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Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.
During the Week
The week starts off with a bang -- of rocket engines firing -- to launch the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo mission to the International Space Station at 12:45 am Monday. Today (Sunday), NASA will hold a briefing on what's aboard the cargo ship at 3:00 pm ET and coverage of the launch begins at 11:30 pm ET. Watch both on NASA TV.
SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage back on a pad at Cape Canaveral a few miles from the launch site. That feat has been done only once before. The other landings were on drone ships out at sea. The landing burn begins 7 minutes 38 seconds after liftoff (following boostback and entry burns), with landing shortly thereafter.
The bang of a gavel will occur later in the day as the Republicans kick off their presidential convention in Cleveland. The GOP has released its list of speakers, but it is just a list, not an agenda showing when each will speak. Perhaps of special interest to readers of this website is that former NASA space shuttle commander Eileen Collins is one of the speakers. If we learn the day and time, we will post it on our Events of Interest list.
Back-to-back conferences at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California this week will bring together experts interested in the scientific, robotic and human exploration of Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars (Monday-Tuesday), and then a broader group looking at human exploration of those celestial bodies as well as the Moon, Mars, and near-earth asteroids (Wednesday-Friday). Neither conference website mentions whether webcasts will be available, but such information often is made available only at the last minute.
The 40th anniversary of the landing of NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars is on Wednesday, July 20. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will celebrate with a history panel on July 19 and a day-long symposium on July 20. NASA TV will broadcast some of the sessions.
July 20 is also the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. The Space Transportation Association (STA) and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration will hold a meeting that afternoon where Orbital ATK's Charlie Precourt (a former astronaut) will talk about progress in developing the Space Launch System (SLS). Orbital ATK is building the solid rocket boosters for SLS and recently completed a successful test firing.
The National Academies' Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable (STIGUR) will meet at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC on Thursday. The agenda is not posted yet.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, July 17
Sunday-Monday, July 17-18
Monday-Thursday, July 18-21
Tuesday-Wednesday, July 19-20
Wednesday, July 20
Wednesday-Thursday, July 20-21
Wednesday-Friday, July 20-22
Thursday, July 21
A celebration of life service for family, friends and colleagues of Molly Macauley is planned for July 23, 2016 in Baltimore, MD. Macauley, a highly respected member of the space policy community, was murdered on July 8 while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore.
The Christian Science Service in the Celebration of Life will be held at 11:00 am ET on July 23 at the Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD, 21218. Internment will be private. More information is on the website of the Mitchell-Wiedefeld funeral home and in a Baltimore Sun obituary published on July 20.
Macauley was one of the few economists who specialized in satellites and the space program. She spent most of her career at Resources for the Future (RFF), a Washington-based think tank focused on environmental issues. RFF is planning a memorial service in September.
Baltimore homicide detectives continue their investigation into the murder, but no suspects or motive have been identified yet. Macauley is survived by her life partner, Lee Lasky, her uncle, Robert Macauley of Carlisle, MA, many cousins and many, many friends.
Update: This article was updated July 17 to clarify the service is for Molly's family, friends, and colleagues. The exact text from the funeral home's website is:
"Family, colleagues and friends are warmly invited to attend a Christian Science Service in the Celebration of Life on Saturday, July 23, 2016 at the Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. A reception will follow. For more information, contact Susan Macfarlane at 410-366-2851. Interment private. Please omit flowers. Memorial contributions may be made in Molley’s name to BARCS, 301 Stockholm Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 or the Maryland SPCA, 3300 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21211."
Update 2: The link to the Baltimore Sun obituary with information about the celebration of life service was added on July 20.
The House and Senate headed out of town for the summer today, leaving a great deal of work unfinished. In particular, none of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government have cleared Congress yet. They will have four weeks to do something about appropriations when they return after Labor Day.
