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What's Happening in Space Policy July 11-16, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2016 (Updated: 10-Jul-2016 04:49 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 11-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The Washington space policy community is still reeling from the news of Molly Macauley's murder Friday night while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore.  Molly was one of the most respected and admired members of our relatively small group of space policy analysts and practitioners and was well-known to just about everyone in it.  No word yet on funeral arrangements.  We'll certainly post any information we get.  Molly was Vice President of Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank, which has posted a lovely tribute to her.

Meanwhile, the work of the space policy community must go on. This is the last week Congress is scheduled to meet until after Labor Day, so there's a lot they should be getting done.  Whether they do or not remains to be seen with everyone focused on tragic deaths elsewhere in the country.  Senate leaders tried to bring up the defense appropriations bill last week, but Democrats blocked it.  They're going to try again tomorrow.  On Friday, the House approved a motion to go to conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), so that's a step in that direction anyway, but authorization bills don't provide any money.  Only appropriations bills do that.  There's no indication when the Senate will resume consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and it is not on the House calendar either.  The House and Senate will have four weeks after they return on September 6 to get some sort of appropriations passed to keep the government operating after FY2016 ends on September 30.

There are three congressional hearings about space this week.   First is a House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee hearing on "Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrobiology" with witnesses talking about programs at NASA and the National Science Foundation. That begins at 10:00 am ET on Tuesday.  An hour later (which means the two will overlap), the House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on the role of small business and NASA.  It's the first time we can think of that that committee has held a space hearing.  Witnesses are from Explore Mars (Beverly, MA), Emergent Space Technologies (Greenbelt, MD), Craig Technologies (Cape Canaveral, FL) and Honeybee Technologies (Brooklyn, NY).

On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair only his third space hearing since becoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee at the beginning of 2015.   He's been busy running for President and reportedly will speak at the Republican Convention next week, but on Wednesday he will focus on "NASA At a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration."  Witnesses are Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA; Mary Lynne Dittmar from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; Mike Gold from SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral); Mark Sirangelo from Sierra Nevada Corporation; and Dan Dumbacher, formerly NASA, now at Purdue.  We published summaries of Cruz's previous two space hearings: February 25, 2015 on U.S. Human Space Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness and  March 13, 2015 on NASA's FY2016 budget request.

The American Astronautical Society, CASIS and NASA will hold the 5th International Space Station R&D conference in San Diego Tuesday-Thursday, with a special pre-conference session tomorrow afternoon on utilization of Japan's Kibo module.  The conference itself will be webcast -- lots of really interesting speakers each day, including a conversation with Mark and Scott Kelly and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on the Twins Study from Scott Kelly's 340-day stay aboard ISS.  Remember that all times in the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (Eastern Daylight Time - 3).

Two interesting national security space seminars also are on the docket this week. The Hudson Institute holds a meeting on Space and the Right to Self Defense on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a report it just published on that topic. The study director, Hudson Institute Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, will moderate a discussion with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl.   Thursday morning, the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute will hold a breakfast meeting featuring Elbridge Colby of the Center for a New American Security on U.S. defense and deterrence strategy for space.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.

Monday-Thursday, July 11-15 

  • 5th International Space Station R&D Conference (AAS/NASA/CASIS), San Diego, CA (webcast)  [Monday is a pre-conference day; the conference itself is Tuesday-Thursday.  It is not clear if the pre-conference activities on Monday also will be webcast]

Monday-Sunday, July 11-17

Tuesday, July 12

Tuesday, July 12 - Tuesday, July 19

Wednesday, July 13

Thursday, July 14

  • Future Space 2016 (Future Space Leaders Foundation), 106 Dirksen (7:30 am - 12:00 pm ET) followed by luncheon at Reserve Officer Association building across the street (12:30-1:30 pm ET)
  • U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space (AFA Mitchell Institute), Air Force Association, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA, 8:00 am ET

Saturday, July 16

Molly Macauley, Renowned Space Economist, Killed While Walking Her Dogs - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jul-2016 (Updated: 12-Jul-2016 09:28 PM)

Molly Macauley, one of the few economists specializing in satellites and the space program generally, was murdered last night (July 8) while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore, MD.  She was 59.

