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Global Economic Woes Mean More International Space Cooperation, Should Include China, Say International Space Reps

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Representatives of Japanese and European space agencies told a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) audience yesterday about the difficult economic conditions facing their space programs, like that here in the United States, and how international cooperation is key to moving forward -- and China should be part of it.

Norimitsu Kamimori, head of the Washington office of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) explained the constrained funding for his civil space agency, pointing out that some plans, like future robotic lunar exploration, have been put on hold. And while Japan would like to cooperate more with the United States on earth science missions, funding shortfalls make that difficult.

Andreas Diekmann, Juergen Drescher, and Emmanuel di Lipkowski, the Washington representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA), Germany's space agency, DLR, and France's space agency, CNES, respectively, sounded a similar theme about the outlook for funding for their space activities. They are hopeful that the European Union (EU) will provide more funding for space activities now that it has an official role in space policy thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, which went into force in December 2009. They believe that space programs will benefit from the higher-level political attention accorded to EU activities.

International cooperation will be essential to realizing future plans, they said, especially in human exploration. Mr. di Lipkowski said that "None of us question the need for American leadership in space." In response to a question about China's role in future international space activities, all four endorsed the idea. Mr. Kamimori pointed out that China is Japan's neighbor and they already have established a cooperative relationship, especially through the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF), created in 1993 after the 1992 International Space Year. Mr. Diekmann added that ESA has had cooperative programs with China in space science and that China participates in the International Space Exploration Coordination (ISEC) working group of countries discussing future human space exploration. Mr. Drescher said that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden's ongoing trip to China is an "important cornerstone to keep stability and understand where we are." Mr. di Lipkowski added that China, with its population and economy, cannot be ignored and "we have to bring them into the tent to see how we do things."

The four were members of a panel organized by CSIS's Ashley Bander to discuss "The Year Ahead in Space." All four praised the International Space Station (ISS), but emphasized that it is essential that the facility be put to good use now that so much has been spent on building it. Mr. Drescher and Mr. di Lipkowski warned that potential users may be lost because they do not want to deal with the layers of bureaucracy or lengthy time frames for getting an experiment on orbit. "We have to prove that this laboratory can deliver and not be a white elephant," Mr. di Lipkowski asserted. Mr. Drescher added that "we have to rewrite" the book of "how to access ISS and give it to the scientists." Mr. Diekmann, however, said he would not "paint such a dark picture" of ISS utilization given that assembly has just been completed and a full crew complement only recently became available to conduct science experiments. ESA, he said, has a strong utilization plan and user community for ISS.

As to whether ISS is a good model for future international space projects, Mr. di Lipkowski noted that the ISS cooperative framework was developed during the Cold War and a new model will be needed for the current era of international relationships. Offering an impassioned defense of human spaceflight activities, he stressed that "We are living in terrible economic times. We can't do what Apollo did. My message is that we have to cooperate." Ruing the fact that younger people today are not very interested in space activities even though it is one of the few sources of "positive" news, he emphasized that what is needed is new governance and export control models and a vision "or we will go nowhere." "We have to sell us, the space community, to the political community and not think that everything we do is marvelous and brilliant." He added that people need to understand that space is not expensive in the overall scheme of things, that in the United States, for example, NASA is only 0.6 percent of the federal budget. Mr. Diekmann said that space applications are the top priority in Europe exactly because the benefits are more visible to the public.

The panel also emphasized the need for balance between robotic and human spaceflight, and among exploration, space science, and "managing Earth" using earth science satellites.

Closer collaboration with the United States on new space transportation systems was another theme. "That doesn't mean we have to build a common launcher," Mr. Diekmann said, "but we need common interfaces for a more intelligent combination of capabilities," that is, a "common space transportation policy."

Debris from Chinese ASAT Test Now More Than 3,000 pieces

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The cloud of debris from the 2007 Chinese antisatellite test now numbers 3,037 pieces according to the latest issue of NASA's Orbital Debris Quarterly News. China launched a kinetic kill attack against one of its own satellites in January 2007. The action was globally condemned less for its militaristic nature than for the massive amount of orbital debris it created, imperiling other satellites.

The NASA publication reports that 97 percent of the debris is still in orbit three and a half years after the event "posing distinct hazards to hundreds of operational satellites." The debris from that one event represents 22 percent of all catalogued space objects in low Earth orbit according to NASA. Debris can generate more debris by collisions within the cloud.

This debris cloud, and another created by the 2009 unintentional collision of an operational U.S. commercial Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian Cosmos satellite, spurred the new push for improved Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA is a major feature of President Obama's new National Space Policy. Generally, SSA is intended to make information available to satellite operators on the location of other satellites and debris so collisions can be avoided.