The extra long (seven week) recess is because of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions that will be held in the next two weeks. The Republican convention begins in Cleveland on Monday and runs through Thursday (July 18-21). The Democratic convention in Philadelphia is the following Monday-Thursday (July 25-28).
The conventions will be followed by the traditional congressional August recess, which, in election years like this, is used mostly for campaigning.
The appropriations bill score sheet looks good in terms of committee action. All 12 have been reported from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Floor action is another matter.
The House has passed six of the 12 FY2017 appropriations bills: Defense, Energy/Water, Financial Services, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (Milcon/VA), Legislative Branch, and Interior/Environment.
The Senate passed the Energy/Water bill, and a single bill that combined Milcon/VA, Transportation-HUD, and funding to deal with the Zika virus.
The two chambers came close to final passage of a compromise Milcon/VA bill that included the Zika funding (but not the Transportation-HUD bill). The conference report passed the House, but did not survive a cloture vote in the Senate, so is stalled.
Attempts to bring the defense appropriations bill to the Senate floor for debate also failed cloture votes.
The Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, did reach the Senate floor, but was derailed by the gun control debate (as its name conveys, the bill also includes funding for the Department of Justice). The House version has not gone to the floor yet.
Both chambers return on September 6 and will be in session the rest of that month. Fiscal Year 2017 begins on October 1, so something -- likely a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- will need to be passed by then.
This outcome is not unexpected. Congress's difficulties in passing appropriations bills is all too well known. The only question is how long the CR will last. Almost certainly past the November 8 elections. Depending on which party wins the White House, the House, and the Senate, final appropriations could be completed by the end of the calendar year, or pushed into 2017 when the new Congress convenes and the new President takes office.
One bill that has made progress is the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House and Senate have each passed their versions and formally agreed to go to conference to work out the differences. Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that, but the NDAA is influential in the decisions made by the appropriations committees. Conference negotiations on the NDAA are expected to take place at the staff level during the recess.
There has been no action on a new NASA authorization bill this year, although Republican and Democratic Senators at yesterday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on NASA and American leadership in space expressed enthusiasm for passing a bill before the end of the year. The House passed a FY2015 (yes, 2015, not 2016) bill last year that could be a vehicle for Senate action, or a completely new bill could be introduced. Although time is getting short, if there is agreement on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill, a bill can pass quickly. The goal is to provide stability to NASA programs during the presidential transition. A major area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is NASA spending on earth science research. Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill argue that it should not be a priority for NASA because other agencies can fund it while NASA focuses on space exploration. The White House and congressional Democrats argue that earth science research is an essential NASA activity and a critical element of a balanced portfolio of programs.
Resources for the Future (RFF), the Washington environmental think-tank where Molly Macauley spent most of her professional career, is planning a memorial service for her sometime in September. Macauley was murdered while walking her dogs near her Baltimore home on Friday night. Contributions in her memory may be made to two Baltimore animal shelters.
An obituary in today's Baltimore Sun provides information on where memorial contributions may be sent:
The Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home confirms that the family is not planning a funeral service. [UPDATE, July 15: Although that was the initial information available, a celebration of life service is, in fact, planned for July 23 in Baltimore. RFF continues to plan a memorial service in September.) Macauley's husband, Will Sheppard, died many years ago. She is survived by her life partner, Lee Lasky, an uncle, and cousins.
Macauley joined RFF in 1983 and rose to the position of Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow. Details on RFF's planned memorial service will be announced later.
From 1979-1983, Macauley was a policy analyst at the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT). She received her Bachelor's degree in economics from the College of William and Mary in 1979, and her Master's and Doctorate degrees in economics from Johns Hopkins University in 1981 and 1983 respectively.
Macauley was internationally renowned for her work on the economics of satellites and of the space program generally. In addition to her work at RFF, she was a Visiting Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University from 1989-2008.
Baltimore police are still investigating the crime. The Baltimore Sun reports that the police are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to arrest and indictment of a suspect.
