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Former NASA Chief of Staff George Whitesides will join Virgin Galactic as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) according to a company news release. Before joining the Obama transition team and NASA, Mr. Whitesides was Executive Director of the National Space Society.
The first man and the last man to walk on the Moon -- Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan -- will make another trip to Capitol Hill next week to testify about President Obama's plan for human space flight. The House Science and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on May 26 at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building with Armstrong, Cernan, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and aerospace industry iconTom Young. All four have testified to House or Senate committees at least once already. Armstrong, Cernan and Young all oppose the President's plan, which will be defended by Bolden.
UPDATE 2: Adds a hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China's aerospace capabilities on Thursday, May 20. NOTE THAT THE START TIME HAS BEEN DELAYED TO 9:20 AM INSTEAD OF 9:00 AM.
UPDATE: Adds the AIAA seminar on human rating of commercial spacecraft on Thursday, May 20.
ORIGINAL STORY: The following events may be of interest this week. Check our calendar on the right for more information or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.
Tuesday, May 18
- Women in Aerospace "Aerospace 2010" one-day conference, Hyatt Regency-Washington, 400 New Jersey Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 18-19
- FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting, National Housing Center, 1201 15th St., N.W., Washington, DC. Meeting starts at 8:00 am each day.
Wednesday, May 19
Thursday, May 20
- U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on China's Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities, 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 9:20 am (DELAYED FROM 9:00 AM)
- House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on FY2011 DOD budget request, public witnesses testify, H-140 Capitol, 10:00 am
- AIAA seminar on human rating of commercial spacecraft, SVC-208/209, 1:00 pm
- Confirmation hearing for Carl Wieman to the Associate Director for Science of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Senate Commerce Committee, 253 Russell Senate Office Building, 2:30 pm
Thursday-Friday, May 20-21
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will host a discussion on Capitol Hill this Thursday, May 20, on human rating of commercial spacecraft. The meeting will be in room 208/209 of the Senator Visitors Center (in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center), East Capitol Street and First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. beginning at 1:00 pm. For more information, visit AIAA's website. The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required.
UPDATE: The shuttle lifted off on schedule.
ORIGINAL STORY: Space Shuttle Atlantis is on track for launch at 2:20 pm EDT this afternoon on its last scheduled mission, STS-132. Weather remains 70% favorable for launch. Live coverage is available on NASA TV and Spaceflightnow.com.
The Senate Appropriations Committee added language to a supplemental appropriations bill yesterday restating the prohibition on cancelling the Constellation program that already is in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117). Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA, issued a statement saying that "NASA is now attempting to undermine current law ... by slow rolling contracts and pressuring companies to self terminate. It is disappointing that the political appointees at NASA have so much trouble following the letter and spirit of the law."
The bill otherwise is not about NASA. It funds operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and provides aid for recovering from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill could be debated on the Senate floor next week. The House passed a supplemental appropriations bill for FEMA disaster relief and youth jobs initiatives in March (H.R. 4899) and the two could be combined.
Senator Shelby co-sponsored the amendment with Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT). Senator Bennett said that he remains "confident that this administration has made a critical mistake in cancelling the Constellation and Ares programs." He vowed that reversing that decision would be a top priority for him this year. The solid rocket motors for the Ares program are made in Utah. Senator Bennett focused on the potential impact of cancelling Ares on jobs in Utah and on the Department of Defense's need for solid rocket motors. He raised the latter point at a hearing on the Air Force budget before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday as well. Senator Bennett is up for reelection this year and lost the backing of the Utah Republican party last week in what many view as an anti-incumbent mood in the nation.
Absent congressional action to delay the end of the space shuttle program, the Atlantis orbiter will make its final flight to orbit at 2:20 pm EDT tomorrow. The weather forecast for the STS-132 launch is 70% favorable. The 12-day mission will take a Russian mini research module and other equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
Under the current plan, only two more shuttle flights remain: STS-133 (Discovery) in September and STS-134 (Endeavour) in November.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and other members of Congress are seeking to extend the timeframe for those two remaining flights and perhaps add one more in order to shorten the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the availability of a new U.S. government or commercial system to take astronauts to low Earth orbit. Estimates of the duration of that gap vary depending on assumptions about how quickly the commercial sector could build, test, and certify a new spacecraft for launching people into space or, for those who still hope to reverse the President's decision to cancel the Constellation program, when a "full up" version of Orion and its Ares 1 launcher could be ready. Most agree that it will be at least a 4-year gap. The only ways to shorten the gap are to extend the period of time the shuttle flies, or try to accelerate development of a new system.
