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Soyuz Rocket Launches From Kourou Affected by Progress Failure

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Flights of Russia's Soyuz rocket from France's launch site in Kourou, French Guinea are being affected, but not delayed, by the failure of a similar rocket launching the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft last month.

Russia's news agency, Itar-Tass, reports that two Soyuz rockets that are being readied for launch at Kourou will have their third stages replaced. The action will not delay the launches, however, according to the report. They are scheduled for October 20 and in December of this year.

Russia and Europe reached agreement to launch the Soyuz rocket from Kourou in 2004. The idea is for Soyuz to fill the niche of a medium-class launcher in Europe's suite of launch vehicles, joining the large Ariane 5 and small Vega launchers. Because the launch site is to close to equator (7 degrees north latitude) compared with Russia's southernmost launch facility at Baikonur (50.7 degrees north), the rocket can take much more payload to orbit. The payload capability from Kourou is 3 metric tons compared to 1.7 metric tons from Baikonur. Initially, Soyuz flights from Baikonur were expected as early as 2006, but there has been none as yet.

A Soyuz rocket launched from Baikonur that was intended to place a Progress cargo spacecraft on a trajectory to replenish the International Space Station failed on August 24. An investigating commission determined a clogged fuel line was the cause. Flights of the Soyuz with Progress spacecraft are expected to resume from Baikonur next month, and a simlliar rocket carrying three ISS crewmembers in November.

SLS Decision Being Announced Right Now

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

About an hour ago NASA sent out an announcement that the decision on the Space Launch System (SLS) would be revealed at 10:00 this morning. A press briefing has just begun at the Senate. Watch at NASA TV.

Here is the text of NASA's press release:

David S. Weaver
Headquarters, Washington Sept. 14, 2011

Michael Braukus/J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

RELEASE: 11-301

New Heavy-lift Rocket Will Take Humans Far Beyond Earth

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected the design of a new Space Launch System that will take the agency's astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts.

This new heavy-lift rocket-in combination with a crew capsule already under development, increased support for the commercialization of astronaut travel to low Earth orbit, an extension of activities on the International Space Station until at least 2020, and a fresh focus on new technologies-is key to implementing the plan laid out by President Obama and Congress in the bipartisan 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which the president signed last year. The booster will be America's most powerful since the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon and will launch humans to places no one has gone before.

"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars."

This launch vehicle decision is the culmination of a months-long, comprehensive review of potential designs to ensure the nation gets a rocket that is not only powerful but also evolvable so it can be adapted to different missions as opportunities arise and new technologies are developed.

"Having settled on a new and powerful heavy-lift launch architecture, NASA can now move ahead with building that rocket and the next-generation vehicles and technologies needed for an ambitious program of crewed missions in deep space," said John P. Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology. "I'm excited about NASA's new path forward and about its promise for continuing American leadership in human space exploration."

The SLS will carry human crews beyond low Earth orbit in a capsule named the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel system, where RS-25D/E engines will provide the core propulsion and the J2X engine is planned for use in the upper stage. There will be a competition to develop the boosters based on performance requirements.

The decision to go with the same fuel system for the core and the upper stage was based on a NASA analysis demonstrating that use of common components can reduce costs and increase flexibility. The heavy-lift rocket's early flights will be capable of lifting 70-100 metric tons before evolving to a lift capacity of 130 metric tons.

The early developmental flights may take advantage of existing solid boosters and other existing hardware. These flights will enable NASA to reduce developmental risk, drive innovation within the agency and private industry, and accomplish early exploration objectives.

"NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president's goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year."

NASA elected to initiate a competition for the booster stage based on performance parameters rather than on the type of propellant because of the need for flexibility. The specific acquisition strategy for procuring the core stage, booster stage, and upper stage is being developed and will be announced at a later time.

Senate Appropriators to Markup NASA, NOAA Approps This Week

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

The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2012 appropriations bill that includes NASA and NOAA this week.

Subcommittee markup was announced yesterday. It will be held tomorrow at 2:30 pm in 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building. The committee has more recently announced that full committee markup will be held the next day, Thursday, September 15, at 2:00 pm in 216 Hart Senate Office Building. It is one of three appropriations bills on the committee's agenda for that afternoon.

New NASA Crew Transportation System to Cost $18 Billion Through 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) headlined a hastily arranged press event in the Senate this morning announcing the long awaited decision on the design of the Space Launch System (SLS). NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and other Members of Congress were also there and NASA will hold a more detailed media teleconference at noon today with NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier. The Senate Appropriations Committee is marking up the bil that includes NASA beginning this afternoon, making the SLS announcement particularly timely.

