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Most NOAA satellite programs fared pretty well in the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill released yesterday by House and Senate appropriators, but two weren't so lucky -- Jason-3 and Polar Free Flyer.
NOAA's two main weather satellite programs -- Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) received their full requests of.$954.8 million and $824 million respectively. The report on the bill noted the warning issued by an Independent Review Team (IRT) headed by Tom Young that favorably reviewed NOAA's response to earlier recommendations on how to fix the GOES-R and JPSS programs, but raised warning flags about the future. The Young report warned that JPSS is fragile and needs to be made more robust, and that a gap in JPSS data in the latter part of this decade is a strong possibility. Appropriators directed NOAA to present a strategy on how to deal with those issues along with its FY2015 budget request: "Such a strategy shall examine the proposed polar free flyer mission, which the [Omnibus] agreement does not fund due to fiscal constraints."
GOES-R and JPSS are follow-ons to the existing GOES-N and Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) series, which are funded slightly under their requested levels..
NOAA has several other satellite programs as well: Jason-3 for ocean altimetry (joint with Europe); DSCOVR for space weather (joint with NASA and the Air Force); COSMIC 2, a proposed constellation of small satellites using GPS radio occultation for atmospheric and ionospheric observations (joint with Taiwan, NASA and the Air Force); and a Polar Free Flyer that originally was part of the JPSS program.
The House Appropriations Committee recommended zero funding for these programs when it marked up the CJS bill earlier this year, saying only that they were focusing scare resources on GOES-R and JPSS. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended the full request of $37 million for Jason-3, the full $23.7 million for DSCOVR, $24.6 million instead of the $62 million requested for the Polar Free Flyer, and an addition of $4 million for COSMIC-2, for which NOAA requested no funding in FY2014.
In the final compromise reflected in the Omnibus Appropriations bill, DSCOVR is funded at its requested level of $23.7 million and COSMIC-2 received $2 million.
Jason-3 was one of the two NOAA satellite programs that did not fare well. It received $18.5 million, essentially half of its request, a middle ground between the two committees and essentially level-funded with FY2013. Jason-3 is a joint mission between NOAA, Europe's EUMETSAT organization, and the French space agency CNES. CNES and Eumetsat are providing the spacecraft, altimeter, precision orbit components, ground system and operations. NOAA is providing other instruments and launch (acquired through NASA). NOAA said in its budget request that the increase was needed "to meet its international obligation for this mission and reduce the strain on the international partnership." The first two Jason spacecraft were research satellites funded jointly by NASA and CNES. Jason-1 was itself a follow-on to the NASA-CNES Topex-Poseidon mission launched in 1992.
Still, Jason-3 fared better than the Polar Free Flyer, which received no funding in the Omnibus, with the Senate yielding to the House position. No explanation was provided other than fiscal constraints. NOAA separated the Polar Free Flyer from the rest of JPSS to reduce program costs. The agency was heavily criticized for cost growth in JPSS especially after the problems encountered with its predecessor program the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). As cost estimates for JPSS grew, Congress became concerned that it was headed into the same thicket. NOAA's response was to restructure the program so not all program costs now are in the JPSS budget line and to shift responsibility for some of the sensors to NASA. While that reduced the cost for what is now designated as JPSS, it did not reduce the cost for the capabilities needed. The question now is how to get the money for the Polar Free Flyer, not to mention other capabilities strongly recommended by Tom Young's IRT. As the report accompanying the Omnibus states, it wants NOAA to present a strategy to deal with these issues as part of its FY2015 budget request.
As part of its action on the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, the House and Senate appropriations committees rejected the Obama Administration's controversial reorganization plan for STEM education funding and said it would take a lot more work by NASA before they decide on the fate of the President's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
Both initiatives, though substantively unrelated to each other, share the distinction of coming as a surprise to Congress early last year.
The Administration's plan to reorganize how the government manages programs to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education affected many more agencies than NASA, but the NASA community was the most vocal in its opposition. At the top level, the plan, developed over several years by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and its National Science and Technology Council, sought to consolidate activities funded by 13 agencies into three agencies: the Department of Education for K-12 programs, the National Science Foundation for college and university programs, and the Smithsonian Institution for informal education.
