Latest News

Senate Commerce Committee Begins Markup of NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Markup of the NASA authorization bill is just beginning and can be viewed on the website of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

NRC Calls For Vigilance in Cost Estimating for NASA Space and Earth Science Missions

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

A new report from the National Research Council (NRC)'s Space Studies Board (SSB) recommends that NASA do a better job of estimating the costs of its space and Earth science missions. An SSB study committee chaired by Ron Sega, former astronaut and former Undersecretary of the Air Force in charge of its space activities, concludes that:

"Unfortunately, instead of motivating and rewarding vigilance in accurately predicting and controlling costs, the current system incentivizes overly optimistic expectations regarding cost and schedule. For example, competitive pressures encourage (overly) optimistic assessments of the cost and schedule impacts of addressing uncertainties and overcoming potential problems. As a result, initial cost estimates generally are quite optimistic, underestimating final costs by a sizable amount, and that optimism sometimes persists well into the development process."

The committee reviewed 10 existing studies on cost growth in NASA programs and "generally concurs with the consensus viewpoints expressed" in those studies, including the facts that the earlier in a program an initial cost estimate is made, the more it will grow. Also, most cost growth occurs after the program has gone through critical design review, meaning that cost reserves must be maintained into the later stages of development.

The committee complimented NASA on recent changes in how it estimates costs for space and Earth science missions, including the decision to cost projects on a 70% confidence level. It added, however, that it is too early to assess how effective that action is, and recommended that NASA develop a "comprehensive, integrated cost containment strategy."

UPDATED: NRC Workshop Examines Using Remote Sensing Satellites for Disasters

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 13-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A link to Dr. Williamson's presentation has been added.

Everyone needs to look "at the entire disaster cycle" and communities need "to understand the risks they take" according to experts who met at a July 8 National Research Council (NRC) workshop on how to better use remote sensing data in disaster response and recovery. A summary of the meeting is available on our website.

Stuart Gill of the World Bank and Ray Williamson from the Secure World Foundation emphasized those points during a panel discussion at the workshop. Gill added that "a top-down modeling exercise" combined with "bottom-up community risk mapping" is needed to get people involved in understanding their environments and attendant risks.

Panel participants believed the biggest impediment to better use of remote sensing data to deal with disasters when they happen, or perhaps to avoid them, is policy development. Jack Harrald, chair of the NRC's Disasters Roundtable, which sponsored the workshop, concluded that there is a "profound leadership challenge" to develop and implement a vision for 2020. The topic of the workshop was "From Reality 2010 to Vision 2020: Translating Remotely Sensed Data to Assets, Exposure, Damage, and Losses."

Three New Centennial Challenges Announced

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Today NASA announced three new prize opportunities through its Centennial Challenges program. The three new challenges are the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology, Night Rover Challenge for energy storage technologies, and Sample Return Robot Challenge for automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun said that "there is innovation in this country and we hope to shine it like a laser on our space program and change the way we do business."

The launch challenge carries a prize purse of $2 million; the other two are worth $1.5 million each. Details on what it takes to win will be developed by non-profit organizations that NASA expects to select by early October to manage the competitions.

The three challenges were selected from more than 200 ideas solicited from NASA employees, the public, and the aerospace community. NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and its Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) then worked with NASA's Mission Directorates to narrow the list and select the final three. The chosen challenges are meant to fit in with NASA's plans for the future without being on the critical path since the "results are unpredictable," said Centennial Challenges program manager Andy Petro.

The announcement was made as part of a NASA-sponsored Space Techology Industry Forum that began today at the University of Maryland Inn and Conference Center. The forum continues tomorrow.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of July 12-16, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The Senate Commerce Committee's website now confirms that the markup of the NASA authorization bill is Thursday morning at 10:00 in 253 Russell.


The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more details, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional activities are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information. All times are EDT.

During the Week

Congress returns from its July 4 recess. According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the House currently plans to recess again for the traditional August recess in just three weeks. It is waiting for the Senate to act on many pieces of legislation.

There are strong rumors that the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday, but it is not listed on the committee's website or on Congress Daily's Daybook as of Sunday evening.

Monday, July 12

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 13-14

Tuesday-Thursday, July 13-15

Thursday, July 15

Thursday-Friday, July 15-16

Senate Commerce Committee to Mark Up NASA Authorization Bill on Thursday, July 15

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

It's official. Rumors that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday are now confirmed on the committee's website. Two unrelated bills and a Coast Guard nomination are also on the agenda for the meeting, July 15, 2010 at 10:00 am in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), his counterpart on the appropriations committee, on June 14 outlining the major points of the bill. Reports in the New York Times and other news outlets in the past three days also summarize its general principles. Depending on one's point of view, the bill is either a compromise with the Obama Administration's proposal for the future of human spaceflight or a rejection of it. President Obama wants to rely on commercial companies to build systems to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), for example the International Space Station, instead of NASA. NASA's assignment would be technology development for missions to asteroids and other "beyond LEO" destinations in 2025 and later under the Obama plan.