According to the July 9 Baltimore Sun, she was stabbed to death while walking her two dogs in the Roland Park neighborhood in Baltimore.  No suspects have been identified. [The Baltimore Sun published an updated article on July 11 with a few more details, but there is still no suspect or motive.  Funeral arrangements have not been announced yet.] [Update July 12:  Funeral arrangements are not yet confirmed, but Resources for the Future, where Molly worked for more than 30 years, will hold a memorial service in September.  Details TBA.]

Macauley was a valued member of the space policy community for decades and renowned for her expertise on the economics of satellites, especially in the earth observation arena. Her professional portfolio was much broader, however, including the use of economic incentives in environmental regulation, climate and earth science, and recycling and solid waste management.  She testified before Congress many times and was the author of more than 80 journal articles, books, and book chapters.

She was Vice President for Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on the economics of natural resources.  She was a past member of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and served on many of its study committees.  She was a member of the steering committee for the ongoing Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space at the time of her death.

Molly Macauley.  Photo Credit:  Resources for the Future Website

Michael Moloney, Director for Space and Aeronautics at the Academies, told that Macauley was a "tremendous supporter" of the role that the Academies play in providing advice to the federal government and volunteered "many, many hours" on study committees covering topics "as diverse as the challenge of orbital debris and the future of our global Earth observation system."    "She was a friend to everyone who served with her and the Academies staff and volunteers valued her expertise and quiet wisdom.  She will be terribly missed."

Charlie Kennel, who chaired the SSB while Macauley was a member, said that she "brought us the human perspective.  She worked hard to connect with our science and technology so that we would always keep human values in mind.  She was soft-spoken, always calm, insightful, and withal unusually persuasive.  You remembered what she said.  Molly did not deserve this, her friends and colleagues do not deserve this, the world does not deserve this."  Kennel is a former NASA associate administrator for Mission to Planet Earth, a former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and is currently a professor emeritus at Scripps and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said "her loss is a loss to all of us, whether family and friends, colleagues, or the community in which she lived."  In an email, Pace characterized her as "an incredibly intelligent, energetic, and caring person who brought both warmth and rigor to her profession and the space community. ...  She combined high personal standards with a willingness to mentor and care for others that is often too rare."

Macauley received her B.A. in economics from the College of William and Mary in 1979, and a Master's and Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University in 1981 and 1983 respectively.   In addition to her work at RFF, she was an Adjunct Professor of economics at Johns Hopkins.

Note:  This article was updated on July 9 with the comments from Dr. Kennel and on July 11 with a link to that day's Baltimore Sun article.

Russia Launches New Version of Soyuz Spacecraft with Three ISS Crew - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jul-2016 (Updated: 09-Jul-2016 12:14 AM)

UPDATE, JULY 9, 2016, 12:15 AM EDT.  Docking was successful at 12:06 am EDT.

ORIGINAL STORY, JULY 6, 2016, 10:47 PM EDT:  Russia successfully launched a new version of its Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-01, at 9:36 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) tonight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (7:36 am July 7 local time at the launch site).  Aboard are three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS) -- an American, a Japanese and a Russian.

Soyuz MS-01 is delivering NASA's Kate Rubins, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) Takuya Onishi, and Russia's Roscosmos space state corporation's Anatoly Ivanishin to the ISS.  Because it is a new version of the spacecraft, the crew is taking the longer 34-orbit route to the ISS so the new systems can be tested out.  Docking is scheduled for 12:12 am Saturday morning.

Soyuz MS-01 on launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome just before liftoff on July 6, 2016 EDT.  Screenshot from NASA TV.

The first Soyuz spacecraft was launched in 1967.  It has been upgraded many times over the decades.  Although the outer shell remains basically the same, the interior and its systems have changed with advances in technology.  The most recent version was Soyuz TMA-M.  The last of that type, Soyuz TMA-20M, is currently docked to the ISS ready to return its three-man crew to Earth in September:  NASA's Jeff Williams and Roscosmos's Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin.