NASA funds a significant amount of STEM education activities not only through its Office of Education, but by funding that, under NASA policy, is set aside in each of NASA's science programs (1 percent of each program's budget). Scientists associated with NASA's science programs were flabbergasted that the money would be sent to the Department of Education, which had no expertise and reportedly only one person assigned to STEM education, or transferred to NASA's own Office of Education and they would have to compete to obtain it to support their program-related activities.
The report accompanying the Omnibus Appropriations bill released last night makes clear that although Congress appreciates efforts to make STEM programs more efficient and effective, this is not the plan: "The proposal contained no clearly defined implementation plan, had no buy-in from the education community and failed to sufficiently recognize or support a number of proven, successful programs. Accordingly, the agreement [on the Omnibus] does not adopt the reorganization." The issue is not dead, however. The language in the OSTP portion of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) section of the report directs OSTP to try again, this time using an "inclusive development process," and Congress will reconsider that future proposal. No time is suggested for when that might be.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) similarly received underwhelming support in the Omnibus bill. The Obama Administration proposed ARM last year as a variation of its 2010 directive that NASA's next step in human spaceflight be a mission to an asteroid. In the ARM concept, rather than sending astronauts on a several month journey into deep space to rendezvous with an asteroid, a robotic spacecraft would fly to an asteroid already headed in Earth's direction and nudge it into a lunar orbit. The astronauts then would be sent to study the asteroid in lunar orbit, a much shorter trip and within the capabilities of the early versions of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft.
The idea failed to win support in Congress or with NASA"s international partners. A Global Exploration Roadmap produced by the United States and 11 other countries as part of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) made clear that all the other countries remain focused on sending astronauts to the Moon as the next "beyond low Earth orbit" destination. Only the United States champions the ARM mission.
For its part, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee reported out its version of a 2013 NASA Authorization Act that prohibits spending any funds on ARM. The bill cleared committee on a party line vote and has not advanced further, but a Democratic alternative offered by Rep. Donna Edwards did not endorse ARM either. That bill, and two bills in the Democratically-controlled Senate (the Senate Commerce Committee's version of the 2013 NASA authorization act, and the Senate Appropriations Committee's report on the FY2014 CJS appropriations bill), were silent on the proposal, as though it did not exist. The House Appropriations CJS bill said that the idea needed more thought and agreed studies could be conducted, therefore neither approving nor prohibiting it.
The CJS portion of the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which reflects a compromise between the House and Senate CJS subcommittees, essentially adopts the House position, saying neither no nor yes, but that more work is needed before they'll sign on. "While ARM is still an emerging concept, NASA has not provided Congress with satisfactory justification materials such as detailed cost estimates or impacts to ongoing missions. The completion of significant preliminary activities is needed to appropriately lay the groundwork for the ARM prior to NASA and Congress making a long term commitment to this mission concept."
It may not be the full enchilada, but NASA did pretty well all things considered in the proposed FY2014 omnibus appropriations bill released tonight (January 13).
Assuming approval by the House, Senate and President, NASA will get $17.6 billion for FY2014, not that much less than its $17.7 billion request. Under some scenarios, NASA could have gotten as little as $16.1 billion, so this is a tremendous improvement. A quick look through the bill shows that the agency would receive:
The prohibition on engaging in any activities related to bilateral space cooperation with China remains.
NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has two positions open for space policy experts. One is a permanent civil service job, the other is an IPA. Applications for the civil service position are due January 22, 2014.
The full-time permanent civil service job is posted on USAJOBS.gov. It is at the mid-career GS 13/14 level and open to qualified U.S. citizens.
Information on the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignment -- where someone is detailed to NASA for two years with a possibility of extensions for four additional years -- is as follows.
PLEASE CONTACT JENS FEELY AT NASA (contact information below) WITH ANY QUESTIONS, NOT SPACEPOLICYONLINE.COM! WE ARE JUST HELPING SPREAD THE WORD.
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Seeks Public Policy Expert
SMD’s Strategic Integration and Management Division (SIMD) is looking for a Public Policy Expert to join our staff under an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) appointment.
Under authority granted to NASA in the NASA Flexibility Act of 2004 (Pub. L. 108-201, 118 Stat. 461 (5 U.S.C. 9801 et seq.)), the initial IPA appointment will be for up to 2 years, with the possibility of reappointment up to a total of 6 years. The Intergovernmental Personnel Act provides for the temporary assignment of personnel between the Federal Government and state and local governments, colleges and universities, Indian tribal governments, federally funded research and development centers, and other eligible organizations; all applicants must be from an IPA-eligible organization.