NASA is initiating mission concept studies for a new generation of large space-based astrophysics observatories that could be considered during the next astrophysics Decadal Survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz outlined the concepts during a hearing before two House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) subcommittees today.
Decadal Surveys are conducted by expert committees organized by the Academies approximately every 10 years (a decade) to identify the most important scientific questions to be answered in the next 10 years and missions to obtain those answers. They are done for each of NASA's space and earth science disciplines and in some cases for other agencies as well. The astrophysics Decadal Surveys makes recommendations for NASA as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF), which manages ground-based astronomy programs, and the Department of Energy's high energy astrophysics programs.
Congress and the government agencies rely heavily on Decadal Surveys because they represent a consensus of the relevant scientific community. The first Decadal Survey was conducted in 1964 for the field of astronomy and astrophysics. Surveys for planetary science, solar and space physics (heliophysics), earth science and applications from space, and biological and physical sciences in space began more recently. Congress mandated in the 2005 NASA authorization act that the Academies also conduct mid-term assessments half-way through each respective decade to report on how the agencies are implementing the recommendations. The most recent astrophysics Survey -- New Worlds, New Horizons -- was issued in 2010 and its associated mid-term review is expected to be released soon.
Today's hearing before the Space Subcommittee (which oversees NASA) and the Research and Technology Subcommittee (which has oversight of NSF) was focused broadly on astronomy, astrophysics and astrobiology, but much of the discussion was about NASA and NSF implementation of the 2010 Survey and plans for the next one.
Hertz told the subcommittees that NASA is looking at four potential large missions to follow the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, and the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST) now in formulation in response to the 2010 Survey. He described the four concepts and the types of discoveries they could enable as follows:
Exoplanets are planets orbiting other stars. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has identified over 5,000 exoplanet candidates so far.
Decadal Survey committees typically seek input from the scientific community at large for new mission concepts and Hertz made clear that these are only NASA's concepts. Others may well emerge during the Survey process. Also, those are candidates for large missions only. NASA intends to retain a balanced portfolio of small, medium, and large missions.
Congress established the interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) to coordinate activities across NSF, NASA and DOE in the 2002 NSF Authorization Act. Angela Olinto, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago's Fermi Institute, currently chairs AAAC and also was a witness at today's hearing. She praised the Decadal Survey process as the best way to prioritize missions based on cost and the availability of technology. She noted that her own project came in fourth in the last Survey and therefore did not make the cut, but she still believes Surveys are "the right process."
Christine Jones, President of the American Astronomical Society and a Senior Astrophysicist with the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, similarly praised the community-driven Decadal Survey process and other mechanisms to obtain input from the broad astrophysics community. She noted that the four mission concepts described by Hertz originated in NASA's three astrophysics Program Analysis Groups (PAGs), which also are community-driven.
NSF's Director of the Division on Astronomical Sciences, Jim Ulvestad, said that NSF also follows the Decadal Surveys closely. It is currently building the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in response to the 2010 Survey. Implementing Survey recommendations can be a challenge because Survey committees must make assumptions about how much money will be available to execute the missions they recommend, but actual budgets may not match expectations. He said Surveys should be "aspirational" and "reach for the stars," but not present a laundry list of missions that cannot be implemented.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) asked about international cooperation and Hertz replied that 80 percent of NASA's astrophysics missions are international partnerships. All four of the mission concept studies assume international collaboration and NASA is talking with the European Space Agency about participating in its ATHENA X-ray observatory and a possible future space-based gravitational wave detector.
NSF operates the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which NASA uses to characterize and track asteroids as part of its Near Earth Object Observation program. The fate of Arecibo has been uncertain for many years and NSF is again considering whether to continue funding it. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who advocates for programs to defend Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids, asked whether NSF was about to "mothball" Arecibo. Ulvestad said no decisions have been made yet and stressed that, with regard to asteroids, Arecibo is used only to characterize and track known asteroids, not to find new ones that might threaten Earth. LSST is a survey telescope with a wide field of view that will be able to locate asteroids, he added, but Rohrabacher insisted that until LSST is operational, Arecibo is needed.
