Latest News

Obama to Call for Spending Freeze for Most Domestic Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama reportedly will freeze spending for most domestic discretionary programs in his FY2011 budget request according to the New York Times. Domestic discretionary programs encompass all the government agencies that receive annual budgets, though some apparently will be exempted from the freeze. The budget is due to be released next Monday and the President is expected to talk about it during his State of the Union address this Wednesday evening.

The federal budget is broken into three major categories: entitlement spending for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; interest on the national debt; and everything else, or "discretionary" spending. The President will propose a three-year freeze on most discretionary spending with increases for inflation thereafter according to the newspaper, which adds that the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, homeland security, and foreign aid are exempted. A freeze is a cut in real terms since the agency has to absorb cost increases due to inflation.

The implications for NASA could be serious. Only a few weeks ago, rumors were that NASA would get a $1 billion increase for FY2011, which, according to an estimate in the Augustine committee report, would have been just about enough to pay for an extra six months of space shuttle operations if NASA is not able to complete the remaining five launches by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2010). Those rumors have faded, but hope remained that a smaller increase might be forthcoming. A glimmer of hope still shines since the freeze would be on the total funding for all the affected agencies. Individual agencies or programs could receive more or less, but the excitement spurred by the Augustine Committee report's call for a $3 billion increase for NASA seems to have dimmed.

The loss by Democrats of the Senate seat formerly held by Senator Edward Kennedy was cited by the newspaper as a key factor in the President's renewed focus on deficit control. Political analysts cite voter dissatisfaction with how the Democrats are handling the economy as a factor in their election of a Republican. The Democratically-controlled Congress also is likely to be sensitive to those concerns, but the extent to which it agrees with the President's budget request will be determined over the course of the next many months.

New Russian Crew Spacecraft to Make First Flight in 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The President of the Russian company building a successor to the venerable Soyuz spacecraft said today that the new vehicle will make its first test flight in 2015, according to Anatoly Zak at Dubbed PTK NP, the new spacecraft is being designed for launch on a new rocket, Rus-M, from a new Russian launch site, Vostochny.

PTK NP is being built by RKK Energia. The remarks of Energia's President, Vitaly Lopota, at the Bauman Technical University in Moscow today were reported by Zak.

Some Russian space watchers wonder if Russia will devote the necessary funds to build a new spacecraft, new rocket, and new launch site in the next five years. Lopota's remarks suggested that the dates may be hard to meet, saying the 2015 test flight (without a crew) would take place from the Baikonur cosmodrome if Vostochny is not completed. Zak notes that development of the Rus-M began only in 2009 and is being designed specifically to support PTK NP from Vostochny, so if the launch instead is from Baikonur, an existing vehicle like the Zenit might be needed instead.

All Soviet/Russian human spaceflight launches have taken place from Baikonur (referred to as Tyuratam during the Cold War), which is in Kazakhstan. Once part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan became an independent republic after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia has had to lease Baikonur from Kazakhstan since that time. Some Russian space officials have called for establishment of a launch site within Russia's borders capable of supporting the geostationary and comparatively low inclination launches traditionally conducted at Baikonur for both military and civilian space actvities. Vostochny ("Eastern"), in Russia's Amur Region in the far east, is intended to be that site. Russia's other operating space launch site is Plesetsk near the Arctic Circle. It is used for satellites headed to high inclination orbits such as polar orbits.

Russia's Soyuz spacecraft has been in service since 1967, though it has been upgraded several times over the years. Its launch vehicle, also called Soyuz (previously "A-2"), is used for many space missions in addition to human spaceflight. The new Rus-M would be able to place heavier payloads into low Earth orbit.

Confirmation Hearing for NOAA Nominee Postponed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

As we always note here at, dates, times and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. And so it is today. The Senate Commerce Committee's hearing on pending nominations no longer includes Timothy McGee, the President's nominee to be Assistant Secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for Environmental Observation and Prediction. No explanation was offered on the committee's website or as the hearing for the other nominees began.

NRO Still Waiting for Its New Charter

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The new charter for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is "lost in space" according to DODBuzz, which has been tracking the development of a new charter for the agency that builds and operates U.S. spy satellites. Though DODBuzz predicted in November that the new charter was imminent, apparently the Department of Defense (DOD) general counsel's office is worried that that it may expand NRO's "powers into areas governed by the military services," according to the website, which adds that the issue revolves around what constitutes "overhead reconnaissance systems." Stay tuned.

More Rumors About Obama's Plan for NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The Wall Street Journal's attention grabbing headline yesterday reiterates the rumors heard in space policy circles since the Augustine committee report was released last fall -- that NASA will turn to the commercial sector to build the new space transportation systems to take American astronauts into space. The article also dampens expectations of a significant budget increase for NASA in FY2011. Although there had been talk of a $1 billion increase a few weeks ago, more recent rumors are that those hopes will not be met. The FY2011 budget is due to be released a week from today, which should finally answer some of the questions about whether President Obama supports a robust NASA space program or not.