Ideal candidates would have an advanced degree in Public Policy or a related field, and have multiple years of experience working in public policy implementation. All candidates must possess excellent policy analysis, writing and editing skills. Prior experience working on space policy is desirable, but not required. SMD’s preferred start date is February 1-May 1, 2014.
The individual selected would join a 7-person team focused on providing policy support to SMD's 95 missions that span Astrophysics, Earth Science, Heliophysics, Planetary Science, and various reimbursable projects for other agencies. In support of SMD’s policy functions, the policy team manages SMD's relations with external groups, including Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), educational entities, and external advisory committees and boards. In partnership with other SMD Divisions, the policy branch also supports the SMD Associate Administrator by providing integrated guidance, strategy, and focused advocacy for NASA's science program.
The specific responsibilities of the policy branch include the following:
• Develop and coordinate testimony, Congressional correspondence, white papers, Congressional reports, proactive legislative outreach, staff briefings, and responses to Congressional and Executive Branch review actions.
• Monitor, support development of, and track inter-agency agreements, coordinate interagency meetings, and manage SMD’s coordination with OSTP and OMB.
• Coordinate SMD international activities and relationships, including Agency and SMD international policy, agreements status tracking, export control, and international meetings.
• Manage the NAC Science Committee and support the SMD Divisions in the management of the respective Science Subcommittees advisory groups; Oversee and coordinate SMD's activities with the National Research Council.
• Oversee and coordinate Directorate audit and review activities with the NASA Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other auditors or reviewers.
• Coordinate and support the development of SMD elements of the NASA strategic plan and Directorate science plan, and provide support to the Resource Management Division 's (RMD) activities in response to the Government Performance and Results (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010.
Correction: We misunderstood the original information we were provided and originally wrote that there were two civil service positions, but this is only one. This article has been corrected accordingly.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session.
During the Week
If all goes according to plan, this week Congress will pass an Omnibus Appropriations bill incorporating all 12 regular appropriations bills that will fund the government for the rest of FY2014. The Omnibus may be introduced as early as this evening (Sunday) or perhaps not until tomorrow, but assuming that goes well, the House would vote on it on Wednesday and the Senate on Saturday (the schedule is set by certain procedural steps that must take place).
The existing Continuing Resolution (CR) that is funding the government expires on Wednesday, January 15, so Congress is expected to pass a three-day CR to extend that to midnight Saturday. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in recess next week for the Martin Luther King holiday, giving added impetus to get this done before the recess.
Meanwhile, the American institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is holding its annual Aerospace Sciences meeting at National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington., DC. AIAA has adopted a new model for the many conferences it holds each year, bundling them into a fewer number of co-located events. The collection of AIAA meetings taking place at National Harbor this week is call the Science and Technology Forum & Exposition or SciTech2014.
NASA will hold a number of advisory committee meetings, as well as continuing the celebration of 10 years of Mars rovers (Spirit and Opportunity landed 10 years ago, and, of course, Curiosity landed in 2012). This week, two events are scheduled for Pasadena, CA, home to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that manages those programs. The event on January 16 will be streamed on Ustream. (A video of the first event, at the National Air and Space Museum, is on YouTube.)
Here is the list of what we know about as of Sunday, January 12.
Monday-Friday, January 13-17
Monday-Tuesday, January 13-14
Tuesday, January 14
Thursday, January 16
Friday, January 17
The second session of the 113th Congress began in earnest this past week, with budget issues still at the top of the agenda. Even so, the Senate had time to pass the bill renaming NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) after Neil Armstrong, an effort in the works since soon after he died in 2012.
That bill, H.R. 667, passed the House almost a year ago. That actually was the second time the House approved the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who represents the district that includes DFRC and is the House Majority Whip. The bill originally passed the House on December 31, 2012 in the final days of the 112th Congress, but the clock ran out without Senate action. Bills that are not passed by the end of a Congress die, so it had to be reintroduced in the current Congress. The House passed it again on February 25, 2013. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S. 1636) in October, but on Wednesday (January 8, 2014), the Senate simply agreed to the House bill. It now goes to the White House for signature. It renames DFRC as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center. While he is best known as the first man to walk on the Moon, Armstrong spent the early part of his career as a test pilot there. The bill renames the Western Aeronautical Test Range after Dryden. Hugh L. Dryden was director of NASA's predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and NASA's first deputy administrator.
