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After a one-day launch delay because of frigid temperatures at the launch site, Orbital Sciences Corporation's Orb-1 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is ready for launch tomorrow, January 8, 2014. The 5-minute launch window opens at 1:32 pm ET and, weather permitting, should be visible along much of the East Coast.
Orb-1 is Orbital's first operational launch of its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft to ISS under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. The company successfully completed a demonstration flight in September-October 2013. Tomorrow's flight will take 2,780 pounds of supplies to the ISS, including science experiments. If the launch takes place on schedule, it will arrive at the ISS on Sunday where it will be grappled by the space station's robotic arm, Canadarm2, at 6:02 am EST and installed onto the Harmony module around 7:00 am EST. Both events will be broadcast on NASA TV.
The launch was originally scheduled for December, but NASA delayed it to allow ISS astronauts to focus on repairing a coolant loop problem. It initially was rescheduled for today (January 7), but then delayed because of an extremely cold Arctic blast affecting much of the United States, including Wallops Island, VA, home to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the launch site for this mission.
Sarah Daughtery, Wallops flight director for the launch, said today that the forecast for tomorrow is excellent, with a 95 percent chance of favorable weather. Maps showing locations along the East Coast where the launch may be visible are on Orbital's website.
It is unusual for U.S. launches to be delayed by cold weather since the main launch sites are in Florida and California and rarely experience sub-freezing temperatures. Today's high temperature at Wallops was 20 degrees Fahrenheit (F) after dropping to 12 degrees F overnight, and that is without wind chill. How cold weather affects Antares was a major question at a press conference today. Two Orbital representatives, Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Programs Group, and Mike Pinkston, Antares program manager, explained that it is a combination of ensuring that rocket hardware is within the temperature range for which it was designed and tested and that ground crews could perform their tasks without undue exposure. Pinkston said that the threshold is 20 degrees F ambient air temperature for some of the rocket's components.
This is the first of three missions this year for Orbital under the CRS contract. The next two will take place in May and October. SpaceX also will be launching two or three CRS missions this year -- their next launch of the Dragon capsule to ISS is scheduled for February 22. NASA's Deputy ISS program manager Dan Hartman said today that "we are hitting our stride" with these commercial cargo missions, with a total of five or six planned this year.
Among the science experiments being transported to the ISS on Cygnus are a number sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a non-profit organization created and supported by NASA to find non-NASA users for the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the ISS. Congress declared the U.S. research facilities aboard the ISS to be a National Laboratory in the 2005 NASA Authorization Act in the hope of attracting other government agencies, universities, and the private sector to utilize its unique microgravity environment for research.
At a science briefing today, ISS associate program scientist Tara Ruttley said that Cygnus will be carrying the largest set of experiments from CASIS to date, and CASIS Communications Manager Patrick O'Neill called it an "historic time for CASIS." Funding for the CASIS-sponsored research comes from a variety of sources, he said, including some of the $15 million per year seed money from NASA.
Luis Zea, a Ph. D. student at the University of Colorado-Boulder, described two experiments developed by BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-funded center at the university, that are aboard this mission. One is an experiment to determine the effectiveness of antibiotics in microgravity. The experiment involves 128 test tubes of a non-pathogenic strain of E. coli to which different concentrations of antibiotics will be introduced. The test tubes will be returned to Earth later this year, split on two different SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (because of space constraints). Zea also discussed an "ants in space" experiment, an educational project for K-12 students. Ants from North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia will be taken to space and their foraging behavior in microgravity will be videotaped. Students around the country can view the videotapes and compare them to ant colonies in their classrooms that will serve as control groups. More information on the experiments and how teachers can participate is on the CU-Boulder website.
The President may brief Congress on the State of the Union every January, but this week the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has an even grander goal -- a briefing on the State of the Universe.
Granted, the AAS briefing is not to a joint session of Congress, but it will be held on Capitol Hill and co-hosted by the top members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee: Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). The briefing is on Thursday, January 9, from 12:00-1:00 pm ET in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building.
