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NASA IG: SLS/Orion Ground Systems Software Development Needs Independent Review

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Mar-2016 (Updated: 30-Mar-2016 06:23 AM)

NASA's Spaceport Command and Control System (SCCS) -- the software component  of the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) -- is over budget, behind schedule, and may not work according to a new report from NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG). NASA's approach to developing this software was chosen 10 years ago and may no longer be valid, but the agency refuses to change course, reflecting a cultural legacy of "over-optimism and over-promising."  The OIG recommended that NASA commission an independent assessment of the SCCS effort and NASA agreed, but will wait until all the software for the first SLS/Orion launch (Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1) is successfully delivered.  The OIG concurred with that decision.

The SCCS software will "control pumps, motors,  valves, power supplies and other ground equipment; record and retrieve data from systems before and during launch; and monitor the health and status of spacecraft as they prepare for and launch," according to the report.   All of that requires a lot of computer code and NASA decided to use multiple existing commercial software products and "glue" them together with 2.5 million lines of "glue-ware" that NASA itself is developing.  The OIG notes that reengineering the Hubble Space Telescope command and control system required just one-fifth of that amount of glue-ware code.

The effort has turned out to be more daunting than NASA expected, with cost growth of 77 percent (to $207.4 million) and a schedule slip of 14 months (to September 2017).  The OIG notes that both Orbital ATK and SpaceX use commercial software for their missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and thinks NASA should revisit its decision, made 10 years ago, to "glue" together a variety of products from multiple vendors.  The report cites two prior efforts by NASA to develop software on this scale -- the Core Electronics System for space shuttle operations and its successor, the Checkout and Launch Control System -- that "failed to meet their objectives and were substantially scaled back or cancelled prior to completion" despite the expenditure of more than $500 million.

The OIG's overall concern is that ultimately the SCCS will not work as expected.  GSDO managers have had to reduce or eliminate capabilities in order to "balance technical capabilities against schedule and cost," creating concerns that too much has been lost.  Despite efforts to reinstate some of those capabilities, the OIG found that the software that will be used for EM-1 will not have all its planned capabilities, including the ability to "automatically detect the root cause of specific failures."  Furthermore, as of the end of FY2015, version 4.0 was "3,320 hours 'out of the budget box' -- meaning there is more estimated work than time and staff available to perform it," raising concerns that further reductions to content and functionality may result.

The report concluded that much has changed over the past 10 years in the commercial software market and NASA's decision to "glue" together code from multiple vendors with software developed by NASA itself no long may be the best approach.   GSDO managers reportedly expressed concern about schedule delays that might result from changing the approach now, but the OIG concluded that the "reluctance to change course reflects a cultural legacy at NASA of over-optimism and over-promising what the Agency can achieve in a specific timeframe."   OIG concluded that while "altering course at this point would be ambitious," continuing challenges in developing SCCS warrants a reassessment.

NASA noted in response to the OIG that a 2013 review by the Aerospace Corporation found the SCCS Standard Based Architecture to be "generally sound," and the OIG agreed, but added that Aerospace also recommended an annual independent assessment of the cost and schedule and none has taken place since then.

Therefore, the OIG recommended that NASA commission an independent assessment to take place in parallel with the ongoing development effort, but NASA responded that it would wait until after all the software for EM-1 was successfully delivered.   The OIG said that is "responsive" to its findings and its recommendation is "resolved and will be closed upon completion and verification of the proposed corrective action."

What's Happening in Space Policy March 28-April 1, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Mar-2016 (Updated: 27-Mar-2016 01:27 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 28-April 1, 2016.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

Congress may be in recess, but there's still plenty going on in the world of space policy.

The Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine holds its annual Space Science Week Tuesday through Thursday.  The "week" brings together the five SSB standing committees, some of which are joint with other boards:  astrobiology and planetary science, astronomy and astrophysics, biological and physical science in space, earth science and applications from space, and solar and space physics.   The committees meet in plenary session on Tuesday afternoon.  A free public lecture will take place on Wednesday featuring Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto.  The lecture begins at 6:45 pm ET and will be webcast.  All of the activities are at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets at NASA headquarters in Washington on Thursday and Friday (its Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee meets on Tuesday, too).  The NAC agenda has not been posted yet, but these meetings typically are an excellent way to get updated on many of NASA's programs and the budget and policy issues surrounding them.  The meeting is available via WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person.

