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Russia to Resume Crew and Cargo Missions to ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has announced a schedule for resuming cargo and crew flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

According to the Russian press service RIA Novosti, the next Progress cargo spacecraft will launch on October 30, followed by a Soyuz crew mission on November 12, then another Soyuz crew mission on December 20, and another Progress on January 26, 2012.

The Russians determined that the Progress M-12M failure was "accidental" and caused by a clogged fuel line. The investigating commission recommended additional control procedures.

If the announced launch dates are met, the ISS would not have to operate temporarily in an unoccupied mode. Three of the six ISS crew will return to Earth tomorrow (CDT, Thursday, EDT and at the landing site in Kazakhstan). The other three are scheduled to return on November 16. A Soyuz crew launch on November 12 would mean docking on November 14 and two days to hand over operations from one crew to the next. The date for the November 16 landing is determined by the lifetime of the Soyuz spacecraft that will take them home. It is already docked to the ISS and has an on-orbit lifetime of about 200 days, so the crew must return at that time. NASA and Roscosmos had considered the possibility of destaffing the ISS if the Soyuz rocket, which lofts both the Progress cargo spacecraft and the Soyuz crew spacecraft, could not be recertified quickly.

UPDATE: JWST Supporters to Make Their Case As Controversy Grows

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The STScI webinar has been postponed from September 19 to September 21 and more speakers have been added.

As controversy grows in the science community over whether the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is worth the price, a group of its supporters will hold a webinar next Monday to give an update on the program and answer questions.

The webinar is sponsored by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which manages operations of the Hubble Space Telescope and will manage operations of JWST. The telescope's cost estimate has grown significantly in the past year and is now expected to be $8.7 billion. Before an independent review in 2010, the cost estimate was approximately $5 billion. The independent review, headed by John Casani, concluded it would cost about $6.5 billion and launch would be delayed from 2014 to 2015, but meeting that cost and launch date required the immediate infusion of additional funds that NASA did not have. A more detailed analysis is ongoing within NASA. Its results have not been officially released, but are the source of the $8.7 billion estimate. The Casani review faulted budgeting and management problems, not technical challenges, as the reasons for the overrun.

A NASA spokesman told on July 28 via email that $3.5 billion will have been spent on JWST by the end of FY2011. In response to a statement by University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner on NPR's Science Friday that JWST was 75 percent complete, the NASA spokesman clarified that 75 percent of JWST "flight hardware, by weight, is either ready to be fabricated, in fabrication, in testing, or delivered." He declined to specify a cost estimate or launch date because discussions among NASA, its contractors and international partners on a "sustainable path forward...based on a realistic cost, funding, and schedule assessment" are ongoing. He said a decision would be announced as part of the FY2013 budget request. The prime contractor for JWST is Northrop Grumman. The program is being conducted in cooperation with the European Space Agency, which will launch it on an Ariane rocket.

Where NASA will find the money to compensate for the overrun is the critical issue. Scientists in other NASA space and earth science discplines worry that their programs will be sacrificed. Ordinarily if a NASA science project encounters cost overruns, the additional costs must be found within that same science discipline, but if an overrun is big enough and the program important enough, dipping into other programs' budgets is permitted, even outside of the Science Mission Directorate. Of course, any NASA budget decision is subject to approval successively by the NASA Administrator, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and, ultimately, Congress.

The House Appropriations Committee recommended that JWST be terminated when it approved its version of the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee, scheduled to markup its version of the bill at subcommittee level on Wednesday, is expected to be more friendly. JWST's development is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD and STScI is in Baltimore. The chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), represents Maryland and is an enthusiastic supporter of space and earth science generally. The question remains, however, as to where the money will be found.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), which is often viewed as the voice of the astrophysics community, is strongly supportive of JWST. Rifts have opened recently, however, as summarized in today's issue of The Space Review. In a mailing to its members today that is posted on SpaceRef, the AAS leadership stresses that they support all of their disciplines and not one "to the detriment of others." They urge their members to recall Abraham Lincoln's admonition that "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Dr. John Mather, who co-won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovery of the cosmic microwave background, is a senior project scientist for JWST at GSFC whose name is almost synonymous with the program's scientific goals. He and 31 other Nobel Laureates signed a letter to the editor of the New York Times on August 26, 2011 arguing that "every possible effort should be made to launch the Webb as early as possible."

The STScI webinar is at 2:00 pm EDT on September 19. Mather is not one of the participants, however. The three speakers are Matt Mountain, STScI director; Eric Smith, JWST Deputy Program Director at NASA Headquarters; and Roberto Abraham, University of Toronto.

Soyuz Rocket Has Long Track Record

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Russia's Soyuz rocket may have failed to place Progress M-12M into orbit, but it has a very good track record over the decades according to statistics complied by Jonathan McDowell.

McDowell is an x-ray astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophyiscs, who, in his spare time, produces an excellent, free newsletter, Jonathan's Space Report. It provides details on space launches on a roughly monthly basis. The most recent edition, No. 646, includes statistics on launch successes and failures of the various versions of the Soyuz rocket over time.

According to his count, since 1966, there have been 1,209 launches of nine variants of the Soyuz rocket on both orbital and suborbital missions of which 37 failed to reach orbit or to reach the correct orbit. That yields a 97 percent success rate.

The Soyuz FG, used to launch crews to the International Space Station, has a 100 percent success rate since 2001 according to his statistics. By comparison, the Soyuz U, which failed in launching Progress M-12M, has had 20 failures in 761 launch attempts since 1973 based on his numbers. That translaters to a 97.4 percent success rate.

