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House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on ASTEROIDS Act on September 10

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Sep-2014 (Updated: 08-Sep-2014 11:17 PM)

The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next week on the ASTEROIDS Act, which was introduced in July by Rep. Bill Posey (R- FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA).

The goal of the legislation is to establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids.   Two U.S. companies promoting such activities are Planetary Resources, headquartered in Kilmer's Redmond, WA district, and Deep Space Industries of Houston, TX.   Posey's district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Five witnesses have been announced for the hearing, four of whom are scientists and one is a space lawyer.  The scientists are:

  • Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division;
  • Phil Christensen, an Arizona State University (ASU) professor who co-chairs the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS) and was a member of the NRC's Decadal Survey for planetary science;
  • Jim Bell, another ASU Professor who is President of the grass-roots space advocacy group The Planetary Society; and
  • Mark Sykes, CEO and Director of the Tucson, AZ-based non-profit solar system exploration research and advocacy group Planetary Science Institute. 

The fifth witness is Joanne Gabrynowicz, an internationally recognized space lawyer who for many years before her retirement headed the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi and was editor of the Journal of Space Law.  She is currently a member of the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Protection Subcommittee that advises the agency on matters concerning the prevention of forward or back contamination of solar system bodies.

The concept of mining asteroids involves many scientific, technical and economic considerations, but property rights is a particularly thorny issue.  Under the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, there is no national sovereignty in space so no country can "own" an asteroid.  Pursuant to the treaty, governments are responsible for the actions of their non-governmental entities, such as a company, sparking debate over whether a company can own an asteroid or any part of it.  Without ownership rights to minerals mined from asteroids, it is unlikely that companies would pursue asteroid mining even if such an activity could prove to be otherwise feasible.  

The ASTEROIDS Act would apply only to U.S. companies and seeks to ensure that materials mined from an asteroid by a U.S. company are the property of that company.  It would not confer ownership of the asteroid itself.

The hearing is at 10:00 am ET on September 10, 2014 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

Update:  The words "research and" were added to the description of the Planetary Science Institute to better convey its mission.

NASA Tentatively Approves Extended Operations for Seven Planetary Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Sep-2014 (Updated: 03-Sep-2014 03:21 PM)

NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) has largely adopted the recommendations of its Senior Review panel to continue operations of seven existing planetary science spacecraft, but the approval is tentative until budgets are better understood.   One surprise was the panel's sharp criticism of the proposal made by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team, whose Curiosity rover is the newest and probably best known of the seven missions.  The panel said it was left with the impression the MSL team believes it is "too big to fail" and submitted a proposal that "lacked scientific focus and detail."

NASA's Science Mission Directorate, which includes PSD, routinely conducts Senior Reviews of its ongoing missions to determine if continued operations are warranted or if the money could be better spent on new projects.  Each project team typically submits a proposal for the next two years of operations, explaining what research would be conducted, how much it would cost, and the anticipated scientific return.  Seven missions were up for review this year:

  • Cassini -- a U.S. spacercaft orbiting Saturn since 2004
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) -- a U.S. spacecraft orbiting the Moon since 2009
  • Mars Exploration Rover (MER) -- the U.S. Opportunity rover that has been traversing the Martian surface since 2004 (its sister, Spirit, is no longer functioning)
  • Mars Express (MEX) -- a European spacecraft that includes U.S. instruments, orbiting Mars since 2003
  • Mars Odyssey -- a U.S. spacecraft orbiting Mars since 2001
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) - a U.S. spacecraft orbiting Mars since 2006
  • Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) -- better known as Curiosity, the name of the U.S. rover that landed in 2012

Cassini is an exception in this round of deliberations.  That spacecraft will reach the end of its life in 2017, three years from now, so its proposal was for all three years rather than two.  (In 2017, when Cassini's fuel is just about depleted, NASA will command Cassini to enter Saturn's atmosphere where it will be destroyed rather than posing an environmental hazard to Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus, which are possible candidates for life.)

The Senior Review panel found that extended operations of all seven missions are a good value for NASA and American taxpayers because they "are essentially new missions without the development and launch costs."  It rated Cassini the highest of the seven.   It recommended continued operations of the other six, too, but with modifications to the proposals made for LRO, MEX and MSL/Curiosity.

