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Memorial Service for Dick Malow on October 3 in Washington, DC

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2016 (Updated: 29-Sep-2016 01:36 PM)

A memorial service will be held on October 3, 2016 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC for Dick Malow, a legendary House Appropriations Committee staff member who had considerable influence on NASA's programs in the 1980s and 1990s.  He later joined the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and was a member of the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee at the time of his death.

Richard N. Malow, 77, was born in Detroit, MI and moved to the Washington area in 1964 to work as a research assistant at the Library of Congress, but he earned his status as one of the most influential congressional staff members in civilian space policy as clerk of the House Appropriations Veterans Affairs-Housing and Urban Development-Independent Agencies (VA-HUD) subcommittee.  NASA was funded under that subcommittee at the time.  The clerk of an appropriations subcommittee is the top staff position. 

Dick Malow in 1992.  Photo credit:  Space News (used with permission)

Malow was in that position during tumultuous years at NASA as the agency responded to President Ronald Reagan's 1984 directive to build a space station within a decade, recovered from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy, launched the then-defective Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, and dealt with the constrained budgets of the time. His influence was felt in virtually all of NASA's programs, human and robotic, but particularly the space station program which underwent many changes as costs grew.  (NASA spent approximately $11 billion on the Space Station Freedom program in its first 9 years without building any flight hardware; the program was completely restructured in 1993 and became known simply as the International Space Station).   Malow fiercely protected the space station's science capabilities as NASA repeatedly downsized the program.  As Andrew Lawler wrote in the November 2-8, 1992 edition of Space News,  "When the first components of NASA's international space station are orbited, they could easily bear the inscription 'Designed by Richard Malow.'"

Malow left the congressional staff in 1994 to join AURA, which operates ground- and space-based telescopes including several in Chile and Hubble (through the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD).  He was AURA's Head of Mission in Chile for many years.

He died on June 2 after a lengthy illness and was buried in Michigan.

The memorial service will be held in the Member's Room on the first floor of the Jefferson Building (the main building) of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill at 2:00 pm ET.

Editor's Note:  I worked closely with Dick when he was on the committee staff and I was at the Congressional Research Service.   He truly was one of a kind.  His passing is a great loss for the space policy community.


Musk Shares Technical Details of His Dream for Mars Colonization

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2016 (Updated: 28-Sep-2016 12:42 AM)

Elon Musk has made no secret of his passion to make humanity a multiplanetary species by creating a self-sustaining society on Mars as a backup plan in case Earth is destroyed in a cataclysmic event.  Today he provided some of the technical details of the Earth-Mars transportation system he wants to build, which will open opportunities for entrepreneurs and others to decide what happens on Mars.  He will build the space equivalent of the Union Pacific railroad, but leave it to others to fill in the details of how a society will begin and grow there.

Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, spoke at a special session of the 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2016) being held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  These annual IAC meetings bring together space engineers, scientists, lawyers, and policy makers and his much-anticipated talk was aimed at that audience.  An archived webcast of the presentation and slides are posted on the SpaceX website along with an animated video demonstrating how the system would work.

He identified four key technical requirements to make the effort affordable:  full reusability of the rockets, tankers, and spacecraft; refueling in orbit; propellant production on Mars; and using the right propellant (methane, since the constituents are readily available on Mars). His rockets could be used 1,000 times, the tankers 100 times, and the spacecraft 12 times.  Each spacecraft could accommodate 100 passengers at first, growing to 200. 

He explained in detail some of the engineering decisions made so far for the rocket, the Mars Transporter or Interplanetary Transport System.  They include the use of carbon-fiber for the primary structure; the specific impulse of the Raptor rocket engines (382 seconds), one of which was just tested yesterday; and the number of engines (42 on the first stage plus 9 on the second stage).  The rocket will have 3.6 times the lift-off thrust of the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo lunar missions (which was 7.5 million pounds).

He asserted that using traditional methods like those used in the Apollo program it would cost $10 billion per person to go to Mars and he will reduce that to a price of $200,000 per person initially, dropping to half that over time. His spacecraft would transport 100-200 people at a time, with the Mars population growing to 1 million residents over 40-100 years. 

