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House Passes Year-Long CR, NASA Would Get $18.9 Billion

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) yesterday that would fund the government through September 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year.

CR's typically extend an agency's existing budget for a certain period of time, but the version passed yesterday by the House is different. While the total amount of funding in the bill, $1.09 trillion, is the same as the current level according to Politico, NASA's budget, for example, would rise from its FY2010 level, though is still less than the request. The CR also spells out in some detail how NASA is to spend the money, not unlike a traditional appropriations measure.

Instead of being held at its FY2010 level of $18.7 billion, NASA would get $18.93 billion. That is just shy of the $19.00 billion requested by the President.

Funds are specifically provided for the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle ($1.2 billion), and "not less than" $250 million for commercial crew, $300 million for commercial cargo, and $1.8 billion for a heavy lift launch system that has an initial lift capability of not less than 130 tons. Technology funds that were in the budget request under the aeronautics account (for low TRL technology development supported by Bobby Braun's office) and under the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate account are combined; a total of $559 million is provided. The bill also lifts the restrictions that were in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act against cancelling the Constellation program or initiating a new program until Congress provided further direction.

The text of the legislation is available on the House Appropriations Committee's website. The NASA provisions are in Sec. 2206.

The bill still must pass the Senate. Although Senator Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee may try to replace it with an omnibus appropriations measure, expectations are low that he will succeed. The impact on the deficit of President Obama's deal with Republicans on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and exempting estates of over $5 million from more of the estate tax, plus extending unemployment benefits, is seen as dooming any effort for an omnibus.

UPDATE 4: SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft Splashes Down

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 4: SPLASHDOWN! Didn't even take 140 characters for SpaceX to tweet the news! Congratulations!!

UPDATE 3: And now the main chutes as well.

UPDATE 2: SpaceX tweets that the drogue chutes have deployed.

UPDATE: NASA tweeted three minutes ago that the Dragon's main parachute should deploy in about 20 minutes.


ORIGINAL STORY:

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft has fired its descent rockets to reenter Earth's atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific according to Spaceflightnow.com. Splashdown is expected just after 2:00 pm EST, 500 miles west of Mexico's Pacific Coast. Follow SpaceX on Twitter (SpaceXer or SpaceXMissions) or follow live coverage on Spaceflightnow.com.

UPDATE 2: Dragon Spacecraft Is In Orbit

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

UPDATE 2: SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is in orbit. The plan is for Dragon to make two orbits and then splashdown in the Pacific. Under that scenario, splashdown would be about 2:00 pm EST. NASA and SpaceX plan a press conference 1-2 hours later. A SpaceX press kit provides more detail on the scheduled timeline.

UPDATE: Falcon 9 lifted off at 10:43 am EST.

ORIGINAL STORY:

SpaceX will make a second attempt to launch its Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 EST this morning. The easiest way to follow the action is on Twitter, where NASA reported that the first attempt was scrubbed 2:48 into the launch sequence, and SpaceX (SpaceXer or SpaceXMissions) later revealed that the cause was a false telemetry reading. A third launch opportunity is available, if needed, just after noon today.

SpaceX Success Questions Whether Two More Demos Are Needed

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

The successful flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft today could mean that the next launch would go all the way to the International Space Station (ISS) instead of serving only as another test. At least that's what SpaceX founder, Chief Executive Office (CEO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Elon Musk hopes.

At a press conference this afternoon, Musk raised the possibility of combining the currently scheduled COTS-2 and COTS-3 demonstration flights into one. NASA's manager for the Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office, Alan Lindenmoyer, promised only that NASA would consider such a proposal from SpaceX. He cautioned that NASA had laid out an incremental program with different requirements for each of the next two launches. Musk said the schedule risk for achieving the first operational mission to the ISS in 2011 - part of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) effort - would be lower if the company only had to focus its comparatively small workforce on two missions in 2011 rather than three.

Lindenmoyer was exuberant about today's success, saying that it was 100% successful and leaving no doubt that he was surprised to be able to say that. He was lavish in his praise of Space X, particularly SpaceX's "skill and agility" in dealing with the engine nozzle cracks discovered on Monday. NASA was involved in all the management meetings about how to resolve that issue, he said: "My team and I kept firing questions" at SpaceX and they "consistently came back" with "full and comprehensive answers." "As much as this partnership is learning from NASA, I think there are things we can learn from SpaceX," he added.

