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Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
We are here in Toronto to cover the annual International Astronautical Congress, the joint meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL). As always, it promises to be fascinating ... and overwhelming. So many sessions, so little time. It'll be quite a challenge to choose the "best" sessions to cover, but we'll do what we can.
If you're not here and are back in Washington, DC, be sure not to miss Adam Steltzner's lecture at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday afternoon. He is the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brilll Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering. The lecture was created by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering in honor of Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed way last year.
Lots more going on. Our list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon follows.
Monday, September 29
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Tuesday, September 30
Saturday-Friday, October 4-10, 2014
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
This story has been updated throughout.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has filed a protest over NASA's award of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing and SpaceX last week. Noting that this is the first time it has filed a legal challenge to a government contract award in its 51-year history, the company said in this case there are "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process."
In a press release issued late this afternoon, SNC said that with the awards to Boeing and SpaceX, the government "would spend up to $900 million more ... for a space program equivalent to what SNC proposed." NASA's CCtCAP solicitation "prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria ... setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance" and its Dream Chaser was the "second lowest priced proposal," SNC continues. Asserting that its design provides "a wider range of capabilities and value including preserving the heritage of the space shuttle program," it believes that a "thorough review of the award decision" is needed.
NASA has been supporting Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX under the current phase of the commercial crew program, called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Last week's CCtCAP decision is intended to begin the final phase of the program whose goal is to develop a U.S. capability to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) beginning around 2017. NASA has not been able to launch people into space since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011 and currently pays Russia for such services. The commercial crew program is a public-private partnership where the government and the private sector share the development costs and the government provides a market for the resulting services.
NASA was not expected to be able to support all three of its current partners into the CCtCAP phase. The agency has not revealed how many bids there were, but obviously there were at least those three. NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion for CCtCAP: $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX.
Sierra Nevada's design is the only winged vehicle. The Boeing and SpaceX designs both are capsules.
The possibility that SNC might file a protest was first reported by Frank Morring at Aviation Week & Space Technology yesterday. Today was the deadline for filing a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). James Dean at Florida Today seemed to be first on Twitter (@flatoday_jdean) to break the story today, about 3 hours ago, that the protest had in fact been filed.
Note: this story was updated about 10 minutes after it was originally published when Sierra Nevada issued its press release.
UPDATE 2, September 25, 10:15 pm ET: Soyuz TMA-14M successfully docked with the ISS at 10:11 pm EDT. (Further update: the port solar array became unstuck and deployed after docking.)
UPDATE, September 25, 7:20 pm ET: NASA confirms that one of the two solar arrays did not deploy once Soyuz TMA-14M was in orbit (the port array). NASA states that the crew is fine and docking remains on schedule for 10:15 pm ET tonight (one minute earlier than the time published in earlier NASA information). The solar arrays provide electrical power for spacecraft systems, but apparently one is sufficient for this new, short-duration rendezvous and docking profile (it used to take 2 days).
ORIGINAL STORY, September 25, 6:19 pm ET: Russian cosmonaut Elena "Lena" Serova and two crewmates lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:25 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) today (September 25). Assuming all goes well, their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station (ISS) at 10:15 pm EDT tonight and she will become the first Russian woman ISS crewmember. She is just the fourth Russian woman to fly in space since the beginning of the Space Age.
Serova's Soyuz TMA-14M crewmates are NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Roscosmos's Alexander "Sasha" Samoukutyaev. This is Samoukutyaev's second tour of duty aboard the ISS; he was there for 164 days in 2011. Wilmore visited the ISS on the space shuttle in 2009. They will join three ISS crewmembers who promised to have dinner waiting for them when they arrive: NASA's Reid Wiseman, ESA's Alexander Gerst and Roscosmos's Max Suraev.
Soyuz TMA-14M crew: Barry Wilmore (U.S.), Alexander Samoukutyaev (Russia), Elena Serova (Russia)
It is not unusual to have women on ISS crews. What is unusual is that it has taken Russia this long.
Achieving space "firsts" was part of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War space rivalry and the Soviet Union launched the first woman into space in 1963 -- Valentina Tereshkova. It would be 19 years before it launched another woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1982, just as publicity was building in advance of Sally Ride's 1983 STS-7 shuttle mission that marked the first American woman in space. Savitskaya flew again in 1984, winning the title of the first woman to fly in space twice and the first woman to make a spacewalk, months before the STS-41-G mission where Sally Ride made her second flight and Kathy Sullivan became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk.
Yelena Kondakova was Russia's third woman in space, making flights in 1994 on a Soyuz and in 1997 on the space shuttle, both times to visit Russia's Mir space station. Until today, that was the last spaceflight of a Russian woman.
Serova has degrees in engineering and economics and worked for Russia's RSC Energia as a flight engineer before being selected as a cosmonaut in 2006. She and her Soyuz TMA-14M crewmates are expected to return to Earth in March 2015.
Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) Space Systems division laid off about 10 percent of its Dream Chaser workforce after losing NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract last week, but is not abandoning the program.
The Denver Post reported yesterday that Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President of SNC Space Systems, confirmed that 90 employees were laid off from the Dream Chaser program, representing about 9.4 percent of its workforce. The newspaper added that Sirangelo said the Dream Chaser program "will continue and Space Systems intends to bid on upcoming NASA contracts." SNC Space Systems is based in Louisville, CO, just outside Denver.
NASA announced on September 16 that Boeing and SpaceX were the two winners of CCtCAP contracts. The agency declines to say what other companies bid for the contract until it has debriefed those who lost, but it was widely expected that Sierra Nevada was one of them. It is already a partner with NASA on the commercial crew program as one of three companies (along with Boeing and SpaceX) funded in the current phase -- Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP).
In May, NASA and Sierra Nevada agreed to extend their existing CCiCAP agreement to March 2015, so the company will continue to be a NASA partner until then. The CCiCAP awards were made in 2012. At that time, NASA chose "2 1/2" companies to support: Boeing and SpaceX were the "2" that received the full amount they requested, while Sierra Nevada was the "1/2," receiving half its request.
The commercial crew program is a public-private partnership with the goal of developing a U.S. capability to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The United States has not been able to launch people into space since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011. NASA and the private sector share the development costs and NASA guarantees a market, albeit limited, for the resulting services.
How many companies NASA should support has been a matter of much debate. NASA insists that it wants at least two competitors to keep prices down in the long term, while Congress has been reluctant to provide the funded needed to support more than one company during the development process. The decision to fund 2 1/2 companies during the CCiCAP phase was the result of an agreement between NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). NASA's choice of two companies for the CCtCAP phase reflects its position but is, of course, subject to congressional approval.
India's first mission to Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), successfully went into orbit about Mars tonight (September 23) Eastern Daylight Time (September 24 local time in India). It joins three U.S. and one European spacecraft already in orbit, plus two U.S. rovers on the surface.
MOM is primarily a technology demonstration project, though it carries five scientific instruments, including one to measure methane in the Martian atmosphere.
India's Prime Minister, Shree Narendra Modi, was on hand at mission control as orbital insertion unfolded. MOM's engine firing began at 9:47 pm EDT, but with the length of the burn and the 12.5 minute signal delay time, it was not until 10:30 pm EDT (8:00 am September 24 Indian Standard Time) that confirmation of successful orbital insertion was confirmed. As this article was being published, no data on the spacecraft's orbital parameters had been released.
Modi stressed that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is one of only four agencies to have successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars and asserted it is the only one to do so on the first try. That claim is subject to challenge, however. The European Space Agency (ESA) placed Mars Express into orbit in 2003. That was ESA's first attempt to achieve Mars orbit. While it is true that Mars Express carried a small lander, Beagle 2, that did not achieve its goal of landing on Mars, if the measure is attaining Mars orbit on the first try, Mars Express certainly seems to fit the bill. Landing on Mars is an entirely different kettle of fish and something that India has not yet attempted.
Regardless, India is justifiably proud of its achievement. Getting to Mars is hard. NASA's list of all the 43 spacecraft launched to Mars by any country since the beginning of the space age shows 23 failures, 18 successes (counting MOM as a success), and two partial successes/failures.
MOM is sometimes called Mangalyaan, but that is a nickname, not an official name. It joins ESA's Mars Express and three NASA spacecraft -- Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN -- in orbit, plus two NASA rovers -- Opportunity and Curiosity -- on the surface.
India's first Mars spacecraft, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is on track to join NASA's newly-arrived MAVEN spacecraft in Mars orbit tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). MAVEN successfully entered Mars orbit on Sunday (September 21). Assuming all goes well with MOM, that will bring to five the number of operating spacecraft observing the Red Planet from orbit plus two on the surface. India's space agency will provide live coverage of MOM's orbital insertion beginning at 9:15 pm EDT tonight, September 23 (06:45 September 24 local time in India).
India launched MOM on November 5, 2013. It is primarily a technology demonstration mission, but it carries five scientific instruments including one that will search for methane in the Martian atmosphere. MOM is sometimes referred to as Mangalyaan, but that is considered a nickname not the official name.
The mission has gone smoothly so far and if all continues as planned India will join the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and the European Space Agency (ESA) as successful sponsors of spacecraft to study Mars. Getting spacecraft to Mars is no mean feat and there have been many failures over the decades, prompting humorous myths about a "Galactic Ghoul" at the ready to destroy a mission at a moment's notice. No one relaxes until the spacecraft is firmly at its destination in orbit or on the surface.