He did not explain the provenance of his $10 billion per person cost other than saying it assumed an Apollo-like program.  While a number of concepts for sending people to Mars have been put forward recently, including NASA's, pricetags have not been revealed and none envision sending as many as 100 people at a time. Since he expressed a cost per person, the number of people traveling can make a significant difference.

Although he showed a timeline for accomplishing the first phase of the goal, he called it "intentionally fuzzy."  If everything went very well, the first humans could head to Mars in 10 years, he asserted, though at a later press conference he called that an "optimistic schedule" and an "aspiration."  He estimated that it would take an investment of $10 billion to develop the rocket before it would generate cash flow, a challenging amount of money to raise in such a short time.   During his speech he said that it would take a "huge pubic private partnership" (PPP) to achieve this goal.  In PPPs, the government and the private sector share the costs, implying that he expected the government -- probably NASA -- to participate.  In the subsequent press conference, however, he insisted that he was not counting on any NASA money.

At one point he made light of the challenge of finding the money.  The first item on his funding slide is "steal underpants" (a reference to South Park).  The others include the two lines of business SpaceX currently is engaged in -- launching satellites and sending cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station -- plus Kickstarter and "profit."

He spent considerable time on the technical aspects of the plan, but the fundamental point is that he believes humanity should have at least one other home to guard against potential extinction if Earth is beset by a cataclysmic event such as an asteroid strike.   He has concluded that Mars is the place to establish that backup civilization.  Not everyone will want to go to Mars, he acknowledges, but that is fine since the goal is not to move everyone to Mars, only to create a second home.

Once the rockets, spacecraft, tankers and propellant plants on Mars are in place, and fuel depots are positioned on one of the Martian moons or in the asteroid belt, the entire solar system would be opened for exploration, he enthused, showing slides of his rockets on Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus, and flying over Saturn's rings.

When asked if he planned to make the trip, Musk demurred.  Noting how risky it will be in the beginning, he said that he would not want to go until he had a firm succession plan in place for SpaceX because he did not want it bought by investors whose only goal was profit, not colonization of Mars.  He later added that he also wants to live to see his children grow up.   He even joked that "if you are prepared to die you're a candidate for going."

Apart from the grandiose plans he espoused for sending people to Mars, he also wants to send robotic spacecraft at every planetary alignment opportunity.  Mars and Earth are correctly aligned every 26 months.   He is already working on the first of these missions, Red Dragon, for launch in 2018.  It will send one of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to Mars and test entry-descent-and-landing (EDL) for a propulsive landing on the surface,  SpaceX has a Space Act Agreement with NASA where the agency will provide tracking and communication support in return for obtaining EDL data.   Musk said that SpaceX will provide reliable services to send cargo to Mars every 26 months enabling customers to send 2-3 tons of cargo there.

It was a visionary speech that appealed to many in the crowd, but despite Musk's evident passion, many question the realism of his plans.  Even Musk said that his immediate goal is to create the dream of Mars in people's mind, to "make it seem possible in our lifetimes."

At the moment, however, SpaceX is attempting to get its only existing rocket, Falcon 9, back in service.   It is still trying to determine why a Falcon 9 burst into flames on the launch pad during a routine pre-launch test on September 1 destroying the rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite that was aboard.   SpaceX said last Friday that they know what happened -- a large breach in a helium tank in the second stage liquid oxygen tank-- but not why.  Musk was asked today whether he should be at IAC2016 talking about Mars instead of focusing on getting Falcon 9 back to flight.  He replied that fixing Falcon 9 is his absolute top priority and his team is working on it, but a small amount of effort is being spent on these longer term plans.   Musk had announced months ago that he would lay out his Mars transportation plans at IAC2016.

Thomas Zurbuchen Appointed As New Head of Science at NASA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2016 (Updated: 27-Sep-2016 05:54 PM)

NASA announced today that the new Associate Administrator (AA) for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is Thomas Zurbuchen, professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  A physicist who specializes in solar and space physics (heliophysics), he also is the founding director of the university's Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering.  The appointment is effective on October 3, 2016.

Zurbuchen replaces John Grunsfeld, who retired from NASA in April.   Geoffrey Yoder has been serving as acting AA in the interim.  Yoder indicated today that he will retire from NASA at the end of the year.

Thomas Zurbuchen.  Photo credit:  University of Michigan website.

