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A mission to send a spacecraft to explore Jupiter's moon Europa that owes its existence to an alliance between a few planetary scientists and Washington politicians moved from concept review to formulation today, the first step in the development phase. NASA continues to say it will be launched "in the 2020s" while its political patrons are intent on 2022.
NASA Science Mission Directorate head John Grunsfeld announced that "Today we are taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth."
On May 26, NASA announced the instruments that will be included on the spacecraft. The goal is to determine if the moon is habitable -- not whether life exists there, but whether the conditions that would allow life to develop exist. Europa project scientist Curt Neibur said at the time that "we don't have a life detector" and there is not even a scientific consensus on what to measure in order to detect life confidently.
A mission to Europa was the second priority for a flagship planetary science mission in the most recent National Research Council (NRC) Decadal Survey on planetary science. Returning samples from the surface of Mars got top billing, in part because of the high cost of a Europa mission, then estimated at $4.7 billion. The report recommended that Europa advocates downsize the mission to make it more affordable, yielding the “Europa Clipper” concept now being used as the baseline design. That design involves a spacecraft that will orbit Jupiter and make 45 flybys of Europa over two-and-a-half years.
Some Europa enthusiasts want to send a lander as well as an orbiter.
The European Space Agency (ESA) built the Huygens spacecraft that traveled with the U.S. Cassini mission to Saturn and landed on its moon Titan. ESA also built the Philae spacecraft that traveled with ESA's Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko and landed on the comet last November. Philae just awakened from 7 months of hibernation and resumed communicating with Earth via Rosetta, which remains in orbit around the comet.
Following on those successes, the idea of ESA providing a Europa lander as part of this mission has been getting some attention. During a press conference Monday at the Paris Air Show, outgoing ESA Director General (DG) Jean-Jacques Dordain and incoming DG Johann-Dietrich Woerner were asked about that possibility. Dordain laughingly replied that he already told NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden that he would never let the United States land on Europa without Europe. More seriously, he and Woerner said it was something that would have to be discussed. ESA is already building its own orbiting mission to Jupiter's moons -- the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) -- that will focus on two different moons, Ganymede and Callisto, and make only two flybys of Europa.
For now, however, the Europa Clipper orbiter is the NASA reference design and that is what moved into formulation today.
NASA had not planned on building a Europa mission now. The Decadal Survey's top priority was a series of missions to Mars that would eventually lead to returning a sample of Mars to Earth. That "campaign," which was conceived as a joint NASA-ESA effort, fell victim to budget constraints. NASA instead is building a single spacecraft, Mars 2020, using hardware left over from the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission. Obtaining funding for another expensive planetary science mission did not appear possible.
Two influential members of Congress have other ideas, however. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) used their positions on the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee to add funding for a Europa mission in FY2013 ($75 million; none was requested), FY2014 ($80 million; none was requested), and FY2015 ($100 million, compared to the $15 million requested). Culberson now chairs that subcommittee and the House-passed version of the FY2016 CJS appropriations bill provides $140 million for Europa, an increase of $110 million above the request of $30 million. Schiff no longer is on the House Appropriations Committee, but the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is in his district and he remains a strong supporter. Culberson's interest appears to be personal rather than constituent-based and he is an ardent advocate of the mission. He repeatedly asserts that he is confident life will be discovered on Europa and he wants to be part of making that possible.
The Senate Appropriations Committee did not add any funding for Europa in approving its version of the FY2016 CJS bill, but both sides of Capitol Hill agree that the spacecraft should be launched using NASA's new big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is now in development. The House-passed bill specifies that the launch should take place in 2022.
NASA officials warn that they cannot efficiently proceed with a mission that is funded by annual congressional earmarks hoping each year that the money will be provided instead of through the regular budget planning process that requires Administration support. The Obama Administration did request $30 million for Europa mission formulation in FY2016, however, and that is the step that began today even though the FY2016 appropriations process is far from complete.
Europa stirs fascination because observations from an earlier NASA mission to Jupiter, Galileo, indicated that a liquid ocean lies beneath Europa's icy crust. Other observations using the Hubble Space Telescope have more recently revealed plumes of material being ejected from Europa. One goal of the Europa mission is to study the material in the plumes as it flies close to the moon. Instruments on the spacecraft will be able to analyze the material and determine what lies beneath the crust. Niebur stressed at the May 26 briefing that the flyby mission would be able to reveal Europa's secrets without touching the surface "just as a doctor can see what's going on inside your body using an MRI."