For LRO, the panel concluded that three instruments were at the end of their useful scientific life, but PSD agreed to terminate only one of them (Mini-RF) because the other two are still useful to other parts of NASA.   For MEX, the panel recommended and PSD agreed to terminate almost all activities of the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) image calibration and validation team and to add funding for joint ionospheric studies between MEX and NASA's new MAVEN mission that will reach Mars next month.

The panel was critical of some of the other proposals, but none more so than the one for extended operations of MSL/Curiosity.  Noting that the Project Scientist was available only via phone for the panel's review and not available at all to answer follow-up questions, "This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail and that simply having someone show up would suffice."  Overall it found the MSL proposal "lacked scientific focus and detail" and was particularly unimpressed with the proposal for the number of planned drilling operations:  "only eight (8) samples will be taken in two years ... This means that during the prime and [Extended Mission 1] missions a total of 13 analyses will be made by a highly capable rover.  The panel viewed this as a poor science return for such a large investment in a flagship mission."

Consequently, the panel recommended that the rover travel a shorter distance than the 8 kilometers proposed and focus on studies at three rather than four sites so the three could be better characterized.  Overall, it "strongly" urged NASA Headquarters to "get the Curiosity team focused on maximizing high-quality science that justifies the capabilities of and capital investment in Curiosity."

In a briefing to the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee (NAC-PSS) this morning, PSD Program Executive Bill Knopf said that PSD approved a two-year extension of the MSL/Curiosity mission, but asked that the project team "develop a new task plan."

Knopf stressed that PSD's approval for all the extended missions is "tentative" while NASA awaits final determination of its FY2015 budget and formulation of its FY2016 budget request.  In a later briefing today to a joint meeting of NAC-PSS and the National Research Council's Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS), PSD Director Jim Green went further, emphasizing that the Senior Review's recommendations are "only one element" in the decision process. Programmatic and budgetary considerations, as well as congressional direction must all be taken into account, he said.

Send Your Ideas on Space Exploration for NASA's OSIRIS-REx Time Capsule

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2014 (Updated: 02-Sep-2014 09:38 PM)

NASA is asking the worldwide public to submit messages and images for possible inclusion in a time capsule that will launch on its robotic OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission in 2016. 

This is the agency's second outreach effort associated with the asteroid sample return mission, whose full name is Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer.  The spacecraft will rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu and return a sample of it to Earth.  The first outreach activity, announced in January, asked the public to submit names to be etched on a microchip aboard the spacecraft. This new effort invites anyone to submit short messages or images from which the agency will choose 50 of each to be included in the time capsule.

OSIRIS-REx will return a sample of asteroid Bennu to Earth in 2023.   The time capsule will return to Earth with the sample, opened, and the messages and images will then be posted online.   Topics should be about solar system exploration in 2014 and predictions for space exploration in 2023.

Details on how to submit a message or image is on a special website established for that purpose.

Roscosmos: Space Geckos Are Dead - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Sep-2014 (Updated: 01-Sep-2014 04:49 PM)

UPDATE, September 1, 2014, 4:45 pm EDT:   This story has been updated with additional information since its original publication at 11:57 am EDT.

Russia's Foton-M4 spacecraft returned to Earth today (September 1), earlier than originally planned.   It carried a number of experiments, including biological subjects among which were five geckos.  Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, announced today that all five geckos died.

The cause and time of death will be determined by experts, although a Roscosmos official told the Itar-Tass news agency later in the day that they died at least a week before landing and the bodies were partially mummified.  The official added that hypothermia was one possibility, but not the only one.  Geckos are reptiles, which are cold-blooded.

The spacecraft also carried fruit flies (drosophila), an oft-used subject for biological experiments in space because they reproduce quickly, and Roscosmos said they "successfully developed and bred."

Foton-M4 (or Photon-M4) was launched on July 19, 2014 and was intended to remain in orbit for two months.  It was placed into an incorrect orbit by its Soyuz-2-1a rocket, however.  Intended to go into a 575 kilometer circular orbit, it was left in an elliptical 258 by 571 kilometer orbit.  In addition, shortly  after reaching orbit, the spacecraft stopped receiving commands, although it was transmitting.  Two-way communications were later restored.

News of the malfunctions coupled with the nature of its passengers resulted in numerous headlines around the world about the fate of the geckos that were reportedly engaged in mating experiments, a fact that seemed to amuse many editors.  In total, 22 experiments were aboard to study the physics of weightlessness, manufacturing processes of semiconductor materials, biomedical products, and well as biological and biotechnological research.

