Latest News

SpaceX Gets First Commercial Reentry License

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the first commercial reentry license to SpaceX, which plans to use its Dragon spacecraft not only to take cargo and crew to the International Space Station, but back to Earth as well. A test to demonstrate that capability is planned for next month.

The FAA was given regulatory authority over commercial reentry, in addition to its existing authority to regulate launches, in the 1998 Commercial Space Act (P.L. 105-303) At the time, Lockheed Martin was developing a commercial single-stage-to-orbit vehicle called Venturestar as a successor to the space shuttle. NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin on the program, agreeing to invest about $1 billion in research and development (the NASA program was designated X-33). Technical hurdles proved difficult to overcome and Lockheed Martin declined to contine funding the program on its own once the NASA cap was reached. The exact amount Lockheed Martin paid into the program is unclear.

Now, a decade later, another company is attempting to achieve the same fundamental goal -- commercial transportation of people to and from orbit -- but with more traditional technology, a rocket and a capsule. SpaceX plans to use its Falcon 9 rocket, which succeeded in its first test launch last summer. A second launch is scheduled for December. That launch will test the launch and reentry of the Dragon capsule. It is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA issued a press release praising the action by the FAA. The agency is anxious for SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to succeed in their attempts to develop commercial cargo services for the ISS. Russia's Progress spacecraft and the space shuttle have been the mainstays of cargo delivery to ISS throughout its lifetime. With the shuttle program ending in 2011, the commercial cargo program is critical to ISS operations.

In addition to Russia's Progress, Europe and Japan have spacecraft, ATV and HTV respectively, that can take cargo to the ISS. None of those three can survive reentry, however. To date, the space shuttle has been the only way to bring cargo back to Earth, except for a very small amount that can be accommodated in Russia's Soyuz capsule when it brings crews home.

NRC Recommends Agencies Go It Alone on Space and Earth Science Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A National Research Council (NRC) report that assesses impediments to collaboration on space and earth science missions recommends that unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, agencies should not partner on them. The report was released today.

The committee that wrote the report was co-chaired by Dr. James Baker, former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Dr. Daniel Baker, Director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Dan Baker also is a member of the NRC's Space Studies Board and co-chair of the ongoing NRC Decadal Survey on solar and space physics.

An NRC press release quotes Dr. James Baker as saying "A common misperception among policymakers and individual agencies is that collaboration on these missions will save money or somehow boost capabilities. ... However, multiagency partnerships generally have just the opposite effect and drive up overall mission costs because of schedule delays, added levels of management, and redundant administrative processes."

While international collaboration "suffers from the same increase in cost and complexity" such missions "typically receive much more planning upfront..." according to the press release.

In those cases where interagency partnering is mandated, the NRC lists criteria that should be met. If the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) or Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Congress, want interagency cooperation, it says, specific incentives and support should be provided and a new governance mechanism may be needed for coordinated oversight since "OMB and OSTP are not suited to day-to-day oversight."

Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct the study in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 110-422).

WIA Panel on the Future of Human Spaceflight

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Women in Aerospace (WIA) held a panel discussion on Thursday, November 18, 2010, about the The Future of Human Spaceflight: Prospects, Programs and Educating the Pipeline. Read a summary of the meeting by looking on our left menu under Our Meeting Summaries, or simply by clicking here.

Events of Interest: Thanksgiving Week, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The space policy community, like everyone else in the United States, is celebrating Thanksgiving this week. There are no space policy-related events to list. Hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving!!

Bolden Summarizes Recent Trip to China

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Last week, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had an "all hands" meeting with Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) employees. Among the topics was a brief summary of his recent trip to China. Other than a brief press release after the trip, few details have publicly emerged until now.

Traveling there with Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight, and Peggy Whitson, Chief of the Astronaut Office, Bolden said "we got an opportunity to see everything." That is in contrast to the 2006 trip by then-NASA Administrator Michael Griffin where the NASA group reportedly was provided little access to Chinese space facilities. Gerstenmaier and astronaut Shannon Lucid were part of the 2006 delegation.

Bolden reported that his NASA delegation started in Beijing and visited "most of their facilities where they produced the Long March" rocket, and also traveled to the Gobi Desert. China launches its human spaceflight missions from the Jiuquan launch center there. It is the original Chinese space launch site (now there are two more and a fourth under construction) and is the site for launching many Chinese satellites destined for high inclination orbits, including those that support military space missions.