The Senate Appropriations Committee publicly released its report today on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that it marked up last week. Some of the winners and losers were clear already, but the report illustrates less obvious changes resulting, in part, from the committee shifting programs from one account to another.
One example is NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). NASA's request was $725 million. The Senate committee cut that to $600 million, but it also shifted the Restore-L satellite servicing project from the Space Operations account into Space Technology and specified $150 million for that program alone. So in addition to cutting the total for space technology activities, a substantial amount is earmarked for a specific project that was not part of that request.
During the April 16, 2015 CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA's budget request, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) pointedly asked NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden why the request for the satellite servicing technology program at Goddard Space Flight Center (in Maryland) was so low -- $65 million compared to the $130 million it received in FY2015. Bolden asked to speak to her about it privately, while adding that he could not determine who would be the customers for NASA satellite servicing technology since the private sector is already working on those technologies. Apparently he was not convincing. The committee allocated $150 million, $20 million more than FY2015, and shifted it from International Space Station (ISS) Research in the Space Operations account into Space Technology. It further directed NASA not to include any carry-over funds from prior years in the $150 million allocation. The report states refueling Landsat 7 or another U.S. government satellite is a pathfinder mission and although pathfinder technologies were demonstrated on ISS, it is now time to have a "full-scale stand-alone demonstration which will benefit multiple NASA mission directorates and, therefore, is more appropriately funded within Space Technology" although the program is to be co-managed by STMD and the Science Mission Directorate.
NASA's Earth science program, which was cut deeply in the House-passed version of the CJS bill, fared very well in the Senate version. The $1.947 billion request was cut only by $16 million and NASA is directed to accelerate development of the next Landsat satellite, Landsat 9, so that it is ready by 2020 instead of 2023. The committee denied funding for a Landsat-related free-flying thermal infrared instrument, TIR-FF, NASA wants to build to ensure there is no gap in providing that type of data, presumably because if Landsat 9 is ready by 2020, the risk of such a gap is minimized. (For a comparison of the House-passed and Senate committee-approved funding levels, see SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request.)
The Senate committee did not specify additional funds for a planetary mission to Europa, and, in fact, cut the planetary science budget by $40 million. The House increased planetary science substantially, including adding $110 million to the $30 million requested for Europa. One place the two do agree is that the Europa mission should be designed to utilize the Space Launch System.
The Senate committee shifted the commercial crew program from Exploration to Space Operations, which makes apples-to-oranges comparisons of the request and committee-approved levels for those accounts more difficult than may appear at first glance. While Exploration appears to get a deep cut, in fact the SLS program gets a $543.5 million increase compared to the request, of which $100 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage, and Orion gets a $104 million boost compared to the request. The total for Exploration is less because commercial crew is shifted to Space Operations, where it is cut to $900 million from the $1.244 billion request. Commercial crew is tasked with developing systems to take crews to and from ISS and the committee said it wanted to consolidate all ISS funding in a single account.
Overall, the Senate committee recommends a $239.6 million cut to NASA's budget request of $18,529.1 million, approving $18,289.5 million. To obtain that net reduction, the committee favored science programs, exploration, and education, while reducing aeronautics, space technology, and NASA's internal accounts. Space Operations is an amalgam that is difficult to analyze at the level of detail provided in the committee's report. Commercial crew was shifted into Space Operations, but satellite servicing was moved out, so looking only at the total on paper -- $4,756.4 million compared to the $3,957.3 million request -- does not tell the whole story.
During markup, Mikulski offered an amendment to add $300 million for commercial crew, $46 million for the WFIRST space telescope, $50 million for the Mars 2020 program, $54 million for space technology, and $50 million for Orion, but it was rejected on party lines. Senate Democrats continue to insist that the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) need to be revised for non-defense spending before they will allow any appropriations bills to be debated on the Senate floor. So far the Republicans do not seem interested in negotiating a new budget deal. They are interested in adding money for defense and are accomplishing that by adding it in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations). Congressional Democrats and the President call it a gimmick and the President has vowed to veto any appropriations bills that conform with the BCA caps.