Soyuz MS incorporates a number of changes: upgraded fully redundant thrusters, improved shielding against micrometeoroid orbital debris (MMOD), improved solar arrays yielding increased electrical power, redundant electrical motors for the docking probe, upgraded Kurs docking system with a phased array antenna that does not need to be retracted, improved satellite navigation system, improved communications through Russia's Luch satellites, and a new digital video transmitter and encoder to provide engineering video of the spacecraft's approach to ISS for docking.

Rubins, Onishi and Ivanishin will remain aboard the ISS for four months, returning in October.

NASA's Kate Rubins, Rocosmos's Anatoly Ivanishin, JAXA's Takuya Onishi at the Cosmonaut Hotel, Baikonur, Kazkahstan, June 30, 2016.  Credit: NASA/Alexander Vysotsky.

Rubins and Onishi are making their first spaceflights.  Rubins is a cancer biologist; Onishi is a former 767 airline pilot.  Ivanishin is a fighter pilot; this is his second spaceflight.

House Committee Questions U.S. Policy On Use of Indian Launch Vehicles

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jul-2016 (Updated: 06-Jul-2016 09:08 PM)

Two top Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee sent letters to Obama Administration officials today seeking answers to a series of questions about U.S. policy on the use of Indian launch vehicles.  India's Antrix corporation wants to offer launches to U.S. satellite operators, but there is concern that as a government entity, it would have an unfair advantage over U.S. commercial launch companies.

Several small U.S. satellites have been launched on Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) in the last several months.  Four Spire Global Lemur-2 cubesats were launched in September 2015 and 12 Planet (formerly PlanetLabs) satellites on June 22, 2016.  PlanetIQ signed an agreement with Antrix in December 2015 to launch two of its 10-kilogram satellites on a PSLV in the fourth quarter of this year.

The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) has been discussing the matter since last fall.   In October 2015, Samuel duPont from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), briefed COMSTAC on the issue. The committee's International Space Policy Working Group (ISPWG) held teleconferences on the topic on December 10, 2015 and January 27, 2016.   According to an ISPWG outbrief at COMSTAC's April 2016 meeting, the discussions led to two findings and a recommendation.  The findings were that India's launch service pricing structure could not be confirmed as market-based and thus could "distort" competition and undermine U.S. policies and negatively impact the U.S. space industrial base.  It recommended that the U.S. government "maintain the current cautious approach in granting U.S. commercial satellite operators access to India's state-owned and controlled launch providers."

Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) industry association, told the SS&T Space Subcommittee in April that CSF opposes any effort "to facilitate a government-subsidized foreign launch company ... to compete with U.S. companies."  However, CSF also does not want to disadvantage U.S. satellite manufacturers and operators whose launch needs cannot be met by U.S. launch services companies, so if no U.S. launch vehicles are available, launching on Indian rockets should be approved on a case-by-case basis, he asserted.

Today's letters from House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) seek to clarify exactly what U.S. policy is regarding launching U.S. satellites on Indian rockets.  The four letters are addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren. 

Smith and Babin seek basic information about what the policy says, when it was promulgated, and the impact of India's entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on that policy.  Each official is asked to respond by July 20, 2016. 

India finally joined the MTCR less than two weeks ago on June 27.  The MTCR seeks to control the spread of ballistic missile technology.  Established in 1987 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, it now has 35 members, including Russia (but not China).  It is not a treaty and imposes no legal obligations, but is an "informal political understanding" according to its website.

U.S. efforts to convince Russia to join the MTCR after the collapse of the Soviet Union figured prominently in the relationship the two countries have today in the space arena.  It was one of the motivations in the Clinton-Gore Administration's decisions to invite Russia to join the International Space Station (ISS) partnership and to allow U.S. satellites to be launched on Russian rockets.  In return, Russia had to join the MTCR and renegotiate a deal to sell cryogenic rocket engines and associated technological know-how to India. The United States did not object to selling the engines themselves, but to the technological know-how.  Russia renegotiated the contract and said that it lost $400 million as a result.  The United States agreed to pay Russia $400 million towards its participation in the ISS.