Activities aboard the International Space Station (ISS) continue at a blistering pace.  Orbital ATK's Cygnus just arrived yesterday, NASA will hold a teleconference tomorrow (Monday) to discuss the science experiments that will be aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo mission to ISS next week (April 8), and on Thursday Russia will launch its next Progress cargo craft (arriving at ISS on April 2).  All three systems suffered failures in the October 2014-July 2015 period and NASA and its partners are still catching up on supplies, although there have been a number of cargo missions since then. 

The first of two upcoming space weather seminars will be held on Thursday afternoon in Washington.  This one is sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.  Its focus is the "emerging opportunities for science and practical applications" and includes Tammy Dickinson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dan Baker from the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), and Lou Lanzerotti from the New Jersey Institute of Technology among its very distinguished speaker lineup.  The other seminar is next Monday (April 4) at the State Department and is sponsored by the State Department and the Secure World Foundation (more on that in next week's edition).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week to learn about additional events that come to our attention and get added to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, March 28

Tuesday, March 29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 29 - 31

Wednesday, March 30

Thursday, March 31

Thursday-Friday, March 31- April 1

ULA Delays Next Launch Due to Anomaly During OA-6 Mission

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Mar-2016 (Updated: 25-Mar-2016 02:25 PM)

United Launch Alliance (ULA) today announced a delay in the launch of its next satellite, the Navy's MUOS-5 mobile communications satellite, because of an anomaly in the Atlas V rocket's first stage during the March 22 launch of Orbital ATK's OA-6 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). 

During the OA-6 launch, the first stage shut down six seconds early according to ULA spokesperson Lyn Chassange.  The Centaur upper stage compensated by firing approximately 60 seconds longer than planned and successfully placed the OA-6 cargo spacecraft into the correct orbit.  Thus, the launch is a "mission success" even though the first stage underperformed.

ULA needs to investigate what happened, however.  Thus it is delaying the MUOS-5 launch until at least May 12 to "allow additional time to review the data and to confirm readiness."  The original launch date was May 5.

Atlas V has a 100% mission success record so far in 62 launches.  The first stage is powered by Russian RD-180 engines, currently the focus of protracted debate in Congress over how many ULA can obtain.   ULA, the Air Force and Congress agree on the need to replace RD-180s with an American-made alternative so the United States is not reliant on a foreign supplier, especially one with which the United States now has a tense relationship.  The dispute is over the timing.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) want to end use of RD-180s in 2019; the Air Force and ULA want flexibility and other Senators, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), agree.

MUOS-5 is part of the Navy's Mobile User Objective System of communications satellites and ground terminals to allow voice, video and mission data to be transmitted over a secure high-speed Internet Protocol-based system. 

DOD Inspector General Initiates Investigation Into Air Force Awards to ULA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Mar-2016 (Updated: 23-Mar-2016 12:45 PM)

The Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense (DOD) has notified DOD officials that it is opening an investigation into whether contracts were awarded to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in accordance with DOD and federal regulations.  The investigation was requested by Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Ashton Carter following remarks by then-ULA Vice President for Engineering Brett Tobey that were recorded and posted online.  Tobey has since resigned.

The recording of the March 15, 2016 seminar where Tobey spoke is currently posted on soundcloud.  Tobey made many comments about competition in the launch vehicle development and launch services businesses.  One that may have prompted the investigation is an assertion that ULA's decision not to bid on the first competitive Air Force launch contract (for a GPS launch) after SpaceX became eligible to compete irritated the Air Force because "they had bent over backwards to lean the fill to our advantage" (at the 17:11 mark on the recording).  That is only one of a number of controversial statements he made, however.

ULA President Tory Bruno disavowed Tobey's comments soon after they became public on March 16 and Tobey resigned shortly thereafter.

At a March 17 hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), called on DOD to investigate Tobey's "disturbing statements" that "raise troubling questions about the nature of the relationship" between DOD and ULA.  SecDef Carter was one of the witnesses at that hearing.  McCain is strong supporter of competition in the national security space launch market.  

