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This edition of our list of space policy events covers two weeks of activities (July 7-18, 2014) as the schedule remains relatively light. The Senate returns to work tomorrow, July 7, and the House on Tuesday, July 8.
During the Weeks
The Senate's schedule for considering legislation remains up in the air. Whether the two parties will reach agreement to allow appropriations bills to proceed to debate after the problems last month is a mystery. The "minibus" incorporating three of the bills -- Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS, including NASA and NOAA), Transportation-HUD (T-HUD, including FAA's space office), and Agriculture -- is ready if and when that happens. The House already has passed CJS and T-HUD, and began consideration of the Agriculture bill in June. The House and Senate versions of all the bills differ, of course, but if they could at least get passed by the House and Senate, negotiations on a compromise could begin.
The House has 26 days of legislative business (16 in July, 10 in September) remaining before October 1 when FY2015 begins. The House also will be in session Oct 1-2 before recessing for the rest of the month so Members can devote full time to campaigning (the mid-term elections are on November 4 -- DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!). The Senate's schedule as published on its website runs only through September 4 with everything after that "TBA" so no equivalent number of remaining legislative days is available. It will be in session from tomorrow through August 1, and out of session the rest of August (like the House). What comes after that is, well, TBA.
We've heard rumors of a couple of space-related hearings that might be held this month, but nothing official so they are not on this list or on our calendar. If they come to fruition, we'll let you know.
Meanwhile, some interesting launches could be on tap. Russia may -- or may not -- try again to launch the Angara 1.2 booster on a suborbital test flight on Wednesday, July 9. The launch was scrubbed on June 27. There are conflicting reports in the Russian media on the status of preparations for launch and no official announcement is posted on the websites of the rocket's manufacturer, Khrunichev, or the Russian space agency Roscosmos. However, if July 9 is the day as Russian media reports suggested yesterday, Bob Christy at zarya.info has calculated that the launch time would be approximately 12:15 GMT (8:15 am Eastern Daylight Time-EDT).
Orbital Sciences is planning to launch Antares on a Cygnus cargo run (Orb-2) to the International Space Station on Friday, July 11 at 1:40 pm EDT from Wallops Island, VA. SpaceX's rescheduled launch of six Orbcomm satellites could come next week, but no new launch information has been posted on the SpaceX or Orbcomm websites. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a radio interview on The Space Show that it might take place around July 14, but that's all we know. Since it's so tentative, we are not listing it below.
Everyone is welcome to attend the 60th anniversary of the American Astronautical Society on July 16 at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, DC from 6:00-9:00 pm EDT. It's a big auditorium, so there's lots of room. The event features NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Associate Administrator for Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld, current JPL Director Charles Elachi, and the presentation of an AAS Lifetime Achievement Award to former JPL Director and Voyager project scientist Ed Stone. The event is free, but includes a reception afterwards so they need to know how many people are coming, thus an RSVP is required by JULY 11 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, July 9
Thursday, July 10
Friday, July 11
Tuesday, July 15
Wednesday, July 16
Thursday, July 17
Thursday-Friday, July 17-18
UPDATE, July 7, 2014: Russia's RIA Novosti news service reports today that Angara has been rolled back to the launch pad in preparation for a "preliminary" launch date of July 9. No further details, such as launch time, are provided.
ORIGINAL STORY, July 5, 2014: Russian news sources are saying that Russia may try again on July 9, 2014 for the first test launch of the Angara rocket. No official announcement has yet appeared on the website of the rocket's manufacturer, Khrunichev, or Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, however, so the date should be treated as tentative.
Just a few days ago, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said he would not be surprised if it took "weeks" before another attempt was made. The first attempt on June 27 was scrubbed in the final minute or so of the countdown apparently due to a bad valve. The rocket had to be rolled back from the launch pad to its assembly and test facility.
Today's reports do not indicate what time on July 9 another attempt will be made. This is a suborbital test flight carrying a dummy payload. The approximately 25 minute flight will terminate on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, a site often used as the termination point for missile tests.