NASA's Juno Enters Orbit Around Jupiter

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jul-2016 (Updated: 05-Jul-2016 02:10 AM)

NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Jupiter tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) after a 5-year journey.  Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft to visit the outer planets, where the Sun's strength is comparatively low.  Coupled with the harsh radiation environment the spacecraft will endure as it dips closer to the planet's cloud-tops than any previous spacecraft, it has a limited lifetime, but is expected to produce groundbreaking data about aspects of the planet never observed before.

Several spacecraft have flown past Jupiter (Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Ulysses, Cassini, and New Horizons) and one orbited it for many years (Galileo), but Juno is the first designed to look beneath the cloud-tops and study the interior.   It also is the first to study Jupiter's poles.   

Artist's illustration of Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.  Image credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno was placed into an elliptical (oval) orbit where it will dip as close as 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) to Jupiter's cloud-tops and then swing back out again, away from the most intense radiation.  The burn that took place tonight (July 4 EDT) placed it into an initial 53.5-day orbit.  After two of those orbits, the engine will fire again to lower it to a 14-day orbit optimized for the science investigations.

Artist's illustration of Juno spacecraft and its science instruments.  Image credit: NASA/JPL

In addition to the science instruments, the spacecraft is carrying the JunoCam camera, a public outreach effort.  The principal investigator (PI) of the Juno mission, Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), calls it "the public's camera."  It has already taken many images of Jupiter, but few have made it into the public domain.  All of them will, he said, once technical issues are resolved.  JunoCam has its own website where images from JunoCam will be posted, amateur astronomers may upload their own images and data about the planet, and the public may vote on points of interest to observe.  Bolton's team created a movie (with music by Vangelis) of Jupiter as the spacecraft approached the planet using JunoCam images that was just posted on YouTube, rather than the JunoCam website.  It clearly shows the four Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), discovered by Galileo in 1610, orbiting the planet.  (Actually Callisto, the furthest out, is a bit harder to see than the others.) Bolton said it took 17 days for JunoCam to get all the images; they were condensed into 3 minutes for the video.

Juno is named after the Roman goddess, sister and wife of Jupiter, who could see through clouds.  It was launched on an Atlas V rocket on August 5, 2011.

Jupiter receives 1/25th of the amount of sunlight as Earth. To capture as much of it as possible, each of the three solar panels is 29.5 by 8.7 feet (9 by 2.65 meters) with more than 650 square feet (60 square meters) of surface area.   The total energy output is 500 watts (as in five 100-watt light bulbs).  All other spacecraft that have visited the outer planets (beyond Mars) have nuclear power sources.

The spacecraft will study Jupiter over the course of 20 months, making 37 orbits (33 optimized for science), after which it will be commanded to enter Jupiter's atmosphere where it will be destroyed.  That is currently expected on February 20, 2018.  Scientists do not want to risk the spacecraft impacting Jupiter's moons, some of which -- like Europa -- may have environments conducive for life.  NASA plans to send a spacecraft to Europa in the early 2020s to look for life and, if any is found, wants to be sure it is indigenous, not Earth life deposited by Juno.

Juno is one of NASA's "New Frontiers" missions, a series of medium-sized space missions for which scientific teams led by a PI like Bolton compete.  The New Horizons mission that reached Pluto last year was the first.  Juno is the second.  The third is the asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx scheduled for launch in September. NASA is getting ready for the next round of competitions.  The program was created in 2003 with the intent to ensure a stable cadence of new missions every three years, although budget constraints necessarily affect how often the competitions can occur.  The missions are cost-capped.  The current cap is $850 million, excluding launch and operations.

Note:  This article was updated following a 1:00 am EDT NASA/JPL press briefing on July 5.

What's Happening in Space Policy July 4-9, 2016 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2016 (Updated: 04-Jul-2016 10:41 PM)

This is our list of space policy events for the week of July 4-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House returns to work on July 5; the Senate on July 6.  [This posting was updated on July 4.]

During the Week

Monday, July 4, is a federal holiday and government offices officially are closed, but some folks at NASA surely will be on duty because the BIG EVENT for the coming week is the arrival of NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter that day.

Miles O'Brien explained in a recent PBS Newshour segment what Juno will tell us about Jupiter that the Galileo spacecraft didn't (basically Galileo was looking at the cloudtops outward while Juno will look under the clouds down through Jupiter's core).  NASA has held a number of pre-arrival briefings already. Another will be broadcast on NASA TV on Monday at noon ET with a mission update. 

NASA TV coverage of orbit insertion begins at 10:30 pm ET and a post-arrival briefing is scheduled for 1:00 am ET July 5. 

The spacecraft will fire its engine at 11:18 pm ET on July 4 for 35 minutes to enter Jupiter's orbit, ending at 11:53 pm ET.  Everything is automated at this point -- either the engine will work properly or it won't.  The signal travel time from Jupiter to Earth is 48 minutes.  The times here are Earth-receive times accounting for the delay.

Closer to Earth, a new crew will launch to the International Space Station on Wednesday evening Eastern Daylight Time (Thursday GMT, Moscow Time, and local time at the launch site).  The three crew members -- NASA's Kate Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi and Roscosmos's Anatoly Ivanishin -- will be using an upgraded version of the Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-01.   Since it's new, they will take the longer 2-day trajectory to the ISS to test everything out, docking early Saturday morning EDT.

Meanwhile, here on Earth, on Thursday, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the nation's current and next generation weather satellites.  It is a bit unusual in that it blends plans for civil and military weather satellites.  The witness list as of today includes two experts on NOAA's weather satellite programs -- Steve Volz, head of NOAA/NESDIS and the GAO expert who follows those civil weather satellite programs (David Powner), and two on DOD's weather satellite program -- Ralph Stoffler, Director of Weather in the office of the USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and the GAO expert on military satellites (Cristina Chaplain).  Subcommittee chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) serves on both this subcommittee and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) which may explain the decision to hold a combined hearing on the weather satellite plans for both NOAA and DOD.  House SS&T typically webcasts its hearings on its website and YouTube.

The events we know about as of Monday, July 4, are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.

Monday-Tuesday, July 4-5 ET

  • Arrival of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter (watch on NASA TV)
    • July 4, 12:00 pm ET, pre-orbit insertion briefing
    • July 4, 10:30 pm ET, orbit insertion and NASA commentary
    • July 5, 1:00 am ET, post-orbit insertion briefing

Wednesday, July 6

Thursday, July 7

Saturday, July 9

Note:  This article, orignally published June 30, 2016, was updated throughout on July 4, 2016.

National Air and Space Museum Goes Digital, Showcases Past and Future

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2016 (Updated: 30-Jun-2016 07:30 PM)

The National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  As part of the commemoration, it revamped its centerpiece exhibit area and introduced a "digital wall" and associated mobile app to make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for plus related exhibits elsewhere in the museum. The public is invited to spend the night at the museum from 9:00 pm July 1 to 10:00 am ET July 2 with special tours, demonstrations, music, a film festival and other activities. The museum will webcast all night long. C-SPAN will broadcast events earlier in the evening (6:00-9:00 pm ET) including an opening ceremony at 8:30 pm ET.

Many old favorites are still in the central Boeing Milestones of Flight exhibit -- from the Spirit of St. Louis to Mercury and Gemini capsules to the touchable Moon rock  -- but they have been spit and polished and many placed in new display cases. Joining the old favorites are the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), which has been on display for years at one end of the museum, a backup Telstar communications satellite (whose solar panels still work), the Discoverer XIII reconnaissance satellite reentry capsule (the first human-made object recovered from orbit), a large wind tunnel fan used by NASA's predecessor the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and a variety of other artifacts that span a broad range of aviation and space history.

In all, museum Director Jack Dailey says the renovated gallery provides a "richer experience" to allow visitors to "walk away with a deeper understanding of how spaceflight and aviation have affected their lives."

Walking in the front door from Independence Avenue, the lighted model of Star Trek's U.S.S. Enterprise is the first exhibit to catch the eye.  It is the model that was used in all 79 episodes of the original television series.  Next to it is a collection of Sally Ride artifacts that includes her Star Trek communicator pin.  Margaret Weitekamp, curator for the museum's social and cultural dimensions of spaceflight collection, said that the goal of bringing the Enterprise into the exhibit hall was to help visitors think not only about past achievements, but cultural visions of the future.

