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The following events may be of interest in the week ahead (plus a bit, this week's list goes through Sunday, November 10). The House is not in session this week; the Senate is in session.
During the Week
The Kepler Science Conference II takes place this week at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. The conference was always expected to produce fireworks in terms of its exoplanet discoveries, but this one also created quite a furor when Chinese scientists were not allowed to attend because of NASA/Ames' interpretation of restrictions on Chinese visitors to NASA facilities. It said no Chinese were allowed because of a law sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Wolf publicly rebuked the agency in the middle of the government shutdown saying it was not because of the law, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden -- one of the few NASA employees who was still allowed to work (because he's a political appointee) said he'd review the situation when the government reopened, and subsequently the decision was made that the Chinese scientists could reapply to attend. It will be interesting to see how many were able to get through the approval process and obtain visas in order to be there.
Another notable event this week is the launch of the Soyuz TMA-11M crew (Mastracchio, Wakata, Tyurin). They will bring the Olympic torch with them to the International Space Station. When they dock on Thursday morning, there will be three three-person crews aboard the ISS -- a total of nine people instead of the usual six. On Saturday, two Russian cosmonauts (Kotov, Ryazanskiy) will do a spacewalk and take the torch with them to the outside of the ISS and on Sunday the Soyuz TMA-09M crew (Nyberg, Parmitano, Yurchikhin) will return to Earth with the torch and it will continue its journey to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Those and the other events we know of as of Sunday afternoon (November 3) are listed below.
Monday, November 4
Monday-Friday, November 4-8
Monday-Tuesday, November 4-5
Tuesday, November 5
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 5-6
Wednesday-Thursday, November 6-7
Thursday, November 7
Thursday-Friday, November 7-8
Thursday-Sunday, November 7-10
Saturday, November 9
Sunday, November 10
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the Space Studies Board meeting November 7-8 was at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. It is in Washington, DC at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue.
NOAA is set to respond to last year's report on its satellite programs by the Satellite Task Force of the NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB) at an SAB meeting November 19. The SAB Satellite Task Force (SATTF) report was one of three issued last year that critiqued NOAA's management of its weather satellite programs.
A draft of the SATTF report was released for public comment last fall and the final report issued in December. Among its eight key recommendations were that NOAA should advocate for a stable funding and management environment for the satellite programs within NOAA and conduct an analysis of five alternative architectures for the future of U.S. civil weather satellite systems.
One of the other reports last year was from an Independent Review Team (IRT) headed by Tom Young, a veteran retired industry executive often called upon to lead reviews of government space programs that go awry. His report last year called oversight of NOAA's satellite programs by NOAA and its parent, the Department of Commerce, "dysfunctional." Mary Kicza, NOAA Assistant Administrator for the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), told the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (CESAS) on Tuesday that the IRT also will report out this month with its assessment of NOAA's response to that report.
NOAA is responsible for the nation's two civil weather satellite systems, one of which is in polar orbit and the other in geostationary orbit. NOAA is trying to dispel an image of poor management of those programs, especially its role in the failed tri-agency National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program. Criticism also has been levied at its management of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) that replaced NOAA's portion of NPOESS.
The life cycle cost estimate for JPSS started at $11.9 billion for four satellites -- two JPSS satellites plus two free-flyers to accommodate instruments that were planned for NPOESS but cannot fit on the smaller JPSS spacecraft. The estimate then rose to $12.9 billion -- NOAA said because it added four more years of operations -- triggering congressional alarm. In the FY2014 budget request, NOAA lowered the estimate to $11.3 billion by discontinuing plans for one of the free-flyers, moving the remaining one to a separate line item in the budget, and transferring responsibility for several "climate" (as compared to "weather") sensors to NASA. (NASA earth science division director told the NRC CESAS meeting that NASA was given a one-year increase of $40 million to pay for those climate sensors, while NOAA estimated their cost in the "high $200 to low $300 millions.")
At the NRC CESAS meeting, Kicza portrayed both JPSS and GOES-R as in good shape today at least in part because Congress appears finally to understand the need for these satellites. The Continuing Resolution (CR) under which the government is currently operating directs NOAA to spend its funds so as to ensure the launch dates for the first JPSS and GOES-R do not slip. The downside is that the agency was not given more money, so funds to keep those programs on track will have to come from somewhere else, such as NOAA's other satellite programs, DSCOVR and Jason-3.
Still, Kicza said NOAA is "thankful" for the "clear recognition" for the need for weather satellites and the "tough love" from external reviewers -- like SATTF and IRC.