Yesterday (March 22), DOD Deputy Inspector General for Policy and Oversight Randolph Stone sent a memo to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics informing them of the investigation into "assertions made by United Launch Alliance's (ULA) former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations."  The memo, which is posted on the DOD IG's website, said the investigation would involve site visits, interviews and documentation review with DOD and ULA personnel.

Cargo, Cargo Everywhere -- Cygnus Launch First of Three in Next Two Weeks - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Mar-2016 (Updated: 25-Mar-2016 02:29 PM)

Orbital ATK will launch its next cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) tonight aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL.  It is just one of three cargo ships heading to ISS in the very near future – a Russian Progress will launch next week and then a SpaceX Dragon the week after that. [UPDATE, MARCH 22, 11:35 pm EDT:  The launch took place at 11:05 pm EDT as planned.  All went well and Cygnus is now in orbit.  Arrival at ISS expected Saturday morning EDT.] [UPDATE MARCH 25, 2:25 pm EDT:  The Atlas V first stage underperformed during the launch.  ULA is investigating.]

The abundance of supplies enroute to the six-member crew reflects both the ongoing needs to supply the outpost – an important consideration when planning for trips further from Earth – and the need to catch up after failures grounded each of the systems in 2014 and 2015.

The Cygnus flight tonight (March 22 Eastern Daylight Time; March 23 GMT) is the second Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission since its Antares rocket exploded 15 seconds after launch in October 2014.    Antares is being “re-engined” with different Russian rocket engines (RD-181s) and is expected to return to flight this summer from its launch site at Wallops Island, VA.  That launch was before Orbital Sciences Corporation merged with ATK and was designated Orb-3 -- Orbital's third operational cargo flight to the ISS. 

In the meantime, Orbital ATK arranged to launch two Cygnus spacecraft on ULA’s Atlas V, which launches to the ISS from Cape Canaveral.  The first was in December 2015 and designated OA-4 (for Orbital ATK-4).  The second is tonight.

Orbital ATK Space Systems Group President Frank Culbertson said yesterday that although the original agreement with ULA was for only these two flights, it may use additional Atlas V rockets in the future depending on NASA’s needs.   NASA recently awarded a second round of CRS contracts and Culbertson said that Orbital ATK offered both Antares- and Atlas V-launched missions.  “It’s really up to NASA in terms of what types of missions they order in the future under the new contract….  We’ve offered both … and it depends on what they need …. We’re prepared to do both.”

The Atlas V capabilities offer more flexibility, for example a 30-minute launch window instead of an instantaneous launch window.  

Tonight’s window to launch OA-6 (Orbital ATK-6, skipping over OA-5, which will be the return-to-flight mission for Antares) opens at 11:05 pm EDT.  Bill Harwood of CBS News tweeted the precise launch time options (all in EDT).

NASA TV coverage of the launch begins at 10:00 pm EDT.  ULA will also have a live webcast.

Orbital ATK names its Cygnus spacecraft after prominent individuals in the space industry who have passed away.  This one is named the S.S. Rick Husband after the commander of the 2003 space shuttle Columbia mission.  He and six others perished during reentry.   Husband also was the pilot of the first space shuttle to dock with the  ISS in 1999 (STS-96) during its earliest stage of construction.

This is an enhanced version of the Cygnus spacecraft and is carrying 7,900 pounds (3,600 kilograms) of supplies, equipment, and scientific experiments to the six-person ISS crew.  Three of those six crew members just arrived four days ago aboard Soyuz TMA-20M.

The pace of operations at the ISS is rather intense right now, starting with the Soyuz TMA-20M launch and arrival on March 18; this OA-6 launch tonight, with arrival at ISS on March 26; launch of Russia's Progress MS-02 on March 31 with docking on April 2; and launch of SpaceX's CRS-8 (SpX-8) Dragon mission on April 8 and arrival on April 10.  (All dates are EDT.) 

The SpX-8 launch is the first SpaceX mission to ISS since its SpX-7 mission ended in failure in June 2015 because of a second-stage problem on the Falcon 9 rocket.  SpaceX has successfully launched three Falcon 9's since then, but this will be the first to ISS.

