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NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green told a NASA advisory subcommittee today that funding for operations of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is not assured for the rest of FY2014.
LRO is part of NASA’s Lunar Quest program and Congress provided no funds for it in FY2014. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) also is part of Lunar Quest, but remaining funds in FY2014 are sufficient for that mission, which has a short lifetime.
LRO, however, can continue operating in lunar orbit for some time yet. Launched in 2009, it is providing detailed images of the lunar surface. Green hopes to get permission to shift funds within his budget through NASA’s FY2014 operating plan to maintain LRO operations. Operating plans detail how NASA plans to spend the money Congress appropriated. Historically, Congress acquiesces to comparatively minor changes such as this, although last year Congress and the Administration waged a multi-month battle over how to spend FY2013 funds. That funding was significantly impacted by the sequester and two congressionally-imposed rescissions and disagreement arose about priorities.
NASA’s FY2014 operating plan was due to be submitted to Congress within 45 days of enactment of the FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act on January 17. Green told the NASA Advisory Council’s Planetary Science Subcommittee today that it had not yet been submitted to the best of his knowledge.
He said he did not believe it was Congress’s intent to cancel LRO and is optimistic that funds will be found. In addition, however, LRO also must successfully emerge from NASA’s “Senior Review” process where scientists who want to extend a spacecraft’s mission after its primary mission is completed must go through a peer review process to evaluate the mission’s scientific merit to determine if it warrants the additional costs to continue operations. LRO is one of seven missions that will be considered by the 2014 planetary science Senior Review in an era of tight funding, but Green sounded optimistic. If LRO is recommended for continuation by the Senior Review and money is found, it will be shifted into NASA’s Discovery line of planetary missions since the Lunar Quest line no longer exists.
NASA’s FY2015 budget request for planetary science is $1.280 billion, less than the $1.345 billion appropriated for FY2014.
Another mission slated for consideration by the Senior Review is Cassini. Orbiting Saturn since 2004, Cassini continues to send back valuable information not only about Saturn itself, but its moons, including Titan. Cassini’s mission definitely will end in 2017 because it will run out of fuel and NASA wants to intentionally deorbit it into Saturn’s atmosphere so it does not contaminate other nearby bodies like Titan. But that is three years from now and Cassini scientists want to extend operations until then.
Wording in a document released by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) explaining NASA’s FY2015 budget request implied that a decision to curtail operations of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a joint aircraft-based astronomy project by NASA and its German counterpart, DLR, was made in order to ensure funding for Cassini operations. Green insisted that was a matter of poor writing, however, not fact. SOFIA is part of NASA’s astrophysics program and ordinarily each NASA science discipline – astrophysics, planetary science, heliophysics and earth science – must solve budgetary problems within their own budgets rather than taking money from others.
Green passionately explained today that there was no “horse-trading” between NASA’s astrophysics and planetary science offices as some suggest: “Don’t buy into that.” Budget pressures are everywhere, he insisted, and each of NASA’s science disciplines still must find its own solutions. Every planetary science program subject to the 2014 Senior Review must make its best case and NASA will match that peer-reviewed priority ranking to budgetary resources, Green said, adding that Cassini advocates should take nothing for granted – “there is no substitute for an excellent proposal.”
In addition to LRO and Cassini, the other five missions that will be considered by the Senior Review for extended operations are associated with Mars exploration: the Mars rover Opportunity; the Mars rover Curiosity; the Mars orbiter Odyssey; another Mars orbiter MRO; and a NASA instrument (Aspera-3) on Europe’s Mars Express (MEX), another Mars orbiter.
Green discussed many other aspects of NASA’s FY2015 budget request, including the $15 million designated for studies of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. He excitedly noted that this was the first time that the Obama Administration is requesting funds for Europa studies, but repeated what other NASA officials have said – they want to determine if major scientific objectives could be met with a mission costing NASA no more than $1 billion. (Congress added money for Europa in FY2013 and FY2014, but the Administration did not request any.) The original cost estimate for a Europa mission was $4.7 billion. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory devised a different type of mission dubbed Europa Clipper that had much less scientific capability, but could still provide important scientific data, for about $2 billion. Cutting that cost in half will be a challenge. International partnerships are one possibility, but Green said that based on past experience it would not be a 50-50 split so the $1 billion that NASA could provide would still represent the preponderance of the cost.
The $15 million for Europa in the FY2015 budget request is only for that one year. No funding is requested for future years, so it is not a "new start" indicating that the Obama Administration is committed to executing such a mission within a definitive time frame.
