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As expected, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) today introduced a FY2011 omnibus appropriations bill that he hopes will replace the year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House last week. It contains the Senate versions of all 12 regular appropriations bills. The National Journal (subscription required) cites Sen. Inouye as saying that he believes he has the votes needed to get it passed by the Senate. It then would have to be passed by the House, however, as the clock ticks down to expiration of the current CR. That law expires on Saturday, December 18. If no new legislation is passed by then, the government would have to shut down.
The Senate omnibus bill contains $1.108 trillion in federal spending for FY2011, compared to $1.089 trillion in the House bill. The Senate bill contains congressionally directed spending items -- earmarks -- while the House bill does not.
The total amount for NASA is the same in both bills, $18.9 billion, and the Senate version generally follows the House bill. A committee summary of the Commerce-Justice-Science portion of the bill that includes NASA says that it provides $825 million for an additional space shuttle flight, however that language does not seem to be in the bill itself. Also, the committee summary says that $1.2 billion is provided for the "Orion multipurpose crew vehicle" while the bill language does not specify Orion. Both the House and Senate bills specify that the new Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle must have an initial lift capability of 130 tons.
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), incoming chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, identified commercial crew and climate change research as key space issues in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.
Rep. Hall's skepticism about the ability of commercial companies like SpaceX to reliably and safely take over the government's role in sending people to and from the International Space Station (ISS) is no secret. During hearings held by the committee in 2010, where he currently is the ranking Republican, Rep. Hall made clear that he did not think the time was right to turn that task completely over to the private sector. In his comments to the Dallas Morning News, he was quoted as saying: "I do have [concerns] because it's so important and it's so dangerous and it's so subject to failure. ... I want to be assured that they're not going to run out of money."
NASA's research on climate change was a target of congressional concern the last time Republicans were in control, and it appears that it will be again. The newspaper refers to Rep. Hall as an "unconditional champion of fossil fuels," adding that he intends to appoint Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) as chairman of the investigations and oversight (I&O) subcommittee.
Rep. Sensenbrenner has a long background in Congress dealing with climate change issues and is deeply skeptical of the extent to which it is human-induced. A past chairman of what was then called the House Science Committee, he serves as ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the current Congress. The Republicans have indicated that committee will not continue into the 112th Congress. If he does take the chair of the I&O subcommittee, he will have a new forum to continue that pursuit.
During committee markup of the 2010 NASA authorization bill earlier this year, Rep. Sensenbrenner successfully attached a "Climategate" amendment that would have required NASA to report to Congress on the extent to which its temperature measurements overlap with records of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and whether those records therefore were compromised. That version of the bill did not pass, but the East Anglia emails that were illegally made public and interpreted by some as evidence that climate scientists misrepresented scientific findings are likely to be a focus of his investigations. Rep. Hall agrees that looking deeply into climate change issues is important, telling the Dallas Morning News that "I'm interested in the truth on that....There are a lot of people who believe that a lot of decisions were made on the false statements of others."
Dr. Waleed Abdalati is NASA's new chief scientist. He will take on his new role on January 3, 2011.
Abdalati currently is Director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder and an associate professor in the University's geography department. His speciality is polar ice cover and he has worked at NASA in various capacities in the past.
NASA says that as chief scientist he will represent all NASA's scientific endeavors and ensure they "are aligned with and fulfill the Administrator's science objectives. He will advocate for NASA science in the context of those broader government science agendas and work closely with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget."
Spaceflightnow.com has posted more nifty photos of the X-37B after its return from orbit, courtesy of Boeing.
UPDATE: The NRC meeting on orbital debris for Dec. 13-15 has been added.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. See our calendar on the right menu for more details or click the links below.
