellite bandwidth grew by more than 180 percent in the Middle East and Africa between 2003 and 2009.

Until recently, three satellite service providers held a three-year contract with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to resell commercial communications capacity to DOD through a contract dubbed DSTS-G. GAO said the contract was "a total set-aside for competition restricted to small business concerns." Other government agencies acquired these services through a separate contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA).

DISA and GSA now have joined forces to create the Federal Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) program. FCSA allows satellite operators as well as satellite service providers to supply capacity directly to DOD. GAO reported that federal contracting officials expect the increased competition to lower costs. Vendors may continually be added to the list of qualified contractors.

The GAO report did make any recommendations. It does provide an interesting review of the commercial communications satellites sector and how it has changed since the ORBIT Act, which forced the privatization of Intelsat and Inmarsat and led to the demise of COMSAT.

NASA Releases Draft Commercial Cargo RFP, Modifies CCDev2 Awards

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

NASA today released a draft request for proposals (RFP) for commercial crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).

A number of companies are working with NASA today through the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to take astronauts to and from ISS. NASA has been working on its acquisition strategy for procuring services on those systems. The draft RFP released today "outlines a contract that will be awarded to multiple companies that provide a complete end-to-end design, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations and recovery," according to the space agency.

Called the Integrated Design Contract (IDC), it has a value of up to $1.61 billion for the period July 2012 to April 2014.

Simultaneously, NASA announced the addition of "optional milestones" for Boeing and Sierra Nevada's Space Act Agreements under the CCDev2 awards announced earlier this year.

Events of Interest: Week of September 19-23, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Sep-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. All times are EDT unless otherwise specified. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings or other actions are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

During the Week

FY2011 ends in two weeks, which means that Congress should pass the 12 appropriations bills to fund the government for FY2012 before then. Not likely, especially considering that the House and Senate will be in recess the last week of September as some members observe Rosh Hashanah. To date, six of the 12 appropriations bills have passed the House and one has passed the Senate.

Thus, Congress needs to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) this week to fund the government after October 1. The House Appropriations Committee introduced a CR that would last until November 18 and calls for a 1.5 percent cut in spending during that time. This is "must pass" legislation for Congress this week unless they change their schedule to be in session next week.

Monday-Wednesday, September 19-21

Tuesday, September 20

  • Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the Transportation-HUD bill (including the FAA's space office), 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am EDT (listed in National Journal's Daybook, but not yet on the committee's website)
  • NASA media teleconference on Development of Composite Cryogenic Propellant Tanks, 1:00 pm EDT, virtual (listen at

Wednesday, September 21

Thursday, September 22

  • HSS&T hearing on human spaceflight, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am EDT

Friday, September 23

  • HSS&T hearing on NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 AM EDT

NRO Declassifies Two Legacy Reconnaissance Satellite Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation's spy satellites, celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday with an event at the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. As part of the celebration, the super secret agency, whose name was not even known outside classified circles until 1992, opened the door into its world a bit wider. Two reconnaissance satellite programs from the 1960s were declassified -- Gambit (KH-7 and KH-8) and Hexagon (KH-9).

Keith Cowing of NASAWatch posted video he shot while visiting the Udvar Hazy Center on YouTube showing the KH-9 satellite that NRO displayed.

NRO has a website with considerable information about both programs.

The nation's first reconnaissance satellite program, Corona, was declassified years ago. A book about it, Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites, was written by Dwayne Day, John Logsdon, and Brian Latell in 1999 and is available from (and undoubtedly other vendors).

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »

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