Latest News

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!

HSS&T Hearing on NOAA's Polar Weather Satellite Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee not only will look into NASA's human spaceflight program next week, but will also get an update on the polar orbiting weather satellite program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The NOAA hearing will be on Friday, September 23, at 10:00 am. The witnesses have not been announced yet, but the topic is "From NPOESS to JPSS: An Update on the Nation's Restructured Polar Weather Satellite Program."

NOAA has been struggling to obtain the requisite funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) since it was announced in February 2010. At that time, the Obama Administration abandoned efforts to build a single weather satellite system serving both the civil and military communities -- the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) -- because of poor program management that resulted in cost increases and schedule delays. Historically, the Department of Defense (DOD) and NOAA had separate systems and now they will again. The program restructuring makes NOAA responsible for a new civil system that will cost the agency much more than its contribution to NPOESS. The requested significant increase in NOAA's budget came at just the wrong time as Washington policymakers decided that the top priority is cutting the deficit.

NOAA witnesses have testified to Congress several times already warning that if the agency is not given sufficient funds, there could be a data gap of as long as 18 months when there is no U.S. civil polar orbiting weather satellites, which will reduce the accuracy of forecasts. The House Appropriations Committee cut the FY2012 request for JPSS by $168 million. The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NOAA will markup its version of the bill this Wednesday.

Ask Your Question of the Republican Presidential Candidates

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

From Edward Ellegood's Florida SPACErePORT today:

"FOX News is providing an online venue for the public to offer questions for the Republican primary candidates during their Sep. 22 debate in Florida. This is an opportunity to highlight the importance of space policy issues and to get on-the-record space policy statements from the candidates. By submitting a large number of smart space questions to the debate moderators, we will have a better shot at having one asked during the event.

"Please give your question serious consideration as you don't want to allow the candidates to dodge the issue. Remember, these are professional politicians and thus evasive by definition. Click

Armstrong, Cernan and Griffin to Testify Next Week

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

The first and last men on the Moon and a former NASA Administrator will testify to a House committee next week about the human spaceflight program.

Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and Mike Griffin are the witnesses for a September 22 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The topic is "NASA Human Spaceflight Past, Present and Future: Where Do We Go From Here?"

All three are strong critics of the Obama Administration's plan as evidenced by previous congressional testimony, letters and op-ed pieces.

The hearing is at 10:00 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

UPDATE 4: Events of Interest: Week of September 12-16, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATES: The Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee markup has now been officially announced, and is on Wednesday, and the full committee will meet on Thursday to markup CJS and other appropriations bills. Also, NASA has changed its mind and now will air the NASA-ATK commercial crew announcement on NASA TV on Tuesday. NASA also has announced a news conference on Thursday about Kepler.

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate both are in session this week.

Monday-Friday, September 12-15

  • World Satellite Business Week, Paris, France, including
    • Symposium on Market Forecasts, September 12
    • World Summit for Satellite Financing, September 13-15
    • Symposium on Earth Observation Business, September 15-16
  • National Aerospace Week (see this website for a list of activities, some of which also are listed below)

Tuesday, September 13

  • Secure World Foundation-IFRI conference European Space Governance, Brussels, Belgium
  • HSS&T Hearing on STEM Education, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am EDT
  • Senate Appropriations subcommittee markup FY2012 defense appropriations bill, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am EDT (listed in National Journal's Daybook, but not yet on the committee's website)
  • NASA announcement of agreement with ATK on commercial crew, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 3:00 pm EDT. Watch on NASA TV.
  • John Logsdon lecture on "Human Spaceflight: A Historical Perspective on an Uncertain Future," National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave,, NW, Washington, DC, 4:00 pm EDT (RSVP required, see our calendar on the right menu for more details)

Tuesday-Friday, September 13-16

Wednesday, September 14

Thursday, September 15

Friday, September 16

UPDATE 2: GRAIL launched

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 2: GRAIL has been launched.

UPDATE: Upper level winds have pushed GRAIL to the second launch opportunity this morning, at 9:08:52.

Launch of NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft is scheduled for 8:29:45 this morning and so far the countdown is proceeding nominally. The weather forecast has improved since last night, and there is currently an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions. Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline to keep up on the action, or watch NASA's live TV coverage.

Soyuz Flights Could Resume In October Says WSJ

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both are reporting this morning on the findings of the Russian commission investigating the Progress M-12M launch failure; carried the story yesterday.

