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European Space Ministers Emphasize Space-Based Infrastructure, Exploration

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The space ministers of the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA) met on November 25 in Brussels, Belgium for the seventh time since the two organizations signed a framework agreement in 2004. The two groups have overlapping, but not identical, memberships. The EU is a political body, while ESA is technical. The two have worked together on the European Galileo navigation satellite system and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program for several years.

The Space Council meeting took place as part of a meeting of the Council of the European Union on "Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space)." A press release from the EU said that the Council "endorsed a resolution on the orientations to be taken so that Europe can continue to develop world-class space infrastructures and applications, and to rely on efficient space systems to serve its citizens." The Galileo and GMES programs were given special emphasis.

Among its many points, the resolution itself "ACKNOWLEDGES the increasing dependence of the European economy and policies ... on space assets and the critical nature of space infrastructures for autonomous European decision making...." It also "NOTES the EU's proposal for a Code of Conduct in Outer Space" and "RECOGNISES the need for a future Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capability as an activity at European level..."

Article 189 of the Lisbon Treaty, which went into force in December 2009, gives the EU an explicit role not only in European space applications like Galileo and GMES, but also in space exploration. The resolution issued yesterday "CONSIDERS" that Europe's robotic and human space exploration program should be undertaken "within a worldwide programme" developed by building upon existing international partnerships. The International Space Station (ISS) is specifically cited as an example. The resolution "TAKES NOTE" of the decision by some ISS partners to extend operations of the ISS until at least 2020 and stresses the need to effectively utilize the facility.

Regarding space exploration, the resolution "STRESSES the strong common interest of Member States in Mars exploration" and "CALLS UPON the European Commission and ESA [Director General], jointly, to develop and propose a European exploration strategy..."

ESA issued its own press release, quoting Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain as saying that the Lisbon Treaty with its Article 189 is "good news for space, good news for Europe and good news for ESA. It allows us not to do the same thing differently, but to do more, together."

UPDATE: ISS Crew Members Land Safely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: NASA TV showed the egress of the crew live and a version of the video is available on the NASA TV YouTube channel:


Three members of the International Space Station crew landed safely in Kazakhstan as scheduled.

Nifty Pics Posted by Ready-to-Return Astronaut

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

CORRECTION: The Twitter URL has been corrected. It is an underscore rather than a hyphen in astro_wheels.

NASA Astronaut Doug Wheelock will return home tonight aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and is spending his final hours sending back photos from the International Space Station (ISS). You can link to them from his Twitter account at

A particularly nifty one is a photo of him in the cupola looking down at Earth. Another shows the Soyuz capsule that will bring him and colleagues Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin home, with Earth in the background. Undocking remains scheduled for 8:23 pm EST, with landing in Kazakhstan at 11:46 pm EST.

NASA TV has begun live coverage already.

Three ISS Crew Members Set to Return Home Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Three members of the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 25 crew are getting ready to return home tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day. Soyuz TMA-19 is scheduled to undock from the ISS at 8:23 pm EST and land in Kazakhstan at 11:46 pm EST (10:46 am November 26 at the landing site).

NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker will be aboard, along with Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, who will be commander of the Soyuz during descent. One American, Scott Kelly, and two Russians, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, will remain on the ISS and be joined by three new colleagues in mid-December. That crew, which will launch from Kazakhstan on December 15 EST (December 16 in Kazakhstan), is composed of Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Cady Coleman, and Italian Paolo Nespoli, representing the European Space Agency.

For more on ISS crew comings and goings, check NASA's ISS website.

Shuttle Press Conference Today at 3:00 pm EST

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The rest of us may be busy getting ready for Thanksgiving, but NASA is hard at work. The agency has scheduled a press conference for 2:00 pm CST (3:00 EST) this afternoon to update everyone on the launch of Discovery.

The press conference will follow a space shuttle program requirements review control board meeting to discuss the progress of repairs associated with two cracks in "stringers" on Discovery's external tank. The press conference will be shown on NASA TV. Bill Gerstenmaier and John Shannon are the briefing participants.

European Space Council Press Briefing Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

For anyone who won't be preparing Thanksgiving dinner or watching the Macy's Day parade tomorrow at 16:00 European time (10:00 am EST), the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union (EU) will be webstreaming a press conference about their seventh Space Council meeting. The meeting of ESA and EU ministers in charge of space activities will take place that day in Brussels, Belgium.