NASA has a list of all Mars missions ever launched. Based on that list and excluding MOM (since it is still enroute as of this moment) there have been 42 launches of which 23 were failures, 17 were successes, and 2 were partial successes/failures.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will provide live coverage of the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) burn. ISRO has tweeted (@isro) two locations to watch the coverage: its own website (webcast.isro.gov.in) and the government's video portal (webcast.gov.in/live/). Coverage begins at 9:15 pm EDT tonight, which is 06:45 September 24 Indian Standard Time (IST). The burn itself is scheduled to begin at 9:47 pm EDT (07:17 September 24 IST).
NASA's MAVEN was launched about a week and a half after MOM, but arrived two days earlier. Its task is to determine what happened to the Martian atmosphere, which once was much thicker than it is today, especially the role that solar activity may have played, and to the liquid water believed to have flowed on Mars in the distant past.
MAVEN and MOM are joining two U.S. and one European spacecraft currently operating in Martian orbit:
NASA also has two operational rovers on the surface of Mars:
Japan is the only other country to attempt sending a probe to Mars. It launched Nozomi in 1998, but it is among the list of Mars missions that did not succeed. China has never itself attempted to launch a spacecraft to Mars, but a small Chinese orbiter (Yinghuo-1) was aboard the ill-fated Russian Phobos-Grunt mission in 2011.
Here is our list of events for the next TWO weeks, September 21-October 3, 2014, starting with MAVEN's arrival at Mars tonight (Sunday). Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Weeks
Mars will get two new visitors this week. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is due to enter orbit around Mars tonight, September 21, at 9:37 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Signal travel time between Mars and Earth means that NASA won't know certain that everything went smoothly until 9:50 pm EDT. NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EDT.
On Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time in India), India's first mission to Mars, Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM), will join MAVEN and three other U.S. and European spacecraft orbiting Mars. MOM is scheduled to fire its engine to enter orbit at 07:17 Indian Standard Time on Wednesday (9:47 pm Tuesday EDT). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not announced its plans for live coverage. Check the ISRO website for up to date information.
Back here in Earth orbit, SpaceX's CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), with its cargo of mice, fruit flies, spacesuit batteries, a 3D printer and many other supplies and scientific experiments, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning at 7:04 am ET. Two days later three new ISS crew members will launch to and dock with the ISS on Soyuz TMA-14M.
Meanwhile, here on terra firma, there are many interesting events on the schedule. John Logsdon will provide an update on his research for his upcoming book Richard Nixon and the American Space Program at 4:00 pm EDT on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum. The event is free, but you MUST register in advance in order to access the museum's office area. Later on Monday (8:00 pm EDT), the Secure World Foundation and The Space Show will host a webinar on Satellites and Disaster Management. The NASA Advisory Council's heliophysics subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday at NASA Headquarters, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose will talk to the AIAA National Capital Section in Arlington, VA on Thursday.
Quite a full week, as many in the space community also get ready to head to Toronto for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) next week. It officially runs from September 29-October 3, but there are a number of associated meetings in the days preceding the conference beginning on September 25.
For those not traveling to Toronto, there are two very interesting events in the Washington, DC area that week. On Monday, September 29, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will talk to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD.
On Tuesday afternoon (September 30), the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering will be presented at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington (the one on the Mall, not on 5th Street). This first Brill Lectureship, created in honor of the distinguished aerospace engineer Yvonne Brill, was awarded to Adam Steltzner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Steltzer led the entry, descent and landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. Steltzer's lecture will be on "Engineering and the Mars Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) System."
Here is the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, September 21, for the two-week period through October 3, 2014.
Sunday, September 21
Monday, September 22
Tuesday, September 23
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 23-24
Thursday, September 25
Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Monday, September 29
Tuesday, September 30
SpaceX will break ground for its new launch site near Brownsville, TX on Monday, September 22, 2014. It will cap quite a busy week-long period for the entrepreneurial space launch company that started with winning a CCtCAP award from NASA and, hopefully, launching a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend.
On Tuesday, NASA awarded SpaceX one of two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts (Boeing got the other). The $2.6 billion contract is for SpaceX to complete development of its Dragon V2 spacecraft for taking astronauts to and from the ISS, fly a demonstration mission, and up to six missions thereafter. NASA’s goal is to have SpaceX and/or Boeing commercial crew vehicles operational by 2017. Boeing received a $4.2 billion award.
Right now, SpaceX is waiting for the weather to cooperate at Cape Canaveral, FL for the launch of its fourth operational “commercial cargo” to the ISS, Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-4. The SpaceX CRS-4 cargo mission was supposed to launch early this morning, but was postponed to early tomorrow morning (September 21, 1:52 am ET) because of bad weather. The forecast is only 40 percent favorable for launch tomorrow morning. If it is delayed again, the next opportunity is on September 23.
