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Orlando Sentinel: New Crew System Will Cost $38 Billion

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

The Orlando Sentinel asserts that the new NASA-developed launch vehicle and crew capsule for the future U.S. human spaceflight program will cost $38 billion over the next 10 years.

The newspaper reports that it obtained access to internal NASA documents showing that NASA's preliminary estimate is that the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will cost $17-22 billion between now and the system's first test flight in December 2017, and another $12-16 billion between then and the first flight with a crew around the Moon in August 2021.

The agency has not released its design for the SLS despite repeated requests by Congress. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in July that he is awaiting independent cost assessments and it could be fall before an announcement is made.

Congress directed NASA to build the SLS and MPCV in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The decision was a compromise with the Obama Administration, which wanted NASA to subsidize the emergence of a commercial capability to take astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and wait until 2015 to make decisions about what type of launch vehicle NASA itself should build for beyond LEO expeditions. Under the law, NASA is to do both, and to proceed immediately with design and development of its own new launch vehicle, the SLS (generically called a "heavy lift launch vehicle" or HLLV). The agency was required to provide a report to Congress about the SLS and MPCV cost and design in January, but only a preliminary report was submitted. Congress is still waiting for the final report. NASA did formally announce that it would continue with the Orion spacecraft from the cancelled Constellation program to fulfill the MPCV role, but the SLS announcement is still pending. With growing impatience, key Senators on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee requested documentation from NASA about its SLS decision making process in May. The agency has not provided what the Senators requested and the committee issued a subpoena in July.

The non-NASA website has posted several stories with detailed accounts of the SLS design, however. If correct, NASA chose a system derived from the space shuttle with some elements of the Ares rocket that NASA was developing under the Constellation program.

How That FAA Bill Got Passed

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

The New York Times has an entertaining account of "pro forma" sessions in Congress this morning for any of you intrigued by congressional procedure.

Usually Congress goes into recess in August, but not this time. Both are in pro forma session, which is how the Senate was able to pass that FAA bill so quickly once Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reached agreement with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on temporarily resolving the impasse.

When in pro forma session, no legislative activity can take place except by unanimous consent. Typically one or two members are present, the House or Senate is gaveled into session and minutes -- or seconds -- later the session is gaveled to a close. Seem silly? Not really. There is a purpose to it, as the New York Times explains.

UPDATE: Juno is Off!

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

UPDATE: There were a few last minute delays due to technical issues and a boat entering restricted waters near the launch site, but at 12:25 pm EDT Juno was successfully launched.

The Juno spacecraft is scheduled for launch this morning at 11:34 EDT. Today's launch window is open until 12:43 pm EDT.

The Atlas V launch vehicle is on the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Tropical Storm Emily is not a threat to the launch, and the countdown is proceeding on time as of this moment. The launch will be telecast on NASA TV.

Juno is headed to Jupiter and will arrive there in 2016. It will spend one year orbiting the planet before plunging into the gaseous giant.

If anything should delay the launch today, the mission's overall launch window runs through August 26.

Senate Passes FAA Bill

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

Today the Senate passed the FAA bill as announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) yesterday.

The bill extends FAA funding only through September 16, so it is only a temporary respite. The House and Senate still must resolve their underlying disagreements, which center on subsidies to small airports and union rights. For now, at least, the 4,000 government workers and 70,000 construction workers can resume their jobs and get their paychecks.

Public Disapproval of Congress Hits New High

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

A New York Times/CBS News poll found that public disapproval of Congress hit a new high -- 82 percent of those polled disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, the highest number since the newspaper began asking the question in 1977.

The poll was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday with 960 adults and has a three percent margin of error.

Both parties in Congress received high disapproval ratings for how they dealt with the debt ceiling issue, though it was higher for Republicans: 72 percent disapproved of Republicans and 66 percent disapproved of Democrats. As for President Obama, 47 percent disapproved of how he handled the debt ceiling negotiations and 46 percent approved. More than four out of five believe that the debate was more about gaining political advantage than doing what is right for the country.

Eighty-four percent are either angry or dissatiffied but not angry with how things are going in Washington overall.

Temporary Ceasefire in FAA Feud

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced this afternoon that the House and Senate have agreed on a temporary resolution of their differences that will allow the FAA to resume normal operations -- and 70,000 construction workers to return to their job sites -- while Congress is on its August break.

Senator Reid said that the fundamental differences between the two chambers are not resolved. This is just a way to fix the problem until Congress returns in September. The President and others had been pressuring Congress to resolve the issue before the House and Senate left town for their summer vacation. Most members have left already, but both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in pro forma session tomorrow.

According to The Hill newspaper, the Senate will pass the bill that the House passed earlier. The House-passed bill contains a provision to which Senate Democrats strongly object that would cut subsidies to small airports in states like Nevada and West Virginia. The Senate had passed a "clean" bill that simply extended the FAA's authority to collect airline taxes. Each side refused to pass the other's bill. Under the agreement, although the Senate will pass the House bill, the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, will use his authority to waive the airports from the cuts.

The House and Senate presumably will return to their feud in September.