Note: The figures for NASA's total budget request, total recommended by this committee, and the amount of the cut have been clarified.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of June 15-19, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate resumes consideration of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Floor debate began on June 3 and progress has been slow due to internal Senate politics. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said late last week that the bill has become "unstuck" now so he is hoping for quick resolution.
The Senate Republican leadership also wants to take up the FY2016 Defense Appropriations Act this week. We'll see how that goes. Democrats have vowed to prevent any funding bills from reaching the floor until Republicans agree to negotiate over the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) funding caps. So far the Republicans don't seem interested.
One space issue has split Senate appropriators and authorizers. In the NDAA, McCain is holding DOD's feet to the fire to discontinue using Russian RD-180 engines by 2019. He spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday about the need to stop sending money to Russian President Putin and his cronies. At the same time that day, however, the Senate appropriations committee was approving a bill that would relax that requirement. McCain's friend and ally (and Presidential candidate) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered an amendment to strike the language in the bill offering that flexibility, but strong bipartisan opposition led him to withdraw it.
The House already has passed its versions of the NDAA and defense appropriations act. This week it will take up the FY2016 Intelligence Authorization Act, H.R. 2596. Most of that is classified, but the House Intelligence Committee said that it "invests in the resiliency of our national security space architecture." It is set for consideration by the House Rules Committee tomorrow, with floor debate on Tuesday.
The biennial Paris Air Show is being held this week at Le Bourget (outside Paris) which usually creates a lot of news, so stay tuned. And the annual Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) will be held in Chicago all week. NASA and university scientists will hold a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon that will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Sunday-Friday, June 14-19 (continued from last week)
Monday-Friday, June 15-19
Monday-Sunday, June 15-21
Tuesday, June 16
Wednesday, June 17
The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Philae comet lander has awakened and is sending data back to Earth once more. Scientists have anxiously waited seven months for this moment.
Philae (pronounced fee-LAY) landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014 Eastern Standard Time (EST) -- three times, in fact, as it bounced off the surface and finally settled in an area shaded from the Sun. Because the Sun could not recharge its batteries, the lander fell silent after its initial round of experiments using its 10 scientific instruments.
Philae journeyed to Comet 67P attached to the Rosetta orbiter, which continues to orbit the comet as it comes closer and closer to the Sun. Philae communicates with Earth via Rosetta.
Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet and Philae is the first to land on one. Comet 67P was about 510 million kilometers from Earth when the landing took place. It took the spacecraft 10 years to reach the comet after traveling a circuitous 6.5 billion-kilometer route.
Stephan Ulamec of the German space agency DLR and Philae's project manager said the lander is doing well and is "ready for operations." He reported that it has 24 watts of power available, indicating that its solar panels are recharging the spacecraft's batteries. Signals were received at ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstaad, Germany on June 13 at 22:28 Central European Summer Time (CEST) for 85 seconds.
The solar panels were in shadow in November after Philae finally stopped bouncing and landed for the third time. The project's scientists and engineers hoped that as the comet changed its position relative to the Sun that the solar panels might be illuminated sufficiently to recharge the batteries. Their wish came true.
ESA describes the purpose of the mission as to "unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our solar system -- comets" and therefore the names are associated with deciphering hieroglyphics. Rosetta is named after the Rosetta Stone that allowed the deciphering of hieroglyphics and therefore an understanding of the Egyptian civilization. Philae is the name of an island in the Nile River where an obelisk was found with the final clues to enable the decryption.
The comet is named after the two Kiev, Ukraine astronomers who discovered it in 1969, Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, while conducting comet observations at the Alma-Ata Astrophysical Institute in Kazakhstan.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) may want to hold DOD's feet to the fire to stop using Russian RD-180 engines by 2019, but the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) isn't so sure. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) objected to a provision in SAC's defense appropriations bill, which was marked up today, that would provide more flexibility as to when use of the RD-180s must end, but his amendment to delete the language won little support and he withdrew it.
SASC chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been a leader in motivating DOD and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to replace the Russian rocket engines for ULA's Atlas V rocket with an American alternative. McCain and others who share his point of view do not want American dollars going to Russian President Vladimir Putin or his "cronies." They want an American-built engine to replace the RD-180 by 2019, a requirement included in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), although waivers are possible for national security reasons.
