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Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of October 13-17, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
The event likely to attract the most attention this week is the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). The speaker line-up is an intriguing array of "traditional space" and "new space" luminaries, although the description of Bill Gerstenmaier's talk may say it best: "Never before have the titles of 'old space' and 'new space' been as trivial as they are today."
Just to illustrate the breadth of speakers (sorry we can't list everyone -- the program is here), in addition to Gerstenmaier (NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations), speakers include Clay Mowry (Arianespace), George Sowers (United Launch Alliance), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), Stuart Will (Mojave Air and Space Port), Barry Matsumori (SpaceX), Brett Alexander (Blue Origin), Doug Loverro (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy), John Shannon (Boeing), Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Space Systems), Doug Young (Northrop Grumman) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
Most unfortunately, if you can't be there in person, you're out of luck. The conference's media contact says none of the sessions will be webcast live, though "a few of the keynotes" may be posted online in a month or two.
That and other events we know about as of this afternoon (Sunday) are listed below.
Tuesday, October 14
Wednesday, October 15
Wednesday-Thursday, October 15-16
Wednesday-Friday, October 15-17
Friday-Tuesday, October 17-21
Shana Dale will become Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as of November 3, 2014. She succeeds George Zamka who left AST this summer to join Bigelow Aerospace.
Dale has served in a number of positions on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush Administration. She is perhaps best known in space policy circles as the first woman to serve as Deputy Administrator of NASA from 2005-2009 while Mike Griffin was Administrator.
Shana Dale. Photo Credit: NASA
She joined NASA after serving in several positions, including Chief of Staff, at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Before and after her Executive Branch assignments she worked on Capitol Hill serving as Staff Director for the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee (now the House Science, Space and Technology Committee) in the late 1990s and more recently as principal policy advisor to that committee from 2012-2013 while Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) was chairman. In between leaving NASA in 2009 and returning to the House committee in 2012 she was Sector Leader for Science, Engineering and Technologies Services at Dell, Inc.
Dale is a lawyer by training, with a J.D. from California Western School of Law and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tulsa.
Adam Steltzner, who headed the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) team for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and its rover, Curiosity, corrected a widespread misperception about the mission's SkyCrane during a lecture at the National Academy of Sciences last week. It is not a "thing," but a "maneuver," he explained as he recounted the challenges of designing an EDL system for such a heavy lander and the lessons learned from the experience.
Steltzner was selected as the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This inaugural Brill Lecture was held on September 30, 2014. A video of the event, which also includes tributes to Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed away last year, is available on the University of Maryland's website.
Steltzner, an aerospace engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, provided a lot of detail of the design and testing of the EDL system for the 900 kilogram (2,000 pound) rover that recently completed its second Earth year (first Mars year) exploring the Red Planet. The process of getting from the top of the Mars atmosphere to the surface was nicknamed early on as the Seven Minutes of Terror with an animation (narrated by Steltzner and colleagues) vividly showing just how much had to go right for the rover to safely settle at the bottom of Mars' Gale Crater.
The term SkyCrane seemed to accurately describe the rocket-propelled device slowly lowering the rover, hanging from tethers, to the surface before it flies away out of sight to avoid landing on top of its precious cargo. That is not the SkyCrane however. It "is a maneuver, not a thing," Steltzner emphasized, which was originally called "direct placement" before someone came up with the catchier nomenclature. It is the "act" of lowering the rover to the surface and then flying away rather than the hardware employed to accomplish that feat. He added that the SkyCrane was judged to be the "least unacceptable solution" to the question of how to land the heavy rover.
Steltzner shared lessons learned and some of the cost-saving measures JPL used such as basing the descent engine on the type used for the 1970s-era Viking Mars probes instead of starting from scratch. As luck would have it, JPL's Carl Guernsey had kept one of the Viking engines under his desk for all those years and it was used for testing for the MSL project. NASA has landed other rovers on Mars since Viking, but they were much smaller and could use simpler landing technologies (e.g. airbags).
