SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
At today's hearing before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Boeing and SpaceX were granted their requests to intervene in Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit to force NASA to reinstate a stop-work order on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts.
SNC filed suit on Wednesday asking the court to declare "illegal and void" NASA's October 9 decision to override provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) so that work could proceed under the CCtCAP contracts despite SNC's protest of the award. Today was the first hearing in the case.
Boeing, SpaceX and SNC are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase. On September 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue into the next phase, CCtCAP. Sierra Nevada filed a protest against that decision with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 26. NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX on the CCtCAP contracts because of the protest, but rescinded it on October 9 arguing that it was acting under its statutory authority to avoid serious adverse consequences.
That prompted SNC to file this lawsuit against the U.S. Government on the basis that NASA had not demonstrated that it could not wait until GAO issued its ruling on SNC's protest. GAO has until January 5, 2015 to make its determination.
Today, Judge Marian Blank Horn granted motions from Boeing and SpaceX to "intervene" in the case and ordered that they file their submissions by Monday, October 20, at noon. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 21, at 2:30 pm ET.
The commercial crew program is essentially a public-private partnership where the government and the private sector are sharing the costs of developing new crew space transportation systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA serving as a market for the resulting services. CCtCAP is the final phase of the development program, leading, NASA hopes, to operational systems by the end of 2017. Until commercial crew systems are operational, NASA must rely on Russia to take crews to and from ISS because the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.
UPDATE: A link has been added to A video of the landing released by the Air Force on October 22, and with an even more accurate mission duration calculation by Jonathan McDowell that it lasted 674.93 days, which we round to 675 days rather than the Air Force's 674 days.
The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA today (October 17) at 9:24 am PDT (12:24 pm EDT). This is the third and longest flight to date.
The X-37B looks like a very small space shuttle. There are at least two of them, OTV-1 and OTV-2. Both are reusable and this is the second flight of OTV-1. It spent 224 days in orbit in 2010. OTV-2 was in space for 469 days from March 2011-June 2012. What the OTVs do during those lengthy missions is completely classified, leading to much conjecture, but no hard facts in the public domain.
The Air Force announced a week ago today that the landing would take place soon. Initially, it appeared as though Tuesday would be the landing date, but for reasons that have not been announced, it took place today instead.
The Air Force 30th Space Wing issued the following press statement, which includes the news that the next X-37B flight will launch in 2015:
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission
"The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities
"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third
"The landing of OTV-3 marks a hallmark event for the program" said the
"The mission is our longest to date and we're pleased with the incremental
The Air Force is preparing to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape
Later in the day, the Air Force 30th Space Wing posted photos of the landing on its Facebook page, including this one:
X-37 Orbital Test Mission 3 (OTV-3) lands at Vandenberg AFB, CA, Oct. 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Boeing
The Air Force released a video of the landing on YouTube on October 22.
Although the Air Force said it was a 674-day mission, Jonathan McDowell, author of Jonathan's Space Report, tweeted (@planet4589) that the mission duration was 674.9 days based on his calculations. SpacePolicyOnline.com asked the Air Force for clarification, but none was offered. McDowell rechecked his calculation and produced an even more accurate duration of 674.93 days, so we will continue to use 675 days.
Note: This article was updated on October 17 with the Air Force press statement and landing photo, and on October 22 with the link to the video and McDowell's more precise mission duration calculation..
President Obama has nominated Dava Newman to be the new NASA Deputy Administrator. The post has been vacant since Lori Garver left in September 2013.
Newman is a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT and is perhaps best known for her design of spacesuits specifically for use on Mars. She explains the theories behind the design in a YouTube video posted in 2011.
In a press release issued by MIT, Newman calls her nomination "very exciting, and an enormous honor" adding that NASA has a "clear vision" with Mars as the destination in its long term plan. She is very familiar with NASA's current challenges in the human spaceflight arena having served as a member of the Technical Panel of the National Research Council's (NRC's) "Pathways" report on the future of human spaceflight released this summer. She is also a member of the NRC's Space Studies Board.
MIT's Dr. Dava Newman. Photo Credit: MIT.
In addition to her duties as an engineering professor, she is director of MIT's Technology and Policy Program, Director of the MIT Portugal Program, co-director of the Man-Vehicle Laboratory at MIT, and a Harvard-MIT Health, Sciences and Technology faculty member. She has a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and two S.M.'s (one in aeronautics and astronautics, the other in technology and policy) and a Ph.D. (in aerospace biomedical engineering) from MIT.