Last week, Roscosmos announced without explanation that the spacecraft would return today (September 1) instead of completing its full two-month mission.  It landed in the Orenburg region at 13:18 Moscow time (5:10 am Eastern Daylight Time).  Roscosmos announced the fate of the geckos soon thereafter.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 1-12, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2014 (Updated: 31-Aug-2014 10:42 AM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the next TWO weeks, September 1-12, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress returns on September 8.

During the Weeks

This coming Wednesday and Thursday (September 3-4), two committees that guide NASA's astrobiology and planetary science activities will meet at the same time, although offset by three hours since one is on the East Coast and the other is on the West Coast.  The NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee (NAC/PSS) provides tactical advice to NASA, while the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS) is an NRC standing committee that cannot formally give "advice," but provides strategic guidance.  NAC/PSS is meeting at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, while CAPS is meeting at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  Both committees usually get briefings from many of the same NASA officials to inform their deliberations, so they have arranged to have portions of the meetings held jointly via videoconference.  (The joint sessions are shown on the CAPS agenda, but not on the NAC/PSS agenda. at least as of today).

NASA has made no official announcement, but its decision on the winner(s) of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract(s) could be revealed this week.  Rumors that the agency would announce its choice(s) in late August proved unfounded.  NASA itself has been vague all along, saying it would happen in "late August or early September."

Next week, on September 8, Congress returns.  The House and Senate will have just over three weeks to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded when FY2015 begins on October 1.  House and Senate Republican leaders are vowing that there will be no government shutdown this year.  The House is scheduled to be in session September 8-11, September 16-19, and September 29 - October 2 before recessing for the elections.  The Senate will be in session September 8-12 and September 15-19, with its schedule for the remainder of the month TBA.

No space-related hearings have been announced for September yet, but that could change as everyone gets back into the swing of things.   

Meanwhile, here are the meetings we know about for September 1-12, 2014 as of Sunday morning, August 31.   Enjoy the Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday-Thursday, September 3-4

Monday, September 8

  • Congress returns from recess

Monday-Friday, September 8-12

Tuesday, September 9

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 9-10

Wednesday, September 10

Thursday, September 11

Friday, September 12

NRC Creates New Space Technology Roundtable and New Committee on Space Biology and Physics

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2014 (Updated: 28-Aug-2014 05:33 PM)

The National Research Council (NRC) in separate actions today announced the creation of a new roundtable on space technology and a new standing committee on space biology and physics.  The first meeting of the roundtable will take place in Washington, DC on September 11. 

The Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable (STIGUR) will operate under the aegis of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB).   Chaired by Ray Johnson, Lockheed Martin's Chief Technology Officer and head of the company's Advanced Technology Laboratories, STIGUR is a "convening body" in NRC parlance.  It is not chartered to give advice, but is a venue for representatives from industry, academia, NASA and other government agencies to facilitate dialogue on issues associated with NASA's space technology efforts.  According to its statement of task, its assignment is "to define and explore critical issues related to NASA's space technology research agenda that are of shared interest; to frame systems-level research issues; and to explore options for public-private partnerships."   More information and a list of members is posted on its website.

The NRC's Space Studies Board (SSB) is also creating a new entity to serve as a forum for discussion, in this case on space biology and physics.  Co-chaired by Betsy Cantwell of Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Robert Ferl of the University of Florida, the new SSB Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space (CBPSS) will, among other things, monitor progress in implementation of the NRC's Decadal Survey for this field.  Cantwell co-chaired that Decadal Survey, the first for space biology and physics.   Published in 2011, the report, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration:  Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, is often referred to as RFSE for the last four words of the title.  The date for the first meeting was not announced.  CBPSS joins four other SSB standing committees whose jurisdictions roughly correspond to the scientific disciplines covered by five NRC Decadal Surveys that affect NASA.  Information on all of them is available on the SSB website.

Michael Moloney, who is Director of both SSB and ASEB, said via email that he is "happy to be able to diversify the way the Boards support [NASA], the people who work there, and its full portfolio of activities."

Editor's Note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I am honored to have been appointed as a member of STIGUR.

