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The House Armed Services Committee has reported out the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5136). The report, H. Rept. 111-491, is available via the committee's website or from the Government Printing Office. The House Rules Committee will take up the bill tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1:00 pm. Space program-related actions include the following:
- Cuts $40.9 million (from $40.9 million to zero) for High Integrity Global Positioning System (HIGPS) because the benefits of this approach have not been sufficiently justified;
- Increases by $5 million (from $405.7 million to $410.7 million) funding for the Navy's Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) in order to fund commercially-hosted payloads and the development of additional UHF augmentation by the commercial satellite industry for military use because of delays in the MUOS program and the importance of UHF satellite communications;
- Includes report language directing the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to study the option of hosting defense payloads on commercial satellites;
- Increases funding by $30 million (from $28 million to $58 million) for research and development of a common upper stage for the Delta and Atlas rockets;
- Cuts funding by $300 million (from $325.5 million to $25.5 million) for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) saying that it will not support additional funding for the program until DOD has a process for determining its path forward for weather satellites;
- Increases funding by $50 million (from zero to $50 million) for next generation military satellite communications technology development;
- Increases funding by $40 million (from $94 million to $134 million) for Operationally Responsive Space;
- Cuts funding by $30 million (from $185.9 million $155.9 million) for Space Based Space Surveillance because the Air Force plans to decelerate acquisition of the follow-on to the Block 10 system that is still awaiting launch;
- Includes report language directing the Secretary of the Air Force to prepare a technology development and investment plan for moderate accuracy, survivable star trackers;
- Increases funding by $3 million (from zero to $3 million in addition to the $111.9 million requested for space technology) for the Technology Research and Innovation Outreach for Space (TIROS) project to expand the number of private sector companies, universities and government entities participating in the nation's small satellite space sector;
- Requires the SecDef and Director of National Intelligence to maintain the capability to conduct integrated national security space architecture planning, development, coordination and analysis;
- Requires the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to designate a lead integrator for foreign space and counterspace defense intelligence analysis. noting that the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) held this role in the past but the DIA Director recently prohibited NASIC from conducting original intelligence analysis in certain counterspace mission areas; and
- Recommends that an agency providing a certification to Congress as required by law relating to the conversion of excess ballistic missiles for use as space launch vehicles do so in a timely manner and with sufficient detail to allow Congress to review and take action if necessary.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal decision yesterday that NASA has not violated the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibiton on using funds to create or initiate a new program to replace Constellation. GAO did caution the agency to be "mindful" of the provision and ensure its planning activities "do not evolve" into activities that would violate the law.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) revealed this morning that NASA is replacing the program manager of the Constellation program, Jeff Hanley. She expressed her concern about this decision during a question and answer exchange with NASA Administrator Bolden at this morning's House Science and Technology Committee hearing on NASA's human space flight program.
Bolden said the decision was not his, that such a decision is the province of Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) Associate Administrator Doug Cooke and Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director Mike Coats, but said he had been in discussions with them and it was his understanding that they were meeting with Hanley this morning. Bolden indicated that Hanley will become Deputy Director of JSC for strategic planning. Giffords said the action further undermines NASA"s effort to convince Congress that it is not taking actions to cancel Constellation as required by law. Who will replace Hanley was not mentioned.
A fact sheet from the Secure World Foundation (SWF) analyzes the likely and less-likely missions of the Air Force's X-37B spacecraft launched amidst great secrecy last month. Secrecy invites speculation, and some suggest that it might be a satellite inspector or a platform for weapons aimed at Earth. SWF's Brian Weeden concludes that while it has the capability to perform inspections, "it is unlikely to perform these functions given its limited payload and altitude range." He completely dismisses the possibility that it could be a space weapon platform, rating that likelihood as "zero."
What is it doing? Weeden thinks its main purpose is testing reusable space launch vehicle technologies, and sensor technologies and satellite hardware for remote sensing of the Earth. That likelihood is rated high. In the "medium" category is the possibility that it could be a deployment platform for Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) satellites. The ORS concept is to enable reconstitution of critical satellite capabilities if one or more satellites unexpectedly cease functioning or to launch new satellites to respond to a time-critical need.
Meanwhile, amateur space watchers tracking the satellite using visual observations determined that it has a ground track repeat pattern similar to imaging reconnaissance satellites according to the New York Times. The newspaper quotes Canadian Ted Molczan, a well known member of an international network of amateur satellite visual observers, as saying that the satellite was observed by team members in Canada and South Africa.