Her nomination must be approved by the Senate. Congress returns on November 12. Whether the Senate will have time to consider her nomination before the 113th Congress adjourns is unclear. There are few legislative days remaining, but that hurdle is surmountable if both sides of the aisle agree.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims yesterday asking the court essentially to overturn NASA's decision to allow work to proceed under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. SNC is protesting NASA's award of those contracts to Boeing and SpaceX and ordinarily work would stop until the protest was resolved. NASA initially told the companies to stop work, but rescinded that order about a week later, triggering SNC's lawsuit. A hearing on SNC's suit is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday, October 17).
Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Those three companies, at least, bid for the CCtCAP phase which will lead to operational commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX for CCtCAP on September 16.
On September 26, SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) because it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process." GAO has 100 days (until January 5, 2015) to rule on the protest.
NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX because of the protest. The stop-work order affects only the CCtCAP contracts, not work under the CCiCAP agreements.
However, on October 9, NASA rescinded the stop-work order, overriding provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) on the basis that it was acting within statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In filing its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, SNC asserts that NASA's override decision was "illegal and void" because the government failed to establish that "performance of the contract is in the best interest of the United States" or "urgent and compelling circumstance that significantly affect the interests of the United States will not permit waiting" for the GAO decision. SNC calls NASA's override decision "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and ... contrary to law, all in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act...."
SNC asks the court to declare NASA's override "illegal and void" or alternatively to "preliminarily enjoin the Defendant from further implementing" the override -- in other words, to reinstate the stop-work order -- until the court issues a final judgment on the matter.
Because SNC's filing to the court relies on material subject to a GAO protective order (because of its bid protest to GAO) and on other material that may contain proprietary information, SNC further requests the court to keep the primary documents it filed with the court (memorandum and appendix) under seal. For now, at least, only a few of SNC's documents are available to the public through the court's PACER electronic system: Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal and Motion for a Protective Order, Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, and Plaintiff's Applications for a Temporary Restraining Order to Prevent Unlawful Override of CICA Stay.
The court has scheduled a hearing on the case, Sierra Nevada Corporation v United States, before Judge Marian Blank Horn for 10:00 am ET tomorrow, October 17.
The good news is that the two European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellites launched in August are in "excellent health and working normally." The not so good news is that they are in the wrong orbit. What they will be used for is an open question.
The European Space Agency (ESA), which serves as the design and procurement agent for the satellites, announced today that the pair of satellites were handed over from ESA's Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany to the Galileo Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany in late September.
Galileo is Europe's version of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) for providing positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data. The EU and ESA shared Galileo development costs, but the EU is shouldering the full cost of the operational system.
These two satellites, the first of 30 that will comprise Galileo's Fully Operational Capability (FOC), were launched by Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana, using Russia's Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage on August 22, 2014.
Initially, the launch was thought to have been a complete success, but ESOC soon determined that the satellites were not in their correct orbital locations. Further analysis showed the satellites were in an orbit with an apogee that is too high, perigee that is too low, and at the wrong inclination. Ultimately it was determined that the Fregat upper stage had malfunctioned.
In addition, one solar panel on each OHB-built satellite had not deployed. Controllers were able to point the satellites so the solar array release mechanisms could be warmed by the Sun and that did the trick. Thus they are fully functional now, but what use they will be in that orbit is unclear. They do not have sufficient on-board fuel to reach their correct orbit. The ESA announcement said the Galileo Control Center will "care for them pending a final decision on their use."
NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation decided today to delay the launch of Orbital's third operational cargo mission (Orb-3) to the International Space Station (ISS) until at least October 27 because Hurricane Gonzalo is bearing down on Bermuda. One of the tracking sites used for Orbital's launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is located in Bermuda.
The announcement on Orbital's website stresses that the October 27 date is tentative since the impact of the storm on Bermuda's infrastructure will not be known until the storm passes.
As of 5:00 pm ET today (October 15), Gonzalo is a Category Three hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour and higher gusts. Bermuda is expected to feel the brunt of it on Friday with a "dangerous storm surge" accompanied by "large and destructive waves" according to the National Hurricane Center.
The mobile tracking station is located on Cooper's Island, Bermuda.
NASA/Wallops Bermuda Tracking Site. Photo Credit: NASA/Wallops.