House Committee Republicans Question SLS/Orion Schedule Changes

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2014 (Updated: 28-Aug-2014 12:54 PM)

The top two Republicans who oversee NASA activities on the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee sent NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden a letter yesterday with a list of questions about the status of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs.  The questions stem from a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and prior congressional testimony by Bolden.  The letter does not reference NASA's announcement yesterday that it is committing to a launch readiness date for SLS that is almost one year later than previously projected. 

House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) sent the four page letter yesterday, August 27, the same day that NASA announced it is committing to a November 2018 launch readiness date for SLS at a development cost of $7 billion.  NASA officials have been saying publicly for years that the first SLS launch would take place by December 2017, although in recent months hints that it would slip into 2018 emerged. 

In their letter, Smith and Palazzo challenged Bolden on prior testimony he gave to the committee on the schedule for SLS and Orion and criticized the Obama Administration for not requesting sufficient funding to keep the programs on track.  The letter cites a July 2014 GAO study that concluded NASA needs $400 million more in order to meet the December 2017 date, a conclusion based on analysis by the SLS program itself.  Smith and Palazzo also say that the committee "recently learned" that the first SLS launch, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), might slip 6 months "due to insufficient funding and unresolved technical challenges that are facing the Orion." Orion is the spacecraft being built to carry crews launched by SLS, although EM-1 is a test flight and no crew will be aboard.  (The first flight with a crew is expected about 4 years later.)

In its announcement yesterday, NASA officials did not provide a date for the first SLS launch.  Instead, they stressed that the agency is making a commitment to have SLS ready to launch by November 2018 -- a "launch readiness" date, not a "launch" date.   Yesterday's announcement followed completion of the Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) process for SLS. The agency is still working on the KDP-C processes for Orion and the ground infrastructure needed at Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Only when all three are completed will the agency commit to a launch date.

The Smith-Palazzo letter hones in schedule and funding issues, asking Bolden to respond by September 10, 2014.  The overall theme is that the Obama Administration is "starving these programs" resulting in schedule delays.  

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have had a testy relationship with the Obama White House over NASA's future since February 2010 when President Obama proposed cancellation of the Constellation program, initiated by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to take astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars.  Under Constellation, NASA was building two versions of a new rocket, Ares, and a spacecraft, Orion, to replace the space shuttle for ferrying crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit (LEO) and for taking astronauts beyond LEO to the Moon and Mars.  Obama proposed terminating all of that, but still adopting President Bush's decision to terminate the space shuttle program as soon as construction of ISS was completed.  Under the Bush plan, a four-year gap (2010-2014) would have existed between the end of the shuttle program and the availability of his new Ares/Orion system.  The Obama proposal was to kill Ares/Orion and instead rely on the private sector, with help from the government, to develop "commercial crew" transportation systems to take astronauts back and forth to ISS.  The Obama plan also envisioned a four-year gap (2011-2015) in America's ability to launch people into LEO.  Initially Obama offered no plan for the future of human spaceflight beyond LEO, but in April 2010 made a speech rejecting the Moon as a destination and directing NASA to send astronauts to as asteroid as the next step in human exploration, with Mars as a longer term goal.

After a contentious debate, a compromise was reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act where Congress agreed to the commercial crew program, but also directed NASA to build a big new "heavy lift" rocket and a spacecraft to take crews beyond LEO -- essentially a replacement for Constellation.   The new rocket is SLS; NASA kept Orion as the spacecraft. 

The 2010 law did not end the controversy, however.  As the Smith-Palazzo letter illustrates, some in Congress continue to accuse the Obama Administration of favoring commercial crew over SLS/Orion in its budget requests.   Congress routinely appropriates less money than requested for commercial crew and more than requested for SLS/Orion.  Because it has appropriated less money than NASA says it needs for commercial crew, the gap during which the United States is unable to launch people into space has grown from 4 years to at least 6 years.  NASA currently expects a commercial crew system to be available by 2017.  NASA had has to rely on Russia to take crews to and from ISS since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

Congressional advocacy for SLS/Orion is largely based on a desire for U.S. preeminence in space exploration, skepticism over the commercial crew concept, as well as constituent interests.  Smith is from Texas, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center where NASA's astronaut corps is based, though Smith's district is not near JSC.  Palazzo represents the district in Mississippi that includes NASA's Stennis Space Center, where NASA tests rocket engines like those that will be used for SLS (which were originally built for the space shuttle program).

