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Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Adds Small Amount for RD-180 Replacement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2014 (Updated: 15-Jul-2014 01:42 PM)

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this morning (July 15).   It allocates $25 million to initiate a competitive program to build a new domestic rocket engine to replace Russia's RD-180, in sharp contrast to the House version of the bill, which added $220 million.  The subcommittee also recommends $125 million for an additional competitive space launch.

Subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said the bill allocates $125 million "to accelerate full and open competition among any certified rocket providers," but SpaceX is the company he specifically cited.  His enthusiasm is based on a hearing the subcommittee held in March.  Recounting that at the hearing "folks from SpaceX said 'we're ready to compete'", Durbin said "Let's give them the chance."  His hope is that competition will reduce launch costs, though he acknowledged that the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which essentially holds a monopoly on most national security space launches today, is "taking good steps to control costs."  

Durbin said the March hearing also highlighted U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 rocket engine for one of the ULA launch vehicles -- Atlas V -- used for national security launches.  "America's access to space should not depend on cooperation" with a country "that sadly has dreams of empire at the expense of its innocent neighbors," Durbin cautioned.  Therefore the bill "accelerates investment" in a new competition to build a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180.  "Both development and use are directed to be fully competitive so U.S. rocket companies can lead and have a fair shot at developing and using this new technology," Durbin stressed.

The amount that was added, however, was quite small in comparison to the House-passed version of the defense appropriations bill.  That bill adds $220 million for a new rocket engine development program.  The White House opposed the addition as "premature" while it continues to evaluate options that could lead to multiple awards that would "drive innovation, stimulate the industrial base, and reduce costs through competition."  The Senate subcommittee allocated only $25 million.  Its action appears to be more in line with the White House position.

The markup was short and sweet, as appropriations subcommittee markups are these days, with most controversial matters debated at full committee markup or on the floor.  Full committee markup of this bill is scheduled for Thursday.

The only other Senator to address space issues during the markup was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).  Referring to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), who chairs the full Senate appropriations committee (as well as its Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee), Murkowski said "the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee knows that both Alaska and the Delmarva peninsula are home to private space launch facilities.  We are seeing them play an increasing role ... in national security space launch and this bill recognizes their importance, I think, for the first time.  I appreciate what you've done here."

The text of the bill is not yet publicly available, so it is not clear precisely what Murkowski is referring to since SpaceX, which figured so prominently in Durbin's comments, does not launch either from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Complex or from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia.  (That part of the Virginia is on a peninsula that also includes parts of Delaware and Maryland, hence its nickname Delmarva -- Delaware, Maryland, Virginia.)   Orbital Sciences Corp. launches its Minotaur and Antares rockets from Wallops.  Orbital also launches Minotaur from Kodiak and Lockheed Martin used Kodiak for a launch of its Athena rocket in 2001 and plans to use it again for Athena now that it is reinstating that program.  What the bill says or does about private space launch facilities, and whether it is only for Kodiak and Wallops or for any private space launch facilities (SpaceX is planning to build one in Texas) is not mentioned in the summary of the bill posted on the committee's website.

Russia Ships Angara 5 to Plesetsk for December Test Flight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jul-2014 (Updated: 15-Jul-2014 07:40 AM)

With the success of the Angara-1.2PP suborbital test launch under its belt, Russia now is preparing for a test of a much more powerful version -- Angara 5 – at the end of this year.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia’s space sector, tweeted from several locations in the days immediately after the July 9 Angara-1.2PP test heralding plans to launch Angara 5 in December as he toured rocket manufacturing and related facilities in Russia.

Today (July 14 Eastern Daylight Time), a top official of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, provided more details.  The agency’s First Deputy Head Alexander Ivanov also revealed that the rocket is being shipped to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome tonight (July 14-15 Moscow Time) from its manufacturer, Khruinchev State Research and Production Space Center, near Moscow.

Angara is a family of launch vehicles in development since the collapse of the Soviet Union and intended eventually to replace many of the Soviet-era rockets now in use.  Three versions are in development capable of launching approximately 4 tons (Angara 1), 15 tons (Angara 3) and 25 tons (Angara 5) to low Earth orbit (LEO).  Russian officials say an 80-ton and 160-ton version of Angara may be built.