Model of Star Trek's U.S.S. Enterprise on exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum.  Photo credit: Eric Long/NASM

NASA astronaut Sally Ride's Star Trek communicator pin on display at National Air and Space Museum.  Photo credit:  Marcia Smith

Next is the Telstar model, which might easily be mistaken visually for a tiny version of the Death Star from Star Wars.  Instead, it is a backup to AT&T's communications satellite, Telstar 1, the first (1962) to provide live transatlantic television and a precursor of the comparatively mammoth communications satellites of today.

Backup Telstar satellite on display at National Air and Space Museum.  Photo credit: Eric Long/NASM.

The main exhibit area is much more open now, with the exhibits along the sides instead of in the middle -- impeding foot traffic.  Next to the LEM on the west wall are the Mercury and Gemini capsules and the Viking lander -- perhaps a testament to current efforts to bring human exploration and science closer together.

Viking lander, Mercury and Gemini capsules, LEM on display at National Air and Space Museum.  Photo credit: Mark Avino/NASM

The new 16-by-12 foot digital "GO FLIGHT" touchscreen allows visitors to find what they're looking for and get hints on related exhibits that may be of interest.  A mobile app allows smartphone users to access information throughout the museum.

Interactive wall at National Air and Space Museum.  Photo credit:  Eric Long/NASM.

A word to the wise, however -- there are no recharging stations for those smartphones.  Weitekamp said there are plans to install them in the future, but for now, make sure your phone is fully charged.


NASA IG Wants Better Mishap Investigation Policy for Commercial Cargo Launches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2016 (Updated: 29-Jun-2016 08:50 PM)

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on Tuesday that praised NASA for some aspects of its management of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with SpaceX, but reiterated earlier concerns about the independence of mishap investigations into these "commercial cargo" launch services.  NASA concurred with most, but not all, of the OIG's recommendations.

The OIG report was prompted by the June 28, 2015 SpaceX CRS-7 (SpX-7) Falcon 9 rocket failure that was intended to send a Dragon spacecraft full of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).  Among the $118 million in cargo that was lost was an International Docking Adapter, the first of two needed for future dockings of SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew vehicles. 

On the positive side, the OIG concluded that "NASA is effectively managing its commercial resupply contract with SpaceX to reduce cost and financial risk."   It has "taken advantage of multiple mission pricing discounts" and negotiated "significant consideration" after the 2015 failure including reduced prices for five launches awarded thereafter (SpX-16 to SpX-20).

However, the report criticized NASA for not having "an official, coordinated, and consistent mishap investigation policy for commercial resupply launches, which could affect its ability to determine root cause of a launch failure and corrective action."

The SpaceX cargo flights are commercial and regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), not NASA.  NASA purchases ISS cargo resupply services from SpaceX as well as Orbital ATK.  Orbital ATK also suffered a failure -- the Orb-3 launch in October 2014.   Like SpaceX, those launches are regulated by the FAA.   FAA regulations determine how investigations are conducted when there is a launch failure of a commercial vehicle.   Under those regulations, the respective company itself is in charge.

NASA has its own mishap investigation procedures that require an independent review, but they do not apply to these commercially procured launch services.  The OIG earlier looked at the Orbital ATK failure and in Tuesday's report on SpaceX reiterated its concerns "about the independence of contractor-led mishap investigations."

SpaceX formed an Accident Investigation Team (AIT) in accordance with the FAA regulations composed of 11 SpaceX employees (one as chair) and one FAA employee.  Others from the FAA, NASA, the Air Force, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were non-voting observers.  The AIT determined that the most probable cause was a failure of a strut in the second stage.  After reporting that finding to the FAA and fixing the problem, the Falcon 9 was approved to return to flight.  The first launch was for a commercial communications satellite company (Orbcomm), the second launch for the NASA-NOAA Jason-3 spacecraft, the third for a different commercial communications satellite company (SES), and the fourth a resupply mission to ISS, SpX-8.  All were successful.