NASA requested $15 million in FY2015 for a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, but as the detailed budget documents released late yesterday illustrate, that is a one-year request only. The 5-year budget plan included in the detailed document includes no funding beyond FY2015.
NASA’s 713-page detailed FY2015 budget request was posted on NASA's website yesterday. An overview was released last week and the only new flight project initiative announced was $15 million for a mission to Europa, whose icy crust is thought to cover a liquid ocean with the tantalizing implication that microbial life might exist there.
A mission to Europa was the second priority for a large mission in the National Research Council’s 2011 Decadal Survey for planetary science, losing out to a campaign of Mars missions leading to a Mars sample return in part because of its $4.7 billion pricetag.
Since then, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have been working to reduce the cost (and consequently the scientific return) of the mission. The “Europa Clipper” concept would cost about $2 billion. Though less than half the original estimate, it is still in the “flagship” range of NASA science missions – the most expensive category – and the Obama Administration has not been willing to commit to a mission of that magnitude.
Some influential members of Congress, however, are quite partial to a Europa mission and Congress added money for it in the FY2013 and FY2014 budgets. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) who serve on the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Subcommittee that funds NASA, and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House committee that authorizes NASA activities, are among the supporters of a Europa mission.
In FY2013, Congress added $75 million, or about $69 million after reductions for the sequester and two rescissions required by the law. For FY2014, Congress added $80 million.
As NASA officials point out, however, they cannot build a mission based on promises or expectations that Congress will add money year after year after year. What is needed is approval for a “new start” program that is factored into NASA’s long range budget plans, something that needs Administration acquiescence.
When NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden released an overview of the budget request for FY2015 last week, it initially appeared that Europa had achieved the “new start” threshold when he said the request included $15 million for a Europa mission. As details released yesterday prove, however, that is only for one year, FY2015. It is not funding for a new program expected to last many years until launch in the 2020s. The projected future budget, or “runout,” for FY2016 and beyond is zero.
Speaking at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium on Wednesday (March 5), Bolden said the agency is “committed” to launching a mission to Europa in the decade of the 2020s, but he is targeting the cost at about $1 billion. That is half of the Europa Clipper concept. He acknowledged that it will be difficult to design a mission for that cost. Later at the AAS conference, NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) chief John Grunsfeld indicated that NASA will not be able to spend all the $80 million provided in the FY2014 budget before the end of FY2014 because the budget was finalized so late and some of that will be carried over into FY2015. If Congress approves the $15 million requested for FY2015, however, that still is not enough to move the project forward, he said, and the focus remains on studies. He plans to release a Request for Information (RFI) soon to solicit input on what could be accomplished with a $1 billion-class mission. That would fit within SMD’s “New Frontiers” category of competed missions that are intended to be initiated every three years, but not enough for a flagship mission.
UPDATE: Soyuz TMA-10M landed as scheduled. Bad weather limited the number of helicopters participating in the recovery effort to four instead of 12 and the folks who normally provide live video of the landing were left behind. So no live audio/video of the descent, but NASA reported that the crew landed on time at 11:24 pm EDT.
ORIGINAL STORY: Soyuz TMA-10M is on track for landing tonight at 11:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) despite inclement weather at the landing site in Kazakhstan.
The three International Space Station (ISS) crew members -- Oleg Kotov, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mike Hopkins -- closed the hatches between the ISS and their Soyuz transport vehicle at 4:58 pm EDT, slightly after the scheduled time of 4:45 pm EDT. Undocking is expected at 8:02 pm EDT.
Whether the landing would take place tonight or be postponed until later this week was up in the air earlier today because of the snowy, windy, frigid weather.
Three ISS crew members -- Japan's Koichi Wakata, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin -- remain aboard the ISS. Wakata assumed command of the ISS yesterday, the first Japanese to hold that position. Another three-man crew is scheduled to launch in about two weeks to restore ISS to its typical 6-person complement.
NASA TV coverage of the undocking begins at 7:45 pm EDT, and of the landing at 10:15 pm EDT.
Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for the most up to date information.
Bad weather in Kazakhstan could lead to a postponement of the scheduled landing of Soyuz TMA-10M late tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). A go/no-go decision is expected late this afternoon.
Soyuz TMA-10M with cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and astronaut Mike Hopkins is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station at 8:02 pm EDT and land at 11:24 pm EDT (9:24 am Tuesday local time at the landing site). NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, who is in Kazakhstan to cover the landing, tweeted this morning that the helicopter he was in was returning to Karaganda because of the bad weather.