Angara 5 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Delta IV Heavy, currently the most capable U.S. launch vehicle.  The larger versions under consideration would be in the same class as the Space Launch System (SLS) that NASA is now developing.

The successful Angara-1.2PP test was of the smallest version of Angara and a brief 21-minute suborbital flight.   Angara 5’s test, by contrast, will be to geostationary orbit (GEO), 35,800 kilometers above the equator.  Like Angara-1.2PP, it will be launched from Plesetsk.  Russian launches to GEO usually take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which, at roughly 50 degrees North latitude, is considerably further south than Plesetsk (63 degrees North) and therefore more advantageous for getting to GEO.

Russia is trying to ease its dependence on Baikonur, however, and plans are to launch Angara only from Plesetsk and the new Vostochny Cosmodrome still under construction in Russia’s Far East.  Baikonur is in Kazakhstan, which charges Russia $115 million a year to lease the facilities there.   Russia wants to avoid those charges as well as launch its satellites from within its own borders.

Ivanvov told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that the purpose of the December launch “is to test the whole route all the way up to the geostationary orbit.”  The rocket will carry a dummy payload.  The plan is for Angara 5 to replace Russia’s workhorse Proton rocket, which has been in use since 1965 and has suffered a number of failures in recent years.

Orbital's Antares Sends Orb-2 Cargo Mission to ISS

Len Ly
Posted: 13-Jul-2014 (Updated: 13-Jul-2014 10:12 PM)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.—Like a giant flame against a mostly clear sky, an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket carrying the company’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasted off today (July 13) en route to the International Space Station (ISS).

Cygnus is in orbit and all systems are operating nominally, said Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s executive vice president, at a post-launch press conference at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility shortly after the launch.  The cargo resupply mission, dubbed “Orb-2,” is the second of eight that Orbital has planned through 2016 under a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA worth $1.9 billion.  NASA’s other commercial cargo resupply provider is SpaceX.

Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at ISS on Wednesday (July 16) where it will be grappled by astronauts using the Canadarm2 robotic arm at approximately 6:39 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The capsule will deliver approximately 3,300 pounds of cargo, of which about half is food and the remainder includes hardware, experiments, other supplies and more than 30 cubesats.

NASA was happy the launch finally took place because things were “getting to be where it was a little tense” with supplies aboard the ISS said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, at the post-launch briefing.  He stressed that establishing a regular cadence of resupply flights is very important.  But “things went really smooth” today he said of the on-time 12:52 p.m. EDT liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops.

 “An enhanced version of Cygnus will begin flying next year,” Culbertson added, and eventually Cygnus will be able carry 700 kilograms more than the current version.  Europe’s last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is being readied for launch.  In future years, other cargo systems, such as Cygnus, will have to compensate for the absence of the ATV.   Japan’s HTV also delivers cargo to the ISS.  Gerstenmaier said four more are planned and NASA is in talks with Japan about whether there will be more after that.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made an unannounced appearance at the Wallops Visitor Center prior to the launch to talk with students and other visitors about the agency’s ongoing efforts to engage with the public and encourage kids to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Orb-1 was launched in January 2014.  Orb-2 was originally scheduled for May, but slipped several times.  An initial postponement was due to a delay in the launch of SpaceX’s third cargo resupply mission to the ISS. A fire during a test of an Antares AJ-26 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in May caused Orb-2’s launch date to slip several more times to July. Then weather issues delayed the launch from July 11 until today.  

This Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS until August 15.  The next in the series, Orb-3, is tentatively scheduled for launch in October 2014.

Hidden Benefits of NRO “Spy” Technology Revealed in Hill Briefing

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 12-Jul-2014 (Updated: 12-Jul-2014 08:25 PM)

While “spying” is getting bad press lately, society has derived multiple benefits from intelligence-gathering technology developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), said speakers at a Friday briefing on Capitol Hill.

The event, hosted by the Space Foundation, featured Dr. Robert McDonald and Dr. James Outzen from the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance within the NRO. McDonald and Outzen described the political context leading to the establishment of the agency in 1961 and gave examples of how approaches and technology developed by the agency have seeped out of the intelligence-gathering world and into daily life.

Outzen identified three events – the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, and the movement of the North Korean army into South Korea in 1950 -- as driving the shift in mindset that the United States “could not afford” to be surprised by the activities of its adversaries.  It was formalized during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, who said at the time “no more Pearl Harbors.”