The Angara1.2 PP flight is of the smallest version of Angara. Under development since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Angara family of rockets -- with versions of varying capability up to 25 tons to low Earth orbit -- is eventually intended to replace most of the Soviet-era rockets including Soyuz and Proton.
Russia's official Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies carried the story of the new launch date today; Itar-Tass was quoting another Russian newspaper, Kommersant.
The U.S Government responded yesterday to the lawsuit filed by SpaceX against the Air Force and the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Lawyers for the Justice Department and the Air Force requested that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims dismiss the lawsuit because SpaceX does not have "standing" to file such a protest.
SpaceX filed suit in April arguing that the Air Force should not have awarded a sole-source contract to ULA in December 2013 for 36 rocket cores for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, but instead have opened the contract for bid. ULA builds and launches the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, which are used primarily for launching national security satellites, but also spacecraft for NASA and NOAA.
The legal arguments are complex, but the bottom line of the government's "Motion to Dismiss" seems to be that SpaceX does not have standing to file a protest because, in legal terms, it is not an interested party and does not have a direct economic interest.
Citing case law to support its arguments, the government asserts that companies cannot successfully argue after the fact that they could have competed for a contract and won if they were not a qualified bidder when the contract was open and did not indicate at the time that they intended to bid. In this case, SpaceX had not completed its certification flights at the time the request for proposals was issued in 2012 or when the contract was awarded in 2013. it completed its third certification flight only in 2014 and is still in the process of being certified by the Air Force to bid for launch service contracts. The government stresses that SpaceX did not file any complaints while the contracting process was underway in 2012-2013 even though it had opportunities and access to the necessary documentation to do so.
The government argues that SpaceX must show both that is an interested party and that it has a direct economic interest in order to have standing to file a protest.
To be an interested party, SpaceX would have to be either an actual or prospective bidder. To be an actual or prospective bidder, it would have had to have notified the government that it wanted to compete by submitting a statement of capability before the deadline, which it did not. The government cites SpaceX's own legal filing in this case as saying that it "could be a bidder for future contracts," not for past contracts.
The government also argues that SpaceX did not have a "direct economic interest" because to "prove a direct economic interest, a party must show that it had a 'substantial chance' of winning the [challenged] contract." Since SpaceX did not submit a statement of capability, it could not have had a substantial chance of winning the contract, therefore does not have a direct economic interest, and consequently does not have standing.
In short, the government contends, SpaceX "failed to submit a capability statement in response to the March 2012 solicitation. ... Nor ... did it indicate any dissatisfaction with the Air Force's intent to procure the launches sole-source" from ULA, and "took no steps to get involved in the procurement at the time the agency was planning its course. It is too late for SpaceX to try to bring a challenge to that procurement now."
The government makes a series of other arguments as well, all leading to a request that the court dismiss the case. (It is somewhat more complicated than that because the government complains that the SpaceX lawsuit is "amorphous" in that it protests any sole-source EELV award, not just the one issued in December 2013. The government asks the court to narrow the scope of the proceeding to the December 2013 contract, FA8811-13-C-0003, and therefore its filing is a Motion to Dismiss "portions" of the SpaceX lawsuit.)
Michael Listner, founder and principal at Space Law & Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, analyzed the government's Motion to Dismiss in a series of tweets (@ponder68) today and concluded it is "substantive, focused and confident." While SpaceX may object, "they will have a difficult time overcoming this Motion," he predicts.
For more SpacePolicyOnline.com coverage of this issue, see these previous articles:
Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today that July 11 is the new launch date for its second operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Orb-2. The launch has been delayed several times for a variety of reasons.
The launch is scheduled for 1:40 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. Orbital's Antares rocket will send a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to ISS packed with 3,000 pounds of science experiments, supplies and a number of nanosatellites that will be deployed from the ISS.