On matters of national interest, Congress is working hard to finalize FY2014 appropriations. The Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law on December 26 sets limits on how much the government may spend in FY2014 and FY2015, but does not actually give money to anyone. That is the province of the House and Senate appropriations committees. They are now finalizing the 12 regular appropriations bills for FY2014. Numerous news sources report that negotiations on at least half of those are completed, including Defense and the Commerce-Justice-Science bill that funds NASA and NOAA. Details are not being released while negotiations continue on the rest. All 12 bills are expected to packaged together into a single "Omnibus Appropriations" bill for consideration by the House and Senate.
The existing Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government expires on Wednesday, January 15, and although appropriators reportedly are very close to agreement on everything, they are not there yet and a very short-term CR is likely to be passed as a bridge early in the coming week. The expectation is that it will be a three-day CR, keeping the government operating through Saturday, January 18, by which time the House and Senate presumably will pass the Omnibus.
There is little talk this time of a government shutdown. The 16-day shutdown at the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1-16) seems to have convinced many Republicans that it is not in their best interest to do that again this time, particularly in an election year. Still, there are many controversial issues and it may be that some are pushed off into the FY2015 budget cycle for resolution. Strictly speaking the White House should send its FY2015 budget request to Congress on the first Monday in February, but rumors are that it will be delayed until late February or early March because the budget agreement, which affects FY2015 as well as FY2014, was not reached until late in December.
UPDATE, January 12, 2014: Cygnus arrived at the ISS this morning as scheduled. It was grappled by Canadarm 2 at 6:08 am EST and attached to the Harmony module at 8:05 am EST.
ORIGINAL STORY, January 9, 2014: Orbital Sciences Corporation's first operational cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off on time today from Wallops Island, VA.
The mission, called Orb-1 for Orbital's first flight under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, had been delayed from December so astronauts on the ISS could focus instead on repairing a coolant loop, and then by one day due to frigid weather at the launch site and another day because of "space weather" -- a solar flare that increased the solar radiation level in space.
Today's liftoff was on time at 1:07 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. It is taking 2,780 pounds of supplies and scientific experiments to the ISS. Arrival at and berthing to the ISS is expected on Sunday morning EST. Grapple by the ISS robotic arm is scheduled for 6:02 am EST and installation onto the Harmony module at about 7:00 am EST.
At the opening session of the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) this morning, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called for countries "to make space exploration a shared global priority, to unlock the mysteries of the universe, and to accelerate human progress here on Earth." As for the United States, he said our commitment to space exploration is growing stronger despite pressures and challenges at home and abroad.
Burns began by noting that this is an "unprecedented time for space exploration" with China's landing of Chang'-e on the Moon last month, NASA's Voyager 1 becoming the first manmade object to leave the solar system, the15th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS), and other discoveries and breakthroughs in the past year "that transformed our understanding of outer space and our way of life here on Earth." That is why, he continued, "despite the many pressures, challenges and urgent priorities facing the United States at home and abroad, our commitment to space exploration is only growing stronger."
Burns laid out three areas for increased collaboration in space: more countries participating in the ISS; encouraging "entrepreneurial ventures" and supporting "the kind of robust and competitive commercial space sector that is vital to the next era of space exploration"; and increased focus on defending Earth from Near Earth Objects (asteroids and comets) and space debris.
Most of the one-day meeting being held at the State Department is closed to the public, but media were allowed in for the first hour to hear opening statements by representatives of the United States, Italy, the European Commission (EC) and Japan. ISEF builds on a process begun in 2011 at an event hosted by the European Union, European Space Agency and Government of Italy, according to the State Department. Japan will host a second ISEF two years from now.
Burns was joined by White House Science Adviser John Holdren to offer the U.S. viewpoint. Burns noted that the "Man and the Expanding Universe" statue outside the conference room in which the meeting was taking place was put there 50 years ago to celebrate space exploration and "reminds us that space exploration is not just the preoccupation of scientists and astronauts but a vital undertaking for all those who wish to advance the cause of global peace and prosperity."