The five architectures the SATTF asked NOAA to evaluate are:
Usually there are six people aboard the International Space Station (ISS) at one time, though periodically it dips to three during crew rotation cycles. Next week, however, it will jump to nine as three three-person crews are there at the same time. The current crew will shuffle spacecraft from one port to another tomorrow to make room for everyone.
Today, there are three Russians, two Americans and one European aboard. NASA's Karen Nyberg, the European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano, and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin are one crew and tomorrow they will climb into their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft and move it from one docking port (Rassvet) to one at the other end of ISS. The 24 minute ride begins at 4:34 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). That opens up Rassvet for a crew that will arrive next week.
Three other crewmembers already are aboard: NASA's Michael Hopkins and Russia's Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy. They arrived last month.
On Wednesday, November 6, NASA's Rick Mastracchio, Japan's Koichi Wakata and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin will launch to ISS on Soyuz TMA-11M. Among their cargo is the Olympic Torch, which is on its way to Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics. They will launch at 11:14 pm Eastern STANDARD Time (EST) on Wednesday night (10:14 am November 7 local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan). As is becoming common, that crew is taking the expedited route to ISS, docking four orbits after launch at the Rassvet port. Docking is scheduled for 5:31 am EST Wednesday.
That will bring to nine the number of crew aboard the ISS. Although it was common to have a large number of crew aboard the ISS while the space shuttle was docked, NASA says this is the first time since 2009 when so many have been aboard without a space shuttle present.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy will take the Olympic Torch outside the ISS on a spacewalk on November 9. Nyberg, Parmitano and Yurchikhin will bring it back to Earth when they return the next day.
As always, NASA TV will cover all these events live. A NASA press release provides all the relevant times. (For those trying to keep track of time zones, most of the United States changes from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time at 2:00 am Sunday, November 3.)
Today the Senate confirmed the nominations of two new members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including a new chairman, after two Senators lifted their holds.
Thomas Wheeler was confirmed to be the new FCC chairman, filling a Democratic slot, while Michael O'Rielly was confirmed to fill a Republican slot. With their confirmations, the FCC leadership is now back to full strength. The FCC has five commissioners, three from the party of the President and two from the other party.
The Hill newspaper reports that the votes to confirm the nominations today were unanimous.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was blocking Wheeler's confirmation because he does not want the FCC to increase requirements to identify sponsors of political ads. In a statement this afternoon, Cruz said that Wheeler conveyed that "he had heard the unambiguous message" that trying to impose such additional requirements required congressional action and was not a decision for the FCC to make unilaterally.
Separately, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vowed yesterday that he would block all nominations until the Obama Administration released more information about the survivors of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last year. He allowed the vote today reportedly because the nominations predated his hold.
A single Senator can block the confirmation of any nominee by placing a hold on the nomination for any reason.
The FCC regulates use of the electromagnetic spectrum by the private sector, including for commercial communications satellites, as well as orbital slots for those satellites in geostationary orbit.
Former astronaut Piers Sellers and Mike Freilich, head of NASA's earth science program, will headline an event on "Earth from Space" held by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) on November 13, 2013.
Sellers, who is currently Deputy Director of the Science and Exploration Directorate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, will introduce a condensed version of NOVA's "Earth from Space" film. Freilich then will moderate a panel discussion among Sellers, Jon Malay of Lockheed Martin, Jeff Puschell of Raytheon, and Paula Wamsley of Ball Aerospace. Malay is a past president of AAS and a past president of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).
The event will be held at the U.S. Navy Memorial (Naval Heritage Center), 701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC. Doors open at 5:30 pm ET, with the film beginning at 6:00 pm and the panel discussion from 6:30-7:30 pm, followed by a reception at 7:30 pm. RSVP by November 6 to email@example.com.
Sellers has a lot of personal experience viewing the Earth from space. He flew to the International Space Station (ISS) three times, in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and made six spacewalks.
The National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Human Spaceflight is offering everyone a last chance to provide their ideas on the future of the human spaceflight program via a Twitter chat tomorrow, October 29, 2013.
This is the first time the NRC is using social media to obtain input from the public. Anyone who wants to participate should tweet their ideas using the hashtag #humansinspace.
Input will be accepted during a 27 hour period on October 29 -- from midnight Eastern Daylight Time through the next midnight Pacific Daylight Time.
The NRC solicited ideas from the public this summer; they are available on the NRC's website. This is a final opportunity for the public to participate as the committee nears the end of its deliberations.
This time the NRC is asking for responses to the question: What are your best ideas for creating a NASA human spaceflight program that is sustainable over the next several decades.
The NRC is hoping to stimulate "a rapid exchange of ideas" among participants. Be sure to use the #humansinspace hashtag.