Congress Wastes No Time Tackling NASA Issues

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House Science and Technology Committee is hot off the mark on NASA issues this year, with a hearing scheduled for February 3 on "Key Issues and Challenges Facing NASA: Views of the Agency's Watchdogs." The NASA Inspector General, the top Government Accountability Office (GAO) staff person on NASA issues, and the chairman of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel are the witnesses.

The FY2011 federal budget, including NASA, is expected to be released on February 1. The most recent rumors are that it will not contain much of an increase for NASA, and will focus on facilitating commercial companies to develop new human space flight capabilities instead of building the Ares launch vehicle on which NASA has been working for the past four years. Many members of the House S&T Committee expressed strong support for the current program during hearings last year, so this could be shaping up to be a contentious year between Congress and the White House on space issues.

The hearing will be in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building beginning at 10:00 a.m.

Events of Interest: Week of January 25-29, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click on the links below. Note that dates, times and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check with the committee for up to date information. All the meetings are in Washington, D.C.; all times are EST.

Tuesday, January 26

Wednesday, January 27

  • State of the Union address by President Obama to a joint session of Congress. 9:00 p.m.

Thursday-Friday, January 28-29

  • NRC Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space: Panel on Translation to Space Exploration Systems. Keck Center, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Room 105. Some or all sessions of this meeting may be closed; an agenda has not been posted on the NRC website as of January 24.

Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for New NOAA Assistant Secretary To Oversee NPOESS, Other Satellite Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce) reorganized its headquarters leadership structure in October, creating a new Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction whose responsibilities encompass NOAA's satellite programs, including the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for President Obama's nominee for this position, Timothy McGee, on January 26 at 2:30 p.m.

The new Assistant Secretary will "drive policy and program direction for weather and water, integrated mapping, and observing architecture, including satellites" according to NOAA's announcement of the realignment. In that press release, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said that it was the first NOAA headquarters management restructuring since 1970 when NOAA's budget was $250 million, compared to its $4.5 billion budget today.

President Obama announced that he would nominate Rear Admiral Timothy McGee (Ret.) to the Assistant Secretary position on December 17, 2009. McGee most recently served as Commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Stennis, Mississippi. A Naval Academy graduate, he has a Master's degree in Meteorology and Oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate School.

The hearing is in Room 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

The long-troubled NPOESS program could be well-served by getting more high level attention at NOAA, although everyone is still waiting for the Obama White House to make a decision on whether the current NPOESS management structure should be changed. NPOESS is jointly managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and NOAA through an integrated program office (IPO), with DOD as the acquisition agent. The beleaguered history of the program's schedule slips and cost growth has been the subject of many congressional hearings and reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Research Council (NRC).

A blue ribbon "independent review team" (IRT) chaired by A. Thomas Young reported to the White House last spring that the program needed urgent attention or it had "a very low probability of success." The IRT recommended that "responsibility for NPOESS execution be assigned to NOAA with NASA acting as NOAA's acquisition organization." The White House's response was to set up another task force to determine what to do. The NPOESS program executive officer, Dan Stockton, stepped down from his position on January 8, 2010, fueling expectations that a White House decision is imminent.

NASA is participating in the NPOESS program by building the NPOESS Preparatory Program (NPP) satellite to test new technologies, but NPOESS itself is funded by DOD and NOAA. Meeting Summary on "Space Security Index 2009" Seminar Now Available

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 23-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A summary of the January 21, 2010 seminar on "Space Security Index 2009: The Status of and Future Trends in Space Security" is now available on our left menu under "Our Meeting Summaries" or simply by clicking here. Participants in the seminar were:

  • Cesar Jaramillo, Project Ploughshares
  • Clay Mowry, Arianespace, Inc.
  • Marcia Smith,
  • Peter Hays, SAIC and National Security Space Office

Internal Debate Over New U.S. Space Policy Divided Into Four Camps

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 23-Jan-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Obama Administration experts wrestling with development of a new U.S. space policy are divided into four camps according to SAIC's Dr. Peter Hays. Dr. Hays supports the National Security Space Office at the Department of Defense (DOD) and spoke to a seminar on space security on January 21.

He described the four camps as those who believe that not much has changed since the 2006 National Space Policy was released and therefore no change in policy is needed; those who acknowledge that things have changed and believe we need to do better; those who argue for more international cooperation, partnering, development of Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs), and leveraging commercial space capabilities; and those who want to increase DOD's "less benign" capabilities.

The current deadline for releasing the new space policy is summer 2010, he said, while cautioning that the disparate points of view make meeting that deadline a challenge. As he noted, it took four years (2002-2006) for President George W. Bush's national space policy to emerge. He also predicted that a "non-prescriptive" version of the congressionally required Space Posture Review would be released along with the FY2011 budget request to meet the congressional deadline (which actually has passed already - it was December 1, 2009), with the "bulk of the work" merged into a national space strategy that would be released after the new national space policy.

A summary of the seminar, including more of Dr. Hays' comments, is available on the left menu of our home page (see Our Meeting Summaries) or by clicking here. The other speakers were Cesar Jaramillo of Canada's Project Ploughshares, which spearheads production of the Space Security Index - the main topic of the seminar; Clay Mowry from Arianespace, Inc.; and Marcia Smith of

Events of Interest   

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: