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What's Happening in Space Policy January 17-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2016 (Updated: 17-Jan-2016 04:17 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for January 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The Senate is in session part of the week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday) is a Federal holiday -- Martin Luther King's birthday -- and federal offices will be closed.  The House is taking the entire week off, but the Senate will be in session beginning Tuesday.

The big news for this week has already happened:  today's successful launch of the NOAA-Eumetsat-NASA-CNES Jason-3 ocean altimetry spacecraft.  Despite the fog, the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA went off on time at 1:42 pm Eastern Time (10:42 am local time at the launch site) and as of this moment, the satellite is in the correct orbit and the solar arrays have deployed.  The Falcon 9 launch was flawless, but SpaceX's attempt to land the first stage on one of its autonomous drone ships about 200 miles off the California coast failed.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that one of the landing legs did not lock into place so the rocket tipped over when landing on the drone ship.

The successful launch of Jason-3 will provide a nice backdrop for Wednesday's NASA-NOAA media telecon on weather and climate, although the telecon's focus is what happened last year.  The telecon will be broadcast on NASA's News Audio website at 11:00 am ET.   An hour later, NOAA's Chief Scientist, Rick Spinrad, will have a chance to tout the success at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.  Check back throughout the week to see any additional events we learn about later and post on our Events of Interest list. 

Sunday-Wednesday, January 17-20

Wednesday, January 20

Thursday, January 21

Orbital ATK, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada All Winners in CRS2 Awards

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2016 (Updated: 15-Jan-2016 02:34 AM)

NASA announced the winners of the second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) awards today (Thursday, January 14).   All three companies still in the running for these CRS2 awards -- Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX -- came up winners.

At a press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center, International Space Station (ISS) Program Director Sam Scimemi announced that each company won a minimum of six launches each, though no orders have been made for any of them yet.  The launches will take place between 2019 and 2024.

SpaceX and Orbital ATK are the two incumbents.   They won the first round of CRS awards and have been launching cargo missions to the ISS since 2012 and 2013 respectively.  SpaceX launches its Dragon cargo spacecraft on its Falcon 9 rockets.  Orbital ATK developed the Antares rocket to launch its Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Both suffered launch failures:  Orbital (before its merger with ATK) in October 2014 and SpaceX in June 2015. 

Orbital ATK returned the Cygnus spacecraft to service in December 2015, but using United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket rather than Antares.   Flights using Antares are expected to resume in May.  SpaceX's Falcon 9 returned to flight in December sending seven ORBCOMM OG-2 communications satellites into low Earth orbit.  Two more Falcon 9 launches -- including one on Sunday of the Jason-3 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA -- are planned before the company attempts the next cargo launch to ISS (SpaceX CRS-8 or SpX-8).  That was scheduled for February, but rumors are that it will take place in March instead.

For this second round of CRS awards, three more companies joined the competition:  Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada.   Lockheed Martin and Boeing were dropped from the competition last year.  That left the two incumbents plus Sierra Nevada.  All three won awards today.

The three companies offer different solutions for ISS cargo services.  Orbital ATK and SpaceX use capsules reminiscent of Mercury,  Gemini and Apollo.   Orbital ATK's Cygnus can be used only to take cargo to the ISS and to dispose of trash when it departs the ISS and burns up during reentry.  SpaceX's Dragon can take cargo to the ISS as well as return it to Earth since it is designed to survive reentry and land in the ocean.  Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser is a very different design.  It resembles a very small version of the space shuttle.   Like Dragon, it can take cargo to and from ISS and it lands on a runway as did the space shuttle.

NASA now has a range of options available depending on its needs -- pressurized or unpressurized one-way or two-way cargo.  ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman said today that it is too early to say how many of each version will be needed when, but the minimum number of flights guaranteed to each company through 2024 is six. 

A total of four U.S. commercial cargo missions to the ISS are needed each year.  Those are in addition to cargo missions flown by Russia's Progress and Japan's HTV spacecraft.  Shireman declined to reveal the value of the contracts awarded today.  He said only that the total amount available is $14 billion through 2024, but the current awards fall well short of that.   Orbital ATK said in a statement that the value of the six missions it was awarded today is $1.2-$1.5 billion.

SpaceX uses its own Falcon 9 for the Dragon missions.  Sierra Nevada will launch Dream Chaser on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets.  Both SpaceX and Sierra Nevada will launch from Cape Canaveral, FL.  

Orbital ATK's Antares launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA.   The third operational launch, Orb-3, failed.   To ensure that it met its requirement to launch 20 tons of cargo to ISS by the end of 2016, it contracted with ULA to launch two Cygnus capsules using ULA's Atlas V while Antares is being outfitted with new engines.  The first ULA launch of a Cygnus capsule took place in December and another is planned in March.  Those launches are from Cape Canaveral.  Orbital ATK plans to resume Cygnus launches using the upgraded Antares from Wallops in May.  Its CRS2 proposal offered both variants -- launches on Atlas V from Cape Canaveral or on Antares from Wallops.

NASA officials said today that this round of CRS awards reflects lessons learned from the first round.  Among the changes is insurance requirements for the companies to cover damage to government property during launch, reentry, or in proximity to or docking with the ISS.

Today's announcement came months later than expected.   Originally the CRS2 awards were to be announced in June 2015.  That slipped to September and then November.  At that time, NASA gave January 30 as the expected award date, so in that sense, today's announcement could be considered "early."

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of its Space Subcommittee, commended the awards.  They said that the recently enacted Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act demonstrated Congress's support of the commercial space industry.

NASA's efforts to facilitate the development of new cargo and crew systems to service the ISS through Public-Private Partnerships began under the George W. Bush Administration.  NASA Administrator Mike Griffin initiated the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) or "commercial cargo" program in 2006 wherein both the government and the private sector invested in the development of the systems with the agreement that NASA would purchase a certain amount of services.   Using the same type of arrangement to develop systems capable of taking astronauts -- "commercial crew" -- to and from ISS was envisioned at that time, but was kick-started by the Obama Administration and made a centerpiece of NASA's strategy for maintaining the ISS once the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.

Today, SpaceX has contracts for both commercial cargo and commercial crew, with the first commercial crew launch expected around 2017.  It builds its own spacecraft (Dragon and Crew Dragon) and rockets (Falcon 9).

Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada have contracts for commercial cargo.  Orbital ATK can launch its Cygnus spacecraft either on its own Antares rockets or ULA's Atlas V.  Sierra Nevada will launch Dream Chaser on ULA Atlas V rockets.

Boeing is the other company that has a commercial crew contract. Its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch on ULA's Atlas V.  The first launch is expected around 2017.

Although Lockheed Martin does not have any of the commercial cargo or commercial crew contracts, it is building the Orion spacecraft under a traditional government contract with NASA to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) to the vicinity of the Moon and someday to Mars beginning in the early 2020s.

Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win $80 Million in Air Force Rocket Propulsion Agreements

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2016 (Updated: 14-Jan-2016 10:03 AM)

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX a total of $80 million in "Other Transaction Agreements" (OTAs) for work connected to its efforts to develop a U.S. alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines.

SMC characterized the awards of $46.9 million to Orbital ATK and $33.6 million to SpaceX as "initial government contributions" for Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) prototypes.  The OTAs are similar to NASA's Space Act Agreements and are part of the move towards public private partnerships for developing new space hardware.  SMC says that it is still negotiating with other offerors and all of the awards are part of a portfolio of planned investments "in industry's RPS solutions."   Companies could submit proposals for addressing a range of requirements for the national security space sector from developing a new RPS to modifying an existing RPS to addressing high risk items for an RPS or subcomponents, or testing of qualifying a new or existing RPS.

The award to Orbital ATK is for development of the Common Booster Segment main stage, the  Graphite Epoxy Motor 63XL strap-on booster, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin's BE-3U/EN upper stage engine.  SpaceX's award is for development and testing of its Raptor upper stage.

The national security sector currently relies on the United Launch Alliance's Delta IV and Atlas V Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).  The Atlas V is powered by Russia's RD-180 engines and the strained U.S.-Russian relationship following Russia's annexation of Crimea and other actions in Ukraine galvanized political pressure to end that reliance on Russia.   The Air Force and ULA agree on the need to build a U.S. alternative, but disagree with those, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who want to set 2019 as a firm date for ending use of the RD-180.

Orbital ATK said in a statement that the $47 million award has options valued up to $133 million and "the company will also contribute additional development funds."  The SMC announcement stated that for all of these awards "at least one third" of the total cost would be paid by "parties to the transactions other than the federal government."

NASA Astronauts to Continue Flying on Soyuz Post Commercial Crew

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jan-2016 (Updated: 13-Jan-2016 11:26 PM)

NASA astronauts will continue flying on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft even after U.S. commercial crew systems come on line and Russian cosmonauts will fly on the U.S. systems according to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.  The point is to ensure that all crew members are cross-trained on the various systems.

Williams is getting ready to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 18 with two Russian crewmates, Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.  During a pre-flight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center last week, he said it is "fair to say, to assume" that there "will be continue to be one U.S crew member on every Soyuz and one Russian cosmonaut on every U.S. commercial vehicle." 

During his time on ISS, the first International Docking Adapter (IDA) for commercial crew vehicles is expected to be delivered via a SpaceX commercial cargo launch.  (The June 2015 SpaceX CRS-7 mission had the first IDA aboard, but the launch failed.  This is the second IDA, but, hopefully, the first to arrive at the ISS.)  Williams is scheduled to take part in a spacewalk to attach it to the ISS.  When talking about the enhanced capabilities that will enable, Williams noted that although today there is much discussion about U.S. reliance on Russia for taking crews to and from ISS, from an operational standpoint, the crews need to be trained on all the spacecraft that will be available to them.

NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed via email to that Williams' statements are correct.  She stressed that the United States no longer will be "solely reliant" on Russia and it is important to have more than one system capable of taking crews back and forth.

When the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs the ISS international partnership was signed, NASA planned to operate the space shuttle throughout the ISS's lifetime and agreed to be responsible for launching not only U.S astronauts, but those from Europe, Canada and Japan, as part of each nation's contribution.   NASA still has that obligation even though the United States decided to terminate the space shuttle program.  NASA pays Russia for seats on the Soyuz spacecraft to take all those crew members to and from ISS.  The current price is about $75 million per seat.

Schierholz said that in the commercial crew era there will be no exchange of funds between the United States and Russia for crew transportation. 

ASAP Minces No Words on "Accretion of Risk" in NASA Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jan-2016 (Updated: 13-Jan-2016 09:04 PM)

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) issued its annual report today.  While complimenting NASA in some areas, its key message is cautioning about what it perceives as an "accretion of risk" in NASA's space flight programs that it fears could impact safety.

ASAP was created by Congress following the 1967 Apollo 204 fire that took the lives of astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.  It is a NASA advisory panel, but because of its origins, reports both to the NASA Administrator and Congress.  It advises NASA on anything affecting safety at the agency.  Vice Admiral (Ret.) Joseph Dyer has chaired ASAP since November 2003 when it was reconstituted and its charter revised after crriticism that it was ineffective in identifying the problems that led to the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.

Last year's ASAP report focused on its concerns that NASA was not providing sufficient information about the commercial crew program to allow ASAP to make an informed judgment about whether safety issues are being addressed.  NASA explained that the problem was the commercial nature of the program and what information from the companies is proprietary and what can be shared with ASAP.   This year, Dyer says the situation has improved significantly.

As it has in the past, ASAP stressed the need for NASA to receive adequate funding to implement the programs it is assigned to do or safety could be affected.  This report was completed before NASA received its final FY2016 budget and ASAP warned that Congress needed to provide CCP with all of the requested funding.  It also said again that competition must be maintained to ensure the "best and safest design."  Ultimately Congress approved the full $1.244 billion requested by NASA for FY2016.  This is first year full funding was appropriated.

ASAP's primary concern in this report is "a continuing and unacknowledged accretion of risk in space flight programs that we  believe has the potential to significantly impact crew safety and the safe execution of human space missions."

The panel lists seven examples of "situations that have led to our disquiet": erosion of the test program for components of the Exploration Systems Development  program; late changes to the Orion heat shield with only one opportunity (Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1) to test it; the first flight of the Orion environmental control and life support system on  EM-2, a mission that will send a crew on a cislunar mission that could take up to 11 days; the infrequent flight rate of the Space Launch System (SLS); growth in the maximum acceptable Loss of Crew probability; the lack of design maturity at Critical Design Review for the CCP systems coupled with lagging hazard reporting; and the lack of formality in design decisions and changes in the CCP.

The report notes that ASAP has a long standing recommendation on "Process for Managing Risk with Clear Accountability" that "remains open and has not been adequately addressed.  We observe continued manifestations of risk accretion with little detectable movement in resolving our concern...."

NASA's Journey to Mars human space flight program also comes in for criticism.  After complimenting NASA for responding to concerns raised last year that the agency must "unambiguously articulate" what it intends to do, the report goes on to reproach the agency for not putting forward at least a preliminary reference mission and schedule, rather than the vague outline contained in the agency's recent "Pioneering the Next Steps in Space Exploration" report.   Members of the NASA Advisory Council similarly have taken issue with NASA on the lack of a defined path forward, but NASA officials insist that it is too early to make such decisions and flexibility is needed as the political and technological climates evolve.   NASA calls its current effort the Evolvable Mars Campaign.

ASAP left no doubt that it views a more defined plan as imperative.  Saying that a well-designed mission with rewards that outweigh the risks would help sell the program to Congress and the public, but '[i]f not, then perhaps NASA should be working on a different mission, or at least using a different approach for the current mission."

SLS is a critical component of the Journey to Mars, and ASAP also made clear that it is not convinced it will meet NASA's goal of a first launch with a crew in 2021 -- the EM-2 flight.  That was the original date NASA announced, but last year, when it was required to set a date to which the agency would be held accountable, it said 2023 instead, adding that it retains an internal goal of launching in 2021 nonetheless.  ASAP chided NASA for that stance.  Externally committing to 2023 while internally making decisions based on 2021 "is a risky situation, because safety could be unnecessarily compromised unless guiding safety principles are established and maintained."  The panel said its future reviews of the program will revolve around questions such as why is it important to fly a crew on the second launch of SLS when the schedule thereafter remains undefined: "What is the compelling reason to adopt these measures to maintain a 2021 schedule that appears to be unrealistic by NASA's own analysis?"


The Chinese ASAT Test -- Nine Years Later

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2016 (Updated: 12-Jan-2016 08:56 AM)

Nine years ago today China conducted a test of an antisatellite (ASAT) weapon against one of its own satellites, creating more than 3,000 pieces of space debris and earning international condemnation.  A State Department official today credited U.S. diplomacy as one factor in leading China to avoid such debris-generating tests since then.

Mallory Stewart, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy in the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance spoke at the Atlantic Council today at an event marking the anniversary of the 2007 ASAT test.   Stewart noted that China has conducted additional ASAT tests in the intervening years, but none that created "what some have conservatively estimated to be one-sixth of the existing radar trackable debris" in Earth orbit.

The consequences of the 2007 test, which will endanger satellites for decades to come, catalyzed U.S. and international efforts to ensure that the space domain is not ruined by irresponsible actions and remains usable for future generations -- what has become known as space sustainability.  

Stewart credited the "huge international outcry" and diplomatic initiatives by the United States and others to "inspire responsible behavior in space" as factors in convincing China to avoid debris-generating ASAT tests since then.  She did not specify what those additional Chinese ASAT tests were, but the State Department publicly criticized China for a 2013 test and experts believe there have been others.  The Secure World Foundation has a fact sheet listing them.

She also said that China may have realized its mistake since it has had to maneuver its own satellites to avoid the debris.  Just as the United States and Soviet Union learned first-hand about the consequences of debris-generating ASAT tests during the Cold War, China may have as well and thus chosen a course of  "strategic restraint" in finding other ways to conduct such tests. 

Another catch phrase that has taken hold since the Chinese ASAT test is space situational awareness -- the need for better knowledge about where everything is in orbit and, for maneuverable satellites, where they are going.  Early in the Obama Administration, State Department and Defense Department officials began describing space as "congested, contested and competitive."  Today Stewart joked that the government "loves" alliteration and discussions about the "three Cs" are meant to prevent the "three Ms" -- "miscommunication, misperception and miscalculation."

The State Department engages in bilateral space security dialogues with a number of countries, Stewart recounted, along with multilateral efforts to develop norms for responsible behavior in space.  For several years, the latter activity took place in part under the rubric of development of an "international code of conduct."  That effort faltered at a United Nations meeting last summer, but Stewart asserted that it laid the groundwork for "subsequent clarity and work on additional principles" everyone could agree on.

Defining terms was one of the challenges in those discussions, she explained. 

What constitutes a "space weapon" has been debated for decades.  President Jimmy Carter opened negotiations with the Soviet Union to limit the development of space weapons in the 1970s, but the Soviets wanted to categorize the space shuttle as a weapon, for example.   

Stewart remains optimistic that, over time, consensus can be reached leading eventually to a treaty, "but what we don't want to do is jump into a treaty headlong" without understanding the definitions and ensuring it is verifiable.

Involving the commercial sector is critical, she said.   It is a "collaboration that has to work" to establish norms of responsible behavior in space effectively.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 10-15, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2016 (Updated: 10-Jan-2016 01:12 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of January 10-15, 2016.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

President Obama's final State of the Union Address will take place on Tuesday night at 9:00 pm Eastern.   No idea whether space will be mentioned, though Obama has done so in the past,  Last year astronaut Scott Kelly was in attendance just prior to launching to ISS on his "year in space" mission and got a shout-out from the President along with NASA and NOAA climate scientists.

Also in the political realm, another Republican presidential primary debate is on tap this week, on Thursday in North Charleston, South Carolina.   The national media who run these debates have not asked questions about the space program so far, although the topic has arisen during campaign events for some of the candidates, notably in New Hampshire (most recently for Jeb Bush).   With the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy coming up in less than three weeks (on January 28), it is possible the national media could use it as an opportunity to query the candidates about their positions on space exploration.  Not to mention the next Democratic debate on January 17 in Charleston, SC.  Or the subsequent Republican debate on January 28 itself in Iowa.

Apart from that, a number of interesting meetings are scheduled this week, including the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).   Unfortunately the sessions will not be livestreamed.   A panel discussion of particular note to readers of this website will take place on Wednesday concerning "The Weather Value Chain of the Future" that will discuss "innovative data sources" -- commercial and crowdsourced data including commercial weather satellites.   Rob Kursinski of PlanetIQ will be there and the company's Dan Stillman tells that a video of the panel will be posted "in the days after."   Other panelists are from IBM, Weathernews, Panasonic, Weather Analytics, and Ignatia.  AMS past president and the Weather Channel's WeatherGeeks host Marshall Shepard is the moderator.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additional events we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday-Thursday, January 10-14

Monday-Wednesday, January 11-13

Tuesday, January 12

Thursday, January 14

  • Republican Presidential Primary Debate, Fox Business Network, 6:00 pm ET ("undercard"), 9:00 pm EST (main group)

Friday, January 15

  • ESA Director General Annual Briefing, ESA HQ, Paris, France, 09:00 Central European Time (3:00 am Eastern Standard Time), followed at 11:30 CET (5:30 am EST) by briefing on European Data Relay System (webcast)
  • Jason-3 Pre-Launch Briefings, Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, 1:00 pm and 1:45 pm Pacific Standard Time (4:00 pm and 4:45 pm EST) (watch on NASA TV)

Job Alert: SIA Looking for New Director of Policy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2016 (Updated: 08-Jan-2016 07:04 PM)

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) is looking for a new Director of Policy to succeed Sam Black, who is leaving SIA to join the government.

SIA is a trade association that represents the commercial satellite industry.   Its members include the key U.S. satellite manufacturers and service providers, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SSL, Orbital ATK, SES, DirecTV, EchoStar, Intelsat, Iridium, and many more. 

It is involved in a wide range of policy issues ranging from spectrum allocation to export control policy to international trade.

The position description is posted on the SIA website.  Applications are due by January 20.

NASA Establishes Planetary Defense Coordination Office

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Jan-2016 (Updated: 08-Jan-2016 11:54 AM)

NASA formally established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) today.  It will not only consolidate supervision of NASA's various asteroid and comet Near Earth Object (NEO) detection and tracking programs, but coordinate with other government agencies to respond to any potential threats.

PDCO is part of the planetary science division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate and will be led by Lindley Johnson, NASA's long-time Near Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program executive. Johnson adds Planetary Defense Officer (PDO) to his title. (The PDO is distinct from NASA's Planetary Protection Officer, Cassie Conley.  Her responsibilities deal with forward and back contamination -- ensuring NASA does all it can to protect other solar system bodies from becoming contaminated by Earth organisms as humans and robotic spacecraft venture away from our planet and to protect Earth from alien organisms when samples of other solar system bodies are brought back here.)

NASA's efforts to find, track and catalog potentially Earth-threatening NEOs largely date back to 1998 when Congress directed NASA to find 90 percent of potentially hazardous NEOs 1-kilometer or more in diameter within 10 years.  NASA met that goal.  In 2005 Congress directed that NASA discover 90 percent of those that are 140-meters or more in diameter by 2020.  NASA is still working on that and better instruments are needed to achieve that goal.  Annual funding for NASA's NEO programs has increased from $4 million to $50 million since 2010.

A 2014 report from NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the NEO program's "existing structure and resources are inadequate to provide efficient, effective, and transparent program management."  At that time, the OIG said "in addition to limited personnel, the NEO Program lacks a plan with integrated milestones, defined objectives, and cost and schedule estimates to assist in tracking and attaining Program goals."  

Creation of the PDCO is partially in response to those concerns, though earlier reports from the National Research Council and an ad hoc Task Force of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) also played a role.  The recommendation to form a "Planetary Defense Coordination Office" can be found in the 2010 NAC Task Force report, chaired by former astronauts Tom Jones and Rusty Schweickert.

How best to organize NASA is one part of the issue. Another is what to do if, in fact, a NEO is on a collision course with Earth.  Mitigating such a threat would involve both domestic and international institutions.

Domestically, in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act, Congress required the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to determine federal agency responsibilities in the event a NEO might collide with Earth.  In 2010, OSTP issued guidance that NASA is formally responsible for determining if there is a threat and thereupon notifying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the State Department, the Department of Defense's Joint Space Operations Center, and other relevant federal officials.

Today's announcement of the PDCO says that it will improve and expand on NASA's worldwide planning for planetary defense working with FEMA and other federal agencies and departments.  Johnson said in the announcement that the establishment of PDCO "makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense."  The United States already has been leading efforts at discussing these issues internationally, especially through the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. 

Public awareness of the threat posed by asteroids moved from Hollywood movies to real life in 2013 when a meteor exploded low in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, causing substantial property damage and injuries (primarily from flying glass from windows broken by the sonic boom it created). 

Meteors are space rocks -- asteroids or pieces of them -- that enter Earth's atmosphere.  Most disintegrate as they travel down through the atmosphere causing meteor showers.   Some survive ("meteorites") all the way to the surface often becoming collectors items or objects for scientific study.   Pieces large enough to be destructive that reach the surface or explode above it are more rare. The major concern is that a very large asteroid might impact Earth, causing regional or global devastation.  Many scientists believe that an asteroid (or comet) impact was responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, for example.

Asteroids fly past Earth routinely and NASA has a downloadable asteroid widget that lists the next five upcoming close approaches.


Jeb Bush Reiterates Need for Aspirational Goals As Challenger Anniversary Approaches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Jan-2016 (Updated: 07-Jan-2016 01:35 PM)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said yesterday in New Hampshire that NASA has "lost its purpose" and needs an "aspirational purpose."   Although he did not reference it, his comments come just before the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident that claimed the life of New Hampshire Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

As reported by CBS News, Bush made an unannounced campaign stop at a Portsmouth, NH diner and engaged in conversations on a broad range of issues with local patrons.  A 13-year old boy asked about the space program and the boy's mother said she was "upset that NASA has kind of like -- closed."  Bush replied that it was not closed, "but it's lost its purpose.  There is no big aspirational purpose."   CBS said he then began talking about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, concluding by saying "I'm not obsessive about space but I think it's part of our identity as a culture."

The comments are similar to those Bush made at a New Hampshire campaign event in October 2015.  In that case, he was speaking at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH and praised lunar colonization ideas expounded in 2012 by then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.   Bush called Gingrich's ideas "cool" and argued "what's wrong about having big, lofty aspirational goals?"

The Discovery Center is named after two New Hampshire astronauts:  Alan Shepard, the first American in space who later walked on the Moon; and Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe perished in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy along with five NASA astronauts (Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, and Ellison Onizuka) and Hughes Aircraft payload specialist Greg Jarvis.  The 30th anniversary of that tragedy occurs on January 28 -- three weeks from today.

Neither the Challenger nor the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedies deterred the United States from having bold human spaceflight goals.   Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, announced plans to return astronauts to the Moon and someday go to Mars in 1989, three years after Challenger, and Bush's brother, President George W. Bush, announced similar plans in the aftermath of Columbia.

Achieving such goals within the resources the United States is willing to allocate for them has been the problem.  Bush did not indicate in October or yesterday whether he believes the government space program needs more funding, but in a July interview he said he was a "space guy" who would increase NASA funding.  His enthusiasm for Musk and Bezos indicates, at a minimum, that he appreciates entrepreneurial private sector efforts and in October he stated that NASA should "partner with the dreamers" in the private sector.


Events of Interest


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