The Senate bill instead reportedly will keep NASA in the LEO human space transportation business with government development of a new "heavy lift" space transportation system and crew exploration vehicle in the near term. Commercial crew reportedly is supported in the bill, but not to the extent proposed by the President. The bill would also add at least one more space shuttle flight, a move Senator Nelson has championed for many months. Only two shuttle missions remain on the official flight manifest. The bill reportedly is a 3-year authorization and has bipartisan support in the committee.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a statement today responding to what it calls "misperceptions" about commercial crew. The Federation represents businesses and organizations "working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality," according to its website.

New Obama Policy Heralds International Space Paradigm Shift: Linda Billings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

President Obama's new national space policy is "reconfiguring the U.S. leadership role in global space exploration," says George Washington University research professor Dr. Linda Billings in a guest blog for Space News.

Noting that the Augustine Committee's report focused more on international space cooperation than commercial space, despite media attention to the contrary, and remarks by NASA Administrator Bolden over the past year also stressing outreach to international partners, Dr. Billings concludes that "at last, we are seeing an ideological shift for the better" away from the notion that "space exploration is a quintessentially American enterprise."

Commercial Space Activities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

<< For current news items and links to other reports and resources, click on those links on the left menu. <<

Brief Introduction

U.S. Commercial Space Policy and NASA's "Commercial Crew" and COTS Programs|

Commercial Suborbital Launches

U.S. Aerospace Companies

Major Non-U.S. Aerospace Companies


The "Space Economy"

As published by the Space Foundation in The Space Report 2011: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, worldwide space revenues in 2010 were $276.5 billion, an increase of 7.7% over 2009 This annual report from the Space Foundation tracks worldwide spending by governments, the private sector and consumers. According to the report's free executive summary, this $276.5 billion "space economy" is comprised of the following segments:

  • commercial infrastructure and support Industries, 32% ($87.39 billion)
  • U.S. government space budgets, 23% ($64.63 billion)
  • non-U.S. government space budgets, 8% ($22.49 billion)
  • commercial space products and services, 37% ($102.00 billion) and
  • commercial space transportation services, less than 1% ($0.01 billion).

Defining "Commercial" Space Activities

What makes a space activity "commercial" can be difficult to define. Some consider a commercial activity to be one in which a private sector entity puts its own capital at risk and provides goods or services primarily to other private sector entities or consumers rather than to the government. Examples of these activities would be direct-to-home satellite television (e.g. DirecTV and DishTV), satellite radio (Sirius XM), and commercial fixed satellites that transmit voice, data and Internet services (such as Intelsat Ltd., SES Global, and Eutelsat).

Other definitions are broader and include sales of consumer equipment by companies even though the satellite system is owned by the government. The chief example of this is the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellite system that is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense, but has a vast array of consumer users ranging from automobile navigation systems to cell phones to precision farming. The devices used by consumers around the world in their cars, on their boats, or carried on their persons are sold by commercial companies, but the satellite signal that makes them work is provided for free by DOD.

Still broader definitions of commercial space activities include those where a company provides services primarily to government customers, such as the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance (ULA), or remote sensing satellite companies (GeoEye and DigitalGlobe). Others do not consider these commercial because they are reliant on the government for most of their revenue and the government shoulders most of the risk because the government requires the services.

In his National Space Policy issued on June 28, 2010, President Obama defined "commercial space activities" in this manner:

The term "commercial," for the purposes of this policy, refers to space goods, services, or activities provided by private sector enterprises that bear a reasonable portion of the investment risk and responsibility for the activity, operate in accordance with typical market-based incentives for controlling cost and optimizing return on investment, and have the legal capacity to offer these goods or services to existing or potential nongovernmental customers.


The government plays a major role in commercial space activities in many ways, from establishing regulatory policy, to creating policies that direct government agencies to purchase services from companies, to contracting for hardware. For example, the government signs contracts for guaranteed data buys from the two commercial remote sensing satellite companies, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which enables them to raise the capital needed to build and launch the satellites.

U.S. commercial space policy has been part of national space policy for decades and today is defined by President Barack Obama's 2010 National Space Policy, which supersedes President George W. Bush's 2006 National Space Policy. Obama Administration officials reportedly are working on updating two other Bush-era commercial space policies: the 2003 Commerical Remote Sensing Policy and 2005 Space Transportation Policy.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation regulates and facilitates the commercial space launch business. The Federal Communications Commission assigns radio frequencies and issues licenses for commercial satellite systems.

In his FY2011 budget request, President Obama requested $6 billion over 5 years (FY2011-2015) in NASA's budget to subsidize companies to develop "commercial crew" launch vehicles and spacecraft instead of the govvernment -- NASA -- developing such systems. He wanted to cancel the Constellation program, begun under President George W. Bush, to build new launch vehicles (Ares I and V) and a spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts to the International Space Station in Earth orbit, back to the Moon, and on to Mars. Instead, the President proposed that the United States rely on the commercial sector to build new crew space transportation systems for use in low Earth orbit (LEO). The concept is called "commercial crew." The President believes it will free NASA to focus on building systems to take astronauts to more challenging destinations beyond LEO, such as to asteroids. NASA would facilitate commercial crew by providing funding to one or more companies.