The lecture is full of entertaining engineering stories, such as how the first signal JPL received of the spacecraft's condition as it "kissed" the Martian atmosphere on the way down was that it had entered at a bad angle with "catastrophic" results. Steltzner and his team held their breaths until more signals arrived moments later showing a nominal entry into the atmosphere. They later determined the error message was the result of a bad sensor.
The Brill Lectureship is a biennial award administered by AIAA, which will release a call for nominations for the next award at the appropriate time.
The September 30 event included several tributes to Brill from colleagues, family and friends. Steve Battel, who served on the National Research Council's Space Studies Board with Brill, offered highlights of Brill's 60-year engineering career, including her invention of a hydrazine thruster when she worked for RCA (once one of the major U.S. satellite manufacturers) that revolutionized station-keeping for geostationary satellites and is still used today. She received many honors for that invention, including the 2010 National Medal of Technology and Innovation presented by President Obama in 2011.
Colleague Jill Tietjen recalled Brill's role as mentor to many women engineers and determination to ensure that women were recognized for their achievements. Brill's son, Matt, charmingly described growing up with parents who inspired their two sons and daughter to become scientists or engineers themselves. All did, though Matt revealed that his brother, Joe, originally an electrical engineer, decided to get an MBA and go into the financial services business after a Mars mission he worked on (Mars Observer) failed just before it was to enter Mars orbit in 1993. The engineering tradition is now moving into a third generation -- Matt's daughter is studying engineering in college now. Yvonne Brill was 88 when she died in March 2013. She and her husband, Bill, a chemist, were married for 59 years until Bill's death in 2010.
The creation of the Lectureship and organization of the September 30 event was led by Elaine Oran, a close friend of Brill's who spent most of her career at the Naval Research Laboratory and recently moved to the University of Maryland, and is herself the winner of many awards.
NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) is seeking improvements in how NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) decides on extending mission operations in its four scientific disciplines, especially planetary science.
SMD has four divisions that manage its scientific spacecraft -- astrophysics, earth science, heliophysics, and planetary science. Those spacecraft routinely operate for years after their primary missions are completed and SMD holds "Senior Reviews" every two years to assess whether extending the mission operations for each spacecraft is a worthwhile investment in terms of the scientific return.
The OIG report issued today generally praised the Senior Reviews for astrophysics, earth science, and heliophysics for including all eligible projects and providing budgetary and programmatic guidance for five years. By contrast, the OIG criticized planetary science Senior Reviews because they "unnecessarily excluded some projects," focused on a shorter time frame, and "had no documented rationale for extended mission budget guidelines." SMD's Planetary Science Division (PSD) just completed its 2014 Senior Review.
That is not to say that the other three divisions got a complete green light. The report goes on to say that all four divisions provide guidance that projects in extended operations should cost less, with astrophysics and heliophysics specifying than the costs for extended mission operations should be one-third less that during the primary mission phase. Only rarely are costs reduced to that level, however, and sometimes they actually go up. Of the 22 projects investigated, only one received one-third less in its first year of extended operations and 10 of the 22 received more and the "pattern remained relatively constant through the first 3 years of extended operations." According to a chart in the report, examples of the projects that received more in their first year of extended operations than in the last year of primary operations are Aqua, Cloudsat, IBEX, Spitzer Space Telescope, STEREO, SWIFT, and Terra.
The OIG offered four recommendations to improve the Senior Review process, three of which were targeted specifically at the PSD. SMD Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld responded in a letter that is appended to the report. He generally concurred with the recommendations while acknowledging that there may be cases where flexibility is required. For example, the OIG recommended that funding and program guidance be provided for "at least the next four fiscal years," instead of two as is currently the practice for PSD. Grunsfeld said he was not opposed to reconsidering PSD's two-year horizon, but that the missions vary enough between divisions that "tailored approaches" may be needed.
Grunsfeld also said that NASA would continue to exclude missions from Senior Reviews if their primary mission operations had not begun by the time the Senior Review was conducted. For example, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission was not included in the recently completed 2014 Senior Review because it had not yet reached Mars. The OIG argued, however, that the Senior Review covered operations for FY2015-2016 and by then MAVEN will be past its primary operational period.