SMD oversees NASA's programs in astrophysics, planetary science, earth science, and heliophysics, which are funded at about $5 billion per year in total.  Zurbuchen has never worked for NASA, but was involved in two NASA programs -- the MESSENGER spacecraft that studied Mercury (the closest planet to the Sun) and the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) that is at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point and provides data on solar eruptions that feed into forecasts of space weather.  He also participated in the European Space Agency's Ulysses project that sent a spacecraft to orbit the Sun.  (Ulysses originated as a joint NASA-ESA project where both agencies were to send spacecraft to orbit the Sun, but development of NASA's spacecraft was terminated by President Ronald Reagan.  NASA continued to participate in ESA's mission thereafter in a different role.)

Zurbuchen earned his Ph.D. and master's degree in physics from the University of Bern in Switzerland.  He received the Swiss National Science Foundation's Young Researcher Award in 1996-1997, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council Presidential Early Career for Scientists and Engineers Award in 2004, and a NASA Group Achievement Award for the Ulysses program in 2006.

He has served on several committees of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and chaired the recent study committee that produced the report "Advancing Science with Cubesats: Thinking Inside the Box."


More Clues, But Still No Certainty, About Europa Plumes

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2016 (Updated: 27-Sep-2016 07:30 AM)

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have collected and analyzed data that offer more evidence -- but not certainty -- that plumes of water vapor are escaping from the ocean that lies beneath miles of ice on Jupiter's moon Europa.   Such plumes are known to exist on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus and scientists see parallels at Europa, but the data remain inconclusive.  At the direction of Congress, notably Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), NASA is developing a spacecraft to visit Europa in the 2020s.  Since life as we know it requires water, and there is water on Europa, Culberson and others believe life will be found there.

The observations that were the subject of NASA's teleconference today were made in 2014.  It has taken that long for the data to be crunched, which required significant software development, and verified and a paper written for publication.

William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, discussed the findings of his team, which will be published later this week in the Astrophysical Journal.  He was very cautious, however, noting repeatedly that the observations were made "at the limits" of what can be done with Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) instrument in the far ultraviolet (UV) band of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

The findings are based on imaging observations of what may be water vapor erupting into space through cracks in Europa's icy crust.  If true, a spacecraft orbiting Europa might be able to dip down and fly through the plumes to study the constituents of that ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA’s Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity allowed for the features -- rising over 100 miles (160 kilometers) above Europa’s icy surface -- to be discerned. The water is believed to come from a subsurface ocean on Europa. The Hubble data were taken on January 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions.Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

This is not the first time that scientists have observed what may be plumes on Europa.  In 2013, a team led by Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX announced they thought they had detected water vapor plumes using the same instrument, STIS, but a different method, spectroscopy.

The plumes are erratic, however, and because both the Roth and Sparks observations were made at the limits of Hubble's capabilities, skepticism remains. NASA's press release about today's teleconference said the topic was "evidence of surprising activity on Europa."  As the teleconference progressed and the scientists continued to emphasize that the findings are not definitive, the question arose as to what was "surprising."  One of the participants, Britney Schmidt of Georgia Tech, an expert on the Enceladus plumes who compared them to what was observed about Europa, replied: "I am not surprised, but I am excited, and skeptical."

Sparks himself explained that it is not possible to say with certainty whether what was observed was plumes or an effect of the Hubble instrument itself. While the results are "statistically significant" and he did not know of any natural phenomenon other than plumes to explain the data, he could not rule out that they do not completely understand how the STIS instrument on Hubble works in this type of observation campaign.  Repeated observations using STIS would help determine the characteristics of the instrument and make his team feel more confident, he added.

Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, offered that what is exciting about the Sparks observations is that they complement those made by the Roth team.  Roth used spectroscopy, Sparks used imaging -- different approaches that produced independent evidence of the plumes. 

Culberson, who chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA, is the most enthusiastic politician in favor of sending a spacecraft to investigate Europa.  He has added money to NASA's budget for the past several years to pay for such a mission even though it was not in NASA's budget plan.   He has specified not only that NASA send a spacecraft to orbit Europa, but to land there.   In this year's report on the FY2017 CJS appropriations bill, he did agree that the two spacecraft could be launched separately, in 2022 and 2024 respectively, and he wants NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) to be used to launch both of them.