Multi-million Dollar Lawsuit Stops Commercial "Spaceflight" Jump

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 13-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The record-breaking attempt by Felix Baumgartner to become the first human to break the speed of sound in free-fall has been halted by a lawsuit, Universe Today reported yesterday. According to the article, promoter Daniel Hogan has filed suit against the Red Bull Stratos Initiative team claiming he originally pitched the idea in 2004 and that, after a year of conversations where important details were discussed, Red Bull told him they were not interested. Hogan was then surprised when Red Bull announced the project last January without acknowledging his idea or seeking permission to use the confidential information he provided.

As quoted in the article, Red Bull issued the following statement:

"Despite the fact that many other people over the past 50 years have tried to break Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger's record, and that other individuals have sought to work with Red Bull in an attempt to break his record, Mr. Hogan claims to own certain rights to the project and filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit earlier this year in a Californian court. Red Bull has acted appropriately in its prior dealings with Mr. Hogan, and will demonstrate this as the case progresses . Due to the lawsuit, we have decided to stop the project until this case has been resolved."

Hogan had allegedly already assembled a team to carry out the stunt, which would have been made from 130,000 feet. Under the Red Bull Stratos Initiative, Baumgartner is to make the jump from a balloon at a slightly lower altitude - 120,000 feet - somewhere in New Mexico as announced last May.

House Authorizers Write to House and Senate Appropriators

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

When House Science and Technology Commitee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) agreed to bring the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill to the House floor for a vote instead of his own version of the bill, he said that he would continue to work with the appropriators to make changes in what the Senate decided. He and other members of the committee's bipartisan leadership have now written to the House and Senate appropriators outlining those changes.

As Rep. Gordon has said on several occasions, the key points that he and other committee members feel are critical for the appropriators to consider are the following:

  • the additional shuttle flight recommended in the Senate bill represents an unfunded mandate of $500 million and it should only take place if the Administrator certifies that it is safe and necessary;
  • NASA, not Congress, should determine the best approach to making use of existing investments in Orion, Ares and Shuttle for a new space transportation system;
  • safety is a fundamental concern and recommendations made in the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia accident should be kept in mind;
  • priority should be given to commercial cargo and not to commercial crew, and "would-be commercial providers" should have to put some "skin in the game" if they receive taxpayer funding;
  • the government needs to build a backup system to commercial crew and language needs to be clarified that a "fully capable launch system" be ready by the end of 2016;
  • new initiatives in STEM education are needed and the authorizers are concerned that the Senate bill would force NASA to cut funding for the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP); and
  • provisions on acquisition management, couterfeit parts and information security at NASA need to be strengthened.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out its version of the appropriations bill that includes NASA (the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, S. 3636), but none of the 12 regular FY2011 appropriations bills has reached the Senate floor. The House Appropriations Committee's CJS subcommittee marked up its version of the bill in June, but the committee has not taken any further action on it.

Geodesy Needs Renewed Investment Says NRC

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Geodesy is the science of measuring the Earth's shape, orientation in space, and gravity field, and how they change over time, and the space- and ground-based systems that provide those critical measurements need renewed investment says the National Research Council (NRC).

A summary of a new report from the NRC's Board on Earth Sciences and Resources (BESR) on the geodetic infrastructure was released today in advance of a meeting later this week of the National Advisory Board on Positioning, Navigation and Timing (see our calendar on the right menu for details). The full report will be released later this month.

NASA and DOD satellites and NSF radio telescopes are among the U.S. facilities used to provide geodetic data. The report summary lists elevation maps, navigation systems, precision agriculture, and early warning for hazards as some of the beneficiaries of geodetic data. The authors state that:

"U.S. federal agencies have made considerable contributions to the geodetic infrastructure on the global scale. These past investments, however, are degrading as the infrastructure ages. Unless the infrastructure is maintained, the existing applications that depend on accurate information about the Earth will degrade in quality, and progress toward more sophisticated applications will stall."

From the standpoint of space-based systems, the report highlights the need "to establish and maintain a high-precision GPS national network constructed to scientific specifications that can work with other GNSS networks around the world and stream high volumes of data in real time."

The report was requested by NASA. NSF, USGS, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Naval Observatory, and NOAA's National Geodetic Survey.

Bolden's Trip to China Provokes Congressional Concern

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is headed to China October 16-21. Aviation Week & Space Technology first publicly reported on the trip two weeks ago, noting that it would include discussions about potential U.S.-China cooperation in human spaceflight. In an exchange of letters with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Bolden confirmed the dates of the trip and assured the Congressman that the talks are only introductory in nature.

Rep. Wolf has made it clear year after year that he opposes human spaceflight cooperation with China. He wrote a letter to Mr. Bolden on October 5 asking for details on the China visit and reminded the agency that Congress has not approved any such cooperation. Rep. Wolf said in the letter:

"It should go without saying that NASA has no business cooperating with the Chinese regime on human spaceflight. China is taking an increasingly aggressive posture globally, and their interests rarely intersect with ours. The U.S. intelligence community notes that China's attempts to spy on U.S. agencies are the most aggressive of all foreign intelligence organizations. China's aerospace industry for decades has provided missile technologies and equipment to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea.