NASA Johnson Space Center spokesman Josh Byerly said that the landing commission will meet at 4:00 pm EDT today to decide whether or not to proceed with the landing. If it must be postponed, the landing "would be later this week most likely," he added, rather than tomorrow.
If the landing goes ahead tonight, NASA TV coverage is scheduled as follows:
Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for updates as we get them.
The following events may of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session. As hard as it is to believe, Washington, DC may get another (thankfully brief) taste of winter Wednesday night into Thursday. If the forecast holds, be sure to check to see if any Thursday events in DC are still on track.
During the Week
Of geopolitical as well as space interest, two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are due to land in Kazakhstan tomorrow night (Monday) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). U.S. officials insist that International Space Station (ISS) operations are not being affected by the tensions over Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. This landing, of Soyuz TMA-10M carrying Russians Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA's Mike Hopkins, could help prove that point. Landing is scheduled for 11:24 pm EDT (9:24 am Tuesday local time at the landing site).
Fortuitously, noted Russian space authority Anatoly Zak will be speaking at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) earlier that day as part of the NASM/Applied Physics Lab Space Policy & History Forum series. Zak runs the RussianSpaceWeb.com website and is author of the superb book Russia in Space published last year. His talk is at 4:00 pm ET. There is no charge, but RSVPs are REQUIRED in order to enter the part of the museum where the talk will be held. See the entry for Monday below for instructions.
Lots of other interesting hearings, meetings and conferences are on tap. Here's what we know about as of early Sunday afternoon.
Monday, March 10
Monday-Thursday, March 10-13
Tuesday, March 11
Wednesday, March 12
Thursday, March 13
Friday, March 14
Kathy Sullivan was confirmed by the Senate today as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and 10th Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She has been serving as acting NOAA Administrator since Jane Lubchenco left in February 2013.
Sullivan was nominated last August. She is a former NASA astronaut and the first American woman to make a spacewalk. An oceanographer by training, this is her second stint as NOAA, having served as its Chief Scientist from 1993-1996 after leaving NASA. In the intervening years she was director of Ohio's Center of Science and Industry and then director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. She rejoined NOAA as Deputy Administrator in 2011.
NOAA announced the news on its website and via Twitter.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula may have chilled geopolitical relationships, but so far there is no apparent impact on space activities.
U.S. dependence on Russia for crew transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as well as ISS “lifeboat” services is well known in the space community (if not by the general public). Less well known is that two U.S. launch vehicles – Atlas V and Antares – rely on Russian rocket engines. United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V is used primarily for national security satellites, but also some NASA and commercial spacecraft and two of NASA’s commercial crew competitors plan to use it. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares is used to launch cargo to the ISS.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was asked about any impacts on ISS operations yesterday in connection with the release of the FY2015 budget request. He stressed that everything is “normal” with regard to ISS operations. The ISS crew currently consists of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese. Two of the Russians and one American are due to return to Earth in a few days (March 10 EDT) and a new crew – also two Russians and an American – will launch at the end of the month.
A number of international crises have occurred during the past 13 years of ISS operations, Bolden said yesterday, citing the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, another former USSR republic, as an example. “People in [the ISS] program are focused on how to make the world better,” Bolden insisted, and indicated there has been no impact on the ISS program because of current tensions.
The United States has been dependent on Russia for taking crews to and from the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011. NASA’s commercial crew program is designed to facilitate the development of new U.S. crew space transportation systems by the private sector, but none is expected to be operational before 2017. The ISS has been dependent on the Russians for lifeboats to escape the ISS in an emergency since the beginning of the program. Some of the commercial crew vehicles might be able to replace that capability. Under current schedules, however, there is no way to keep crews aboard the ISS without Russia until at least 2017. (Russia also needs the United States to keep the ISS operating, since the U.S. segment provides electrical power, for example, to the Russian segment.)
Michael Gass, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance, reassured Congress at a hearing this morning that launches of the Atlas V rocket also will not be affected. Gass and competitor Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D) today to discuss DOD’s procurement of launch services. SpaceX is trying to break into the DOD market, which is dominated by ULA with its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets that are used to launch virtually all U.S. national security space satellites (as well as a few NASA and commercial missions).
The Atlas V’s RD-180 engines are Russian. Subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) first question was directed at Gass on this topic Noting that there is talk of sanctions, Durbin asked Gass for his assessment of the reliability of the supply of engines under these circumstances. Gass replied that ULA has a two-year stockpile of engines and the blueprints for making more themselves if needed. He added that ULA has produced specific parts from those blueprints to demonstrate that they can, if needed, build that exact engine. He also noted that the Delta IV could be used.