UPDATE, October 28: We've added David Grinspoon's lecture on Thursday.
The following space policy-related events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Though space programs are only a small part of what they'll be discussing, perhaps the most important event this week for the government's space program is the first formal meeting of the conference committee on the budget. The House passed a 10-year budget on March 21 and the Senate passed its version on March 23. They deal with the federal budget on a broad scale, not with specific agencies or programs, but the budget totals they set are used to determine how much each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees can spend on the agencies and programs within their purviews.
The House and Senate budget plans are extremely different and the two sides had not scheduled a conference committee to try and negotiate a compromise version until now. The establishment of the conference committee was part of the deal to reopen the government, which calls for the committee's work to be completed by December 13.
The conference committee is chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. The first formal meeting is on Wednesday at 10:00 am ET in room HC-5 of the Capitol. As Politico said at the time, it is not that the House and Senate budget bills are like apples and oranges, but "more like apples and bicycles." Their titles hint at those differences. The House plan is called "The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget." The Senate plan is entitled "Foundation for Growth: Restoring the Promise of Opportunity."
Here's what else is coming up this week that we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday, October 28
Tuesday, October 29
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 29-30
Wednesday, October 30
Thursday, October 31
Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft had a good test flight today until the very end when a problem with its left landing gear marred the event.
Dream Chaser is one of three competitors in NASA's commercial crew program. It looks like a small space shuttle and successfully achieved two captive-carry tests when tethered to a helicopter. Today was the first time it was released from the helicopter and left to land on its own. Everything went well at first. As Sierra Nevada said in a press statement, Dream Chaser "adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile" and "smoothly flared and touched down" on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base. At that point, however, there was "an anomaly with the left landing gear deployment."
NASASpaceflight.com phrased it less delicately, saying that the vehicle flipped over on the runway.
NASA is funding "2 1/2" companies to develop crew space transportation systems to take crews back and forth to the International Space Station. Sierra Nevada is the "1/2," receiving half the funds it requested under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCAP) program. Sierra Nevada's plan is to launch the Dream Chaser to orbit using an Atlas V rocket. SpaceX and Boeing are the "2" that received full funding under CCiCAP. Their designs are capsules reminiscent of an Apollo spacecraft. Boeing also would use the Atlas V for launches of its CST-100 spacecraft. SpaceX would use its own Falcon rocket to launch a version of the Dragon spacecraft outfitted for human crews rather than cargo as it already is doing under NASA's commercial cargo program.
Dream Chaser during captive carry test, May 2012. Photo credit: Sierra Nevada
What impact the imperfect landing will have on the Dream Chaser program is unknown at this time. Sierra Nevada said simply that "As with any space flight test program, there will be anomalies that we can learn from, allowing us to improve our vehicle and accelerate our rate of progress."
UPDATE, October 26, 2013 EDT: Christy posted today that new data issued by SpaceTrack show Payload A and its subsatellite either very close or in identical orbits, but "whether capture occurred is still open to confirmation."
ORIGINAL STORY, October 25, 2013 EDT: A Chinese satellite may have captured another Chinese space object tonight using a remote manipulator system according to analysis by Bob Christy of Zarya.info.
Christy has been tracking the activities of a trio of Chinese satellites launched in July using data from Air Force Space Command (AFSC) through its SpaceTrack website. China announced the names of the three satellites -- Shiyan-7 (SY-7 or Experiment 7), Chuangxin-3 (CX-3), and Shijian-7 (SJ-7 or Practice-7) -- but AFSC continues to refer to them only as Payload A, Payload B and Payload C. Which object corresponds to which name remains unclear.
Christy and other analysts were interested in the maneuvers of Payload C in August, then thought to be SY-7. Now it is "Payload A" that is capturing attention and it may be SY-7 instead. China had indicated that SY-7 would be testing a robotic manipulator system.
Over the past several days, a sub-satellite apparently detached from Payload A and the two have been flying in formation with each other, sometimes matching orbits, sometimes varying the distance between them. Tonight (October 25 EDT), Christy reports that SpaceTrack has issued identical orbital elements for the two objects "suggesting that Space Command believed the two were joined together. China may have achieved success with its space manipulator system."
SpacePolicyOnline.com will provide more details as they become available.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told a National Research Council (NRC) committee this week that there are two main reasons for extending the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2020: business and science. He also said that the Space Launch System is actually a NASA design.