The Air Force and ULA are seeking to change that language to allow use of the RD-180s into the early 2020s. They insist that although they might be able to develop a new engine by 2019, it will be 2021 or 2022 before the engine is integrated into a new rocket, tested, and certified for launching expensive, critical national security satellites. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) agreed and softened the requirement in its version of the FY2016 NDAA.
McCain and other SASC members, however, expressed their displeasure with the Air Force's slow pace during a May 2015 hearing and did not provide any relief in the Senate version of the FY2016 NDAA, which is now being debated on the Senate floor (McCain spoke on the RD-180 issue today). The Air Force wants to be able to procure 14 more RD-180s, while SASC wants to limit that number to nine.
The Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree with SASC. Although the text of the bill is not yet publicly available, Graham offered an amendment today to delete section 8045 that apparently allows greater flexibility in how many RD-180s may be purchased. Democrats and Republicans both objected to the amendment.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) insisted that sufficient time is needed for an alternative U.S. engine to be developed so that the Air Force does not "jump from one monopoly to another." He cited a letter from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper endorsing the Air Force's position that more time is needed.
ULA has been a monopoly provider of launches for the national security sector since it was created in 2006 as a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture when the launch market could not sustain two competitors. ULA offers the Altas V, Delta IV Medium, and Delta IV Heavy rockets. It recently decided to discontinue the Delta IV Medium, leaving it with only Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy. The Atlas V is powered by RD-180s and Delta IV Heavy, at $400 million per launch, is not cost competitive.
Last month, the Air Force finally certified SpaceX to compete for national security launches. ULA supporters therefore argue that if ULA is not allowed to launch Atlas V after 2019 because it cannot obtain more RD-180s, and the Delta IV is not competitive, SpaceX with its Falcon rockets will become a de facto monopoly provider. Since the goal is to lower costs through competition, the argument goes, SpaceX should not be allowed to replace ULA as a monopoly provider and therefpre Atlas V launches are needed until ULA can offer a new rocket using a new American engine (or other competitors emerge).
The debate pits two groups against each other. Both agree on the need to end U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines and reduce launch costs through competition. The debate is over the timing.
One group is anxious to end reliance on Russia as soon as possible because of its annexation of Crimea last year and its continued action in Ukraine. Some also are SpaceX advocates intent on lowering government costs for launching satellites through competition with ULA. On the other side are ULA supporters who want to give the company time to develop and test an alternative engine and remain in the space launch business as well as those sympathetic to Air Force arguments that it needs more time to learn how to interact with the private sector in this new era of public-private partnerships.
SASC is in the first camp, while SAC appears to be in the other, though some SAC members clearly are in tune with the desire to end reliance on Russia sooner rather than later. Durbin pointed out today that the provision in the appropriations bill, which provides $143.6 million to develop a new U.S. engine, calls it the "Competitive Rocket Innovation Modernization Engine Assembly" or CRIMEA. "The acronym tells the story," Durbin said.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of SAC, both spoke against the Graham amendment, stressing that the bill provides money to develop a new engine and the Air Force and ULA need sufficient time to succeed.
Graham insisted that the authorizing committee (SASC) already had this debate and decided that the current 2019 deadline was achievable. We are "not enhancing competition" by allowing ULA to use more than nine RD-180s, "we're enhancing the reliance on a Russian engine that we need to get away from," Graham insisted and a "date certain" is needed to "break this dependency." Realizing the lack of support for his amendment, however, he withdrew it and said he would continue to work with Shelby on the issue.
Strictly speaking, authorizing committees set policy while the appropriations committee sets funding levels, so this could be an interesting case of jurisdictional and parliamentary dispute depending on the exact wording of the provision in the appropriations bill.
The committee approved its version of the FY2016 defense appropriations bill, but it is not clear when it will be debated on the Senate floor. Senate Democrats have vowed to work to prevent any appropriations measures from being debated until Republicans agree to negotiate over revising or revoking the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The House passed its version of the defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2685) this afternoon.
The Senate Appropriations Committee today rejected an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to restore funding for NOAA to proceed with future satellites in the Joint Polar Satellite Sytsem (JPSS) program. The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee recommended a deep cut to the Polar Follow On (PFO) program to build JPSS 3 and 4. Mikulski's amendment to restore the full amount requested by the Obama Administration failed on a party-line vote.