Russia also suffered a launch failure of one of its Progress resupply missions in April 2015.   Three Progresses have been successfully launched to ISS since then and a new version of the spacecraft, Progress MS, was introduced on the most recent launch in December 2015.  The launch on March 31 is the second (Progress MS-02) of this version of the venerable space station cargo resupply spacecraft that has been in use since 1978 initially for Soviet/Russian space stations and now for ISS. 

Orbital ATK's OA-6 Cygnus is expected to remain at the ISS for 55 days, meaning that it will still be there when SpX-8 arrives.  This will be the first time both U.S. space station cargo companies will have their vehicles berthed to ISS at the same time.  ISS Operations Integration Manager Kenny Todd noted yesterday that it will be very important that the ISS crew pays attention to what is loaded into which vehicle at the end of their missions:  "We'll have to get creative in terms of making sure that we don't put the wrong things in the wrong vehicles when they get ready to leave... because we're going to be moving a lot of cargo through hatches."

Dragon is designed to return to Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean, bringing back scientific experiments and other high-value cargo.  By contrast, like all the other cargo ships that supply the ISS, Cygnus burns up on reentry and therefore is filled with trash - a less glamorous, but equally indispensable task.

In this case, not only will Cygnus be burning up on the outside, but on the inside as well.  Scientists will use it to test how fire behaves in microgravity.  The Spacecraft Fire Experiment-1 (SAFFIRE-1) will intentionally start a fire in Cygnus after it leaves the ISS. Instruments inside Cygnus will measure flame growth, oxygen use, and other characteristics.

House Passes "INSPIRE Women" in Aerospace Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Mar-2016 (Updated: 22-Mar-2016 04:40 PM)

Today the House passed a bill, H.R. 4755, to encourage women and girls to study STEM education fields, pursue careers in aerospace, and advance space science and exploration.  The vote was 380-3, with 50 Members not voting.

The Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act was introduced last week by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).   There were no committee hearings or markups; the bill went directly to the floor for consideration under suspension of the rules.

The three members who voted no were:  Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY).  The complete vote tally is posted on the House clerk's website (roll call vote 134).

The bill does not involve any funding.  It directs the NASA Administrator to --

  • encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and pursue aerospace careers by supporting three existing initiatives: NASA GIRLS and NASA BOYS, Aspire to Inspire, and Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research, and
  • submit a plan within 90 days of the bill's enactment for how NASA can facilitate and support current and retired astronauts, scientists, engineers and innovators to engage with K-12 female STEM students.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

House Schedules Vote on Bill to "INSPIRE Women" in Aerospace

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Mar-2016 (Updated: 20-Mar-2016 08:51 AM)

On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to vote on a bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) to encourage women and girls to study the fields of STEM education, pursue careers in aerospace, and advance space science and exploration.

The Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act, H.R. 4755, directs the NASA Administrator to encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and pursue aerospace careers by supporting three existing initiatives: NASA GIRLS and NASA BOYS, Aspire to Inspire, and Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research.

The INSPIRE Women bill also directs the Administrator to submit a plan within 90 days of the bill's enactment for how NASA can facilitate and support current and retired astronauts, scientists, engineers and innovators to engage with K-12 female STEM students.

The bill was introduced last Wednesday (March 16) by Comstock, with co-sponsorship by the bipartisan leadership of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee -- Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) -- as well as Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA).

No funding is proposed in the bill and there has been no committee action on it. 

It is scheduled for consideration under the suspension of the rules calendar, which is used for non-controversial bills expected to easily win two-thirds of the votes, indicating that the House leadership is confident it will pass.  If it does, it will be sent to the Senate for action.

(The House Majority Leader's website links to a PDF version of the bill that does not have a bill number.  The version of the bill posted on Congress.gov, which does have the bill number, is somewhat different, referring to both current and retired astronauts, etc.  The version with the bill number presumably is the most recent and therefore is the one described here.)

What's Happening in Space Policy March 21-25, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Mar-2016 (Updated: 19-Mar-2016 07:02 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of March 21-25, 2016.  The House will be in session Monday-Wednesday before leaving for an extended spring recess (until April 12).  The Senate has already begun its spring recess and will not return until April 4.