In short, the third stage of the Soyuz rocket failed because of a blockage in a fuel line that the Russians consider an isolated event.

The Wall Street Journal goes so far as to predict that crewed Soyuz flights could resume "in mid-October." The New York Times, however, says "the panel offered no guidance on when this type of rocket would again be considered ready for manned missions."

Three of the six International Space Station (ISS) astronauts will come home next week. The launch of their replacements is on hold pending resolution of the issues surrounding the Progress M-12M launch failure. ISS program managers had been considering the possibility that the ISS would have to be destaffed in November, when the three remaining ISS crew members return home, if the Soyuz was not yet ready to fly again. Yesterday, NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier sounded a very optimistic note that that would not be necessary, however.

Senate DOE Appropriators Say No Again to Pu-238

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Obama Administration's strategy to have NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) share the costs of restarting plutonium-238 (Pu-238) production hit another roadblock this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2012 Energy-Water Appropriations bill zeroing the requested DOE funds for the project.

The Senate committee action mirrors action in the House. This is the third year DOE's appropriators have said no. The first time, the Obama Administration proposed that DOE fully fund the costs of restarting Pu-238 production. Historically, DOE had borne those costs since it is the only federal agency authorized to have nuclear materials. In these constrained budget times, however, Congress has been looking to see who benefits from the expenditures of funds. Those in charge of DOE's budget feel that since NASA is the agency that needs the Pu-238, then NASA should pay for it. Last year and this year, the Administration proposed that the agencies split the costs, but the DOE appropriators' stance has not changed -- NASA should pay for it. The Senate committee report says simply that it provides no funding for it.

NASA needs Pu-238 to provide electrical power for its lunar and planetary probes that cannot rely on solar energy because of their destinations. The U.S. supply of Pu-238 is depleted and NASA has been purchasing it from Russia. Russia's stores also are running dry.

A 2009 National Research Council report called the need for restarting Pu-238 production "imperative." NASA's lunar and planetary exploration plans have changed significantly since then with the redirection of the human spaceflight program and overall NASA budget constraints, however. Whether or not it remains imperative is unclear.

NASA Anticipates UARS Debris Will Survive Reentry

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

NASA anticipates that pieces of its Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will survive the trip through Earth's atmosphere when the satellite reenters later this month or in early October.

A set of slides on NASA's UARS website show that 56 "potentially hazardous objects [are] expected to survive," with a total mass of 532 kilograms. The "estimated human casualty risk" is approximately 1 in 3,200.

The satellite was launched in 1991 and completed its mission in 2005. The slides point out that at the time UARS was designed, built, and launch, "no NASA or [U.S. Government] human casualty risk limits existed."

The satellite is in an orbit inclined 57 degrees to the equator, which means that it could reenter anywhere on the globe between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south latitude, which is most of the populated region of Earth. The Earth's surface, however, is 70 percent water, so the risk to human health and safety is less than what one might initially infer. In the 54 year history of the Space Age, there have been no confirmed reports of injuries to humans from falling space debris, although pieces have been recovered. NASA urges anyone who finds anything that might be a piece of UARS debris to not touch it, but to contact local law enforcement for assistance.

When UARS will reenter is uncertain, since it is dependent on variables such as solar activity. NASA plans to post weekly updates at the UARS website until four days before reentry and then more frequently.

Although NASA cannot predict exactly where the debris will reenter, it says that the debris footprint will be 500 miles long.

The Joint Space Operations Center (JPSoC) of U.S. Strategic Command is the official government agency responsible for reentry predictions of uncontrolled space objects, although NASA has its own orbital debris office at Johnson Space Center.

House Approps Subcommittee Halves Request for FAA Space Office

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) recommended only half of the Obama Administration's request for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

George Nield, who heads that office, defended the $26 million request in testimony to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May. The request was 74 percent higher than what it had received for FY2010 and FY2011. That office facilitates and regulates the commercial space launch and reentry business. Nield said at the hearing that he expected a ten-fold increase in the number of commercial launches and pointed to new initiatives such as the Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at Kennedy Space Center, FL and a "prize" program. Several members of that committee, which authorizes the office's activities, were critical of the sharp increase.

The appropriators apparently were skeptical as well. The draft bill they approved on Thursday states that "not to exceed $13,000,000 shall be available for commercial space transportation activities." That is less than the $15.2 million the office received for FY2010 and FY2011.

This is only the first step in the FY2012 appropriations process.

Events of Interest

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

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