If the launch takes place on time, Cygnus will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday, July 15. ISS crew members Steve Swanson (NASA) and Alexander Gerst (ESA) will grapple the spacecraft using Canada's robotic Canadarm2 at approximately 7:24 am EDT. It then will be installed onto the ISS Harmony module at about 9:30 am ET.
NASA TV will cover all of the events live, as well as two pre-launch press conferences on July 10: a science briefing at 4:00 pm EDT and a mission status briefing at 5:00 pm EDT.
The Orb-2 launch was originally delayed in May because SpaceX had to postpone the launch of its competing Falcon 9/Dragon system. The two companies more-or-less alternate in sending their cargo ships to ISS. Orb-2 encountered additional delays after an AJ26 rocket engine failed during a test at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Antares is powered by Russian AJ26 engines and while the one that failed is for a launch in 2015, since they are the same design, the company needed to be sure the problem did not affect the engine on this rocket.
No new launch date has been set for the Angara rocket and Russian officials indicate that it will be quite some time before the next attempt is made. A suborbital test launch was scrubbed on June 27 and the rocket has been rolled back to its assembly and test facility.
Oleg Ostapenko, Director of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, said yesterday (July 2) that they want to diagnose and fix the problem as soon as possible, but "one should not jump at conclusions" and what is most important is preventing "another mishap."
A day earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said he expected it would be "weeks" and downplayed the delay, pointing out that it is a new rocket and "needs testing to polish it off."
The approximately 25 minute test flight of the smallest version of Angara will take place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome near the Arctic Circle. It will terminate 5,700 kilometers away at the Kura range on the Kamchatka Peninsula, a Russian site routinely used as the termination point for missile tests.
The Angara rocket family has been in development by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center for the past 20 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is intended to replace most of the Soviet-era rockets, including Proton, currently the largest. The most capable version of Angara now in development will be able to loft 25 tons into low Earth orbit.
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), a mission filled with many second chances, finally moved forward and upward in what officials called a perfect launch this morning (July 2) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
An initial launch attempt for OCO-2 was scrubbed yesterday during the final minute into the countdown that officials hours later attributed to a faulty valve in the launch pad water system that has since been replaced.
“Something we thought as simple as the water turning on turned out not to be simple,” said Geoff Yoder, deputy associate administrator for programs, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, at a post-launch news conference shortly after the launch. “So today when it went through, we applauded,” he said with relief and laughter.
OCO-2 is the agency’s first mission dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading human-produced greenhouse gas affecting climate change. The observatory replaces the original OCO that was lost in a launch failure in 2009.
Initial checkouts show “the spacecraft is healthy” and will start producing science data early next year, said Ralph Basilio, OCO-2 project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), at the press conference. Basilio was one of the original OCO team members. He and the other panelists congratulated one another and conveyed their excitement to “complete unfinished business.”
OCO-2 lifted off on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket under a foggy sky at 2:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT, 5:56 a.m. EDT), as scheduled.
Roughly 56 minutes into the flight, an onboard camera confirmed the successful separation of the spacecraft and rocket.
The mission is expected to last at least two years, officials said.
NASA confirmed it will attempt to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) again tomorrow (July 2) at 2:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT, 5:56 a.m. EDT).
Launch today was scrubbed at T-46 seconds because of a failed valve that was part of the launch pad water system that protects the pad itself and suppresses sound at the time of liftoff. The valve has been replaced with a spare, the agency said.
As with the first launch attempt, there will be a 30-second launch window. Weather conditions remain 100 percent favorable.
NASA's launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) spacecraft today (July 1) was scrubbed in the last minute of the countdown due to a launch pad problem. A new launch date has not been announced.
Shortly after reaching the T-1 minute mark, with everything looking perfect for launch at 05:56:44 EDT, "hold, hold"hold" was called because "we have no water flow."
Water is used for sound suppression at liftoff and apparently that water system did not function as planned. The launch had only a 30 second window, meaning there was not enough time to diagnose and fix the problem for a launch today.