Olinto's main message was that rising costs to operate astrophysics facilities coupled with constrained budgets is reducing the number of grants that can be approved. She said the number of successful grant applications has fallen from 30 percent to 20 percent. That reduces the number of graduate students that can be funded, affecting the next generation of astronomers and astrophysicists.
The importance of contributions to astronomy through observations by amateur astronomers was highlighted by several committee members and witnesses. AAS's Jones said that 250,000 college students enroll in introductory astronomy courses, 10 percent of the student population, an indication of the broad interest in understanding the universe.
Shelley Wright, a member of the advisory committee for the Breakthrough Listen project talked about public engagement in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). She said enthusiasm for SETI has increased dramatically, but resources are scare. While most SETI searches have been in the radio wavelengths, optical and infrared lasers might be better suited for the task. House SS&T committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) lamented that NASA does not fund SETI searches.
NASA has not funded SETI searches since the early 1980s when Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), who chaired the appropriations subcommittee that funded NASA at the time, prohibited it because he considered it a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) asked about potential use of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft for future space-based astrophysics missions. He postulated that Orion crews might be able to service JWST, for example, as shuttle crews did for the Hubble Space Telescope. Hertz and Olinto acknowledged that SLS could enable launching much larger (in mass and size) space telescopes, but Olinto was not persuaded that astronauts could service JWST or other telescopes so far from Earth. Hubble is in Earth orbit and was comparatively easy to access with the shuttle. JWST will be at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point. She suggested that robotic servicing was a more likely option, but the real key is to ensure that it is working properly before launch so servicing is not required.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 11-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Washington space policy community is still reeling from the news of Molly Macauley's murder Friday night while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore. Molly was one of the most respected and admired members of our relatively small group of space policy analysts and practitioners and was well-known to just about everyone in it. No word yet on funeral arrangements. We'll certainly post any information we get. Molly was Vice President of Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank, which has posted a lovely tribute to her.
Meanwhile, the work of the space policy community must go on. This is the last week Congress is scheduled to meet until after Labor Day, so there's a lot they should be getting done. Whether they do or not remains to be seen with everyone focused on tragic deaths elsewhere in the country. Senate leaders tried to bring up the defense appropriations bill last week, but Democrats blocked it. They're going to try again tomorrow. On Friday, the House approved a motion to go to conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), so that's a step in that direction anyway, but authorization bills don't provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that. There's no indication when the Senate will resume consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and it is not on the House calendar either. The House and Senate will have four weeks after they return on September 6 to get some sort of appropriations passed to keep the government operating after FY2016 ends on September 30.
There are three congressional hearings about space this week. First is a House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee hearing on "Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrobiology" with witnesses talking about programs at NASA and the National Science Foundation. That begins at 10:00 am ET on Tuesday. An hour later (which means the two will overlap), the House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on the role of small business and NASA. It's the first time we can think of that that committee has held a space hearing. Witnesses are from Explore Mars (Beverly, MA), Emergent Space Technologies (Greenbelt, MD), Craig Technologies (Cape Canaveral, FL) and Honeybee Technologies (Brooklyn, NY).
On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair only his third space hearing since becoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee at the beginning of 2015. He's been busy running for President and reportedly will speak at the Republican Convention next week, but on Wednesday he will focus on "NASA At a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration." Witnesses are Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA; Mary Lynne Dittmar from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; Mike Gold from SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral); Mark Sirangelo from Sierra Nevada Corporation; and Dan Dumbacher, formerly NASA, now at Purdue. We published summaries of Cruz's previous two space hearings: February 25, 2015 on U.S. Human Space Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness and March 13, 2015 on NASA's FY2016 budget request.