NASA today rescinded its directive to Boeing and SpaceX to stop work on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts because of the protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). The agency said it was acting under its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In a posting to its commercial crew website, NASA said a failure to provide commercial crew services for the ISS as soon as possible could pose a risk to ISS crews, jeopardize continued ISS operations, delay increasing the size of the ISS crew from 6 to 7 (the additional crew member's time would be primarily devoted to scientific research that is the fundamental rationale for building the ISS), and could result in the United States failing to meet its international commitments.
"These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended," NASA said.
NASA awarded the CCtCAP contracts on September 16, but SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 26. GAO has 100 days to rule on the protest, which could have delayed worked until January 2015.
Arianespace released the results of an investigation into why two European Union (EU) Galileo navigation satellites were left in the wrong orbit following a launch using Russia's Soyuz rocket with Fregat upper stage. The root cause was a "shortcoming" in the system thermal analysis of the Fregat design that led to freezing of the hydrazine fuel.
The conclusion was reached by an Independent Inquiry Board established by Arianespace after the August 22, 2014 anomaly. The two Galileo satellites, intended to be the first of the Full Operational System, were stranded in an orbit that renders them unable to perform their primary mission. The inquiry Board was led by Peter Dubock, former Inspector General of the European Space Agency (ESA). The EU is funding the Galileo navigation satellite system, which is similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). ESA is the EU's design and procurement agent for Galileo. The EU plans to have 30 operational Galileo satellites in orbit by the end of the decade.
Arianespace launches Russia's Soyuz rocket from its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, through a partnership with Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, and two Russian manufacturers -- RKTs-Progress, which builds Soyuz, and NPO Lavochkin, which builds the Fregat upper stage.
At first, the August 22 launch seemed to go fine, but the satellites were later discovered in the wrong orbit. The Arianespace inquiry drew on data supplied by its Russian partners and its findings "are consistent with" a separate board of inquiry appointed by Roscosmos.
The Soyuz rocket was exonerated and found to have performed as planned. The problem was in the Fregat upper stage because the hydrazine fuel froze and blocked the fuel supply to the Fregat's thrusters. The fuel froze because the hydrazine and cold helium feed lines were connected by the same support structure, creating a thermal bridge. The root cause was found to be "ambiguities" in the design documentation as the result of poor system thermal analysis in the design phase.
Arianespace concluded that the issue is easy for Lavochkin to resolve and launches could resume as early as December 2014. The company also noted that this failure followed 45 consecutive successful uses of the Fregat.
UPDATE 2, October 10: The MIT students will hold a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session from 3:00-6:00 pm ET today to answer questions about their analysis (username: MarsOneAnalysis). The AMA can be accessed at: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2ivo0t/we_are_the_authors_of_the_mit_mars_one/. They also have posted an Open Letter to further explain their purpose and conclusions. If we learn of Mars One holding any similar public discussion, we will be happy to spread the word on that as well.
UPDATE: This October 7, 2014 article was updated on October 8 with a response from Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp. On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp added a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining some of his concerns about the MIT analysis.
An analysis by a team of MIT students of the Mars One concept to send people to Mars on one-way missions to establish a settlement there offers a bleak picture of the outcome. The paper was presented at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto last week.
Sydney Do, Koki Ho, Samuel Schreiner, Andrew Owens and Olivier de Weck conducted “An Independent Assessment of the Technical Feasibility of the Mars One Mission Plan” supported by grants from NASA and the Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust.
The team looked at the Mars One plan as outlined in public sources, especially its assertions that a sustainable society on Mars can be established beginning in the 2020s using existing technology. A “pre-deployment” phase between 2018 and 2023 would send robotic precursors and establish a crew “habitat” on the surface to await the first crew, which would be launched in 2024. Additional four-person crews and habitats would be launched at every 26-month opportunity thereafter.
Because many details of the Mars One plan are not available, the MIT team made a number of assumptions that are comprehensively explained in order to conduct their analysis.
Some of the key conclusions of the study are that:
The lead author, Sydney Do, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said via email that in his view “the Mars One Concept is unsustainable” because of the current state of technology and its “aggressive expansion approach” of quickly adding more and more people rather than keeping the settlement at a fixed size for a period of time.