According to ESA's press release, the theme of the meeting is "Global Challenges: Taking Full Benefit of European Space Systems." ESA says the theme "reflects the important synergies that can be created to benefit Europe's citizens when placing the technical expertise provided by ESA at the service of a range of EU policies."

Discovery Launch Delayed Indefinitely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Space shuttle managers feel that more analysis is needed before they can clear space shuttle Discovery for its final launch. The launch was scrubbed twice in November and slipped to no earlier than December 3. Shuttle program manager John Shannon said at a press conference today that it will not be ready for the December 3-7 window at all. The next window, December 17-20, is an option, but he is not sure they will be ready by then either. If not, the launch will have to wait untl February.

Two cracks were found in "stringers" on Discovery's external tank after the tank was filled and emptied several times during the previous launch attempts. NASA needs time to do additional analysis to ensure that cracks do not develop during ascent and cause foam to be shed. Damage to the space shuttle Columbia orbiter from external tank foam shedding caused Columbia to disintegrate during reentry in 2003, killing all seven aboard.

Shannon said repeatedly today that NASA needs to understand its risk exposure better before commiting to launch. The shuttle is still on the launch pad and engineers have access to only one side of the tank. Rolling it back to the Vehicle Assembly Building so they can study the opposite side is one option they are considering, but no decisions have been finalized.

SpaceX Gets First Commercial Reentry License

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the first commercial reentry license to SpaceX, which plans to use its Dragon spacecraft not only to take cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but back to Earth as well. A test to demonstrate that capability is planned for next month.

The FAA was given regulatory authority over commercial reentry, in addition to its existing authority to regulate launches, in the 1998 Commercial Space Act (P.L. 105-303) At the time, Lockheed Martin was developing a commercial single-stage-to-orbit vehicle called Venturestar as a successor to the space shuttle. NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin on the program, agreeing to invest about $1 billion in research and development (the NASA program was designated X-33). Technical hurdles proved difficult to overcome and Lockheed Martin declined to contine funding the program on its own once the NASA cap was reached. The exact amount Lockheed Martin paid into the program is unclear.

Now, a decade later, another company is attempting to achieve the same fundamental goal -- commercial transportation of people to and from orbit -- but with more traditional technology, a rocket and a capsule. SpaceX plans to use its Falcon 9 rocket, which succeeded in its first test launch last summer. A second launch is scheduled for December. That launch will test the launch and reentry of the Dragon capsule. It is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA issued a press release praising the action by the FAA. The agency is anxious for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to succeed in their attempts to develop commercial cargo services for the ISS. Russia's Progress spacecraft and the space shuttle have been the mainstays of cargo delivery to ISS throughout its lifetime. With the shuttle program ending in 2011, the commercial cargo program is critical to ISS operations.

In addition to Russia's Progress, Europe and Japan have spacecraft, ATV and HTV respectively, that can take cargo to the ISS. None of those three can survive reentry, however. To date, the space shuttle has been the only way to bring cargo back to Earth, except for a very small amount that can be accommodated in Russia's Soyuz capsule when it brings crews home.

NRC Recommends Agencies Go It Alone on Space and Earth Science Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A National Research Council (NRC) report that assesses impediments to collaboration on space and earth science missions recommends that unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, agencies should not partner on them. The report was released today.

The committee that wrote the report was co-chaired by Dr. James Baker, former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Dr. Daniel Baker, Director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Dan Baker also is a member of the NRC's Space Studies Board and co-chair of the ongoing NRC Decadal Survey on solar and space physics.

An NRC press release quotes Dr. James Baker as saying "A common misperception among policymakers and individual agencies is that collaboration on these missions will save money or somehow boost capabilities. ... However, multiagency partnerships generally have just the opposite effect and drive up overall mission costs because of schedule delays, added levels of management, and redundant administrative processes."

While international collaboration "suffers from the same increase in cost and complexity" such missions "typically receive much more planning upfront..." according to the press release.

In those cases where interagency partnering is mandated, the NRC lists criteria that should be met. If the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) or Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Congress, want interagency cooperation, it says, specific incentives and support should be provided and a new governance mechanism may be needed for coordinated oversight since "OMB and OSTP are not suited to day-to-day oversight."

Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct the study in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 110-422).

WIA Panel on the Future of Human Spaceflight

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Women in Aerospace (WIA) held a panel discussion on Thursday, November 18, 2010, about the The Future of Human Spaceflight: Prospects, Programs and Educating the Pipeline. Read a summary of the meeting by looking on our left menu under Our Meeting Summaries, or simply by clicking here.

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