The full committee approved the subcommittee's recommendations for NOAA. The text of the bill has not been released yet, but apparently it fully funds NOAA's existing weather satellite programs -- GOES-R and the first two JPSS satellites. The House also fully funded them in its version of the bill that passed last week. The debate is over the PFO program, for which the Obama Administration is requesting $380 million for FY2016. The House zeroed that funding.
The NOAA budget request actually states that the PFO request is $370 million with another $10 million for an "Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave" (EON-MW) instrument, so the amount is variously listed as $370 million or $380 million. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on the FY2016 NOAA Budget Request for Satellites for more information.)
Based on the Mikulski amendment as explained in draft report language posted on the committee's Democratic website, the Senate subcommittee approved $135 million for PFO. She sought an addition of $245 million, which would have restored it to the $380 million level. The amendment also would have added $2.5 million for a follow-on space weather satellite. The request was $2.5 million. The newest space weather satellite, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), was launched on February 11.
Debate during full committee markup today of the CJS bill, as well as the FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill, followed a familiar theme. Democrats want to negotiate a new budget deal that replaces budget caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) with more flexible limits. Republicans insist that non-defense spending must stay within those caps, but are adding money for defense in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply. Democrats in Congress and the White House are railing against what they call a "gimmick" to add money for defense while shortchanging domestic needs.
The NOAA additions were part of an overall $2.784 billion increase Mikulski sought for various activities in the CJS bill. The amendment was defeated by a 14-16 party line vote. CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the amendment, but said that if a new budget deal is indeed negotiated, he will work with Mikulski on how to allocate any additional funding.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) offered an amendment to the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill during full committee markup today that would have added money above the level recommended yesterday by the CJS subcommittee for several NASA programs, including commercial crew. The amendment was rejected 14-16 along party lines.
Debate on the CJS bill, as well as the FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill that also was approved by the committee today, followed familiar themes. Democrats want to negotiate a new budget deal that replaces budget caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) with more flexible limits. Republicans insist that non-defense spending must stay within those caps, but are adding money for defense in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply. Democrats in Congress and the White House are railing against what they call a "gimmick" to add money for defense while shortchanging domestic needs.
Yesterday, the CJS subcommittee approved a bill that provides about $240 million less for NASA in FY2016 than requested by the Obama Administration. The commercial crew program was one of those cut most deeply. Only $900 million was approved versus the $1.244 billion requested.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden repeatedly warns that if the full request is not approved, he can not guarantee that U.S. systems capable of taking astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will be ready by 2017. He argues that if Congress had fully funded the program in the past, the systems would be ready now, so 2017 is already a two-year delay. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the Senate floor yesterday that if the Senate cuts the program to $900 million, another two-year slip will be incurred.
Mikulski's amendment would have added $300 million for commercial crew above the subcommittee's recommendation, bringing it close to the requested level. She also sought to add funds for NASA programs in science ($96 million above the subcommittee's recommendation -- $46 million for WFIRST and $50 million for Mars 2020), space technology ($54 million), and the Orion spacecraft ($50 million).
The NASA additions were part of an overall $2.784 billion increase Mikulski sought for various activities in the CJS bill.
The amendment was defeated by a 14-16 party line vote. CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the amendment, but said that if a new budget deal is indeed negotiated, he will work with Mikulski on how to allocate any additional funding.
Meanwhile, however, NASA would be held to the subcommittee levels if this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said Democrats will work to prevent any appropriations bills from reaching the Senate floor for debate until a new budget deal is reached, so the future of this and the other appropriations bills in the Senate is uncertain. President Obama vowed to veto any funding bills that abide by the 2011 BCA caps.
The House passed its version of the CJS bill last week, providing the same total amount requested by the Administration, $18.527 billion, but allocating it differently. For commercial crew, for example, the House approved $1.0 billion, a $244 million cut.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden fired back at the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the agency because of its cut to the commercial crew program. The subcommittee marked up the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding bill this morning, cutting the $1.244 billion request for commercial crew to $900 million. Full committee markup is tomorrow.
In a statement, Bolden said the cut would mean continued reliance on Russia to take American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and putting money into Russia's economy instead of our own. Bolden said:
"I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations Committee does not fully support NASA's plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia. Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our commercial crew program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget. By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own. I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”
Bolden has been stressing the need for full funding of the commercial crew request repeatedly this year. He warns that without full funding, NASA may have to renegotiate its milestone-based fixed-price contracts with Boeing and SpaceX and delay the ability of the United States to once again launch people into space. NASA has not been able to launch anyone to space since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.
