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UPDATE 2: Events of Interest: Week of September 5-9, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATES: Two NASA media events on Friday were added, but one has now been cancelled, so hence another update.

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate both return from their August break this week (President Obama is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, September 8, at 7:00 pm EDT). Times and dates for congressional activities are always subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

Tuesday, September 6

Thursday, September 8

Thursday-Friday, September 8-9

Friday, September 9

NRC Praises NASA Tech Roadmaps, but Says More Commercial Focus Needed

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

The National Research Council's (NRC's) interim report reviewing the 14 technology roadmaps created by NASA's Office of Chief Technologist (OCT) is generally supportive. The NRC study committee reviewing the roadmaps suggested substantial changes to only one of the 14 roadmaps. However, it also found that more focus on the needs of the commercial sector is warranted.

NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun developed the roadmaps for technology developments ranging from launch and in-space propulsion to entry, descent and landing systems. He then asked the NRC's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board to review them. The NRC issued an interim report last week.

The NRC agreed with most of NASA's "technology area breakdown structures" (TABS) for each of the 14 areas. The exception was the area of Robotics, TeleRobotics and Autonomous Systems. The NRC found that a complete rewrite of that TABS is needed. The NRC also found that the roadmaps need to be updated in light of two recent NRC Decadal Surveys released since the roadmaps were developed. Those Decadal Surveys are on life and microgravity sciences in space and planetary science.

In light of the Obama Administration's focus on commercial space activities, perhaps the most interesting observation in the report is that "the content of the draft roadmaps could be improved by giving more consideration to the needs of the commercial sector." Specifically, the NRC committee said that NASA's contribution to encouraging and facilitating a commercial space sector, as mandated in the 2010 National Space Policy, would be "enhanced" by a program that identifies how the commercial sector would benefit from advanced technologies, appropriately develops pre-competitive technology for the commercial space sector, and transfers advanced technologies to U.S. industry.

The NRC's final report is expected in early 2012.

UPDATE 2: Blue Origin Suffers Setback

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

UPDATE 2: Andy Pasztor at the WSJ has published an updated story of interest.

UPDATE: Now that the word is out, Blue Origin has updated its scant website with the following information: "Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet. A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we're signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We're already working on our next development vehicle."


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Blue Origin suffered a "major failure" during a recent test flight.

Blue Origin is backed by Jeff Bezos, founder of It won awards from NASA in both rounds of the agency's CCDev competitions. The Blue Origin website provides little information about the company or what it is doing, but NASA's CCDev announcement said it had awarded the company "up to $3.7 million for risk-mitigation activities related to its pusher Launch Escape System" and "to produce a composite crew module pressure vessel for structural testing." NASA notes that Blue Origin is developing a vertical take off and landing craft, New Shepard, "inspired" the DC-X concept of the 1990s.

International Efforts Advance For Asteroid Mitigation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

An international group of experts on the threat posed by Near Earth Objects (NEOs) met in Pasadena, CA last week to advance work on creating a Mission Planning and Operations Group (MPOG) to enable space agencies to respond if a NEO is on a collision course with Earth.

The Secure World Foundation and the Association of Space Explorers organized the meeting in conjunction with the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). It is part of a series of meetings to create an international framework for dealing with the threat to Earth from asteroids and comets, collectively known as NEOs.

The August 25-26 meeting was attended by members of COPUOS's Action Team (AT) 14 and representatives of NASA and three non-U.S. agencies: Germany's DLR, Canada's CSA, and France's CNRS.

The series of meetings is aimed at producing by February 2013 a set of recommendations on which COPUOS can act. Secure World Foundation Executive Director Ray Williamson said that the most recent workshop "made substantial progress" toward an interagency plan and an international governance model to deal with the NEO threat.

China's Tiangong-1 Launch Delayed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

China's Xinhua news agency is reporting that the launch of the Tiangong-1 docking target will be delayed until the cause of a launch failure is determined.

Tiangong-1 ("Heavenly Palace") is a module to which the unoccupied Shenzhou 8 is intended to dock as part of China's effort to develop a small space station. The launch was expected as early as this month, though the Chinese have not officially announced a specific launch date. They consistently have said only that it would be launched in the second half of this year.

Tiangong-1 is to be launched on a Long March II-F rocket, but a cousin, the Long March II-C, recently failed to place the SJ-11-04 satellite into orbit. Initially the Chinese said that since they were different launch vehicles, the failure would not affect Tiangong-1. They apparently have reconsidered. Xinhua quotes an unnamed spokesperson as saying "it is not clear yet" whether the malfunction of the Long March II-C could be linked to the II-F.

Coincidentally, the Chinese launch failure occurred on August 18, the same day that a Russian Proton rocket failed to successfully place a communications satellite into the proper orbit. The Russians traced that problem to a programming error and already have lifted the ban on Proton launches. Russia continues to investigate the launch failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft that was to take supplies to the International Space Station. Itar-Tass stated on Monday that the problem was related to a gas generator on the Soyuz launch vehicle's third stage.

Roscosmos Deputy Suggests Restructuring

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Russia continues to investigate the cause of the launch failure of a Progress cargo spacecraft last week, but it was just the most recent of several launch failures that is causing at least one Russian government official to reconsider how the Russian space program is organized.