The gap is a result of decisions made during President George W. Bush's tenure, not President Obama's, but the Bush Administration proposed to replace the shuttle with the Ares/Orion system. The Bush plan envisioned a 4-year gap. President Obama wants to cancel Ares and reformulate the Orion spacecraft into a "lifeboat" that could only bring people back from the ISS in an emergency (it would be launched to ISS empty). Instead, the President plans to subsidize the commercial sector to build the next U.S. human spaceflight system, with 2015 as a target for when it would become available. Many in the space community are skeptical that the commercial sector could meet that schedule, but SpaceX President Elon Musk insists that he could have a crew version of his Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle ready three years after obtaining a NASA contract.
The Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) cut $182 million from the $9.9 billion FY2011 request for unclassified national security space programs today. A committee press release lists the following additions and reductions:
- includes $50 million for the Air Force to continue developing future protected communications satellite technologies because the TSAT program has been terminated
- adds $40 million for Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)
- adds $51.2 million for Army procurement of Defense Advanced GPS Receivers
- adds $28 million for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles "to achieve a common upper stage between the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles, enabling efficient use of the existing RL-10 rocket engine inventory"
- adds $5 million to support Navy mitigation measures to augment the declining UHF narrow-band communications capacity
- cuts NPOESS by $300 million because of a lack of a clear strategy for the program
- cuts $40.9 million from High Integrity GPS
- cuts $30 million from the Space Based Surveillance System, and
- authorizes the National Air and Space Intelligence Center to conduct original intelligence analysis and requires congressional notification of "changes in the lead integrator for foreign space and counterspace intelligence analysis"
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the Senate Commerce Committee today that he will do "everything in my power" to ensure that the commercial launch companies at the heart of President Obama's new plan for NASA succeed. The magnitude of that commitment was the source of some contention at the hearing.
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) asked Gen. Bolden if he had said in a telephone briefing to Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan last week that he would "do whatever it takes" to make the commercial option work including "bailing them out" even if that meant "a bigger bailout than Chrysler and GM." Bolden responded that he did not recall saying those words, but had always said that he would do "everything in my power" to make commercial access to low Earth orbit successful because he needs it, the defense department needs it, and the intelligence community needs it: "I have to look at the possibility that the commercial sector will have difficulty" and "I will do everything in my power to facilitate their success." However, he insisted that he did not remember saying the words Senator Vitter quoted.
Testifying later in the hearing, Captain Cernan revealed that those quotes were from his notes. Cernan said that Bolden expressed concern during the telephone briefing about the commercial sector's ability to succeed and said the government might have to subsidize them significantly and it "may be a bailout like GM and Chrysler, as a matter of fact it may be the largest bailout in history." Cernan told the committee that he had written the word "Wow" in the margin of his notes at that statement.
The degree to which the government would be dependent on the commercial companies is one of the major objections to President Obama's plan to turn responsibility for crew and cargo missions to low Earth orbit over to the commercial sector. At a February hearing before the House Science and Technology Committee, for example, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) asked if it would make those companies "too important to fail," akin to the financial companies that received government bailouts because they were "too big to fail."
President Obama's plan has been the subject of many op-ed articles and congressional hearings, so the viewpoints of most of the Senators and witnesses at the hearing already were well known. However, Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) made it clear that the issues that have concerned him about NASA over many years remain. They include fundamental philosophical questions such as why human spaceflight is necessary and how it helps the "human condition," as well as more prosaic questions about NASA's management abilities. While his statements were not quite a ringing endorsement of the Obama plan, he made it clear that he thinks NASA has to change.
Famed Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, focused on the lack of analysis that went into developing the Obama plan and rued what he sees as the U.S. abandoning its leadership in space: "If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is simply allowed to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that would be in our best interest." Cernan, who commaned the final Apollo mission to the Moon, called the plan "a blueprint for a mission to nowhere."
Armstrong and Cernan said that there are rumors that neither Presidential Science Adviser Holdren nor NASA Administrator Bolden knew the plan in advance. Holdren and Bolden were asked about this during their appearance on the previous panel, and both dismissed such talk, insisting that they did know at least two weeks prior to the budget release what it would contain.
Norm Augustine explained once again that his committee developed options rather than making recommendations, but agreed that the President's plan is close to the committee's option 5B. He added that one significant difference is that his committee felt the human spaceflight budget had to increase by $3 billion over the next four years and by inflation thereafter, and "we could find no interesting human spaceflight program" for less than that. The President's proposal does not provide that level of funding. Mr. Augustine stressed that NASA's "goals [must] match the budget" or 10 years from now this same discussion will be held again.