NASA Commits to SLS Launch Readiness in November 2018, $7 Billion for Development

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Aug-2014 (Updated: 27-Aug-2014 08:29 PM)

With short notice, NASA held a teleconference today to announce the results of the Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) review of the Space Launch System (SLS).  NASA officials said the agency is making a commitment that the new rocket will be ready by November 2018 at a development cost of about $7 billion, with a Joint Confidence Level (JCL) of 70 percent.  They emphasized that they do not consider the new date a schedule slip even though it is almost a year later than the previous projection, but instead reflects an acknowledgement that margin is needed in case unexpected problems arise and therefore the agency does not want to make a formal commitment to the original December 2017 date.

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the highest ranking civil servant in the agency, and NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, were upbeat about the status of SLS.  Lightfoot is a former Director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which manages the SLS program, and in his current capacity chaired the KDP-C process.   This is the first time the process has been used for a human spaceflight program.

NASA flight programs go through an array of phases, gates and milestones with letter designations that can confuse the most intent listener -- Phases A, B, C, D, and E; SDR, PDR and CDR; and KDP-A, -B, -C and so forth.   Each has specific meaning for those deeply involved in the programs, but KDP-C is perhaps the most significant for both internal and external stakeholders.  It is the point at which NASA makes an agency-level commitment to the cost and schedule for a program against which schedule slips or cost overruns will be measured.  NASA currently uses a "Joint Confidence Level" (JCL) computation as part of the process before committing to a program's cost or schedule because of problems in the past.   NASA's internal guidance calls for using a 70 percent JCL  -- which means there is a 70 percent chance the program will meet the cost and schedule estimate and a 30 percent chance it will not.   Previously, NASA used a 50 percent probability (at best), resulting in a large number of programs with cost overruns and delays.  The challenge in using the higher probability is that more money is needed in the early stages of a program, which can be a problem in a budget-constrained environment.

Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) that NASA would not use a 70 percent JCL for the SLS program and he was comfortable with that because of the maturity of many of the SLS systems, some of which (like the engines) are from the space shuttle program.  Apparently the agency's position on that issue has changed.

Lightfoot and Gerstenmaier announced that the "development" cost estimate for SLS from February 2014 through the first launch -- whose date was not announced -- at a 70 percent confidence level is $7.021 billion.  That does not include "formulation" costs over the past three years.  If those are included, the total is $9.695 billion, Gerstenmaier said. 

The estimate does not include any costs associated with the since-cancelled Constellation program or costs beyond the first launch.  In fact, Gerstenmaier and Lightfoot repeatedly stressed that SLS is a series of launch vehicles.  These development costs are for the initial version capable of taking 70 metric tons (MT) to low Earth orbit (LEO).   NASA plans to build 105 MT and 130 MT versions as part of its effort to send people to Mars someday.

Another point the two officials stressed is that this KDP-C review and associated estimates are only for SLS.  The main purpose for SLS is to take astronauts beyond LEO aboard the Orion spacecraft.  Launches will take place from Kennedy Space Center, FL, where ground infrastructure is needed to process and launch SLS/Orion.   Separate KDP-Cs will be conducted for the ground systems and Orion.  Only after those are completed can NASA determine an integrated schedule that will set the date for the first launch.   Gerstenmaier extolled media participating in the teleconference not to get "hung up on the first launch date."   November 2018 is just the date NASA is willing to commit to for SLS to be ready -- a "launch readiness" date.   Not a date when the first launch will take place.   In fact, Gerstenmaier insisted that the SLS team is continuing to work towards the original December 2017 launch readiness date for SLS and there is a "reasonable chance" it will be ready by then, but the agency-level commitment is November 2018.

Lightfoot and Gerstenmaier also emphasized that the cost and schedule estimates assume current (FY2014) funding and amounts included in the FY2015 request and associated projections.  Those projections are for 5 years -- through FY2019.   That should take the program through the first SLS launch, designated EM-1, which will launch an unoccupied Orion spacecraft for a 3-week test flight to cislunar space.  NASA has been saying that the second SLS launch, EM-2, which will be the first to carry a crew, would take place in 2021, but today Gerstenmaier said 2021 or 2022.  The launch rate thereafter is only once "every couple of years," Lightfoot said.  One criticism of SLS is that there is no use for it other than to send people beyond LEO and the agency does not have enough funding to do that very often.  Although there is talk about using SLS for space science missions, including launching spacecraft to the outer planets and their moons, the cost may be prohibitive.