There is a launch opportunity tomorrow (July 2), but whether the problem will be fixed in time is unknown. Check back here for updates as they become available.
OCO-2 is a replacement for the original OCO, which was lost in a launch failure in 2009.
Russia has not announced a date to retry the launch of its new Angara booster, but officials said today (June 30) that the rocket was rolled back from the launch pad to its assembly and test facility. The launch was scrubbed on Friday (June 27) and a Russian official said at the time they would try again the next day, but fixing the problem apparently is more involved than initially thought.
This suborbital test of the smallest version of Angara is to take place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome near the Arctic Circle. The approximately 25 minute flight carrying a dummy payload will terminate at Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Several versions of Angara are planned to replace many of the venerable Soviet-era rockets in use for decades. Development of the Angara family began in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two-stage rocket uses environmentally-friendly fuels (liquid oxygen/kerosene and liquid oxygen/hydrogen). Three versons now in development will be able to launch 3.7 tons, 14.6 tons, or 25 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) respectively.
Today, Russia's RIA Novosti news service clarified that the launch was scrubbed just 15 seconds before liftoff because of a "poorly sealed drainage pressurization valve within the oxidizer manifold." Angara manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center acknowledged that the rocket will be removed from the launch pad and returned to its assembly and test facility for thorough tests.
No date or range of dates was announced for the next launch attempt, but presumably it will be days, at least.
This edition of "What's Happening in Space Policy" covers THREE weeks rather than one since so many people -- including Congress -- are on vacation this coming week as the United States celebrates the July 4th (Independence Day) holiday and future activities have not yet been announced. Here is our list of events June 30 - July 18, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is scheduled to return for legislative business on July 7 and the House on July 8.
During the Weeks
There could be some particularly interesting launches in the next three weeks -- or not.
Russia's launch of its new Angara rocket was postponed in the final minutes of countdown on June 27. As of today (June 29), Russian government and news sources have been silent about what caused the abort or when a new attempt will take place. Angara is a family of launch vehicles that has been under development for about the past 20 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The new vehicles of various capabilities are intended to replace many of the Soviet-era rockets. This suborbital test flight is of the smallest version and carries a dummy payload.
Here in the United States, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket also experienced an anomaly during countdown on June 22. It was the latest delay in the launch of six next-generation communications satellites for Orbcomm. Like the Russians, SpaceX was not very forthcoming about what the problem was or how long it would take to fix. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said during a radio interview on The Space Show this past week, however, that the problem involves the first stage thrust vector control actuator and launch probably will not take place until at least July 14. That information is not posted on SpaceX's website, however.
Also uncertain is when Orbital Sciences will conduct the next cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS), Orb-2. Orbital is investigating the failure of an AJ-26 rocket engine during a May 22 test at Stennis Space Center before deciding whether to clear the Antares rocket designated to take a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS. The engine that failed is for a launch in 2015, but the company needs to determine whether the problem affects more than that one engine. The "no earlier than" launch date for Orb-2 at the moment is July 10. The launch was originally scheduled for May and initially delayed because a SpaceX cargo flight to ISS was postponed, but the May 22 engine test failure led to several additional delays.
One U.S. launch that is on schedule, as of today at least, is NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2). Launch is scheduled for very early in the morning of July 1 (2:56 am Pacific time, 5:56 am Eastern). OCO-2 is a replacement for the original OCO, which was lost in a launch failure in 2009.
What's on tap in Congress when it returns is up in the air. The House is passing appropriations bills, but the process in the Senate remains stuck. Whether any agreement will be reached to allow progress once the Senate returns on July 7 remains to be seen. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, which may seem a long time away, but Congress will be in recess all of August, so there are few legislative days available to get work done.
In short, the space business and the space policy business is in an uncertain period. Keep checking back here for updates!
Sunday, June 29
Tuesday, July 1
Thursday, July 10
Wednesday, July 16
Thursday, July 17
Thursday-Friday, July 17-18
Events of Interest