The paper acknowledges that the study was based on "the best available information” and the team is willing to update their analysis if more information becomes available.
MarsOne co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp, in an email to SpacePolicyOnline.com on October 8, said that while he welcomed the students' analysis, his company does not have time to respond to all the questions it receives from students and "the lack of time for support from us combined with their limited experience results in incorrect conclusions."
Editor's Note: Mr. Lansdorp's October 8 email discusses several areas where he believes the MIT analysis is incorrect. We encouraged him to post his entire comment to our website's DisQus feature, but he declined. We responded that if he does post his entire reaction elsewhere (perhaps on the Mars One site), we will be happy to include a link to it.
Editor's Note 2: On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp did, indeed, add a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining his concerns. It can be found in the comment stream labeled "Bas Lansdorp."
Stephen Volz has been chosen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to succeed Mary Kicza as head of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS). Volz begins his new duties on November 2.
Volz comes to NOAA from NASA, where he was associate director for Flight Programs in the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). NASA and NOAA have a close relationship on environmental satellites, which includes weather satellites. NASA is the procurement agent for NOAA's satellites, overseeing their development and launch after NOAA sets the requirements. NESDIS is the part of NOAA that is responsible for satellites, including the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series now in development.
NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan praised Volz's "outstanding executive leadership skills and technical expertise." And while NASA may be losing a top manager, SMD Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld also expressed enthusiasm: "We are thrilled that NOAA has selected one of our top program managers" and "I look forward to working with him as [both agencies] continue to support a weather-ready nation."
Dr. Stephen Volz. Photo credit: NOAA
At NASA headquarters, Volz was the program executive for CloudSat, CALIPSO and ICEsat. While at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, he was an instrument manager, a systems engineer, and a cryogenic systems engineer on programs including the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), a satellite that enabled discoveries that won John Mather and George Smoot Nobel Prizes. Volz also worked at Ball Aerospace, where he led the design and development of the Spitzer Space Telescope. He has a Ph.D. in experimental condensed matter physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Volz succeeds Mary Kicza, who also joined NOAA from NASA. She retired earlier this year.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 6-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
World Space Week 2014 continues (it began on Saturday) with events worldwide commemorating the beginning of the Space Age on October 4, 1957 and the benefits derived from space over the decades. This year's theme is "Space: Guiding Your Way" and the DC chapter of the International Space University alumni association will hold a Space Café on Tuesday featuring James Miller, who works for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program.
Two of the five standing committees of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) will meet this week. The five committees align with the five Decadal Surveys the SSB produces that advise NASA and other agencies on the top space science priorities. The committees provide a forum to maintain discussion about the topics in between the once-a-decade (hence "decadal") reports. This is the first meeting of the new Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, formed after completion of the first Decadal Survey for that field of research, which was published in 2011. It is meeting at the NRC's Keck Center on 5th Street Tuesday and Wednesday, though the sessions on Wednesday are closed to the public. The SSB's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet Tuesday-Thursday across town at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Ave. It will have open sessions the first two days. (If you're keeping track, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences and the Committee on Earth Science and Applications in Space met in September; the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meets in November.)
On Tuesday the first of two "U.S." spacewalks scheduled for October will take place from the International Space Station (ISS). They are "U.S." because they involve tasks on the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) and the spacewalkers will be wearing U.S. spacesuits, but one of the two is Europe's Alexander Gerst (joining NASA's Reid Wiseman) so it really is a U.S./ESA spacewalk. Next week (October 15) Wiseman and NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore will do another spacewalk, and the week after that, on October 22, two of the Russian cosmonauts will do a spacewalk on their segment of the ISS. It's a busy time on the ISS with visiting spacecraft coming and going in addition to those spacewalks. Three new crewmembers just arrived on September 25. Two cargo spacecraft, a Russian Progress and SpaceX Dragon, already docked there will depart and be replaced by a new Progress and an Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus later this month.