The good will extended both ways. Musk stressed repeatedly that SpaceX owed a debt of gratitude to NASA, too. Sounding just as surprised as Lindenmoyer that the mission went so smoothly, he emphasized that "We are only here because we stand on the shoulder of giants" who developed the core technologies used in Falcon 9 and Dragon.

Musk also talked about how his Dragon spacecraft is more capable than Lockheed Martin's Orion and much less expensive. "Anything Orion can do, Dragon can do, and ... some things that Dragon can do, Orion can't do," he said. He cited Dragon's heat shield as an example of where it is better than Orion, notably with regard to Mars missions. He hopes NASA will let Dragon compete with Orion for such missions.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch On for Wednesday

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

NASA has announced that the launch of Falcon 9 is on for tomorrow, Wednesday. The launch window is 9:00 am - 12:22 pm.

Rogers to Chair House Appropriations Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) won the endorsement of the House Republican Steering Committee to chair the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress according to The Hill newspaper. He beat Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the ranking member of the committee, for the top spot. Rep. Lewis would have needed a term-limit waiver to continue on the committee. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) also sought the job, but did not succeed.

Press Conference on Falcon 9 and Dragon Mission Expected About 3:30 Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

NASA and SpaceX will hold a press conference from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at about 3:30 pm EST according to a tweet from NASA's Bob Jacobs. SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon recoverable capsule earlier today as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Dragon splashed down in the Pacific 500 miles west of Mexico just after 2:00 pm EST today. The press conference will be covered live on NASA TV.

House of Representatives Adopts New Approach to Scheduling Its Meetings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Today the House released its schedule for the 1st session of the 112th Congress, which will begin on January 5. The most interesting development is a new approach to scheduling adopted by the incoming House Republican leadership that will have longer work weeks in Washington, but fewer of them, and time set aside for committees to meet without being interrupted for floor votes.

Incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) explained the changes in a Dear Colleague letter. He said the new approach focuses on the quality not the quantity of legislation considered on the House floor. Noting that 70 percent of the 2,185 bills considered by the House in the 110th Congress were debated under the suspension calendar, Cantor added that more half of those bills "named a post office, congratulated an individual or team, or supported the designation of a particular day, week or month." The Republican leadership is banning congratulatory resolutions, while votes on naming Post Offices will be held less often.

The calender intersperses "D.C. work weeks" and "constituent work weeks." Rep. Cantor said the "guaranteed five-day constituent work weeks" at least once a month will help Members stay in touch with the concerns of their constituents. The result will mean 123 days and 32 weeks in session. The number of weeks is 11 percent less than usual for the 1st session of a Congress, which the Majority Leader-elect said would mean less travel for Members and "potential savings to Members' Representational Allowance."

Other key changes include:

  • making legislation available three days prior to committee markup and three days prior to consideration on the floor;
  • scheduling floor votes to begin no earlier than 1:00 pm and no later than 7:00 pm on the middle days of a D.C. work week, and no earlier than 6:30 pm and no later than 3:00 pm on the first and last days of a D.C. work week, so Members will have more certainty in their schedules and committees can schedule their meetings to be held at times when they will not be interrupted for votes;
  • acknowledging that it has been many years since Congress adjourned in early October -- the typical target date for adjournment that is set at the beginning of a session -- and selecting a more realistic December 8 target adjournment date for the 1st session of the 112th Congress; and
  • posting committee attendance and votes online.

Hall Slated to Chair House Science and Technology Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Politico reports that Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has been chosen to chair the House Science and Technology Committee in the next Congress. Rep. Hall, a Democrat turned Republican, is a strong supporter of human spaceflight and NASA in general. The recommendation still must be voted upon by the full Republican caucus, but the vote is considered a formality. The octogenarian is a beloved figure in the aerospace community.

Falcon 9/Dragon Press Conference About To Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Watch the press conference on the successful flight of Space X's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft live on NASA TV.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden just issued this statement.

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