Even though its own mishap investigation procedures do not apply, NASA is allowed under the CRS and other contracts to establish an independent review in addition to the FAA investigation. The OIG found "there were up to seven possible investigation authorities" NASA could invoke "depending on when the failure occurred and the extent of damage..."  In this case, since the next Falcon 9 launch for NASA was of the Jason-3 satellite, NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) set up a review under that contract authority.  Its findings were not as determinant as SpaceX's, leaving questions about the ultimate root cause.

A key finding of the OIG report is that "[d]ue to a lack of standardization or NASA policy, the contractor and NASA investigations into the SPX-7 and Orb-3 failures had different scopes and produced varying findings and corrective actions."  Orbital ATK's Orb-3 investigation "used root cause analysis" that looked not only at technical issues, but programmatic and organizational as well.  NASA's LSP investigation looked only at technical issues, the OIG said.

It recommends that NASA review its various authorities to ensure a coordinated, standardized approach.  NASA concurred.

How NASA determines what and how much cargo to put aboard the SpaceX flights was another concern raised by the OIG, especially the International Docking Adapters (IDAs). The second IDA is now scheduled for the SpX-9 mission later this year, but the replacement for the unit lost in 2015 (being built from spare parts) will not be launched until February 2018, according to the OIG report.  If current schedules hold, it will not arrive until SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner are in service.  That could spell trouble if anything goes awry with the one Adapter that will be available.  In its response to the OIG report, published in an appendix, NASA asserted that it "plans to have both IDAs available prior to first ISS direct handover mission and the first planned cargo docking mission under [the] CRS 2 [commercial cargo contract].

More broadly, the OIG recommended that NASA do a better job of quantifying and communicating the risks associated with the commercial cargo launches.   NASA did not agree with that one.  It asserted that its existing procedures provide adequate assessments of risk and communicate that risk to the appropriate people.

Successful Orbital ATK SLS Booster Test Paves Way for EM-1 in 2018

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2016 (Updated: 28-Jun-2016 10:29 PM)

Orbital ATK successfully conducted the second of two qualification tests for the motor for solid rocket boosters (SRBs) that will be part of the NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).  The 2-minute test today at the company's Promontory, Utah test site was delayed by one hour because of a computer issue, but appeared flawless when it took place at 11:05 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  The next time the booster will be used in for the first SLS test launch in 2018 dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, excitedly told a media teleconference an hour later that the test proved "this design is ready to fly."  Expressing "100 percent confidence in this team," he cheerfully urged them to celebrate and then "get back to work" because 2018 is closer than it seems.

SLS is intended to eventually send humans to Mars.  An audience questioner said he was 49 years old and asked "will I see a man on Mars?"   Gerstenmaier replied "yes, but 'man' may be the wrong word.  You will see a human being" on Mars, to applause from people in the room.

Today's Qualification Motor test 2 (QM-2) was designed to show how it operates in cold temperatures at about 40 degrees Farhenheit.  A 2015 test demonstrated its performance in high temperatures at approximately 90 degrees F.  The motor is 154 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, producing 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Although based on the SRBs for the space shuttle, they incorporate new technologies, materials and manufacturing processes.   For today's test, it lay horizontally on a test stand with flames and smoke billowing out the back.

Orbital ATK QM-2 solid rocket motor test, Promontory, Utah, June 28, 2016.  Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Two five-segment SRBs are needed for each SLS launch, a total of 10 segments.  Charlie Precourt, a former astronaut and now Vice President and General Manager for Orbital ATK's Propulsion Systems Division said seven more are needed for the EM-1 test in 2018.  He expects all of the segments to ship to Kennedy Space Center by late 2017.  With the successful completion of this test, the development phase is now over and the company will transition to manufacturing.  Noting that development and manufacturing are two different mindsets, he said the next challenge is to be sure "we can build this precisely each time."

Gerstenmaier exclaimed that "today was an amazing day."  Asked whether this type of visible milestone is helpful as the country readies for a presidential transition, he said it was not just milestones, but demonstrating on a continuing basis that NASA and its contractors can maintain schedule and budget.  But it also is important not to overreact to those pressures -- ensure the design is solid because shortcuts may be costly in the long run. The U.S. human spaceflight program, including the International Space Station, is "robust," he exuded.  It will keep the United States in the lead and is a program that "any country would be lucky to have and we are really blessed that we have this program in this country. Hopefully the political environment" will recognize that.