McDonald and Outzen grouped the NRO’s contributions to society into four areas: organizational, intelligence-related, technological and data-related. The organization of the NRO itself was “unique” and “innovative,” and so were the agency’s early leaders, they explained.  Of note is Edwin Land who, in addition to creating the Polaroid instant camera, is credited with a phrase that characterized the goal of reconnaissance: “see it all, see it well, and see it now.”

Alluding to the NRO’s long history of success in answering intelligence questions – many of which could not be disclosed at the briefing – Outzen offered a couple of examples from the Cold War. The Soviets, said Outzen, were carrying out a “fabulous deception” about the extent of their offensive capabilities. Intelligence gathered by U-2 aircraft and later by the CORONA program, the first U.S. photo reconnaissance satellites, helped defray fears of “the missile gap” and inform U.S. decisions about how best to use resources during the Cold War. Outzen explained that intelligence gathered by NRO satellites has also contributed in areas as diverse as treaty verification and assessments during humanitarian and environmental crises, such as hurricanes Rita and Katrina in the United States.

By enabling the “massive collection of information,” McDonald reiterated that aerospace technologies have been “very critical” in answering intelligence questions. He explained the dramatic mechanical and technological improvements as early reconnaissance satellite programs evolved, as well as the development of the first military meteorological satellite to improve the efficiency of imaging satellites in cloudy and nighttime conditions.  He and Outzen also pointed to advancements in photography – such as the development of digital photography --  as well as systems engineering and other improvements that supported reliable launch capability, as key contributions from NRO activities. McDonald commented on the “staggering” number of NRO launches in the height of the Cold War, with one or two successful launches almost every month.

The final area of contributions the speakers commented on was data. Thinking about intelligence questions as data problems – dependent on the ability to gather the right data at a fast rate – helped drive innovations in data acquisition, integration, and processing. While much of these data remain classified, some of the long-term records are helping answer questions in other fields. In response to a question about the role of historical data in environmental research, McDonald noted that imagery collected by the CORONA satellites has been declassified and is available through the National Archives and the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center. He said that because these records allow researchers to examine conditions before NASA’s land remote sensing satellites began launching in 1972, they have been “invaluable” in environmental studies.

Lessons learned from NRO’s history and activities are captured in the National Reconnaissance Journal produced by the Center.  Three issues have been published, in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

What's Happening in Space Policy July 13-18, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2014 (Updated: 14-Jul-2014 09:49 AM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week, July 13-18, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

Hopefully this week will get off to a roaring start -- literally -- with the launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Orb-2 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Delayed a number of times, as of mid-afternoon today (Saturday) Orbital's Antares rocket is scheduled to lift off from Wallops Island, VA at 12:52 pm ET tomorrow (Sunday, July 13) sending the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS.  If the launch does, in fact, take place tomorrow, Cygnus should arrive at the ISS on Wednesday.  Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for up to date information on the launch.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this week (subcommittee markup is on Tuesday, full committee on Thursday).  One of the more interesting space policy-related issues will be whether it allocates any funding for the Air Force to begin a program to develop an alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines.  The House version of the bill adds $220 million to do so even though the White House opposes the addition because it is "premature."   The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended $100 million in FY2015 in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but that bill has not passed the Senate yet.

U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines is among the topics to be explored at a joint hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The hearing on Options for Assuring Domestic Access to Space features witnesses from DOD, NASA, GAO and RAND, as well as the chair (retired AF Maj. Gen. Howard Mitchell) of a recent Air Force review of alternatives to the RD-180 and the very recently retired head of NASA's Space Launch System and Orion programs (Dan Dumbacher).  It's somewhat interesting that NASA will be represented by Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot instead of Administrator Charlie Bolden, who would be closer in rank to the other agency witnesses:  Gen. William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, and Alan Estevez, Principle Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  Lightfoot, however, is a former director of NASA's rocket-building Marshall Space Flight Center so knows rockets inside and out.

Lots of other interesting events coming up this week.  The full list of events that we know of as of Saturday afternoon is shown below.