NASA is building the SLS and Orion as part of a compromise between Congress and the Obama Administration that was reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.   In February 2010, President Obama submitted his FY2011 budget request to Congress wherein he revealed his plan to cancel the Constellation program begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars.  Instead, he wanted to spend money on "game changing" technologies before deciding what, if any, new rocket NASA should build.  In the meantime, he wanted to turn transportation of astronauts to LEO, including the International Space Station, over to the commercial sector -- called "commercial crew."  The proposal created a firestorm and led both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to insist that NASA itself -- not the commercial sector -- build a new large rocket and spacecraft to take astronauts beyond LEO as a replacement for Constellation. 

After months of rancorous debate, the compromise was to do both:  NASA was allowed to proceed with the commercial crew program for LEO, and is building SLS/Orion for beyond LEO as Congress demanded.  The agency was not given a larger budget to accommodate the increased responsibilities, however, leading to continued criticism that NASA is being asked to do too much with too little.  Debate also continues on what the next destination should be for the human spaceflight program -- an asteroid (as President Obama wants) or the Moon (as many human spaceflight advocates and potential international partners want) -- though there is widespread agreement that the ultimate destination is Mars. 

SpaceX Delays AsiaSat-6 Launch for "One to Two Weeks"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2014 (Updated: 27-Aug-2014 12:09 AM)

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk decided to postpone the launch of a commercial communications satellite, AsiaSat 6, hours before its expected launch to "triple-check" that the launch will not be affected by a problem that doomed a SpaceX test vehicle last week.

The AsiaSat 6 launch was scheduled for 12:50 am Eastern Daylight Time tomorrow morning, August 27.   Reporters on-site at Cape Canaveral, FL reported in late afternoon that the launch was postponed, but the company provided no official information via the website, the @SpaceX or @ElonMusk Twitter accounts, or in response to emails until late evening.  The text of the SpaceX statement that was finally released is as follows:

"The following statement on Aug. 26, will be posted to and should be attributed to Elon Musk, CEO & Chief Designer, SpaceX.

'SpaceX has decided to postpone tomorrow's flight of AsiaSat 6. We are not aware of any issue with Falcon 9, nor the interfaces with the Spacecraft, but have decided to review all potential failure modes and contingencies again. We expect to complete this process in one to two weeks.

'The natural question is whether this is related to the test vehicle malfunction at our development facility in Texas last week. After a thorough review, we are confident that there is no direct link. Had the same blocked sensor port problem occurred with an operational Falcon 9, it would have been outvoted by several other sensors. That voting system was not present on the test vehicle.

'What we do want to triple-check is whether even highly improbable corner case scenarios have the optimal fault detection and recovery logic. This has already been reviewed by SpaceX and multiple outside agencies, so the most likely outcome is no change. If any changes are made, we will provide as much detail as is allowed under U.S. law.'"

The failure last week was of an experimental SpaceX F9R Dev1 vehicle designed to demonstrate vertical take off and landing.  It was destroyed in-flight by an automated flight termination system after it detected an anomaly.

SpaceX Officially Silent on Reasons for AsiaSat-6 Launch Delay

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2014 (Updated: 26-Aug-2014 10:09 PM)

SpaceX has said nothing via its website or Twitter account explaining the reasons for today's delay of the AsiaSat-6 launch, previously scheduled for 12:50 am Eastern Daylight Time on August 27, about three hours from now.

The Falcon 9  launch initially was scheduled for the early hours today, August 26, but was delayed for one day after the launch of an experimental SpaceX reusable rocket was destroyed by an automatic termination system on Friday.

Reporters on-site at Cape Canaveral, FL tweeted that the launch had been delayed indefinitely, but SpaceX officially remained silent about the delay or the reasons for it.  Emailed inquiries from remain unanswered as of the time of this posting. The SpaceX website ( and Twitter account @spacex, as well as Elon Musk's Twitter account @elonmusk, also provide no information on the delay.

SpaceX conducts these launches from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 40 operated by the Air Force 45th Space Wing.  A tweet from @45thspacewing earlier today referencing the launch links to a Facebook page that says "this content is currently unavailable."

SpaceX is trying to demonstrate its reliability both as part of an effort to win launch contracts from the Air Force and as part of the NASA's selection of one or more companies for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) award.

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