During the Week

After a hectic couple of weeks, events on Capitol Hill will ease off for a while as the House and Senate take their spring breaks, which occur around the Easter holidays. The House will be in session for the first three days of this coming week and then take off for two-and-a-half weeks.  It returns on Tuesday, April 12.

Before it leaves, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold a hearing on DOD's FY2017 budget request with Secretary of Defense Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dunford on Tuesday.   That same day the House has a space-related bill on the list for consideration under suspension of the rules -- the INSPIRE Women Act (H.R. 4755), sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).  It directs NASA to support initiatives to encourage women and girls to study the STEM fields, pursue careers in aerospace, and advance space science and exploration.  The bill was just introduced on Wednesday (March 16) and, as so often happens these days, is skipping over the usual legislative steps and going directly to the floor for a vote.  The suspension calendar is used for bills that are expected to be non-controversial and easily win a two-thirds vote, so the House leadership clearly expects it to pass. By happenstance or not, the NASA Advisory Council's Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM education is meeting by telecon on Thursday.

The Senate has already recessed and will return for legislative business on April 4.  Pro forma sessions for both chambers are scheduled throughout this period where the House or Senate is called to order and then immediately adjourned with no legislative business transpiring.  The procedure ensures that Congress is not officially in recess for more than 3 days, thereby preventing the President from making "recess appointments."

Meanwhile, there are still plenty of interesting events, perhaps most notably the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) at The Woodlands near Houston, Texas.   Only a few of those sessions will be webcast, unfortunately.  

Late Tuesday night (11:05 pm Eastern), Orbital ATK will launch its next Cygnus cargo mission, OA-6, to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL.  This is the second Cygnus launch on Atlas V, necessitated by the failure of Orbital ATK's own Antares rocket in October 2014. (The next Orbital ATK cargo mission, OA-5, is scheduled to be on the new version of Antares from the Wallops Island, VA this summer.)   NASA will hold two pre-launch OA-6 press briefings on Monday.  The first, at 12:30 om ET, is about the science payload.  The second, at 2:30 pm ET, is a mission status briefing.  Both will be broadcast on NASA TV.

Those and other events we know about as of Saturday afternoon (March 19) are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for events we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, March 21

Monday-Friday, March 21-25

Tuesday, March 22

Wednesday, March 23

Thursday, March 24

Russia Launches Latest ISS Crew While Downscaling Its Long Term Plan-UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Mar-2016 (Updated: 22-Mar-2016 06:20 PM)

Two Russians and an American destined for the International Space Station (ISS) launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft at 5:26:38 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) today.  Docking is scheduled at 11:11 pm EDT tonight, about 6 hours after launch.   While the launch marks another success for Russia's human spaceflight program, it comes amid reports that the Russian government just approved a 10-year plan that scales back its long term ambitions. [UPDATE:  Soyuz TMA-20M successfully docked with ISS at 11:09 pm EDT on March 18.]

The three crew members are Roscosmos's Oleg Skriprochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA's Jeff Williams.   They will join three crew members already aboard:  NASA's Tim Kopra, the European Space Agency's Tim Peake (U.K.), and Roscosmos's Yuri Malenchenko.

This is the third long duration mission to the ISS for Williams, who will set a new U.S. record for cumulative time in space -- 534 days -- at the end of this 6-month stay.  NASA's Scott Kelly, who just returned from 340 days aboard ISS, will retain the U.S. record for continuous time in space.

Today's launch comes just a month before Russia celebrates the 55th anniversary of the launch of the first man into space. Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space on April 12, 1961, making one orbit of the Earth. 

Over the intervening decades, the Soviet/Russian human spaceflight program has focused on activities in low Earth orbit (LEO).   They never were able to send cosmonauts to the Moon, but launched seven operational space stations beginning with Salyut 1 in 1971.  Only one crew (Soyuz 11) successfully occupied that space station (another, Soyuz 10, was unable to enter the station after docking) and the three men tragically died during reentry.  The Soyuz 11 accident and the failure of the next two Soviet space stations (Kosmos 557 and Salyut 2) before they could be occupied set back the Soviet human space flight program.