Those and other events for the week of October 6-10 that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
October 6-10, Monday- Friday
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
Bigelow Aerospace plans to make being an astronaut less special because there will be so many of them promised the company’s Washington representative Mike Gold. Gold was one of the panelists at a session of the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) today (October 2) on what’s next after the International Space Station (ISS).
As has been typical at this IAC, top level representatives of Russia and China are not here to participate in plenary sessions because of visa issues, but others from those countries were able to attend to present papers in technical sessions. In this case, Zhao Yuqi of China’s Manned Spaceflight Agency was absent from this post-ISS plenary. Nonetheless, the panel provided a broad array of viewpoints, from Gold’s private sector perspective, to Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA, to Hansjörg Dittus from the German space agency DLR, to German former astronaut Ernst Messerschmid, currently a professor at the Universität Stuttgart.
If there was one message from all of them it was that the International Space Station (ISS), while an outstanding success with tremendous potential, will be one-of-a-kind.
Dittus made a case for a modular approach to future space facilities where the modules are not linked together as they are in ISS. He advocates a separation of tasks in separate modules to avoid complex international agreements and technical interfaces. He also thinks the modules should be equipped as observatories, especially for earth remote sensing, not as laboratories.
The panelists were asked if they were told to build a space station again, would they build another ISS. Gerstenmaier, who heads NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said that if someone gave him the money to build another low Earth orbit (LEO) space station “I’d give it back.” His message was that NASA and its ISS partners are demonstrating that there is a reason for others – the private sector – to go there, but another government-sponsored LEO space station is “not what we need to do.” Instead “we’re going to explore.”
Messerschmid outlined technologies that will enable exploration, advocating “To Mars, together.”
Gold, who can be counted on for pithy observations replete with references to Star Trek, did not disappoint. Among his major messages was that just as countries need to work together, so do companies. He argued against pitting “new space” against “old space” because “the pie is too small.” Borrowing a quote from Benjamin Franklin, he said “if we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.” Later, when questions turned to the appropriate degree of risk taking for human spaceflight programs, he quoted “a famous Canadian, William Shatner” who said in his role as Captain Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise “Risk? It’s why we’re here.” Gold went on to talk about financial risk, and noted that a Russian colleague ruefully commented to him that Russian billionaires buy yachts while American billionaires create space companies.
Regarding risk, Gerstenmaier explained the three-tier approach NASA is using to describe the steps away from Earth: Earth Reliant in LEO where crews can return home in hours; Proving Ground in cis-lunar space where getting home requires many days; and Earth Independent when the tie to Earth is broken. He said NASA was not ready from a risk standpoint to send crews to an asteroid in its native orbit (as President Obama initially directed), but the Asteroid Retrieval Mission, where the crews will be in the Proving Ground region, is the right step – not too much risk, nor too little.
In a philosophical moment, Gerstenmaier talked about how ISS crew members landing in Kazakhstan say they are “home” no matter where on Earth they are from. “We have changed the definition of home,” he said, where “home” is Earth. He said his vision is that someday LEO or cis-lunar space will be “home.”
In response to a question about whether there is a future for young people to be astronauts, Gold said “I want to see a day when being an astronaut is something you do to make a living,” not an elite profession. Bigelow is committed to making astronauts “not special” because there will be so many of them and from all over the world. He noted that right now there are six seats for ISS crews, three of which are occupied by Russians, two by Americans, and one by other countries. “One seat for all the other countries?” Bigelow “is determined to change that,” he exclaimed.
Gerstenmaier took a different tack, stressing that one does not need to be an astronaut. What is important is being part of a high performing team: “If you’re lucky, you get to be at the pointy end of the rocket, but it is just as rewarding to be one of the engineers sitting in the back.”
The question of cooperating with China arose as it often does in these settings. Gerstenmaier pointed out that under current law NASA cannot discuss human space cooperation with China, but expressed hope that the situation may change in the future. Gold agreed that if mutual benefit can be shown, the China door may open, but for now China is the “third rail” of export control politics. Although changes are being made to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), they do not apply to China, he pointed out.
Editor’s note: this is our final IAC2014 report. The conference continues tomorrow, but we must depart.
Events of Interest