Bolden points out at every opportunity that if Congress had fully funded the commercial crew program from the beginning, the spacecraft would be flying this year. Instead, the goal now is 2017. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the Senate floor today that if the subcommittee recommendation is adopted, it will mean yet another two-year delay.
While many of those in Congress who authorize and appropriate money to NASA agree that America needs its own ability to launch people into space and object to the need to pay Russia for such services, some insist that NASA should support only one company to provide commercial crew services, not two. NASA insists that it needs at least two competitors for redundancy in case one of the systems has a failure and to keep prices down.
NASA awarded Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing ($4.2 billion) and SpaceX ($2.6 billion) last fall as the last phase of the commercial crew program.
The National Research Council's Space Studies Board (SSB) has extended the deadline for applications from young (under 40) earth and planetary scientists from the United States and China to participate in the 2015-2016 Forum for New Leaders in Space Science. The new deadline is June 15, 2015.
As we reported in April, the SSB and the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are extending their cooperative Forum for New Leaders in Space Science for another year. The SSB is welcoming applications to participate from planetary or earth scientists who will be no more than 40 years of age as of June 30, 2016.
This is the second year of the Forum and involves participants from China coming to the United States and U.S. participants going to China to discuss their research activities. The goals are to "identify and highlight the research achievements of the best and brightest young scientists," to "build informal bridges between the Earth- and space science communities" in the two countries, and "enhance the diffusion of insights" gained by participating in the Forum.
The first Forum focused on astrophysics and heliophysics at meetings in May and November 2014. This time the topics are planetary science and earth science from space. Participants will meet in China in October 2015 and in the United States (California) in May 2016.
Eligibility requirements and application procedures are posted on the SSB's website. The revised deadline is June 15, 2015. The SSB is hoping to receive applications from a diverse cross-section of the planetary science and earth science communities' younger members.
Editor's Note: We understand very few women applied for this opportunity last year. Hope there are more this year!
Updated with reaction from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, led by two of NASA's strongest congressional supporters, approved a FY2016 CJS bill today with less funding than requested by the Obama Administration, albeit an increase compared to its current level. Only a few details are available so far, but the total is $18.3 billion compared to the $18.529 billion requested. NASA's current FY2015 funding level is $18.010 billion.
The CJS subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the top Democrat is Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Mikulski pointed out during subcommittee markup this morning that more money is needed overall. Democrats argue that the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) need to be revised or revoked. Republicans are insisting that non-defense spending stay within those caps, while adding money to defense spending by placing it in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply. President Obama and congressional Democrats rail against that "gimmick." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said Democrats will not allow any of the appropriations bills to pass until Republicans agree to discuss a solution. The President has vowed to veto any bills that abide by the BCA caps.
Shelby and Mikulski both are strong NASA supporters. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is in Alabama and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is in Maryland. Not surprisingly, Shelby is especially supportive of the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by MSFC and Mikulski of science programs at GSFC. Both fare well in the CJS subcommittee-approved bill, although details of how the science funding is allocated were not released today. The NASA earth science community is concerned at the cuts approved to those programs in the House-passed CJS bill.
Mikulski is expected to introduce at least one amendment to add more money for NASA during full committee markup tomorrow (Thursday). Unless she has offsetting cuts to propose elsewhere in the CJS bill, however, getting agreement to any amendment adding money is a challenge because the subcommittee was allocated a fixed amount of money to spend pursuant to the FY2016 Budget Resolution.
Few details about the allocation of funds within the $18.3 billion total for NASA were released today. The following is what is known publicly at the moment. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information on current funding, the President's FY2016 request, and congressional action to date.)
Full committee markup for this bill, the defense appropriations bill, as well as the legislative branch appropriations bill, begins tomorrow (June 11) at 10:30 am ET.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) voiced his objections to the $344 million cut to commercial crew on the Senate floor following the markup. He said if the cut is sustained, it will delay the ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets two more years, which means paying Russia for two more years, costing at least as much. "We need to wake up to what's happening," he implored, adding that Mikulski will offer an amendment tomorrow to restore the commercial crew funding and urging his fellow Senators to support it.
Events of Interest