During the Week
This week is supposed to be the final week of the 111th Congress, though much work remains to be done. First and foremost is providing funding for the government after the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on December 18. The House passed a new CR last week to fund the government through the rest of FY2011. Senate Appropriations Chairman Inouye (D-HI) at last report still wanted to try and insert in lieu of the House provisions an omnibus package of all 12 regular appropriations bills. Some Senate Republicans reportedly want to substitute a shorter-term CR that would last only until perhaps February. NASA did quite well -- all things considered -- in the House-passed CR, but it is too early for anyone to celebrate yet.
The need to pass a new CR (or an omnibus) is indisputable, but Senate Republicans are insisting that they will not allow any legislation to be brought up until the tax deal President Obama struck with them is passed. Thus, the first order of business for the Senate on Monday is that tax package. Many Democrats are very unhappy with it, but rumors are that it will pass the Senate. What will happen in the House is more problematic. The House Democratic Caucus made it clear that House Democrats do not support the deal, but the White House is trying hard to convince them that it is the best the Democratic Party can get to ensure that taxes on lower and middle income families don't go up next year. President Obama has brought in former President Bill Clinton to help sell it.
The last week of any Congress in recent memory has been chaotic, and it often seems that agreement will never be reached in time, but somehow they always seem to work something out. Thus, one can anticipate chaos throughout the week, and while there is always a chance that agreement will not be reached and the government would have to shut down at midnight on December 18, such an outcome does not appear to be in either party's best interest.
Monday, December 13
Monday-Wednesday, December 13-15
Monday-Friday, December 13-17
Wednesday, December 15
- Union of Concerned Scientists, Moving Ahead on Space Security, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 9:30-11:00 am EST
- Launch of Soyuz TMA-20 with three ISS crew members, 2:09 pm EST (watch on NASA TV)
- NASA Advisory Council Commercial Space Committee, NASA HQ Glennan Conference Center, Washington, DC, 1:30-4:30 pm EST
President Obama announced the first implementation steps in his drive to reform the U.S. export control system today.
The announcement was made at a meeting of the President's Export Council. According to the White House press release, the main features of today's implementation steps are the following:
The publication of a draft rule setting out the criteria and procedures to be used in determining whether a product is subject to export controls.
The application of these criteria to one category of items (Category VII: Tanks and Military Vehicles), to be seen as an example of how the new policies would apply.
The publication of a draft rule specifying what licensing policies will apply to products subject to export controls.
The Administration is seeking public comment on the draft rules.
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: 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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
Events of Interest
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Planetary Science Sbcmt, October 5-6, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
- NEW Sally Ride: Curating Her Life panel discussion, October 6, 2015, National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC, 1:00-2:00 pm ET (will be webcast)
- MIT Seminar Series: Tech Frontiers of Space series, October 6, 2015, Washington, DC, 6:15 - 9:30 pm ET
- 5th International Workshop on LunarCubes, October 6-9, 2015, San Jose, CA
- 2015 Intl Symp for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), October 7-8, 2015, Las Cruces, NM
- NASA Aerospace Safety Adv Panel (ASAP), October 7, 2015, Johnson Space Center, TX, 12:00-1:30 pm CT (1:00-2:30 pm ET)
- Two NASA Bfgs on Upcoming CubeSat Launches, October 7, 2015, Vandenberg AFB, CA, 1:00 pm ET and 2:00 pm ET (10:00 am and 11:00 am local time)
- Space Cafe with NASA's Donald James, October 7, 2015, The Brixton, Washington, DC, 7:00 pm ET (note different location than usual)
- Hosted Payload and Small Satellite Summit, October 8, 2015, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
- NAS Cmte on Astrophysics Decadal Survey Progress, October 8-10, 2015, NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC
- Space Generation Congress, October 8-10, 2015, Jerusalem, Israel (preceding the 2015 International Astronautical Congress--IAC)
- House SS&T Sbcmte Hearing on Deep Space Exploration, October 9, 2015, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, 9:00 am ET
- International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Academy Day, October 11, 2015, Jerusalem, Israel (in conjunction with the IAC)
- International Astronautical Congress (IAC), October 12-16, 2015, Jerusalem, Israel
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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