But in 1974, successful space station and crew launches resumed with Salyut 3, followed by Salyut 4, Salyut 5, Salyut 6, Salyut 7, and Mir.  Mir was a modular space station.  The first module was launched in 1986 and five additional major modules were added over the next decade.  Mir was continuously occupied for about 10 of the years it was on orbit, with four cosmonauts staying aboard the facility for one year or more.   During the 1990s, Mir exemplified the new era of U.S.-Russian space cooperation following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Seven Americans conducted long duration missions aboard Mir and nine space shuttle missions docked with it.

During that era Russia also joined the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe in the ISS program and Russian cosmonauts have continued to fly aboard space stations to this day.  Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is the only vehicle capable of taking astronauts to and from the ISS and they also serve as "lifeboats" in the case the crew must evacuate in an emergency.

Despite that impressive past, the future is cloudy.  Russia has agreed with the U.S. proposal to extend ISS operations until "at least" 2024, but Russian space officials, like their counterparts elsewhere, aspire to human spaceflight beyond LEO.  In recent months, some Russian officials were boldly talking about a program to send cosmonauts to the Moon, but the economic effects of the drop in oil prices and sanctions by the United States and other countries following Russia's actions in Ukraine are taking their toll. 

In late December, Russian news reports indicated that a proposal made in April by the head of Roscosmos for spending 2 trillion rubles through 2025 had been revised downward to 1.4 trillion rubes.  The Moscow Times reported yesterday that the Russian government approved the 1.4 trillion rubles, which it said converts to $20.5 billion.  That is government funding for the Federal Space Program 2016-2025 and may not reflect additional sums that may be available, such as revenue from launching foreign satellites or launching astronauts for NASA, but it is a modest amount -- about $2 billion a year -- compared to NASA's $19 billion per year.   (The Moscow Times said yesterday that the request had been 3.4 trillion rubles, but the provenance of that number is not clear.) 

Details of what is included in the Federal Space Program 2016-2025 are not yet available, but at that level of resources, bold new programs seem unlikely.

The Russian government just converted its space agency, Roscosmos, into a state corporation in the latest attempt to fix endemic problems that have resulted in a series of launch failures of several different rockets and delays in building a new launch site at Vostochny. 

As the 55th anniversary of the Gagarin launch approaches, other than its stated support for continuation of ISS through 2024, the future of the Russian human spaceflight program can only be said to be uncertain.

Bridenstine Urges Appropriators to Increase Budget for FAA Space Office

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Mar-2016 (Updated: 18-Mar-2016 12:03 AM)

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and 17 other members of Congress sent a letter to House appropriators today urging them to support President Obama's requested increase in funding for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).   The President is seeking a $2 million increase in FY2017, from $17.8 million to $19.8 million.

Bridenstine is a strong advocate for AST both in its current role facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch and reentry business and, over time, for expanding its role to space traffic management and issuing "mission licenses" for private sector activities in space such as asteroid mining.

For now, Bridenstine argues that AST needs more resources to cope with growing demand for launch and reentry licenses and other activities in licensing commercial launch sites and spaceports.   The Obama Administration requested a $1.5 million increase for AST in FY2016 and ultimately it received $1.2 billion of that increase, for a total FY2016 budget of $17.8 million.  It was a hard fought battle, however, especially in the House.  FAA is funded as part of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill.   Last year, T-HUD appropriators did not approve any of the $1.5 million increase.  Bridenstine tells the story of how he tried to add money for AST during House floor debate on that bill by offering an amendment to add just $250,000, joking that it is difficult to imagine anyone asking for such a small amount, but any increase must be offset by a reduction elsewhere.

He clearly is hoping to avoid a similar situation this year by convincing the T-HUD subcommittee to include adequate funding in the bill it sends to the House so an amendment will not be necessary.  In the letter to the subcommittee's chairman and ranking member, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. David Price (D-NC), Bridenstine and 17 other Republicans and Democrats said "FAA/AST does not have the resources to efficiently or effectively carry out its duties currently, and will only be further tried as commercial space activity expands."  They urge the subcommittee to fully fund AST at the $19.8 million requested level.

Events of Interest


 

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