ISEF is billed as "the first-ever ministerial-level meeting to build support for global cooperation in space exploration," but Burns was there instead of Secretary of State John Kerry; the President of the Italian Space Agency, Enrico Saggese, stood in for Italy's Minister of Education, Research and Industries (H.E. Maria Chaira Carrozza); and the EC representative, Paul Weissenberg, is the Deputy Director-General of Enterprise and Industry. Japan, however, was represented by its Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Hakubun Shimomura.
Holdren was scheduled to speak later in the day, but ISEF moderator Jonathan Margolis explained that Holdren's White House duties required him to speak earlier and, therefore, the speech took place during the part of the program open to the press. Holdren touted the four-year extension of ISS operations announced yesterday and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) proposed by the Obama Administration a year ago. Congress has had a mixed reaction to ARM and its decision on whether to allow NASA to proceed presumably will be known when FY2014 appropriations are finalized, hopefully later this month. Today, however, Holdren made clear his enthusiasm for the mission and said that he knew NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden would be happy to hear from any countries that would like to be involved.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its most recent report on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) today. Though it found that the program is "generally" conforming to the revised baseline plan announced in September 2011, the congressional watchdog agency warns about difficult times ahead.
Today's report found that although data from prime contractor Northrop Grumman indicated that the program is proceeding on the cost and schedule outlined in the 2011 revision, "monthly performance declined in fiscal year 2013." While the project has "a significant amount of cost reserves," GAO said, "low levels of near-term cost reserves could limit [NASA's] ability to continue to meet future cost and schedule commitments." GAO added that its analysis of the schedules for three subsystems "determined that the reliability of the project's integrated master schedule ... is questionable."
JWST has experienced substantial cost growth and schedule slippage since it began. There are several different accounts of the original cost estimate, with some reports that it was $1 billion, but in any case, by 2005, NASA's estimate was $4.5 billion with launch in 2013. In 2010, an independent review led to a new baseline for the program. In 2011, Congress emplaced a cost cap of $8 billion for development with launch in October 2018. The life cycle cost estimate, including operations, was set at $8.8 billion. Congress directed GAO to keep track of the program.
GAO recommended in today's report that NASA perform an "updated integrated cost/schedule risk analysis" and "address issues related to low cost reserves and perform schedule risk analyses" on the three subsystems GAO studied. NASA concurred with those recommendations according to GAO.
UPDATE, January 9, 2014: This update adds links to the joint Holdren/Bolden blog post and other reactions to the decision, along with additional information.
ORIGINAL STORY, January 8, 2014: NASA announced today (January 8) that the Obama Administration has approved extending the International Space Station (ISS) to at least 2024, four years beyond the current deadline.
During a hastily arranged media teleconference at 12:30 pm ET, NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver said that NASA began notifying Congress of the decision yesterday and so far the reaction is positive. NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said that the international partners still need time to consider whether they want to continue participating, but NASA is prepared to proceed even if not all of them agree. He does not expect a decision from them for several years.
Gerstenmaier said there would be no budgetary impacts through 2020, since this decision affects only the years beyond that. Funding that NASA was holding aside for potentially deorbiting the ISS (if it was discontinued in 2020) will instead be applied to operations.
White House Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden issued a joint blog post later in the day about the decision this is posted on the NASA and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy websites. The Democratic leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space Subcommittee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) emailed a press release supporting the decision that is not yet posted on the Democratic website of the committee.
The announcement came one day before a State Department-sponsored International Space Exploration Forum on January 9 that is bringing together leaders of space activities in approximately 30 countries, and two days before a "Heads of Agencies" meeting with the heads of the space agencies of more than 30 countries. (The State Department meeting was billed as a ministerial level meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts, but the United States instead will be represented by Holdren and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and representation by many of the other countries will be by their space agency heads rather than ministers.)
The Orlando Sentinel broke the story about the decision late in the evening of January 7.
During the January 8 media teleconference, Gerstenmaier cited a number of benefits of announcing now that the ISS will continue to operate for at least 10 more years, including providing more business certainty to private sector partners in the commercial cargo and commercial crew programs, to researchers who need years to get experiments ready, and to NASA itself which, he said, needs to use ISS to learn more about human adaptation to weightlessness and test technologies needed for space exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).
Events of Interest