In a statement today, he again stressed that he wants an orbiter and a lander.  "These giant water plumes will make it possible to sample Europa's ocean from the surface lander which will touch down in about 10 years."

Hubble's STIS instrument was repaired on the last Hubble servicing mission in 2009.  John Grunsfeld, a NASA astronaut who later became NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, was one of the space shuttle crew members who fixed the instrument.  He left NASA earlier this year.

NASA astrophysics division director Paul Hertz and Wiseman both extolled the capabilities of Hubble as a result of that servicing mission as evidenced by these findings,  Culberson agreed, saying that Grunsfeld's "repair work has helped strengthen support" for the Europa mission.

Europa project scientist Curt Neibur, who also participated in the teleconference, stressed that the Europa mission is not being designed to detect life, but to determine habitability -- is the environment conducive to the development of life.  He said there is a vigorous and ongoing debate in the science community as to what instruments would be needed to detect life itself elsewhere in the solar system.

Hertz noted that Hubble recently was approved for another two years of operations as part of NASA's Senior Review process, adding that he expects it to continue operating as long as it has scientific value, which hopefully will be after the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is operating so the two telescopes can provide complementary observations.  JWST is designed to study the solar system and universe in the infrared (IR) band, rather than these UV observations using STIS.   It is scheduled for launch in 2018 and Wiseman said it also will be used to look for Europa plumes, allowing observations of transitions of water molecules in the IR band that are not visible in the UV band.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 26-30, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2016 (Updated: 26-Sep-2016 09:33 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 26-30, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's quite a week coming up!  

For the country: the first of the three presidential debates is tomorrow (Monday) and Congress hopefully will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Friday when fiscal year 2016 ends. The House and Senate are still working on the details of their separate versions of the CR, but they have five days left. Typically they leave appropriations deals to the last minute with the expectation that a hard deadline makes people more willing to compromise.  The alternative is a government shutdown, which is not an appealing prospect in an election year.  Word is the CR will keep the government open through December 9, by which time Congress must pass either another CR or, better yet, the actual FY2017 appropriations measures.  Typically Congress combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into a single "omnibus" measure, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly would prefer several smaller "minibuses" dealing with two or three of them at a time.  The exception may be the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, which the House wants to include in the CR this week.  We'll see if the Senate is willing to go along with that. 

For the space policy community: the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  IAC is the BIG international conference that combines annual meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).   IAC will webcast all the plenary sessions.  The one that has generated the most buzz is on Tuesday when Elon Musk will lay out his plans for making humanity a multiplanet species.  It's at 1:30 pm local time in Guadalajara, which is on Central Daylight Time.  So that's 2:30 pm Eastern.

Two congressional hearings of note are also scheduled for this week, both on Tuesday (most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website).  In the morning, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee asks "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" and four witnesses will give their answers:  Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Mark Stokes from the Project 2049 Institute; Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation; and Jim Lewis from CSIS.  

That afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from three eminent experts on the topic of "National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization."  The witnesses are John Hamre, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; Adm. James Ellis, Jr. (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Marty Faga, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation.  The great advantage of being "former," of course, is that one can speak freely.  Should be especially interesting.  

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.   Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, September 26

Monday-Friday, September 26-30

Tuesday, September 27

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28

Wednesday-Friday, September 28-30

Thursday, September 29

Thursday-Friday, September 29-30


Correction:  An earlier edition of this article listed the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA as the location of the National Academies Workshop Planning Committee meeting on September 27-28.  It will be held in Washington, DC, not at Beckman.  The workshop itself, scheduled for December 5-6, will be held at Beckman.

SpaceX Knows What Happened on September 1, But Not Why

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Sep-2016 (Updated: 24-Sep-2016 10:04 PM)

SpaceX is still studying 3,000 channels of engineering data to determine the root cause of the September 1 on-pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite.  A preliminary review has determined it was a breach of a second stage helium system, but why it happened still is unknown.  The company nevertheless said it anticipates returning to flight as early as November.

The "anomaly" took place during a routine pre-launch test two days prior to when the launch was scheduled. 

In a statement on its website, the company says a "large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated."  

The only Falcon 9 launch failure to date, on June 28, 2015, was also caused by a problem in the second stage.  In that case, SpaceX was launching its seventh Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, CRS-7, for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Dragon spacecraft.   Dragon and the cargo were destroyed.