The proposal was very controversial and was vigorously debated in Congress. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267), signed into law in October 2010, is a compromise wherein NASA is directed to develop a government crew space transportation system as well as fund the commercial crew concept, but at a lower funding level. For more on NASA's FY2011 budget request, and the request for FY2012, see our Fact Sheets on those topics.

President Obama's FY2012 budget request for NASA is similarly controversial because the congressional committees that oversee NASA believe that it contravenes the compromise reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. NASA is requesting more money than was authorized for commercial crew and less money than was authorized for NASA-developed systems. The NASA-developed systems, called a Space Launch System and a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, are combined into a category called "Human Exploration Capabilities" in NASA's FY2012 budget request.

Before the Obama "commercial crew" proposal was announced, NASA already had initiated a program to rely on the commercial sector to take cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Called COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation System), it is needed because the Bush Administration decided to terminate the space shuttle program, which was originally envisioned to take both crews and cargo to ISS throughout its lifetime. The last space shuttle missiontook place in July 2011, while the Obama Administration wants to keep the ISS operating at least until 2020. Two companies, SpaceX and Orbital, were awarded contracts to develop cargo spacecraft to service the ISS beginning in 2011. SpaceX conducted the first launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2009; a second launch with a test version of its Dragon spacecraft -- which is being designed to take first cargo, and, later, crew into orbit -- was successful in December 2010. Orbital plans to test its Taurus II launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft in 2011. A "gap" of many years will exist between the termination of the space shuttle in 2011 and when commercial services are available. NASA will purchase crew transportation services from Russia during that gap.

In February 2010, NASA awarded contracts to five companies for Crew Transportation Concepts and Technology Demonstration, or CCDEV (commercial crew development). The companies are: Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corp., Sierra Nevada Corp., and United Launch Alliance. Winners of the CCDEV2 competition were announced in April 2011: Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX.


Suborbital flights that do not go into orbit around Earth, but fly in a high arc and provide several minutes of microgravity on the return to Earth, also are of interest. They are commonly used not only in the United States, but in many other places around the world for experiments that need minutes, but not hours or days, of microgravity. Traditionally, government agencies are the providers of these services, and are also the users along with primarily academic institutions.

Several U.S. companies are interested in providing suborbital launches either for experiments or for sending people into space on a commercial basis. There is no legal definition of where air ends and space begins, but the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), which certifies air records, uses 100 kilometers as that boundary. In 2004, Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites won the Ansari X-Prize award for using its SpaceShipOne to send a pilot over that threshold and back to Earth twice within 14 days (different pilots flew the craft each time). Richard Branson's Virgin Group created a company, Virgin Galactic, to take anyone with the requisite funds (approximately $200,000) on such suborbital flights using SpaceShipTwo, which is still in development. (He also plans on providing orbital flights in the future.)

Other companies also are interested in the commercial suborbital market for experiments, people, or both. On August 9, 2011, NASA announced the selection of seven companies for indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts under its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program to provide suborbital launch services for NASA technology experiments. The total value of all the contracts is $10 million. The companies selected are: Armadillo Aerospace, Near Space Corp., Masten Space Systems, Up Aerospace Inc., Virgin Galactic, Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, and XCOR. (Links to the companies are provided below if available.)


Hundreds of companies are involved in the aerospace sector, even when looking only at the "space" part of the business and not aircraft. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide links to some of the companies that are most often referenced in discussions about space policy.

The "big three" U.S. aerospace companies are:

In addition, Boeing and Lockheed Martin co-own

Other major U.S. aerospace companies include:

Major U.S. companies that sell space-related products or services include:

Entrepreneurial companies:


There also are hundreds of non-U.S. companies in the aerospace sector. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide links to companies that are most often referenced in discussions about space policy.)

  • Arianespace (French, launch services)
  • EADS (French-German/European diversified aerospace company of which Astrium is a subsidiary. SpotImage, which provides commercial remote sensing imagery, is part of Astrium)
  • Eutelsat (European fixed satellite services)
  • Inmarsat (global mobile satellite services, based in the United Kingdom)
  • Intelsat (global fixed satellite service, based in Luxembourg)
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japanese, satellites and in-space platforms)
  • SES (European fixed satellite services)
  • Thales Alenia Space (European communications satellite manufacturing)


Didn't find what you were looking for? Let us know at

Transcript of SWF/ACA Seminar on New National Space Policy Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A transcript of the seminar hosted by the Secure World Foundation and the Arms Control Association last week is now available. The seminar analyzed President Obama's new National Space Policy.

NASA Searching for Chief Historian

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is looking for a chief historian at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. It's a quick turnaround, though. The position was posted today and applications are due by next Tuesday, July 13. Visit USA Jobs for more details.

Events of Interest  

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


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