He said that he stressed to the Chinese that if they are seeking to cooperate with the United States in space that "they will have to demonstrate to us that they could be transparent in all dealings," "demonstrate that they were willing to exercise reciprocity," and the cooperation "had to be mutually beneficial to both nations." He also emphasized that he went there to listen, not "to propose or to make any deals or anything." The latter was a matter of controversy before the trip. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and others in Congress insisted that Bolden assure them before the trip that he would not broker any deals on human spaceflight cooperation while he was in China.

During the MSFC meeting, Bolden observed that the Chinese were "struggling right now with how they split up responsibility for programs," and that the head of their human spaceflight program is also in charge of the Chinese anti-satellite program, which he found ironic. He did not name the individual, but said that his host started the conversation by saying that China does not need the United States and vice versa, but that if the two worked together "the incredible," according to Bolden's account.

Many other topics, mostly domestic, were also discussed. A transcript provided to by NASA is available here. Space News, which first revealed the existence of the transcript in a story posted Friday, reported that the meeting was held on November 16. NASA provided the transcript to upon request. It does not appear to be posted on any of NASA's websites as of this moment.

The Space Show's Interview with Laura Delgado Now Online

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Space Show's interview with correspondent Laura M. Delgado is now available on the Space Show's website.

For those of you who couldn't listen live yesterday, here is your chance to hear this really interesting discussion about how corporations are portrayed in science fiction movies and whether that could influence public perception of space commercialization efforts. On that home page, scroll down to the list of shows and select the one for November 19. It takes a while to download -- please be patient.

Space Agency Heads Endorse Declaration for More International Cooperation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Representatives of 28 space agencies from around the world endorsed a declaration calling for increased international cooperation at a "summit" sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) on November 17.

The declaration makes recommendations from IAA to the world's space agencies in four areas: human spaceflight, robotic planetary exploration, climate change, and disaster management. It concludes that a "consensus widely recognized is that many global challenges to come can better be solved by countries working together." A larger circle of partners is needed, it says, but "confidence, trust, transparence [sic] and best practice sharing will have to be the key points for reducing impediments while promoting a safe and responsible use of space." The IAA unveiled studies written by IAA members in each of the four areas at the summit.

Read a summary of the meeting by looking under "Our Meeting Summaries" on the left menu or simply by clicking here.

Outlook for FY2011 Appropriations Remains Murky

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The U.S. government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 3. Congress must do something to keep the government operating after that date, but what it will do remains unclear: pass another short-term CR, pass a CR for the rest of FY2011, or pass an omnibus appropriations bill that funds all government agencies. The total price of the omnibus bill is about $1.1 trillion.

On Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that voters made clear that they do not want Congress "passing massive trillion dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors" and he will not support such a measure. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor. There are 57 Democrats, two Independents, and 41 Republicans currently in the Senate.

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, nonetheless is hopeful that he will be able to get some Republican votes now that his committee has agreed with Republicans to cap the omnibus bill at $1.108 trillion instead of the $1.114 trillion Democrats wanted, according to the National Journal (subscription required).

Senator McConnell also recently came out against earmarks, which he previously supported. The publication quoted Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, reacting to the McConnell statements: "[he] 'was for an omnibus before he was against an omnibus,' she quipped. 'He supported earmarks before he was against earmarks.'"

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), outgoing chairman of the House CJS subcommittee, told a Space Transportation Association (STA) audience Thursday morning that NASA would face difficult challenges if it must operate under a CR for an extended period of time. Agencies are not supposed to start new programs under a CR, meaning that the new direction adopted in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act would be delayed, Mollohan pointed out. He added that the additional funds for NASA's earth science program also would be at risk.

Politico said the Democrats "have only themselves to blame ... after failing to pass a budget this year or any of the dozen annual appropriations" bills. Apparently anticipating that an omnibus bill cannot be passed, the White House wants a year-long CR according to Politico, because a short-term CR would mean that the budget would have to be taken up again early next year when Republicans have control of the House giving them "a powerful vehicle to advance not just their budget agenda but also health care riders early in the next Congress."

Mollohan Uncertain About Appropriations, Skeptical on Earmark Ban, Proud of EOS and Hubble

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA, spoke to the Space Transportation Association on November 18, 2010. He said he did not know whether Congress would pass another Continuing Resolution (CR) or an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government after December 3, and was skeptical than the earmark ban called for by many Republicans would be a permanent ban. He praised, in particular, NASA's Earth Observing System and Hubble Space Telescope programs as highlights of his involvement with NASA over the 28 years he has been in Congress. Read a summary of his remarks.

Senate Hearing on NASA Authorization Act Postponed to December 1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Nov-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Senate Commerce Committee's hearing on implementation of the NASA authorization act has been postponed to December 1 according to the committee's website.

Events of Interest

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