Orbital launches its commercial cargo missions to the ISS from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. NASA and Bermuda signed an agreement in March 2012 to place a tracking site there to support such launches. NASA/Wallops Deputy Range Director Steven Kremer said at the time that "[o]wning, deploying and controlling our own assets means control over scheduling ... and higher confidence in promising range availability to our customers...." The tracking station provides telemetry, radar and command and control services.
Originally scheduled for October 14, the Orb-3 launch was delayed to October 20 and then October 24 primarily because of the busy schedule of activities aboard the ISS, including three spacewalks this month (the second was completed today) and the arrival and departure of other cargo spacecraft including Russia's Progress and SpaceX's Dragon.
If the launch takes place on October 27, the launch time is 6:44 pm ET and Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the ISS on November 2, Orbital said today.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden that his committee continues to work with the Senate "to develop a NASA Authorization bill this year." In that regard, he has a number of questions about whether NASA is complying with existing law to ensure Orion will be able to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The October 7, 2014 letter, also signed by Space Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS), focuses on the requirement in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that Orion be designed to serve as a backup to the commercial crew program for ISS missions in addition to its primary role as a spacecraft to take crews beyond low Earth orbit. Some of the questions are aimed at whether NASA is, indeed, ensuring that Orion will meet that "minimum capability requirement" as required by law, while others ask why two commercial crew competitors are required when Orion can be the "alternative" spacecraft should a commercial vehicle encounter problems.
"If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew program partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in a constrained budget environment?", the letter asks. Some Members of Congress have long questioned why NASA insists on funding more than one commercial crew partner, a disagreement that is at least in part responsible for Congress providing less funding than the President requests for commercial crew year after year.
Congress has made clear that it considers Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) to have higher priority than commercial crew. The House passed the appropriations bill that includes NASA on May 30 and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version on June 5. The House and the Senate committee would both increase funding for Orion and SLS in FY2015 while providing less than requested for commercial crew (though closer to the request than in prior years). Congress has not yet completed action on FY2015 appropriations, however, and NASA is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) roughly at its FY2014 funding level. The letter asks Bolden which funding level the Orion program is currently using as guidance -- the FY2015 request, the CR, the House-passed bill, or the amount recommended by the Senate committee -- and whether that affects the agency's ability to ensure that Orion can meet the minimum capability requirement.
Smith and Palazzo request that NASA answer those and several related questions by October 21 as they work with their Senate counterparts on a new NASA authorization bill.
The 2010 NASA Authorization Act is the most recent NASA authorization. Its funding recommendations covered only through FY2013, but the other provisions remain law. The House passed a 2014 NASA Authorization Act this summer, but the Senate has not acted on its version this year although action had been expected just before Congress recessed in September.
The Smith-Palazzo letter signals that work continues with the hope of the two chambers agreeing on a new bill this year. That may be a challenge -- though not necessarily an insurmountable one -- since there will be few legislative days remaining in the 113th Congress when it returns on November 12. Any bill that does not pass by the end of this Congress will die and new legislation will have to be introduced in the 114th Congress, which begins in January.
NOTE: As of 5:00 pm EDT October 15, the Air Force has not made any announcement that the X-37B landed. The original announcement that it was returning to Earth said the exact landing date and time were dependent on technical and weather considerations. Unofficial observers monitoring FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and using amateur observations of its orbit can offer possible landing times, but they are subject to uncertainty. Reuters reporter Irene Klotz (@Free_Space) tweeted today that the landing "now looks like no earlier than Thursday, FAA pilot advisory indicates." Bob Christy at zarya.info calculates there is a landing opportunity that day (tomorrow) about 16:25 GMT (12:25 EDT). This article has been updated to reflect the delay from the anticipated landing date of October 14.
UPDATED, October 15, 2014: The Air Force announced on Friday (October 10) that its secretive X-37B spaceplane, in orbit for almost two years, will soon return to Earth and land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. At the recent International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto, Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation encouraged the U.S. government to be more open about what the X-37 is doing as part of the Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) the United States is advocating to help ensure space sustainability.
Officially called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the vehicle resembles a very small space shuttle. The Air Force launches the robotic spacecraft for lengthy on-orbit classified missions. This flight is the longest to date. Launched on December 11, 2012, its mission duration will be more than 667 days. There are at least two OTVs. The first, OTV-1, made a 224 day flight in 2010. The second, OTV-2, made a 469 day flight from March 2011 to June 2012. The OTVs are reusable and this is the second flight for OTV-1.