UPDATE: This article is updated to add a link to the presentations for Day 1 of the NASA/AIAA Exploration Enterprise Workshop on May 25-26, posted by NASA today.
ORIGINAL STORY: The following events may be of interest this week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congress is trying to wrap up some legislation as the Memorial Day recess beckons. The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold subcommittee and full committee markups of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Bill, but the meetings are closed so are not listed below.
Tuesday, May 25
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 25-26
Wednesday, May 26
Thursday-Monday, May 27-31
NASA is sponsoring the Exploration Enterprise Workshop in Galveston, TX tomorrow and Wednesday. The event will be streamed via UStream and today NASA posted the briefing slides for Day 1 on its website. The second day is for breakout sessions. A NASA press release offers a number of caveats about the presentations, such as noting that they do not represent final plans or launch dates and missions are likely to change, but they provide a starting point for "engagement with outside organizations."
Felix Baumgartner, the first person to cross the English Channel on a carbon wing, will attempt to become the first human to break the speed of sound this summer in New Mexico. As we reported in an earlier story, Baumgartner and the team of the Red Bull Stratos Initiative expect to provide important scientific and medical data to bolster the commercial space industry, but the precise date of the jump has not been revealed.
CNN reports that Baumgartner will first ride a helium balloon to the record altitude of 120,000 feet above sea level. At that point, he will jump out and free fall back to Earth at about 690 miles an hour, breaking the speed of sound.
The team has taken several measures to increase Baumgartner's chance of survival, such as dressing him up in a pressurized suit and an "advanced helmet," and providing oxygen tanks and an automatic parachute for the ride.
Apart from breaking at least four records, the test is aimed to provide answers to the conditions from which humans - including humans on suborbital flights - could return to Earth in a situation where their vehicle becomes unusable or dangerous. "In the future, a lot more tourists will go and travel to space. And if something goes wrong with their spacecraft, they have to return to Earth somehow. We will show to the world that egress from high altitude is survivable," CNN quoted Baumgartner as saying.
Key players in implementing President Obama's plan to turn human spaceflight over to the commercial sector met Thursday to discuss human rating requirements for commercial crew space vehicles during a roundtable hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The first phase of a much needed debate to push forward the process that would allow NASA astronauts and - in the future - ordinary people to board commercial space vehicles centered on a variety of complex issues. In the end, there appeared to be consensus on at least one thing: safety is the first priority.
Bryan O'Connor, former astronaut and Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA, said that while the government would strive not to over-regulate, existing law like the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, which requires a presidential commission to investigate accidents, reminds government of its "responsibility of not backing up too much." He explained that NASA's role in promoting safety will begin with the upcoming release of a Request for Information (RFI) on NASA's draft human rating requirements. Mr. O'Connor said they reflected NASA's first take at the safety requirements the agency itself would look to address if it were in the commercial companies' shoes. Feedback from potential contractors will initiate a discussion on steps to integrate and adapt these requirements into the commercial systems now under development. He likened the process to what NASA went through to determine that astronauts could safely fly on Russia's Soyuz launch vehicle --- not strict compliance, but equivalence.
The "safety first" philosophy also reflects the necessity that safety requirements be integrated early in the design process because retrofitting them into an existing system is almost impossible. According to Ken Bowersox, another former astronaut and Vice President of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Development at SpaceX, his company jumpstarted the human rating requirement process by looking at NASA's internal requirements, as well as previous and existing crew transportation vehicles - such as the Apollo and the Soyuz - for the early design of the Falcon 9 and its Dragon spacecraft. The company hopes that this strategy will help it adapt and respond to NASA's safety requirements more easily.
Adaptation is key, since history has demonstrated that strict compliance is not necessarily the best or safest option. Mr. O'Connor reiterated what he sees as the wisdom of following NASA's "Soyuz thinking" of not trying to force a redesign on the differences between Soyuz and NASA's own way of doing things. The questions become: Is this system acceptable? Is this issue a showstopper? Or is it an acceptable risk?
Another theme of the discussion was that risk and safety are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. "Safety is not an absolute," cautioned Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration. "All transportation involves risks," he added, explaining that even a vehicle built completely by NASA should not be assumed to be safe and, least of all, risk-free. The need is to "understand and accept those risks before you fly," a process that will require dialogue within the community to come up with a consensus on standards, practices, and principles.