Sunday, July 13

Monday, July 14

Tuesday, July 15

Wednesday, July 16

Thursday, July 17

Thursday-Friday, July 17-18

SpaceX One Step Closer to AF EELV Contracts & Gets FAA OK for Texas Launch Site

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jul-2014 (Updated: 11-Jul-2014 10:50 PM)

SpaceX announced today (July 11) that the Air Force has certified that the company's Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket has successfully completed three flights.  That is one of the steps required before SpaceX can be awarded contracts from the Air Force for launches within the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  Separately, on Wednesday it received approval from the FAA to conduct launches from a new launch site it plans to build in Texas.

The Air Force decision comes at a time when the SpaceX-Air Force relationship is rather strained.  The company is suing the Air Force because it awarded a block-buy contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) last year for 36 EELV cores on a sole-source basis rather than allowing SpaceX to compete.  The Air Force and the Justice Department filed a motion last week asking the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to dismiss the suit.

Today's brief announcement by SpaceX is carefully worded to say that the Air Force certified that the Falcon 9 system successfully completed three flights, not that the company has been certified to win EELV contracts.   While asserting that it is "already qualified to compete for EELV missions," SpaceX said today it "must also be certified by the Air Force before any contract can be awarded..."   The statement concludes by saying that it expects to satisfy the remaining requirements by the end of this year.

SpaceX and the Air Force signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in June 2013 that details the requirements SpaceX must meet to win contracts for EELV-class launches of national security satellites.  They include an evaluation of the Falcon 9's flight history, vehicle design, reliability, process maturity, safety systems, manufacturing and operations, systems engineering, risk management, and launch facilities.  Achieving three successful flights of a common configuration of the Falcon 9 is part of that evaluation.

In February 2014, the Air Force certified the first successful flight under the CRADA.  That launch, of a Canadian science satellite and five smaller satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, took place on September 29, 2013 and was the first of the Falcon 9 v1.1.  The other two flights, on December 3, 2013 and January 6, 2014, now also have been certified as successful.  Both of those were from Cape Canaveral and launched commercial communications satellites for SES and Thailand, respectively.

Separately, on July 9 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX's plans to conduct launches from a new launch site the company plans to build south of Brownsville, TX.  The Record of Decision provides FAA's final environmental determination and approval to support issuing launch licenses and/or experimental permits to launch the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (still in development) "and a variety of reusable suborbital vehicles" from 68.9 acres adjacent to the village of Boca Chica.  The location is in Cameron County, TX, and is approximately 3 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border.  The approval is for up to 12 "commercial launch operations" per year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is getting ready for another attempt to launch six Orbcomm second generation (OG2) communications satellites on Monday, July 14.  That launch has been delayed several times for a variety of technical or weather-related reasons.

Orbital Postpones Orb-2 Launch To Sunday, July 13

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jul-2014 (Updated: 11-Jul-2014 09:20 AM)

Orbital Sciences announced this morning (July 11) that it is postponing the launch of its Orb-2 mission by another day, to Sunday, July 13, at 12:52 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

Orbital said that severe weather at the launch site over the past several days has interfered with launch preparations for the Antares rocket, necessitating the delay.

If it launches on Sunday, the arrival of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft will be delayed until Wednesday, July 16, at 6:37 am EDT.

This is the most recent of several delays for the mission.

Posey, Kilmer Introduce ASTEROIDS Act To Grant Property Rights to Asteroid Resources - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2014 (Updated: 17-Jul-2014 10:29 AM)

Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act today that they say will establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids.

Two U.S. companies prominently promoting the potential of asteroid mining are Planetary Resources, headquartered in Redmond, WA, and Deep Space Industries in Houston, TX.

In a statement, Posey and Kilmer said that while it may be many years before asteroids actually are mined for their resources, the research is underway now and companies need greater certainty about property rights to what they are mining.  Nickel, iron, cobalt and platinum-group minerals (platinum, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium and palladium) are specifically cited as potential minerals that might be mined on asteroids.  They say that their bill will --

  • Clarify that resources mined from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained them
  • Ensure U.S. companies can conduct their operation without harmful interference
  • Direct the President to facilitate commercial development of asteroid resources

The major issue is whether such property rights in space are legal under international law.  The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States and 102 other countries are signatories, prohibits claims of national sovereignty in outer space, including on the Moon and other celestial bodies, which includes asteroids.   The treaty also states that governments bear responsibility for the actions by both government and non-government entities -- such as private companies -- to ensure that they abide by the treaty's provisions. 