Although that failure and the September 1 anomaly involved the second stage, SpaceX says that "we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

The Amos-6 satellite that was lost is a commercial satellite owned by Israel's Spacecom, so this was a commercial launch for a commercial customer.  The FAA regulates commercial space launches like this one and under its rules the launch service provider, not the government, is in charge of the investigation.  However, the launch service provider, SpaceX in this case, may invite whoever it wants to participate in the investigation.

SpaceX said the Accident Investigation Team includes SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts.  NASA and the Air Force are SpaceX customers, and Space X leases launch pads from both agencies.

This anomaly took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40).  SpaceX says that "substantial areas of the pad systems were affected," but others were not, including the Falcon Support Building and a new liquid oxygen tank farm.

CCAFS is adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and SpaceX also leases NASA/KSC's Launch Complex-39A for launches of both Falcon 9 and the larger Falcon Heavy.  SpaceX had planned the first test flight of Falcon Heavy from LC-39A this year.   The statement did not indicate whether plans to resume flights in November assumed use of LC-40 or LC-39A.

SpaceX also leases an Air Force pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA for launches to polar orbits and is building its own launch site near Brownsville, TX.


Senate Commerce and House SS&T Committees Approve Space Bills

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2016 (Updated: 21-Sep-2016 10:22 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee each held markups today of  space-related legislation. The Senate committee approved the 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act and the INSPIRE Women Act.  The House committee approved the TREAT Astronauts Act.  Congress is only scheduled to be in session for a few more weeks in 2016, but if all parties are sufficiently motivated to reach compromise, there is more than enough time to get the bills to the President's desk before the end of the 114th Congress.

Senate 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act, S. 3346

Several amendments were adopted to the version of the Senate NASA authorization bill that was introduced last week, S. 3346.  The bill has many wide-ranging provisions, but the main thrust is to provide stability to NASA's human spaceflight program as a presidential transition nears.

The goal is to avoid the type of disruption that happened when President Obama took office and cancelled the George W. Bush-administration's Constellation program.  The goal of that program was to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2020 and someday send them to Mars.  After bitter negotiations, Congress passed and the President signed the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that set NASA on its current course of developing the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew spacecraft to send humans to orbit Mars in the 2030s and land sometime thereafter.  The current effort rejects the Bush Administration's directive to return humans to the lunar surface (though NASA officials make clear they hope international and/or commercial partners might do so) and instead directs NASA to engage in the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) as a steppingstone to Mars.

The bill officially establishes in law that human exploration of Mars, including potential human habitation on the surface of Mars, is a NASA objective.  It lauds the progress made by the SLS and Orion programs and requires NASA to submit a critical decision plan and strategic framework laying out the details of how it will achieve the goal of landing humans on Mars.  The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry advocacy group, praised the bill, especially provisions expressing the sense of Congress that the first uncrewed SLS/Orion mission -- Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) -- should take place in 2018 and the first crew mission, EM-2, in 2021.

The bill is decidedly less enthusiastic about ARM.  ARM has two components -- the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) that will send a robotic probe to pluck a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and move it to lunar orbit, and the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM) where astronauts will visit the boulder and collect samples to return to Earth. The bill questions the value of ARRM compared to its costs and requires NASA to submit a report on alternatives for demonstrating the technologies needed for the Mars goal.  However, it does not require that the program be terminated.

The bill authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA for FY2017.  It does not address funding beyond that one year, which begins October 1.  The total is the same as approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its version of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which has not been considered by the House yet.  It is $202 million more than the Senate Appropriations Committee approved.  The money is allocated to NASA's budget accounts in line with the Senate Appropriations CJS bill except that the extra $202 million is added to the Exploration account, which pays for SLS and Orion.

During the markup today, Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) noted that the bill authorizes less for science and education than they received in FY2016.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the top Democrat on the committee and one of the bill's sponsors, replied that the House Appropriations Committee's CJS bill provides more for science and suggested Markey convey his concerns to his former House colleagues apparently in the hope that the appropriations bill would be more generous.   Authorization bills do not provide money at all, they just recommend funding levels.  Only appropriations bills actually give money to agencies like NASA.