Vitaliy Davydov, deputy director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is suggesting that "it would be beneficial to return the federal space program and the Glonass program to the framework of the state defense order," according to the Russian news service Ria Novosti.

Glomass is Russia's navigation satellite system, similar to the GPS system in the United States. A Glonass launch last December on a Proton rocket was expected to make the system fully operational, but the launch failed. It was followed by a failure of a different launch vehicle, Rokot, that was intended to place a geodetic satellite, GEO-IK-2, into orbit. Subsequently, the head of Roscosmos, Anatoly Perminov, was forced to resign. Another Proton failure on August 18 stranded the Express AM-4 satellite in the wrong orbit, and then a week later came the Progress M-12M launch failure on August 24. Roscosmos and NASA are still determining the impacts to International Space Station (ISS) operations in the wake of the Progress failure.

Davydov also suggested that the ISS may not be permanently occupied in the future, but staffed only periodically as the Soviet Union used to operate its Salyut space stations and the Mir space station during its early years. The French news agency AFP quotes Davydov as saying that "Perhaps in the future we will not need a constant manned presence in the lower Earth orbit."

The comments of one Russian space official do not necessarily mean that the Russian government is seriously considering such steps, but they do underscore the significance of the Progress launch failure and the weakened position of the United States in the ISS partnership now that it is completely dependent on Russia to take crews to and from ISS. The termination of the space shuttle program with nothing to replace it means U.S. astronauts can only travel to the ISS when Russia is willing to take them and at whatever price it sets. A new U.S. crew space transportation system is not expected to be ready until at least 2015 under the most optimistic scenario.

NRC: Space Debris Has Reached Tipping Point, NASA Strategic Plan Needed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A new report from the National Research Council (NRC) asserts that using "reasonable assumptions," the orbital debris environment has reached a "tipping point" where debris will "continually collide with itself" creating more debris. The report calls on NASA to develop a strategic plan for its programs that address the problem.

The NRC report, "Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA's Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs," was written in response to a request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) via NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. A workshop was held as part of the NRC study committee's deliberations and a report of that workshop was published separately.

The NRC stresses in the new report that its study committee was not asked to comment on "the degree of the threat posed by meteoroids and debris, nor was the committee asked to determine which technology or path is best suited for the remove of debris from orbit." Instead, "this study is more a review of NASA's meteoroid and orbital debris programs than an attempt to solve the threat posed by meteoroids and orbital debris."

With its task so delineated, the NRC praised many aspects on NASA's ongoing programs in what the agency calls micrometeoroid and orbital debris (MMOD). It notes that NASA does not have a single MMOD program, but "numerous program elements spread across NASA mission centers," and recommends that NASA review the management structure of these activities to "achieve better coordination, provide improved central decision making, and establish a framework for setting priorities." Its overarching recommendation is that NASA "develop a formal strategic plan that provides the basis for prioritizing the allocation of funds and effort over various MMOD program needs."

The NRC also found that removal of space debris would cross "crucial national and international legal thresholds" and therefore NASA's MMOD programs should engage NASA's General Counsel's Office and the State Department "regarding the legal requirements and diplomatic aspects of active debris removal."

UPDATE 3: Obama to Address Congress on Jobs and Economy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 3: But the speech will be at 7:00 pm EDT instead of 8:00 pm so it will be over before the NFL pre-game coverage begins. Hardly ideal, since it will be only 4:00 pm on the West Coast when people are still at work, but this is, after all, the art of compromise.

UPDATE 2: Boehner wins. Obama will address Congress on Thursday, September 8.

House Speaker John Boehner has declined the President's request to address a joint session of Congress on September 7, suggesting the next night as an alternative according to The Hill newspaper, which points out that September 8 is the opening night of the NFL season.

President Obama has sent a letter to Congress asking for permission to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, September 7, to talk about jobs and the economy.

The address would begin at 8:00 pm EDT, exactly the same time as one of the Republican presidential debates. The New York Times commented that while it was expected that Obama would make a speech next week, "it is remarkable that he would choose to do so in such an elevated setting, and at the same time that Republican candidates for president will be laying out their own vision for how to get the country out of the economic doldrums." It adds that September 7 is actually the third date for this debate, having first been scheduled for May 2, then changed to Sept. 14, and then to Sept. 7.

NASA Media Telecon on Opportunity Mars Rover

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA has scheduled a media teleconference for tomorrow, September 1, to provide an update on the Mars rover Opportunity.

Opportunity recently reached the edge of the Endeavour crater on Mars. The briefing is at 12:30 pm PDT (3:30 pm EDT) and will be streamed at

The teleconference participants are:

-- Dave Lavery, program executive, Mars Exploration Rovers, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- Steve Squyres, principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
-- Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Washington University in St. Louis.
-- John Callas, project manager, Mars Exploration Rovers, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

HSS&T Reschedules LightSquared Hearing for Next Week

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has rescheduled its hearing on LightSquared for next Thursday, September 8.

The hearing had been scheduled for August 3, but the House went into recess (or, officially, pro forma session) earlier than expected once the debt limit/deficit reduction deal was reached. The new time and date are September 8 at 2:00 pm EDT. The witness list is the same:

  • Mr. Anthony Russo, Director, The National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
  • Ms. Mary Glackin, Deputy Under Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Mr. Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator, Space Communications and Navigation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Mr. Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Department of Transportation
  • Dr. David Applegate, Associate Director, Natural Hazards, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University

Events of Interest

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

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