Scholars in space law have long argued over whether the treaty prohibits exploitation of resources entirely.  In 2004, the Board of Directors of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) issued a statement that "prohibition of national appropriation also precludes the application of any national legislation on a territorial basis to validate a 'private claim'" and it is the "duty" of governments to "implement the terms of the treaty within their national legal systems."   The IISL statement was spurred by a company that purports to sell deeds to parcels on the Moon, but has broader applicability.  The IISL issued a further statement in 2009 to clarify its position that "any purported attempt to claim ownership of any part of outer space ... or authorization of such claims by national legislation, is forbidden.... Since there is no territorial jurisdiction in outer space or on celestial bodies, there can be no private ownership of parts thereof...."  It calls for a "specific legal regime" to be "elaborated through the United Nations, on the basis of present international space law."

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is one of five space treaties negotiated through the United Nations.  The United States is signatory to four of the five.  A synopsis of all five treaties can be found under the "space law" tab on's home page.

A spokesman for Posey's office said that the bill repeatedly states that it should be implemented "consistent with international obligations" and does not confer ownership rights to asteroids.  It only "allows those companies that mine the asteroid to keep what they bring back."  The bill affects only U.S. companies engaged in such activities.

Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Deputy Director of the International Institute of Air & Space Law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, agrees that existing treaties do not seem to prohibit ownership of extracted resources, but adds that exploitation of space resources must comply with general space law principles.

Michael Listner, founder and principal at Space Law and Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, says that the bill is "crafted with international law in mind," but the underlying caveat that property rights will be granted in accordance with international obligations could be a "showstopper."  He also points out that the European Space Agency (ESA) is "planning on granting resource rights as well" and asks how claims under this legislation would be reconciled with competing foreign claims.

Marco Ferrazzani, ESA Legal Counsel, said in a July 17 email to that "the European Space Agency is working towards exploration opportunities carried out in international cooperation and in full respect of international space law, with provides for the principle of non-appropriation."

UPDATE:  This article was updated on July 17, 2014 to add the quote from ESA's Marco Ferrazzani.

NASA IG: Scientists Like SOFIA, But Changes Needed to Keep it That Way

Len Ly
Posted: 10-Jul-2014 (Updated: 10-Jul-2014 01:25 PM)

Despite its problematic development history, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) remains capable of contributing to—and is regarded favorably in large part by—the science community, according to a report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released Wednesday (July 9).

“However, we understand that the SOFIA Program is competing for limited resources and policymakers will have to decide whether other NASA projects are a higher scientific and budgetary priority,” the 48-page report said.

The airborne observatory—a modified Boeing 747SP plane equipped with an approximately 9-foot diameter telescope—studies the universe in infrared wavelengths. That region of the electromagnetic spectrum is emitted by stars and planets and its trail, though invisible to human eyes, can be analyzed to help scientists better understand how the celestial bodies formed, the chemistry of interstellar material, and the environments around supermassive black holes.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC, formerly Dryden) and Ames Research Center in California manage SOFIA. The observatory, based at AFRC, can be flown to almost anywhere in the world, exceed a 40,000-foot altitude and return immediately.  The capabilities complement ground- and space-based telescopes by allowing SOFIA to avoid water vapor in the lower atmosphere that can interfere with infrared observations and enable researchers to continuously test new instruments.

NASA began formulating plans for SOFIA in 1991 in partnership with its German counterpart, DLR.  In February of this year, the observatory became fully operational after more than 17 years in development—13 years longer than originally planned, with a development cost of $1.1 billion—more than 300 percent over the original estimate, the OIG report highlighted.  That figure does not include annual operating costs.

SOFIA’s “$3 billion life-cycle cost estimate, which includes a planned 20-year operational life and annual operating costs of approximately $80 million” makes it “the second most expensive operating mission for NASA’s Astrophysics Division after the Hubble Space Telescope.”

The program’s future is currently being debated between Congress and the Obama Administration.

For FY2015, President Obama is asking Congress for $12.3 million for the program.  The program typically is funded at about $80 million per year to cover NASA’s 80 percent share of the operating costs; DLR pays the other 20 percent.