The American Astronautical Society, CASIS and NASA will hold the 5th International Space Station R&D conference in San Diego Tuesday-Thursday, with a special pre-conference session tomorrow afternoon on utilization of Japan's Kibo module. The conference itself will be webcast -- lots of really interesting speakers each day, including a conversation with Mark and Scott Kelly and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on the Twins Study from Scott Kelly's 340-day stay aboard ISS. Remember that all times in the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (Eastern Daylight Time - 3).
Two interesting national security space seminars also are on the docket this week. The Hudson Institute holds a meeting on Space and the Right to Self Defense on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a report it just published on that topic. The study director, Hudson Institute Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, will moderate a discussion with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl. Thursday morning, the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute will hold a breakfast meeting featuring Elbridge Colby of the Center for a New American Security on U.S. defense and deterrence strategy for space.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Thursday, July 11-15
Monday-Sunday, July 11-17
Tuesday, July 12
Tuesday, July 12 - Tuesday, July 19
Wednesday, July 13
Thursday, July 14
Saturday, July 16
Molly Macauley, one of the few economists specializing in satellites and the space program generally, was murdered last night (July 8) while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore, MD. She was 59.
According to the July 9 Baltimore Sun, she was stabbed to death while
walking her two dogs in the Roland Park neighborhood in Baltimore. No
suspects have been identified. [The Baltimore Sun published an updated article on July 11 with a few more details, but there is still no suspect or motive. Funeral arrangements have not been announced yet.] [Update July 12: Funeral arrangements are not yet confirmed, but Resources for the Future, where Molly worked for more than 30 years, will hold a memorial service in September. Details TBA.]
Macauley was a valued member of the space policy community for decades and renowned for her expertise on the economics of satellites, especially in the earth observation arena. Her professional portfolio was much broader, however, including the use of economic incentives in environmental regulation, climate and earth science, and recycling and solid waste management. She testified before Congress many times and was the author of more than 80 journal articles, books, and book chapters.
She was Vice President for Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on the economics of natural resources. She was a past member of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and served on many of its study committees. She was a member of the steering committee for the ongoing Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space at the time of her death.
Michael Moloney, Director for Space and Aeronautics at the Academies, told SpacePolicyOnline.com that Macauley was a "tremendous supporter" of the role that the Academies play in providing advice to the federal government and volunteered "many, many hours" on study committees covering topics "as diverse as the challenge of orbital debris and the future of our global Earth observation system." "She was a friend to everyone who served with her and the Academies staff and volunteers valued her expertise and quiet wisdom. She will be terribly missed."
Charlie Kennel, who chaired the SSB while Macauley was a member, said that she "brought us the human perspective. She worked hard to connect with our science and technology so that we would always keep human values in mind. She was soft-spoken, always calm, insightful, and withal unusually persuasive. You remembered what she said. Molly did not deserve this, her friends and colleagues do not deserve this, the world does not deserve this." Kennel is a former NASA associate administrator for Mission to Planet Earth, a former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and is currently a professor emeritus at Scripps and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge.
Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said "her loss is a loss to all of us, whether family and friends, colleagues, or the community in which she lived." In an email, Pace characterized her as "an incredibly intelligent, energetic, and caring person who brought both warmth and rigor to her profession and the space community. ... She combined high personal standards with a willingness to mentor and care for others that is often too rare."
Macauley received her B.A. in economics from the College of William and Mary in 1979, and a Master's and Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University in 1981 and 1983 respectively. In addition to her work at RFF, she was an Adjunct Professor of economics at Johns Hopkins.
Note: This article was updated on July 9 with the comments from Dr. Kennel and on July 11 with a link to that day's Baltimore Sun article.
UPDATE, JULY 9, 2016, 12:15 AM EDT. Docking was successful at 12:06 am EDT.
ORIGINAL STORY, JULY 6, 2016, 10:47 PM EDT: Russia successfully launched a new version of its Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-01, at 9:36 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) tonight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (7:36 am July 7 local time at the launch site). Aboard are three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS) -- an American, a Japanese and a Russian.