“We are not at any risk” for supporting the nation’s launch needs, Gass insisted, adding that “We have always kept our ability” to not be “leveraged in case of any kind of supply interruption.”
Musk, conversely, used ULA’s reliance on Russian and other foreign parts as a rationale for arguing that the Atlas V be discontinued. He agreed with U.S. space policy, which requires two families of launch vehicles to meet national needs, but said they should be ULA’s Delta and his Falcon. Musk may have been sincere, but some might view his proposal as disingenuous since his two competitors for NASA’s commercial crew program – Boeing and Sierra Nevada – both plan to use Atlas V to launch their spacecraft (CST-100 and Dream Chaser, respectively). If it were phased out, that would leave SpaceX as the only option.
Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket also uses Russian engines – NK-33’s, which are refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ-26. Antares is currently used only for launching cargo missions to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, although the company is seeking additional customers. Each Antares uses two NK-33/AJ-26 engines. Press reports indicate Aerojet acquired 36 of them, so there apparently is a substantial inventory, but Space News recently reported that Orbital is looking at two or three alternatives – all Russian – for future supplies. A spokesman for Orbital said the company was "watching the situation carefully" and the number of engines is sufficient to meet its entire CRS contract with NASA. The first stage core of the Antares is made in Ukraine and he said there are three in the United States right now which will take the company through early to mid 2015. Two more are scheduled for delivery in the second half of this year and "so far, so good" with their suppliers in Ukraine.
Note: This story was updated with the information from Orbital's spokesman.
President Obama's FY2015 budget request for NASA of approximately $17.5 billion could be augmented by another $886 million if Congress goes along with his "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative." The chances seem slim, but prognosticating what Congress will do is always a difficult task.
The base budget request is $17.461 billion, a reduction of $186 million from NASA's FY2014 appropriation of $17.647 billion.
It is essentially a status-quo request. It funds the President's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), the Space Launch System/Orion program, commercial crew development, operations of the International Space Station, space and earth science programs, space technology development, and aeronautics. The request does include funding for a planetary science mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Congress added $75 million in FY2013 and $80 million in FY2014 for Europa studies and pre-formulation activities even though NASA did not request any funding for it. NASA's FY2015 budget request includes Europa for the first time at a comparatively modest level of $15 million, but it signifies the administration's concession that it is a congressional priority, although it is funding only for FY2015. None is included in the future year projections.
Full details on the budget requests for NASA and other agencies will be published in a week or so, but the documents released today provide a good top level view. Here are the basics (totals may not add due to rounding). Keep reading to learn how the $886 million in the OGS initiative would be spent if approved.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), like last year, is not identified as a separate budget line. Its funding is part of the Asteroid Redirect Initiative, which is spread through Science, Space Technology and Exploration. The FY2015 request for ARM is $133 million, with another $27 million elsewhere in the budget -- for a total of $160 million for the Initiative as a whole. For FY2014, NASA received $78 million for the mission plus $27 million for the other activities -- a total of $105 million.
The President's OGS Initiative proposes funding above the level of the budget caps that achieved bipartisan agreement in December 2013 after a long and acrimonious debate. If approved, these additional funds, totaling $885.5 million, would be provided to NASA as part of an overall $56 billion spread across the government.
Reaction to the President's OGS Initiative by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) was swift and negative. Noting that just three months ago the President signed those budget caps (for FY2014 and FY2015) into law, Rogers said it "is extremely disappointing that the President's proposal today blatantly disregards the budget limits for FY2015. ... Contrary to the President's wish-list of additional spending, my Committee will abide by the budget caps...."
Correction: NASA distinguishes between the Asteroid Redirect MISSION (ARM) and the Asteroid Redirect INITIATIVE. ARM is part of the Initiative. An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the FY2014 appropriation for ARM was $105 million, but that is the figure for the Initiative. The FY2014 figure for ARM is $78 million. That compares to $133 million requested for FY2015.
Also, the original version of this article stated the $15 million for Europa indicated that it was the start of a formal program. However, when the details of the budget request were released on March 10, it became apparent that is not the case since there is no funding for it in the projection for future years. This article has been updated accordingly.
President Obama unveiled his FY2015 budget request this morning. It includes approximately $17.5 billion for NASA and $2 billion for NOAA's satellite programs. The budget request also includes an "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" that would provide an additional $56 billion spread throughout the government.