The launch date for EM-1 is currently targeted for September 2018, but Gerstenmaier said the schedule was "trending" toward October or November.  EM-1 will launch an uncrewed version of the Orion spacecraft.  The first crew will be launched on EM-2.  Officially, NASA has committed to launching EM-2 in 2023, but is working towards a 2021 launch date if funding permits.  Congress has been adding money above the President's request for SLS and Orion for several years, including the FY2017 budget currently under consideration.  The Senate began debate on its version of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes NASA, last week.  It would provide $2.15 billion for SLS, compared to the President's request of $1.31 billion.  The House Appropriations Committee approved $2 billion.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 27-July 1, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jun-2016 (Updated: 25-Jun-2016 08:29 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 27 - July 1, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session part of the week. The House is in recess for the July 4 holiday.

During the Week

The House left town early last week in disarray after Democrats staged a gun control sit-in. It already was scheduled to be off this week and will return on July 5.  The Senate is taking only a short July 4th breather.  It will be in session Monday-Thursday and return on July 6. On Monday it will resume consideration of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that includes NASA and NOAA.  Both chambers will meet the first two weeks of July and then take a 7-week recess for the political conventions and their usual August recess, returning on September 5-6.  They don't have a lot of time to get appropriations bills completed before the fiscal year ends on September 30.

Orbital ATK will have the second and final qualification test for the solid rocket boosters for the Space Launch System on Tuesday at its Promontory, Utah test site.  NASA TV will cover the 2-minute test live and a media teleconference shortly thereafter will be available on NASA's News Audio site.

Up at the International Space Station (ISS), Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Oleg Skripochka will test out a new manual docking system for Russia's Progress cargo spacecraft on Friday (VERY early Eastern Daylight Time).  Progress MS-01 (Progress 62 in NASA parlance) is currently docked to the Pirs module.  It will undock and then be redocked using the manual system, a backup in case the automated Kurs system doesn't work properly.  The Progress MS series is the latest version of that cargo spacecraft, in use since 1978, and Russia is also getting ready to launch the first Soyuz MS, the latest variant of that spacecraft.  The first Soyuz was launched in 1967. The Soyuz MS-01 launch is now scheduled for July 6 EDT (July 7 local time at the launch site) after a delay reportedly related to its new Kurs system.  The Kurs system for Progress MS and Soyuz MS is the same and the NASA press release said the test would verify software and a new signal converter for the manual docking system "in the unlikely event the 'Kurs' automated rendezvous in either craft encounters a problem."   Progress MS-01 will undock for a final time on July 2 and reenter (burning up on the way down -- SpaceX's Dragon is the only ISS cargo spacecraft designed to survive reentry).

NASA's Juno spacecraft is getting closer and closer to Jupiter, with orbital insertion next Monday (July 4).  There will be three briefings that day, but two pre-arrival briefings will be held this Thursday at JPL.  They will be webcast.

Thursday also is Asteroid Day, "a global awareness campaign" with events around the world to learn about asteroids "and what we can do to protect our planet ..."   It is an independent effort founded by Britain's Brian May (the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist), B612's Danica Remy and Rusty Schweickert, and film director Grigorij Richters and with support from the European Space Agency (ESA).  Thursday is June 30, the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska (Russia) event, the most destructive meteor airburst of modern times.

To close out the week, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC is celebrating its 40th anniversary and has invited the public to a family friendly "All Night at the Museum" from 9:00 pm Friday to 10:00 am Saturday with special guests stopping by, all night films and lots of other fun activities.  The official re-opening of the renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight gallery is at 8:30 pm ET.  That and other Friday evening activities will be covered by C-SPAN.

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

Tuesday, June 28

Tuesday-Wednesday, June 28-29

Tuesday-Thursday, June 28-30

Wednesday, June 29

Thursday, June 30

Friday, July 1

Friday-Saturday, July 1-2

  • All Night at the Museum, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC (family friendly event to spend the night there in celebration of its 40th anniversary), 9:00 pm - 10:00 am ET

Events of Interest


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