Photo of X-37B OTV-1. Photo credit: Boeing (via Spaceflightnow.com)
The Air Force statement said the exact time of the landing "will depend on technical and weather considerations." Initial indications were that landing was targeted for October 14, but that day passed with no announcement from the Air Force. Unofficial observers are estimating potential landing times based on the FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and amateur observations of the X-37's orbit, but they are subject to uncertainty. Check back here for updated information when it is available.
The classified nature of the missions prompts much speculation about what they are doing. In an era when the United States and other countries are advocating for establishing TCBMs to help ensure space sustainability, some question why the missions are kept secret. In an October 1 session at IAC2014 on "Assuring a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Space Environment for Space Activities," the Secure World Foundation's (SWF's) Samson cited the X-37B's secrecy as at odds with TCBMs. TCBMs are norms of behavior that "nations that mean no harm" should follow, she said, including a willingness to share information about technical capabilities in order to avoid misperceptions. She remarked that the U.S. "refusal to explain what the X-37B is [doing] has led a lot of people to assume the worst, and probably wrongfully so."
A 2010 SWF analysis concluded it "has near zero feasibility as an orbital weapons system for attacking targets on the ground" and has "limited capability for orbital inspection, repair and retrieval," although speculation often centers on exactly such missions. SWF concluded its most likely purpose is "flight testing new reusable space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies ... and on-orbit testing of new sensor technologies and satellite hardware primarily for space-based remote sensing."
The OTVs are launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). NASA and the Air Force announced last week that the Air Force will use two of KSC's Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) to process the X-37B in the future. To date the OTVs have landed across the country at Vandenberg, but the NASA-Air Force announcement also said that tests were conducted to demonstrate the X-37B could land at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility. The landing facility and the OPFs are left over from NASA's space shuttle program, which was terminated in 2011.
The X-37, built by Boeing, initially was a NASA test vehicle designed to lead to an Orbital Space Plane that could serve as a Crew Return Vehicle to bring International Space Station astronauts back to Earth in an emergency and, eventually, as a taxi to take them to the ISS as well. NASA terminated that program in 2004 after President George W. Bush reoriented the human spaceflight program toward returning astronauts to the Moon instead of ISS utilization. The X-37 program then was transferred to the Department of Defense.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of October 13-17, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
The event likely to attract the most attention this week is the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). The speaker line-up is an intriguing array of "traditional space" and "new space" luminaries, although the description of Bill Gerstenmaier's talk may say it best: "Never before have the titles of 'old space' and 'new space' been as trivial as they are today."
Just to illustrate the breadth of speakers (sorry we can't list everyone -- the program is here), in addition to Gerstenmaier (NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations), speakers include Clay Mowry (Arianespace), George Sowers (United Launch Alliance), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), Stuart Will (Mojave Air and Space Port), Barry Matsumori (SpaceX), Brett Alexander (Blue Origin), Doug Loverro (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy), John Shannon (Boeing), Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Space Systems), Doug Young (Northrop Grumman) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
Most unfortunately, if you can't be there in person, you're out of luck. The conference's media contact says none of the sessions will be webcast live, though "a few of the keynotes" may be posted online in a month or two.
That and other events we know about as of this afternoon (Sunday) are listed below.
Tuesday, October 14
Wednesday, October 15
Wednesday-Thursday, October 15-16
Wednesday-Friday, October 15-17
Friday-Tuesday, October 17-21
Shana Dale will become Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as of November 3, 2014. She succeeds George Zamka who left AST this summer to join Bigelow Aerospace.
Dale has served in a number of positions on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush Administration. She is perhaps best known in space policy circles as the first woman to serve as Deputy Administrator of NASA from 2005-2009 while Mike Griffin was Administrator.
Shana Dale. Photo Credit: NASA
She joined NASA after serving in several positions, including Chief of Staff, at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Before and after her Executive Branch assignments she worked on Capitol Hill serving as Staff Director for the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee (now the House Science, Space and Technology Committee) in the late 1990s and more recently as principal policy advisor to that committee from 2012-2013 while Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) was chairman. In between leaving NASA in 2009 and returning to the House committee in 2012 she was Sector Leader for Science, Engineering and Technologies Services at Dell, Inc.
Dale is a lawyer by training, with a J.D. from California Western School of Law and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tulsa.
Events of Interest