The total budget request for the entire government is $3.9 trillion and most Washington political observers think it has little chance of passage intact. However, the requests for specific agencies might fare better than some of its other proposals like raising taxes on the wealthy.
The Opportunity, Growth and Security initiative proposes spending above the budget caps that Congress agreed to in December so its chances of passage are iffy, but some of the funds are directed towards NASA according to documents on the White House website, though they are not specific.
A brief synopsis of NASA's request is on the OMB website. NASA will post details on its budget website at 1:00 pm ET and NASA Administrator Bolden will present the budget via telecom at 2:00 pm ET (listen at NASA's newsaudio website).
OMB's overview of the request for the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and its satellite programs, is also on the OMB website.
UPDATE, March 3, 2014, 9:30 pm ET: NASA has decided to hold its FY2015 budget briefing as a telecom rather than an event at Goddard Space Flight Center tomorrow (Tuesday) because of the weather. It will be streamed on NASA's news audio website. Still at 2:00 pm ET.
UPDATE, MARCH 3, 2014: Federal government offices in the Washington, DC area are, indeed, closed today, Monday, March 3. However, the Space Studies Board's (SSB's) Space Science Week will go on according to a tweet from the SSB (@SSB_ASEB). A limited number of WebEx connections are available to LISTEN to the plenary session this afternoon. See the meeting agenda (link below) for instructions.
ORIGINAL STORY, MARCH 2, 2014: The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead, but be forewarned that Washington D.C. is forecast to get a MAJOR winter storm beginning tonight (Sunday) and lasting throughout the day Monday. If the forecast holds, the government is very likely to be closed tomorrow with disruptions to government and non-government activities alike. Be sure to check with the host organization before heading out to any Washington-area meetings on Monday and perhaps even Tuesday. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session, but no space-related hearings are scheduled Monday.
During the Week
This is it! Budget week. It's a month late, but President Obama is scheduled to submit his FY2015 budget request to Congress on Tuesday. Many agencies, including NASA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) typically hold press briefings the day the budget is released to explain the key issues they foresee. NASA's is scheduled at 2:00 pm ET Tuesday. Curiously, it will be held at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center instead of NASA Headquarters. It will be broadcast on NASA TV. Some NASA center directors are holding their own briefings later in the afternoon.
The submittal of the budget kicks off budget season in Washington and all the congressional hearings that go with it. Hearings on the Pentagon's budget begin this week including a posture hearing on U.S. Strategic Command.
Apart from the budget, this week has other notable events, including the National Research Council's Space Studies Board's (SSB's) Space Science Week. Over three days (Monday-Wednesday), the SSB's four standing committees -- Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Committee on Solar and Space Physics, Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space, and Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science -- will meet separately as well as in a particularly interesting plenary session tomorrow (Monday) afternoon. For the first time, a public lecture on Tuesday night is also planned. The meetings are at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (NOT the Keck Center on 5th Street). The plenary session on Monday includes a panel discussion with representatives from NASA and its counterparts in Japan, Europe and China. Hopefully that event will be able to take place despite the ice and snow -- be sure to check the SSB's website for up to date information. A limited number of listen-only WebEx connections will be available for this session and for Sara Seager's public lecture on Tuesday night. Instructions for how to listen in are on the agenda, which is posted on the SSB's website.
Also of great interest, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Goddard Memorial Symposium Tuesday-Thursday at the Greenbelt Marriott in Greenbelt, MD near Goddard Space Flight Center (Tuesday is an evening reception; sessions are Wed-Thurs). This perfectly-timed meeting includes talks by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the four NASA Mission Directorate Associate Administrators -- Bill Gerstenmaier (Human Exploration and Operations), John Grunsfeld (Science), Jaiwon Shin (Aeronautics) and Mike Gazarik (Space Technology) -- who should be able to shed more light on NASA's FY2015 budget request as well as the status of ongoing activities. Lots of other interesting speakers are scheduled for the two days as well.
And last, but certainly not least, the annual "space prom" will be held Friday night -- the National Space Club's Goddard Dinner at the Washington Hilton (as usual).
Here's the complete list of events that we know about as of Sunday morning. As we said, for events scheduled in Washington, DC on Monday and Tuesday, check with the organization to see if they are still on track. This storm is supposed to be whopper -- lots of ice overnight and then 8-12 inches of snow on top of it falling throughout the day.
Sunday-Saturday, March 2-8
Monday-Wednesday, March 3-5
Tuesday, March 4
Tuesday-Thursday, March 4-6
Wednesday, March 5
Thursday, March 6
Friday, March 7
Events of Interest