At the Senate event, Senator Nelson stated that the cost of the SLS will be $10 billion through 2017. The main purpose of the SLS is to launch astronauts to destinations beyond low Earth orbit in a spacecraft called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). Nelson said the MPCV cost through 2017 would be $6 billion, and the cost of associated ground facilities is $2 billion in that time frame, a total of $18 billion. That is essentially $3 billion per year for the next five years.

The press conference did not gloss over the fact that the White House and Congress have been at loggerheads over the program. Congress directed NASA to build the SLS and MPCV in the 2010 NASA authorization act as a compromise with the Obama Administration, but Hutchison and Nelson have accused the Obama Administration of deliberately undermining the law.

Hutchison referenced that in her remarks this morning. She said that the Wall Street Journal article last week asserting that the White House was in a state of "sticker shock" over the cost of the program was the tipping point, and that she, Nelson and others met with Administration officials including the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Jacob Lew, yesterday to iron things out.

Hutchison is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that authorizes NASA activities and is also the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that appropriates NASA's funding, so is an especially powerful influence on NASA in the Senate.

She and other congressional speakers this morning focused on the future and how delighted they are that everyone is now working together. Retaining the skilled aerospace workforce that might otherwise be decimated with the termination of the space shuttle program and ensuring U.S. preeminence in space exploration were recurring themes at the press conference.

Two House members, both Democrats, spoke at the Senate event: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee, and Rep. Chaka Fattah, ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA.

Their Republican counterparts, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of HSS&T, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, chose instead to issue their own press release (which also included Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the HSS&T subcommittee that oversees NASA). They expressed satisfaction that the decision finally had been made, but used the opportunity to sharply criticize the Obama Administration. While Hutchison remarked on the unplesantness of watching sausage being made, her focus was on the fact that everyone was now in agreement. The three House Republicans instead complained stridently about the Administration's "obstructionism," which they assert has cost "thousands of American jobs." The HSS&T committee will hold a hearing on the future of the human spaceflight program on September 22.

NASA Media Teleconference on SLS at Noon Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The basics of the design of the Space Launch System (SLS) were just announced on Capitol Hill, but NASA will hold a media teleconference at noon with more details. It will be streamed at

FCC and NTIA Want More LightSquared Tests, Congressional Hearings Continue

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

As the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) prepares to hold a hearing this week on "Sustaining GPS for National Security," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are both calling for more testing to assess the extent to which LightSquared's planned mobile broadband communications system will interfere with GPS receivers.

It is the third hearing on the LightSquared issue in the past three months. The House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee held a hearing last week and the House Transportation and Infrastructure (HT&I) Committee held one in June.

The HASC hearing, scheduled for Thursday at 11:30 am, is the first to hear from the FCC and NTIA. The FCC regulates use of the airwaves for the private sector, while NTIA (part of the Department of Commerce) does the same for government users. It is FCC's January 2011 decision to grant LightSquared a provisional license to operate its hybrid satellite-terrestrial network that is creating the controversy. Detractors argue that LightSquared's system will harmfully interfere with GPS receivers throughout the government and consumer sectors.

At the HSS&T hearing last week, LightSquared's Jeffrey Carlisle argued that his company had worked with the FCC, NTIA and the GPS industry over many years to resolve potential interference problems. The spectrum assigned to LightSquared by the FCC is adjacent to spectrum used for GPS receivers. LightSquared asserts that the recent controversy stems from new issues raised by the GPS industry just one year ago after the company had spent billions of dollars on the system. LightSquared launched its SkyTerra satellite last year and is preparing to build 40,000 terrestrial cellular towers. The system will provide mobile broadband services using terrestrial signals, satellite signals, or a combination of the two.

The June hearing by the HT&I committee portrayed LightSquard in a largely negative light. Members appeared to be clearly in the corner of the GPS industry and civil government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in wanting to prevent LightSquared from receiving final permission from the FCC to initiate the terrestrial component of the system. The HSS&T hearing was focused on civil government GPS users for scientific purposes such as weather satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and responding to natural hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The tone was somewhat different, and committee Democrats issued a press release afterwards calling for finding a way for LightSquared and GPS to coexist.

The FCC's provisional license in January required LightSquared to set up a technical working group with the GPS industry to test the amount of interference that would result if its system became operational. The tests showed significant interference the top 10 megahertz (MHz) of the 20 MHz of spectrum assigned for the system, but less in the bottom 10 MHz. LightSquared subsequently offered to initially deploy its system only in the bottom 10 MHz of the band. The company submitted a new proposal to the FCC last week which Mr. Carlisle appended to his testimony to HSS&T. In response, Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT), told HSS&T that the revised proposal requires further study.

The FCC and NTIA agree and also are calling for additional testing. Representatives of both agencies are scheduled to testify at the HASC hearing on Thursday. Also testifying will be the commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, DOD's chief information officer (who testified at the HT&I hearing), and Mr. Russo (who testified at the HSS&T hearing).

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!

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