The Planetary Society issued a statement praising the bill, especially the requirements for more details on the plans for getting humans to Mars, but it also "urged" NASA's authorizing committees to work closely with appropriators "to ensure that funding for NASA's leading science programs is sufficient to fully carry out the priorities" determined through the National Academies Decadal Survey process.

The bill is bipartisan.  It was introduced by three Republicans and three Democrats and most of the amendments also had bipartisan sponsorship.  The amendments mostly make refinements to existing language, but Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) sponsored one that adds a new section directing NASA essentially to embrace satellite servicing for science and human exploration missions. 

The Gardner amendment requires the NASA Administrator to identify "orbital assets" in both of those mission directorates that could "benefit from satellite-servicing related technologies" and "evaluate opportunities for the private sector to perform such services or advance technical capabilities by leveraging the technologies and techniques developed by NASA programs and other industry programs."

NASA is pursuing the RESTORE-L program, which is focused on demonstrating satellite servicing of a government satellite -- Landsat 7 -- in low Earth orbit (LEO).  The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has its own program for servicing satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) -- Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS).   Meanwhile, two companies are pursuing their own satellite servicing systems -- Orbital ATK and SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral).  In an emailed statement to, Mike Gold, SSL Vice President for Washington Operations, thanked the committee for including the provision.  He called satellite servicing "a critical capability not only for NASA but for commercial activities and national security interests," adding that "leveraging the commercial satellite servicing capabilities that will result" from programs like RESTORE-L and RSGS "represents a commonsense approach to maintain America's space leadership" and create jobs.

One portion of the bill, entitled the "Scott Kelly Human Spaceflight and Exploration Act," includes a section on "Medical Monitoring and Research Relating to Human Space Flight."  It authorizes NASA to provide medical monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of current U.S. government astronauts and former U.S. government astronauts and payload specialists for psychological and medical conditions associated with their spaceflights. The House committee held a hearing on this topic in June and marked up a bill specifically on this issue today, which is discussed below.

House/Senate INSPIRE Women Act, H.R 4755

The Senate committee also approved the Inspiring Next Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act, H.R. 4755, without amendment.  The bill already has passed the House.  It requires the NASA Administrator to take steps to encourage women to study STEM education fields.   No money is authorized.

House TREAT Astronauts Act, H.R. 6076

The House committee approved the To Research, Evaluate, Assess and Treat (TREAT) Astronauts Act, H.R. 6076, which was introduced yesterday.  The committee held a hearing in June on the topic of lifetime medical care for astronauts.  Not all former astronauts are guaranteed medical care after they leave government service and NASA also wants to be able to monitor astronauts over their lifetimes to determine any long term psychological and medical effects of spaceflight. 

Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) explained that the bill covers any gaps for former astronauts who are not covered by either the military's TRICARE program or the civilian Federal Employees Claims Act.   Space Subcommittee chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who represents the district that includes NASA's Johnson Space Center where many former astronauts live, called it a "common sense, fiscally responsible" bill to ensure former astronauts receive support for medical issues associated with their spaceflights.

This House bill and the provision in the Senate NASA authorization bill are tightly written as to who is covered, though the definitions are somewhat different.  Also, the Senate language is a "sense of Congress" provision that NASA "may" provide such medical services, while the House bill is directive, stating that the Administrator "shall" do it and goes into much more detail.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Makes Case for AR1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2016 (Updated: 21-Sep-2016 07:43 AM)

Aerojet Rocketdyne's Jim Simpson made the case for the new AR1 rocket engine yesterday explaining that its conservative design and low cost will meet mission assurance and affordability objectives desired by potential customers,   It is on schedule to be ready for certification by 2019 at a cost of $824 million -- $536 million from the government plus $288 million from the company and its industry partners.

Simpson, Aerojet Rocketdyne's Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, spoke to a media roundtable yesterday that was held in conjunction with the Air Force Association's Air, Space, Cyber Conference.  Joining him was Steve Cook, Vice President for Corporate Development at Dynetics, a partner in the AR1 program.

The impetus for developing the AR1 is eliminating U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 engines that power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  Atlas V is the workhorse for launching national security satellites and is also used for NASA and commercial spacecraft.