Revised: Panetta Reassures DOD Personnel on Potential Budget Cuts if Supercommittee Fails to Agree

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sent a letter to DOD personnel yesterday reassuring them that although DOD must share in budget cuts, he would "fight for you and your families" as the debt limit/deficit reduction deal plays out. His specific concern is the potential across-the-board cuts that would take effect if the 12-person congressional commission -- or "supercommittee" as it has come to be known -- fails to reach agreement on more cuts.

The debt limit/deficit reduction deal signed into law on Tuesday included immediate agreement on $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years of which $350 million is from defense. However, it creates a 12-person congressional supercommittee that is chartered to put forward by Thanksgiving --- and that Congress must pass by Christmas -- another round of cuts totalling $1.2 - 1.5 trillion over 10 years. As an incentive, a provision is included that says that if the supercommittee fails to reach agreement or Congress fails to pass it, a set of automatic across-the-board cuts would take place. Those cuts would be distributed evenly between defense and non-defense spending. Potential cuts to Medicare providers are permissible, but other cuts are not, including cuts to Medicare benefits and Social Security. The New York Times has a helpful graphic of how the deficit deal works.

Panetta said in his letter that the across-the-board cuts were designed to be "unpalatable" to force the congressional supercommittee to reach agreement and Congress to approve it. Panetta, a former congressman and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), referred back to the problems created after the Vietnam War with across-the-board funding cuts. He insisted that DOD must think carefully about what its requirements are for the future and cut in specific areas: "By better aligning our resources with our priorities, the Department can lead the way in moving towards a more disciplined defense budget."

Note: The title and text of this article was revised to indicate that the congressional "commission" set up by the debt llimit/deficit reduction deal has come to be known as a "supercommittee" and to include a more specific reference to the deal.

Rep. Wu Resigns Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. David Wu (D-OR) is making his resignation official as of 11:59 pm tonight, August 3, 2011.

Wu, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, was under pressure to resign after allegations that he had an unwanted sexual encounter with the daughter of a donor. He said that he would resign once the debt limit issue was resolved. Today, he made good on his promise, announcing that his resignation is effective tonight.

Obama Decries "Lose, Lose, Lose" Situation at FAA Because of Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama took aim at congressional inaction on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization today in remarks prior to a Cabinet meeting. Congress has failed to reauthorize the FAA to collect airline taxes. Consequently, 4,000 FAA workers and 70,000 construction workers have been furloughed and the taxes are not being collected. The President called it a "lose, lose, lose" situation.

While this has no direct effect on space activities, the situation is indicative of how dysfunctional Capitol Hill is these days. That could affect the passage of any number of bills, including appropriations for NASA, NOAA and DOD space activities.

The President said the government is losing $200 million a week in revenues because of the uncollected taxes. If the situation is not resolved while Congress is on its August break, that would mean $1 billion in lost revenue, according to the President.

Congress has failed to pass an FAA reauthorization bill since 2007. The portion of the FAA that depends on the revenue from the airline taxes has continued to function because Congress passes short-term extensions, 20 of them so far. The 21st extension is now pending in Congress. The Senate wants a "clean" extension that does that and only that. The House passed a short-term extension, but added a provision about reducing federal subsidies to small airports in certain states, including Nevada, home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and West Virginia, home to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, whose committee has jurisdication over the FAA. The Senate has adamantly refused to pass the House version.

Both sides are pointing fingers at the other. Meanwhile, both chambers have gone into recess for the month of August, leaving the FAA and construction workers in limbo, and the taxes uncollected. As the President noted, the airlines continue to collect the money, but are keeping it.

The President called on Congress to fix the problem temporarily, saying it could be accomplshed without the Members returning to Washington and they could resume the debate in September. Although House and Senate members have left town, both chambers actually are scheduled to meet in pro forma sessions on Friday. A unanimous consent agreement could be adopted with a minimum number of members present if the two sides could agree.

The President ended his statement today calling on Congress to fix the problem:

"So this is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does its job. And they don't even have to come back into town. The House and the Senate could, through a procedural agreement, basically do this through unanimous consent. And they can have the fights that they want to have when they get back. Don't put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk. Don't put projects at risk. And don't let a billion dollars, at a time when we're scrambling for every dollar we can, get left on the table because Congress did not act."

Boeing Picks Atlas V

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Boeing picked the Atlas V as the launch vehicle for its CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft today.

The CST-100 spacecraft is described by Boeing as being larger than the Apollo spacecraft, but smaller than the Orion spacecraft that Lockheed Martin is building for NASA. The plan is for CST-100 to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) landing on the land rather than splashing down in the ocean.

Boeing has been working with Bigelow Aerospace on the commercial crew project for several years. Bigelow Aerospace is developing inflatable space stations for use in LEO that will require a crew transportation system. The companies also are hoping to market the system to NASA as part of the agency's commercial crew program. Boeing received awards in both of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) competitions.

Boeing's press release today said that the CST-100 development schedule calls for an autonomous orbital flight, a transonic autonomous abort test, and a crewed launch, all in 2015.

Atlas V is produced by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that produces both the Atlas V and the Delta IV launch vehicles. NASA and ULA signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement last month that allows the two to share information on the Atlas V with the goal of ensuring that its meets all requirements for launching people int space ("human-rating"). ULA also received a CCDev award in the first round.

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