Both the commercial crew and commercial cargo programs are essentially public-private partnerships where NASA and the private sector each provide funding for development (instead of the government providing all of the funds), with the government serving as a market for the resulting services. SpaceX competes with Orbital Sciences Corporation for the commercial cargo launches. Its competition for commercial crew will be Boeing and perhaps other companies that are willing to proceed without government funds in the hope that the market for taking people to and from space is larger than just NASA.
Meanwhile on September 22, SpaceX will break ground near Boca Chica Beach, TX, close to Brownsville, for an orbital launch facility which it hopes will be completed by 2016. The FAA approved SpaceX’s application to conduct launches from the site in July. The license allows up to 12 commercial launch operations per year of the Falcon 9 and prospective SpaceX rockets including Falcon Heavy and “a variety of reusable suborbital vehicles.” The launch site is on 68.9 acres of land just three miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. Space launches from there can travel out over the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding overflight of land during the early stages of launch just like the other U.S. orbital sites in Virginia (Wallops Island), Florida (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's adjacent Kennedy Space Center), California (Vandenberg Air Force Base) and Alaska (Kodiak). By having its own launch site, SpaceX will have more flexibility in launch dates by not having to coordinate with other users. SpaceX currently launches from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg. It will continue to use those facilities when necessary and its commercial crew flights will launch from Pad 39A at KSC, which SpaceX is leasing from NASA.
Note: SpaceX CRS-4 was successfully launched at 1:52 am EDT, September 21, 2014.
UPDATE 2: September 21, 2014. SpaceX CRS-4 was successfully launched at 1:52 am EDT today.
UPDATE: September 20, 2014. The launch was scrubbed due to weather just after 1:30 pm EDT. It had deteriorated to only 10 percent favorable. The next opportunity is 1:52 am Sunday, September 21, when the weather is only 40 percent favorable for launch. If it does not go then, September 23 is the next chance.
ORIGINAL STORY, September 19, 2014: NASA and SpaceX are getting ready for the launch of the SpaceX CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 2:14 am Eastern Daylight Time Saturday morning, about 8 hours from now, but the forecast is for just a 50 percent chance of favorable weather. If the launch is postponed to Sunday, the weather chances improve to 70 percent.
This is SpaceX's fourth operational cargo mission to the ISS and the first to carry mammals -- 20 mice. The mice, jokingly referred to as "moustronauts," are in their own enclosure with a dedicated life support system.
The "Rodent Research-1" experiment is joint between NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), an organization established by NASA to facilitate non-NASA use of ISS. Ten of the mice are for NASA and 10 are for CASIS. The main objective of this flight is to validate the hardware for subsequent rodent flights. The mice will be transferred by the ISS crew to an ISS EXPRESS rack inside the ISS after SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft docks. According to a NASA fact sheet, the mice will be euthanized after about 30 days while still on the ISS, frozen, and returned to Earth for study on a subsequent SpaceX flight. Future rodent missions will be for increasingly longer durations to study the effects of spaceflight on mammals.
These are not the first rodents in space or the first on the ISS. NASA flew rats and mice on 27 space shuttle missions, but the advantage of the ISS is that the experiments can run for a longer period of time. Mice already have been on ISS as part of a 90-day Italian scientific experiment according to Ruth Globus from NASA's Ames Research Center who spoke at a NASA press conference yesterday. Russia also has launched a number of robotic biosatellite missions carrying rodents.
The mice are part of a total of 2.5 tons of supplies, experiments and technology demonstrations being delivered by Dragon. Among the rest of the cargo is NASA's RapidScat, the first of two earth science instruments due to be attached to the exterior of the ISS this year. It will monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction. The other, Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), is scheduled for the next SpaceX cargo flight.
Dragon is also delivering new batteries for the U.S. spacesuits aboard the ISS. Two U.S. spacewalks planned in August were postponed until the new batteries could be delivered. Another set of batteries will be delivered by the next ISS crew, scheduled for launch on September 25. The spacewalks are now scheduled for October.
If the SpaceX CRS-4 launch is delayed beyond Sunday, the next opportunity will be on September 23. After that, the mission will have to wait until after the September 25 ISS crew launch, probably until September 28.
NASA TV will provide live coverage of the SpaceX CRS-4 launch beginning at 1:00 am EDT.
The Senate just passed the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through December 11, 2014 and avoiding a government shutdown.
The House and Senate are still in session at this hour (September 18, 7:00 pm EDT), but are expected to adjourn later today and not return until after the November elections.
The vote on the CR, which also includes a limited authorization for President Obama to take military actions related to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was 78-22. The bill passed the House yesterday and now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.
The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion. Government agencies including NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0544 percent across-the-board reduction to pay for new activities included in the bill that are primarily related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis. Two space-related provisions allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extend the authorization for the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015.
Events of Interest