"There is no clearer indication of the gulf that exists between our two countries than the Chinese government's treatment of its own people. China routinely imprisons or places under house arrest Catholic bishops, priests and Protestant house church pastors. Their congregations are forced to gather in secret. As of July 2009, there were 689 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, 439 of whom were monks or nuns. Uyghur Muslims face persecution by the Chinese government as well. China maintains an extensive system of slave labor camps as large as that which existed in the former Soviet Union."

Mr. Bolden replied on October 8, assuring Rep. Wolf that the talks on human spaceflight are introductory only "and will not include consideration of any specific proposals for human space flight cooperation or new cooperation in any other areas of NASA's activities." Mr. Bolden went on to say that a reciprocal visit "by Chinese Government officials to NASA facilities" is being planned and such plans "will be guided by the degree of transparency and openness that is displayed during my visit." Finally, the NASA Administrator added that:

"Let me stress again that NASA's interactions with Chinese organizations will continue to be based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity, and mutual benefit and conducted with appropriate interagency coordination. NASA's interaction with Chinese entities will be in accordance with existing law and policy, and any specific future opportunities for potential cooperation will be coordinated through interagency review prior to formalization with Chinese partners. Additionally, NASA will comply with the Congressional certification requirements that pertain to prospective cooperative agreements with Chinese entities, as set forth in section 126(a) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-391)."

If Republicans take control of the House next month, Rep. Wolf could become the chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that handles NASA funding next year. U.S.-China space cooperation has been a particularly touchy subject since the late 1990s when a Republican-led House commission concluded that China was gaining militarily useful information by launching U.S.-built satellites. The "Cox Commission" findings led to a ban on exporting satellites with any U.S. components to China for launch. Suspicions about China's motives in wanting to cooperate with the United States in space have not subsided in many circles since that time. Conversely, with China now capable of human spaceflight and launching robotic probes to the Moon -- like the Chang-e 2 spacecraft launched October 1 -- others see U.S.-China space cooperation as an opportunity to be cultivated.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of October 11-15, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A new version of the agenda shows the starting time for the astrobiology anniversary event on Thursday has been moved forward to 8:00 am from 9:00 am. However, introductory remarks start at 8:45 and the keynote address is at 9:00 (instead of 9:10). Also, the ending time now is 5:00 pm. Click on the link below for more details. Also note that while the event is open to the public you MUST RSVP by tomorrow, October 13, if you plan to attend.

The following events may be of interest during the week. For further information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Wednesday, October 13

Wednesday-Friday, October 13-15

Thursday, October 14

Thursday-Friday, October 14-15

Friday, October 15

NASA Telecon on Signing of NASA Authorization Bill About to Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

At 10:52 this morning NASA sent out a press release announcing a media teleconference at 11:00 am on the anticipated signing of the NASA authorization bill later today. Listen to the audio of the teleconference at:

NASA Authorization Bill Signed Into Law, Funding Still Needed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

President Obama signed the NASA authorization bill into law today.

In a NASA media teleconference earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), and former astronaut Sally Ride commended the bipartisan achievement of passing the bill. Senator Nelson cautioned, however, that the funding still must make it through the appropriations process and repeatedly referenced the difficult financial circumstances facing the country as a substanial hurdle for the agency's FY2011 funding level.

Based on a transcript provided by NASA, in response to a question about whether the bill sufficiently funds a new heavy lift launch vehicle, he replied:

"What is in this bill is $11.5 [b]illion over the next six years anticipated, even though it's a three-year authorization, for the development and the testing of a heavy-lift rocket.

Now, if we can't develop a new rocket for $11.5 [b]illion, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9 [b]illion, if we can't do it for that, then we ought to question whether or not we can build a rocket.

So we are in fiscally austere times, and we have to be realistic about the spending of monies."

(Editor's note: the transcript said "millions" in each case instead of "billions.")

Later, he reminded everyone that when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill that includes NASA (the Commerce-Justice-Science bill), all Republicans voted against it and other bills approved by the committee that day, not because of NASA, but because of the overall amount of spending represented by the bills. Some Senate Republicans are trying to cut government spending back to FY2008 levels, which Senator Nelson said today would be "devastating to NASA." (NASA's FY2008 funding level was $17.3 billion, compared to $19 billion requested for FY2011.) None of the 12 FY2011 regular appropriations bills has made it to the Senate floor for debate yet.

Getting an authorization bill enacted is a step forward in determining NASA's exploration future, but the next step -- getting Congress to approve the funding to implement the policy -- will be at least as difficult.

Soyuz Docks with ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Soyuz TMA-01M successfully docked with the International Space Station at 8:01 pm EDT tonight.

Events of Interest

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


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