The Obama Administration’s proposal is to mothball SOFIA because of its high operating costs and, in its opinion, lower priority than other NASA astrophysics programs.  The requested funding is to terminate the program in a manner that would allow the observatory to be reactivated in the future if more money is available. NASA has permission to seek other partners to defray some of the operating costs.  NASA, however, has not identified additional partners and DLR has declined to increase its commitment, the OIG report said.  It also found that NASA program officials viewed the proposed $12.3 million as “insufficient even to shut down the program.”

Congress, conversely, is pushing to keep the program alive.

A new NASA authorization bill —which provides policy guidelines and funding recommendations—has yet to pass both chambers. The version passed by the House last month (H.R. 4412) contains language forbidding the agency from using any funds in the current FY2014 to shut down SOFIA. The Senate is working on its version of the bill.

Congress is also working on the FY2015 appropriations bill for NASA, which is part of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill.  The House version, H.R. 4660, passed in May.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported its version (S. 2437), which is awaiting floor action.  The House version allocates $70 million for SOFIA, compared to its FY2014 appropriated level of $86.4 million.  The Senate bill includes $87 million.  Both specifically reject the Administration’s proposal to mothball SOFIA.

The OIG investigation noted the uncertainty about the program’s future and potential ramifications, including “possible reactivation, how to retain key staff, and whether to move forward with planned research and maintenance activities.”

The report identified seven issues for NASA to consider that could affect scientific demand for SOFIA and the observatory’s long-term performance:

  • More Frequent Infusion of New Technology
  • Lack of a Formal Outreach Plan to Engage Science Community
  • Insufficient Funding to Complete Research Projects
  • Lack of Timely Data
  • No Formal Rescheduling Process for Cancelled Observations
  • Research Flight Hour Requirement May Not Provide Most Efficient Use of the Observatory
  • Periodic Assessments Needed to Assess Cost Efficiency of SOFIA’s Science

NASA should also consider alternatives to the cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Maryland when it expires in 2016, the OIG said: “Proceeding into the operational phase with an organizational structure and contract type that does not provide management with the proper tools … may not be the most effective and cost efficient option.”

The agency has concurred with the recommendations and proposed corrective actions, the report said.

Russia's Angara Rocket Successfully Completes Suborbital Flight Test - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jul-2014 (Updated: 10-Jul-2014 01:57 PM)

UPDATE, July 10, 2014:  A link has been added to a video released today by Russia's space agency of yesterday's successful launch.  See final paragraph.

ORIGINAL STORY, July 9, 2014:  The second try was a charm today when Russia's new Angara-1.2PP rocket lifted off on a suborbital test flight from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  A June 27 attempt was scrubbed because of a bad valve.  Today's attempt appears to have proceeded flawlessly.

The test was of the smallest version of Angara, a family of rockets in development since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and intended eventually to replace the Soviet-era rockets in use today.  The two-stage rocket uses environmentally-friendly fuels (liquid oxygen/kerosene and liquid oxygen/hydrogen).  The mission was designated Angara-1.2PP, with PP representing the Russian words for "first flight."

Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center manufactures Angara (and many of the venerable Soviet-era rockets, like Proton).  In a statement on its website, the center reported that all pre-launch, launch, and flight operations proceeded normally. 

The suborbital test launch carrying a dummy payload lasted 21 minutes.  As planned, the first stage and payload fairing fell into the Barents Sea, while the second stage impacted Russia's Kura test range on the Kamchatka peninsula, 5,700 kilometers from Plesetsk.

One goal of the Angara program is to conduct most launches from Plesetsk and the new Vostochny Cosmodrome under construction in Russia's Far East rather than needing to rely on launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan.  Since Kazakhstan gained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been charging Russia $115 million a year to lease facilities at Baikonur.  From a strategic perspective, Russia also wants to be able to conduct its launches from within its own borders.

Today's successful test launch is a step in that direction.  The test took place from a new launch complex at Plesetsk built specifically for Angara.  Three versions of Angara are currently under development.  Different sources report slightly different capabilities, but generally they are being designed to launch about 4 tons, 15 tons or 25 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO),  More capable ("heavier") versions are under consideration.

Russia did not provide live television coverage of the launch, as it did on June 27.   The first official confirmation was a tweet from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin that said "Angara, there it is."   Rogozin oversees Russia's space sector.

The day after the launch, Roscosmos posted a video on YouTube.  According to the on-screen caption, launch was at 16:04 Moscow Time (12:04 GMT, 8:04 am EDT).

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