Soyuz MS-01 is delivering NASA's Kate Rubins, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) Takuya Onishi, and Russia's Roscosmos space state corporation's Anatoly Ivanishin to the ISS. Because it is a new version of the spacecraft, the crew is taking the longer 34-orbit route to the ISS so the new systems can be tested out. Docking is scheduled for 12:12 am Saturday morning.
The first Soyuz spacecraft was launched in 1967. It has been upgraded many times over the decades. Although the outer shell remains basically the same, the interior and its systems have changed with advances in technology. The most recent version was Soyuz TMA-M. The last of that type, Soyuz TMA-20M, is currently docked to the ISS ready to return its three-man crew to Earth in September: NASA's Jeff Williams and Roscosmos's Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin.
Soyuz MS incorporates a number of changes: upgraded fully redundant thrusters, improved shielding against micrometeoroid orbital debris (MMOD), improved solar arrays yielding increased electrical power, redundant electrical motors for the docking probe, upgraded Kurs docking system with a phased array antenna that does not need to be retracted, improved satellite navigation system, improved communications through Russia's Luch satellites, and a new digital video transmitter and encoder to provide engineering video of the spacecraft's approach to ISS for docking.
Rubins, Onishi and Ivanishin will remain aboard the ISS for four months, returning in October.
Rubins and Onishi are making their first spaceflights. Rubins is a cancer biologist; Onishi is a former 767 airline pilot. Ivanishin is a fighter pilot; this is his second spaceflight.
Two top Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee sent letters to Obama Administration officials today seeking answers to a series of questions about U.S. policy on the use of Indian launch vehicles. India's Antrix corporation wants to offer launches to U.S. satellite operators, but there is concern that as a government entity, it would have an unfair advantage over U.S. commercial launch companies.
Several small U.S. satellites have been launched on Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) in the last several months. Four Spire Global Lemur-2 cubesats were launched in September 2015 and 12 Planet (formerly PlanetLabs) satellites on June 22, 2016. PlanetIQ signed an agreement with Antrix in December 2015 to launch two of its 10-kilogram satellites on a PSLV in the fourth quarter of this year.
The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) has been discussing the matter since last fall. In October 2015, Samuel duPont from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), briefed COMSTAC on the issue. The committee's International Space Policy Working Group (ISPWG) held teleconferences on the topic on December 10, 2015 and January 27, 2016. According to an ISPWG outbrief at COMSTAC's April 2016 meeting, the discussions led to two findings and a recommendation. The findings were that India's launch service pricing structure could not be confirmed as market-based and thus could "distort" competition and undermine U.S. policies and negatively impact the U.S. space industrial base. It recommended that the U.S. government "maintain the current cautious approach in granting U.S. commercial satellite operators access to India's state-owned and controlled launch providers."
Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) industry association, told the SS&T Space Subcommittee in April that CSF opposes any effort "to facilitate a government-subsidized foreign launch company ... to compete with U.S. companies." However, CSF also does not want to disadvantage U.S. satellite manufacturers and operators whose launch needs cannot be met by U.S. launch services companies, so if no U.S. launch vehicles are available, launching on Indian rockets should be approved on a case-by-case basis, he asserted.
Today's letters from House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) seek to clarify exactly what U.S. policy is regarding launching U.S. satellites on Indian rockets. The four letters are addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren.
Smith and Babin seek basic information about what the policy says, when it was promulgated, and the impact of India's entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on that policy. Each official is asked to respond by July 20, 2016.
India finally joined the MTCR less than two weeks ago on June 27. The MTCR seeks to control the spread of ballistic missile technology. Established in 1987 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, it now has 35 members, including Russia (but not China). It is not a treaty and imposes no legal obligations, but is an "informal political understanding" according to its website.