Bolden spoke to the NRC's Committee on Human Spaceflight. The committee was set up in response to a provision in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that directed NASA to contract with the NRC in FY2012 for a study on the future of the human spaceflight program. NASA provided the funding to the NRC late in FY2012 and the committee began meeting last December. It heard from Bolden at that time. This week's meeting was an opportunity for him to update the committee and respond to questions that emerged in the past 10 months. It also was the first time committee co-chair Mitch Daniels heard from him. Daniels, a former Republican Indiana Governor and now the President of Purdue University, replaced former defense secretary Bill Perry as co-chair this spring. Jonathan Lunine, a Cornell space scientist, is the other co-chair. The committee's task is to articulate the value proposition for human spaceflight -- what does the nation get for the money it expends.
Under current plans, the ISS partners (the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada) will keep the space station operating until 2020. NASA, however, is making the case for extending it to 2028, a year that will mark the 30th anniversary of the launches of the first two ISS modules. The modules have a 15 year design life, but NASA is confident they can operate for twice that.
The burning question is whether there is sufficient value to justify eight more years of spending. NASA's budget for the ISS is about $3 billion a year, not including the costs for developing the commercial crew systems or purchasing services once they become available. Commercial crew development is expected to be completed around 2017 and presumably the price for U.S. commercial crew flights will not exceed what NASA currently pays the Russians for such services, so that may not add much to the annual operating costs post-2020. Nonetheless, $3 billion a year is a lot especially as NASA's budget is increasingly constrained and trade-offs inevitably will have to be made between maintaining today's programs versus future space exploration.
Bolden's business argument is that the companies who are investing their own funds in commercial crew need to be assured of recouping those costs and the longer NASA needs those services, the more revenue they will make. NASA is hoping that commercial crew will become available in 2017. Though one goal of commercial crew is for the companies to find non-NASA users, the NASA business is a staple. If ISS is terminated in 2020, NASA business will represent a very small market, however. If ISS is extended to 2028, the market looks somewhat better. NASA is paying a large percentage of the development costs and how much the companies are investing of their own money is proprietary, so it is not possible to know how much revenue they need to achieve a decent Return on Investment (RoI), but it is obvious that the longer time frame is more advantageous.
As for science, Bolden argues that scientists need 5-10 years to come up with ideas for experiments and implement them. They need to know that the ISS will be available for more than just a few years or they are not likely to utilize it. The ISS is a scientific laboratory and while a great many experiments have been conducted over the past 13 years of permanent human occupancy, to date none has been a "killer app" that unambiguously demonstrates the value of performing research in a microgravity environment. Committee member Pascale Ehrenfreund made the same point, noting that she has several ISS experiments but is wondering whether to propose any more since the future of the ISS is uncertain.
Ehrenfreund wanted to know when a decision would be made. Bolden exclaimed that ISS is a steppingstone to the universe, but that if we are not going to move foward in exploring space, there is no point in continuing ISS. One decision point will be when the NRC committee makes its report, he said, because it all gets back to the value proposition that the committee is expected to articulate.
Bolden also defended the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and, in response to a question, remarked that the design of the Space Launch System (SLS) originated at NASA. SLS is new rocket being developed by NASA to enable space exploration beyond low Earth orbit, including the ARM and eventually human trips to Mars.
In February 2010, as part of the FY2011 budget request, President Obama terminated the Constellation Moon/Mars program initiated under the George W. Bush Administration and proposed that the United States spend 5 years developing "game changing" space technologies before deciding what rocket to build and where to go. Congress disagreed and in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act directed NASA to build SLS with an initial capability of 70 tons to low Earth orbit, growing to 130 tons. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) were seen as instrumental in insisting on NASA developing a new rocket immediately, not in 5 years, and including those specifications in the law. Detractors of the rocket sometimes derisively refer to it as the Senate Launch System -- one designed not by NASA but by Senators.
Bolden, however, made clear that SLS is a NASA design. A committee member referred to SLS as being "old technology" and wanted to know why Congress told NASA to pursue "the old stuff." Bolden replied that "Congress didn't pick the vehicle, we did. We picked it based on many decades of going over and over and over...what we need." He described SLS as an open architecture that can incorporate new game-changing propulsion technology if it emerges, with nuclear propulsion as an example.
A proposed alternative -- to rely on rockets developed by the commercial sector that would be refueled in orbit at fuel depots -- is not realistic in his view. Turning the nation's deep space human exploration program over to the commercial sector is "a risk that I don't think I am willing to undertake for the nation. To say that we're going to turn the nation's exploration program over to private enterprise. I'm not ready for that yet."
He also eschewed the notion of a five-year hiatus before picking what launch vehicle to build, as the Administration proposed in 2010. He said industry's response was that when NASA came back in five years, it might well find an empty room. Human space exploration "is not something from which you can take a break," Bolden emphasized.
Events of Interest