One of the resounding themes of yesterday's Space Law and Policy 2010 symposium was that of the need for holistic solutions - that take into account the role of a variety of players- to solve the regulatory issues facing the space community.
The need for increased Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to avoid scenarios like the Iridium-Cosmos collision of February 2009 is one such issue that affects every satellite operator on the planet. The founders of the Space Data Association aim to complement the government services that track objects on orbit by establishing exchange of data procedures and providing conjunction analysis for commercial operators. Richard DalBello, Vice President of Intelsat General, explained how this approach would help address some of the limitations of the U.S. Strategic Command's (StratCom's) Space Surveillance Network, including the fact that the data StratCom makes public is incomplete or "dumbed down," while not ignoring the concerns that call for such measures: "you [as a satellite operator] get information relevant to your satellite; no one's downloading the entire database."
Restrictions on satellite exports under the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) was another major topic. ITAR and export control reform were mentioned repeatedly during a panel composed of representatives of key U.S. companies answering the question - what keeps you up at night? The implications of ITAR require both education and translation for the investment community that the commercial sector depends on, explained Alexandra (Sasha) Field, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of TerreStar Networks. Education is key not only between industry and investors, but also between industry and regulators. Dean Manson, Senior Vice President of Hughes Network Systems, called it a "dual educating process" and said that industry also needs to "look inward" to understand how Washington works.
While export control reform is underway, discussions over the possibility of reforming the underlying international legal regime based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty are still ongoing. Some argue the existing regime is sufficient to ensure the free and safe access of all countries to space, while others point to the need to ensure the rights of private actors in space and look to international measures to do so. Ken Hodgkins, from the U.S. Department of State, responded to a question about the possibility that the Obama Administration may reverse the Bush Administration's policy against new international regulations saying that existing laws were "insufficient in some respects" due to the "changing nature of space activities" and that there are "gray areas that need to be looked at." Ben Baseley-Walker, Legal and Policy Advisor for the Secure World Foundation, in turn, expressed enthusiasm at the Obama Administration's "greater willingness to engage" with the international community.
Although some resistance to change can be expected, many are criticizing the long tradition of overhauling U.S. space policy each time a new Administration comes into office. Phil Meek, U.S. Air Force (ret.), said the constant reorganizations were akin to the process of getting a new commander: "by the time you get through the learning period, a new [one] comes aboard to change everything." President Obama has pushed for change, particularly in NASA's exploration program with the transformation of the Constellation Program and a renewed focus on technology development. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who gave the last keynote speech of the event, argued that the President's proposals - while definite changes - do not veer far from NASA's foundational mandate in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act. The FY2011 proposals follow the original goals "laid down in the founding document." The President's commitment to supporting the commercial sector is not new, she explained, but the focus on commercial procurement is - by providing sufficient resources up front and a guaranteed market.
The Space Act also directed the United States not to explore space alone, said Ms. Garver, and by providing funds not only for the continuation of the International Space Station, but for its increased utilization, the FY2011 proposal does just that. This cooperative initiative seeks to enhance a tradition that in the last 50 years has led to more than 3,000 agreements with more than 100 nations. This, she added, is just one of the benefits of the new proposal that seeks to "take us even further" in providing benefits for the country and the world, thus painting the "big picture."
Space Law and Policy 2010 was the first International Institute of Space Law (ISSL) - International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Symposium, in partnership with Secure World Foundation, Arianespace and the European Space Policy Institute. The event brought together experts from law, policy, military and academia to look at developments and challenges in the regulatory environment of U.S. space activities.
Events of Interest
- Exploration Science Forum, July 21-23, 2014, NASA Ames Research Center, CA
- MSBR Luncheon Featuring APL's Mike Ryschkewitsch, July 22, 2014, Martin's Crosswinds, Greenbelt, MD, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- National Security Space Launch and the Industrial Base (Marshall Inst), July 23, 2014, Army Navy Club, Washington, DC, 9:00-10:30 am ET
- NASA Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), July 23-24, 2014, Doubletree Hotel, Bethesda, MD
- House SS&T Committee Events Showcasing ISS, July 24, 2014: 11:00 am ET, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, live downlink from ISS; 12:00-2:00 PM ET, 2325 Rayburn, ISS Hardware Showcase and Panel Discussion
- NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), July 24, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 2:00-3:00 pm ET
- NASA Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Events: Panel on NASA's Next Giant Leap, July 24, 2014, Comic-Con International, San Diego, CA, 6:00 pm ET (3:00 pm Pacific Time-PT); media availability at the location, 4:30-5:30 pm PT
- NewSpace2014, July 24-26, 2014, DoubleTree San Jose hotel, San Jose, CA
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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