U.S. efforts to convince Russia to join the MTCR after the collapse of the Soviet Union figured prominently in the relationship the two countries have today in the space arena. It was one of the motivations in the Clinton-Gore Administration's decisions to invite Russia to join the International Space Station (ISS) partnership and to allow U.S. satellites to be launched on Russian rockets. In return, Russia had to join the MTCR and renegotiate a deal to sell cryogenic rocket engines and associated technological know-how to India. The United States did not object to selling the engines themselves, but to the technological know-how. Russia renegotiated the contract and said that it lost $400 million as a result. The United States agreed to pay Russia $400 million towards its participation in the ISS.
NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Jupiter tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) after a 5-year journey. Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft to visit the outer planets, where the Sun's strength is comparatively low. Coupled with the harsh radiation environment the spacecraft will endure as it dips closer to the planet's cloud-tops than any previous spacecraft, it has a limited lifetime, but is expected to produce groundbreaking data about aspects of the planet never observed before.
Several spacecraft have flown past Jupiter (Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Ulysses, Cassini, and New Horizons) and one orbited it for many years (Galileo), but Juno is the first designed to look beneath the cloud-tops and study the interior. It also is the first to study Jupiter's poles.
Juno was placed into an elliptical (oval) orbit where it will dip as close as 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) to Jupiter's cloud-tops and then swing back out again, away from the most intense radiation. The burn that took place tonight (July 4 EDT) placed it into an initial 53.5-day orbit. After two of those orbits, the engine will fire again to lower it to a 14-day orbit optimized for the science investigations.
In addition to the science instruments, the spacecraft is carrying the JunoCam camera, a public outreach effort. The principal investigator (PI) of the Juno mission, Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), calls it "the public's camera." It has already taken many images of Jupiter, but few have made it into the public domain. All of them will, he said, once technical issues are resolved. JunoCam has its own website where images from JunoCam will be posted, amateur astronomers may upload their own images and data about the planet, and the public may vote on points of interest to observe. Bolton's team created a movie (with music by Vangelis) of Jupiter as the spacecraft approached the planet using JunoCam images that was just posted on YouTube, rather than the JunoCam website. It clearly shows the four Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), discovered by Galileo in 1610, orbiting the planet. (Actually Callisto, the furthest out, is a bit harder to see than the others.) Bolton said it took 17 days for JunoCam to get all the images; they were condensed into 3 minutes for the video.
Juno is named after the Roman goddess, sister and wife of Jupiter, who could see through clouds. It was launched on an Atlas V rocket on August 5, 2011.
Jupiter receives 1/25th of the amount of sunlight as Earth. To capture as much of it as possible, each of the three solar panels is 29.5 by 8.7 feet (9 by 2.65 meters) with more than 650 square feet (60 square meters) of surface area. The total energy output is 500 watts (as in five 100-watt light bulbs). All other spacecraft that have visited the outer planets (beyond Mars) have nuclear power sources.
The spacecraft will study Jupiter over the course of 20 months, making 37 orbits (33 optimized for science), after which it will be commanded to enter Jupiter's atmosphere where it will be destroyed. That is currently expected on February 20, 2018. Scientists do not want to risk the spacecraft impacting Jupiter's moons, some of which -- like Europa -- may have environments conducive for life. NASA plans to send a spacecraft to Europa in the early 2020s to look for life and, if any is found, wants to be sure it is indigenous, not Earth life deposited by Juno.
Juno is one of NASA's "New Frontiers" missions, a series of medium-sized space missions for which scientific teams led by a PI like Bolton compete. The New Horizons mission that reached Pluto last year was the first. Juno is the second. The third is the asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx scheduled for launch in September. NASA is getting ready for the next round of competitions. The program was created in 2003 with the intent to ensure a stable cadence of new missions every three years, although budget constraints necessarily affect how often the competitions can occur. The missions are cost-capped. The current cap is $850 million, excluding launch and operations.
Note: This article was updated following a 1:00 am EDT NASA/JPL press briefing on July 5.
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