The debate will continue as stakeholders look for common ground in what Ken Reightler, Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space Operations and another former astronaut, described as the "philosophy" or "mind-set" of safety. Mr. O'Connor explained that one often unspoken and perhaps misunderstood assumption of people involved in spaceflight is that the mission and the safety of the people carrying it out are not in competition, but go hand in hand. He said he fears that when the public hears debates like this one with an emphasis on safety, "people think we're saying that [safety] is our mission," but the only way to be completely safe is for people to not fly into space, and no one is suggesting that. He joked that the way he likes to think about it is that "safety is the remora fish in the shark of exploration," a reference to the symbiotic relationship between remora fish that attach themselves to and eat parasites off of sharks, benefitting both.
The Planetary Society and 11 other science and space organizations issued a statement yesterday supporting the "topline" FY2011 NASA budget request,. The statement stops short of explicitly endorsing President Obama's plan -- it makes no mention of commercial crew, for example -- but praises the increases in science. aeronautics and technology initiatives and supports a "high cadence exciting program."
Some of the language is rather obscure ("destinations, milestones, engagement and story matter"), but the bottom line appears to be general support for President Obama's overall plan, even though it avoids engaging on the most controversial issue of what to do with the human space flight program other than saying:
"We believe this is an opportunity for NASA to craft the exploration strategy in partnership with science and applied science that includes the International Space Station, safe and cost-effective access to low Earth orbit, robotic precursors, and other missions."
The full list of signatories is:
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Astronomical Society
American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics
American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology
Associated Universities, Inc.
Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy
Commercial Spaceflight Federation
Maryland Space Business Roundtable
National Space Society
The Planetary Society
Space Frontier Foundation
Universities Space Research Association
Whether Republicans have substantive issues with the bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act or are just trying to disrupt the Democratic agenda, the bill went down to defeat today. The bill does not directly affect the space program, but the episode provides a sobering reminder that even popular programs that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and research and development (R&D) are vulnerable in today's highly charged political and economic environment.
The legislation, championed by House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), had been pulled from floor consideration last week after Republicans succeeded in winning passage of an amendment to recommit the bill to committee. Included in the amendment was a provision prohibiting any funds from being spent to pay the salaries of federal employees who view pornography at work. Not wanting to be viewed as soft on pornography-watching civil servants, Democrats had little choice but to vote in favor of the amendment.
Although some news accounts intimated that this was an obstructionist tactic, Republicans did have some substantive complaints against that version of the bill (H.R. 5116). It provided a 5-year authorization of $85 billion for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and two agencies within the Department of Commerce, along with loan guarantees for small and medium businesses conducting technology development work, and funds for STEM education programs. Republicans argued that was too much money and strayed too far from the original America COMPETES Act passed in 2007. Rep. Gordon wondered aloud as to why these concerns were not raised during markup of the bill at subcommittee or full committee level.
Rep. Gordon modified the bill, reducing it to a 3-year authorization for $47 billion, and including the anti-pornography language the Republicans wanted. The new bill number is H.R. 5325. But it wasn't enough. The Democratic leadership brought the bill up under suspension of the rules today, which does not allow amendments, but requires a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority. It fell short of the two-thirds required, although it did get a majority. Rep. Gordon said that he was "disappointed, but not deterred," and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) vowed to bring the bill back to the floor before the Memorial Day recess.
Events of Interest
- NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG), July 29-31, 2014, Washington Marriott at Metro Center Hotel, Washington, DC
- NASA Advisory Council, July 30-31, 2014, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
- NEW NASA Announces Mars 2020 Rover Instruments, July 31, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 12:00 pm ET (watch on NASA TV)
- Is It Time To Search for Life on Mars? (AU & Explore Mars), July 31, 2014, American University (AU), ashington, DC, 5:00 pm ET
- COSPAR, August 2-10, 2014, Moscow, Russia
- Small Satellite Conference 2014, August 2-7, 2014, Logan, Utah
- Space 2014 (AIAA), August 4-7, 2014, San Diego, CA
- NEW NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Update, August 5, 2014, virtual, 2:00 pm ET
- International Mars Society Convention, August 7-10, 2014, League City, TX
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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