ULA agrees on the need to replace the RD-180, although there has been a long debate in Congress over the timing for doing so.  Originally Congress mandated that a new U.S.-built engine be ready by 2019 and prohibited ULA from acquiring RD-180s for use beyond that time. Agreement was recently reached, however, allowing the company to purchase RD-180s through 2022.

Nevertheless, 2019 remains the goal for developing a new engine to allow time for it to be tested and certified as part of a launch system that would be ready by the time RD-180-powered Atlas Vs are no longer available.

ULA plans to replace the Atlas V system with an entirely new rocket, Vulcan, by then.  It announced a partnership two years ago with Blue Origin to use its BE- 4 engine, which is now in development and also intended to be ready by 2019.  BE-4 uses an innovative propellant -- liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (methane) – instead of LOX/kerosene.

Aerojet Rocketdyne came forward with the AR1 as an alternative to BE-4.  ULA currently plans to choose between BE-4 and AR1 next spring.

Simpson acknowledged that BE-4 is the baseline engine for Vulcan, but he and Cook highlighted what they see as AR1’s advantages starting with the fact that it uses traditional LOX/kerosene and staged combustion and therefore has less risk than BE-4.  They pointed to the engine’s conservative design and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s long track record in rocket engine design, development and production as offering the mission assurance vital to national security satellites in particular.  Simpson added that Atlas Vs fitted with AR1s can use existing Atlas V launch pads, reducing costs as well.

Creating a low cost engine is part of the company’s plan, with a goal of $20-25 million for a pair of AR1s.   The use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) is one route to lower cost.  A 40,000-pound-thrust 3-D printed pre-burner was tested this week, Simpson said, and other components are under consideration, though specifics were not offered.  He said the new incremental-build approach to development will further lower costs.  Each element is built and tested and the system evolves gradually, instead of the test-fail-fix approach where full scale engines are built for testing.

If ULA retires Atlas V as planned and chooses BE-4 for Vulcan, AR1 still could be used for other customers, Cook stressed.  Among them is NASA, which is currently working on the first two versions of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will be able to launch 70 metric tons (MT) and 105 MT respectively.  A 130-MT version is planned for some time in the 2020s and AR1 could be used for that configuration, replacing the solid rocket strap-ons in the current design.

Cook managed the Ares rocket program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center before joining Dynetics in 2009.  Ares was part of the Constellation program, which was cancelled the next year and subsequently replaced by SLS.

Cook explained that NASA and the Air Force each put $21 million into the development of advanced liquid boosters beginning in 2012 and although the effort – Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction (ABEDRR) -- was not directly related to AR1, it contributed to risk reduction for liquid propellant engines broadly.

Simpson said the Air Force has committed to spending $115 million for the first phase of AR1 development and a total of $536 million overall.   Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners have already committed $77 million to date with a total of $288 million assuming the project goes forward.   He added that if the funding profile changes, so could the cost and schedule.

Russia Sets New Launch Date for Soyuz MS-02, Will Reduce Russian Crews to Two

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2016 (Updated: 20-Sep-2016 07:03 AM)

Russia's TASS news service reports today that the new launch date for Soyuz MS-02 is November 1.  The launch had been scheduled for this Friday, September 23, but was postponed for technical reasons.  Separately, Russia has decided to reduce the number of cosmonauts it has aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two in order to reduce resupply requirements.

Soyuz MS-02 is the second launch of this new version of the Soyuz spacecraft.  It replaces the Soyuz TMA-M series.  The first Soyuz MS launch similarly was postponed for several days -- from June 24 to July 7.  In that case, the problem reportedly was with a new docking system in this variant of the spacecraft.

Anatoly Zak at reports that the Soyuz TM-02 launch delay is due to a short circuit in the spacecraft and engineers are trying to determine the exact location -- in the descent module or the instrument module.  Depending on the location of the problem, it could take weeks or months to remedy, or the Russians could substitute the Soyuz spacecraft intended for the next launch, Zak writes.

Today's TASS announcement did not provide any details.   It quotes an unnamed NASA official at Russia's mission control center as saying that a formal decision was made yesterday that the launch would take place on November 1.  (It is odd that Russia's official news service could not get a Russian official to make a statement.)

Whenever it launches, it will take NASA's Shane Kimbrough and two Roscosmos cosmonauts - Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko -- to the ISS.  They will join three crew members already aboard -- NASA's Kate Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos's Anatoly Ivanishin.