A Russian investigation determined that the Progress M-12M failure was due to a clogged fuel line, which the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, considered to be a random event. No official announcement has been made as to when Soyuz rocket flights with crews will resume. One or two successful satellite launches on Soyuz rockets are expected before committing to launching the next crew.

NASA-ATK Announcement to Air on NASA TV After All

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

It really did seem odd that NASA chose not to air the announcement of its agreement with ATK that will "accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew systems" on NASA TV as it does with so many other announcements. Now they've changed their minds -- which is good!

The announcement is at 3:00 pm EDT tomorrow at Kennedy Space Center, FL. Watch on NASA TV!

HSS&T Hearing on NOAA's Polar Weather Satellite Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee not only will look into NASA's human spaceflight program next week, but will also get an update on the polar orbiting weather satellite program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The NOAA hearing will be on Friday, September 23, at 10:00 am. The witnesses have not been announced yet, but the topic is "From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nation's Restructured Polar Weather Satellite Program."

NOAA has been struggling to obtain the requisite funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) since it was announced in February 2010. At that time, the Obama Administration abandoned efforts to build a single weather satellite system serving both the civil and military communities -- the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) -- because of poor program management that resulted in cost increases and schedule delays. Historically, the Department of Defense (DOD) and NOAA had separate systems and now they will again. The program restructuring makes NOAA responsible for a new civil system that will cost the agency much more than its contribution to NPOESS. The requested significant increase in NOAA's budget came at just the wrong time as Washington policymakers decided that the top priority is cutting the deficit.

NOAA witnesses have testified to Congress several times already warning that if the agency is not given sufficient funds, there could be a data gap of as long as 18 months when there is no U.S. civil polar orbiting weather satellites, which will reduce the accuracy of forecasts. The House Appropriations Committee cut the FY2012 request for JPSS by $168 million. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NOAA will markup its version of the bill this Wednesday.

Ask Your Question of the Republican Presidential Candidates

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

From Edward Ellegood's Florida SPACErePORT today:

"FOX News is providing an online venue for the public to offer questions for the Republican primary candidates during their Sep. 22 debate in Florida. This is an opportunity to highlight the importance of space policy issues and to get on-the-record space policy statements from the candidates. By submitting a large number of smart space questions to the debate moderators, we will have a better shot at having one asked during the event.

"Please give your question serious consideration as you don't want to allow the candidates to dodge the issue. Remember, these are professional politicians and thus evasive by definition. Click

Armstrong, Cernan and Griffin to Testify Next Week

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

The first and last men on the Moon and a former NASA Administrator will testify to a House committee next week about the human spaceflight program.

Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Mike Griffin are the witnesses for a September 22 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The topic is "NASA Human Spaceflight Past, Present and Future: Where Do We Go From Here?"

All three are strong critics of the Obama Administration's plan as evidenced by previous congressional testimony, letters and op-ed pieces.

The hearing is at 10:00 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

UPDATE 4: Events of Interest: Week of September 12-16, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATES: The Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee markup has now been officially announced, and is on Wednesday, and the full committee will meet on Thursday to markup CJS and other appropriations bills. Also, NASA has changed its mind and now will air the NASA-ATK commercial crew announcement on NASA TV on Tuesday. NASA also has announced a news conference on Thursday about Kepler.

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate both are in session this week.

Monday-Friday, September 12-15

  • World Satellite Business Week, Paris, France, including
    • Symposium on Market Forecasts, September 12
    • World Summit for Satellite Financing, September 13-15
    • Symposium on Earth Observation Business, September 15-16
  • National Aerospace Week (see this website for a list of activities, some of which also are listed below)

Tuesday, September 13

  • Secure World Foundation-IFRI conference European Space Governance, Brussels, Belgium
  • HSS&T Hearing on STEM Education, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am EDT
  • Senate Appropriations subcommittee markup FY2012 defense appropriations bill, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am EDT (listed in National Journal's Daybook, but not yet on the committee's website)
  • NASA announcement of agreement with ATK on commercial crew, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 3:00 pm EDT. Watch on NASA TV.
  • John Logsdon lecture on "Human Spaceflight: A Historical Perspective on an Uncertain Future," National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave,, NW, Washington, DC, 4:00 pm EDT (RSVP required, see our calendar on the right menu for more details)

Tuesday-Friday, September 13-16

Wednesday, September 14

Thursday, September 15

Friday, September 16

UPDATE 2: GRAIL launched

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 2: GRAIL has been launched.

UPDATE: Upper level winds have pushed GRAIL to the second launch opportunity this morning, at 9:08:52.

Launch of NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft is scheduled for 8:29:45 this morning and so far the countdown is proceeding nominally. The weather forecast has improved since last night, and there is currently an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions. Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline to keep up on the action, or watch NASA's live TV coverage.

Soyuz Flights Could Resume In October Says WSJ

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both are reporting this morning on the findings of the Russian commission investigating the Progress M-12M launch failure; carried the story yesterday.

In short, the third stage of the Soyuz rocket failed because of a blockage in a fuel line that the Russians consider an isolated event.

The Wall Street Journal goes so far as to predict that crewed Soyuz flights could resume "in mid-October." The New York Times, however, says "the panel offered no guidance on when this type of rocket would again be considered ready for manned missions."

Three of the six International Space Station (ISS) astronauts will come home next week. The launch of their replacements is on hold pending resolution of the issues surrounding the Progress M-12M launch failure. ISS program managers had been considering the possibility that the ISS would have to be destaffed in November, when the three remaining ISS crew members return home, if the Soyuz was not yet ready to fly again. Yesterday, NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier sounded a very optimistic note that that would not be necessary, however.

Events of Interest

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

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