The ISS typically has six crew members:  three from Russia, at least one American, and the other two from the United States or other partners (Japan, Canada, and Europe).  They rotate on 4-6 month schedules, traveling to and from ISS on Soyuz spacecraft, which can accommodate three people at a time.

Roscosmos decided earlier this month, however, that beginning with the launch of Soyuz MS-04 in March 2017 (a launch date that probably now will slip), only two Russians will be aboard until Russia launches its long-awaited science module, the Multirole Laboratory Module (MLM).   It is currently scheduled for launch in December 2017, but the launch date has been delayed a number of times.  Meanwhile, the Russian crew complement will be resized to reduce resupply requirements, allowing Russia to launch only three Progress cargo ships instead of four.

Senate Committee to Markup NASA Authorization, INSPIRE Women Bills

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Sep-2016 (Updated: 18-Sep-2016 10:19 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will markup a new NASA authorization bill on Wednesday that focuses on the desire to avoid disruption to NASA's human spaceflight program during the upcoming presidential transition.  It is one of several bills the committee will deal with that day, including the INSPIRE Women Act that passed the House earlier this year.  It is designed to encourage women to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act, S. 3346, is co-sponsored by three Republicans and three Democrats:  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan), the chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness; Florida's two Senators, Bill Nelson (D), who is the ranking member of the full committee, and Marco Rubio (R); Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi); and Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).   Udall and Rubio both are subcommittee members; Wicker is on the full committee.

The 73-page bill incorporates changes to a draft that was circulated earlier, but the main themes remain the same.  Among the provisions are the following (quotes are from the committee's press release or the bill itself):

  • affirms support for continuity across presidential administrations in space science and exploration, noting progress on development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs for deep space human exploration, on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and on commercial crew systems;
  • affirms that "NASA is and should remain a multi-mission agency with a balanced and robust set of core missions in science, space technology, aeronautics, human space flight and exploration, and education";
  • supports utilization of the International Space Station through at least 2024 and requires an evaluation of the feasibility of operations through at least 2028, while also requiring a report from NASA on how to transform low Earth orbit from a "model reliant on government support to one reflecting a more commercially viable future";
  • adds human exploration of Mars as an explicit goal and objective for NASA and requires NASA to submit a "strategic framework and critical decision plan" on how to achieve it;
  • directs NASA to continue the SLS and Orion programs with the first uncrewed mission in 2018 and the first mission with a crew "by 2021";
  • requires a report from NASA evaluating alternatives to the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission for demonstrating technologies and capabilities needed for human trips to Mars;
  • asserts that it is U.S. policy to develop technologies to support NASA's core missions, including propulsion technologies to reduce the human travel time to Mars;
  • expresses support for several space science missions, including JWST, its successor the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), the Mars 2020 rover, and a mission to Europa (the bill is silent on Earth science);
  • allows NASA to provide medical monitoring, diagnosis and treatment for current U.S. government astronauts and former astronauts and payload specialists for "psychological and medical conditions deemed by NASA to be associated with human spaceflight"; and
  • directs NASA to take steps to improve oversight of information technology and cybersecurity.

The bill authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA in FY2017, the same amount approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its version of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.  That bill has not been considered by the House yet.   The amount is $202 million more than the Senate Appropriations Committee approved.  The authorization bill allocates the difference to NASA's exploration account (which funds SLS and Orion).   Otherwise, the authorized amounts are the same as in the Senate Appropriations committee-approved bill.  The Senate bill was brought to the floor for debate in June, but was derailed by the gun control debate.

Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels; they do not actually provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money to agencies like NASA.

The House passed a NASA authorization bill in 2015 (H.R. 810) that can serve as a basis for compromise if both chambers want to pass a bill this year, even though time is short.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has called on the Senate to pass a bill several times, most recently last week.

The other space-related bill scheduled for markup on Wednesday is the Inspiring Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act, H.R. 4755.  The House passed the bill in March.  The bill was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Virginia). There were no hearings or markups of the bill; it was introduced and went directly to the floor.  No funding is included in the bill.  It simply directs NASA to take steps to encourage women to study STEM fields and submit a plan on how NASA can facilitate and support current and retired astronauts, scientists, engineers and innovators to engage with K-12 female STEM students.

Events of Interest


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