Speakers include Meg Urry from Yale University and David Helfand of Columbia and Quest Universities. Helfand is the current AAS President and Urry is the incoming President. Other speakers are Ari Buchalter from MediaMath, Blake Bullock from Northrop Grumann, and Peggy Piper from NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program.
The AAS is holding its annual winter meeting this week at National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., where astrophysicists from around the world are reporting on recent discoveries from ground- and space-based observations. Many press conferences are scheduled. NASA has a list of those related to NASA research.
(And if you're interested, President Obama's State of the Union address is scheduled for January 28 at 9:00 pm ET.)
Many pundits label last year as the "do nothing Congress." At the very end, the House and Senate did at least reach agreement on a two-year budget resolution and the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but a lot did not get done. Here is a quick synopsis of the civil, commercial and national security space issues facing Congress in the second session of the 113th Congress as it returns to work this week. The Senate meets tomorrow (Monday), and the House on Tuesday.
Third Party Liability for Commercial Launch Services. Perhaps the first space-related issue they will tackle is extending third party liability indemnification for commercial launch services providers. The House and Senate committees with jurisdiction -- the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee -- agree that the FAA's authority to indemnify commercial launch services companies for certain amounts of liability for third party claims in case of a launch failure should be extended again. They disagree on the length of time for the extension. Democrats on the House SS&T Committee want to limit the extension to one year so additional hearings can be held on the need for indemnification. The Senate committee and House SS&T Republicans want three years. Industry would prefer a longer extension, preferably making the authority permanent.
The House passed a one year extension (H.R. 3547) on December 2. The Senate passed the House bill on December 12, but with an amendment extending it for three years. That meant the bill had to go back to the House. By then, however, the House had completed its legislative business for the year and the clock ran out. The indemnification authority expired on December 31. This is an important matter for U.S. launch services providers, however, and it would not be surprising to see an extension passed early this year as a stand-alone bill or as part of the anticipated Omnibus Appropriations Act.
FY2014 Appropriations. Speaking of an Omnibus Appropriations Act, the mood in Washington is relatively upbeat that a bill to fund the government for the rest of FY2014 can pass before the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on January 15. The Bipartisan Budget Act (H. J. Res. 59) that cleared Congress in December set the limits of how much money Congress can appropriate for FY2014, but the actual task of appropriating those funds is the province of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. They have been working diligently over the holidays crafting the 12 regular appropriations bills within the limits set by the budget act.
Three of those 12 bills are of particular interest from a space policy standpoint: Defense (H.R.. 2387/S. 1429); Commerce-Justice-Science, which includes NASA and NOAA (H.R. 2787/S. 1329); and Transportation-HUD, which includes the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (H.R. 2610/S. 1243). The expectation is that all 12 bills will be bundled together into a single Omnibus Appropriations bill for consideration by the House and Senate.
The total amount for defense and non-defense discretionary spending in FY2014 was set at $1.012 trillion, a figure half way between what the House and Senate each had earlier approved. That does not necessarily mean that the amount for any particular agency like DOD, NASA or NOAA will be half way between what the House and Senate Appropriations Committee separately approved, however. (For NASA, the House Appropriations Committee approved $16.6 billion; the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $18.0 billion.) Also, the budget act did not replace the sequester, but did provide $63 billion in relief from the effects of the sequester split equally between defense and non-defense spending over two years. All in all, the most dire predictions may be avoided and the budget outlook is brighter for federal departments and agencies than it was just a few weeks ago, but that hardly means a return to business-as-usual. Budgets will continue to be constrained across the board and Tea Party Republicans appear determined to continue fighting for deeper cuts.
NASA Authorization. DOD may have gotten its authorization bill (H.R. 3304) at the eleventh hour, but not NASA. NASA's most recent authorization act became law in 2010 and covered the years FY2011-2013. The policy provisions remain law indefinitely, but the funding authorizations have expired. The House SS&T committee and the Senate Commerce committee each worked on separate versions of a new NASA authorization bill last year, but they are quite different from each other and neither was actually reported from committee. Each committee marked up its bill and they were "ordered reported," but they still have not actually been reported. (Typically, though not always, a bill is reported from committee before going to the floor of the House or Senate for consideration.)
The two major differences are funding levels and the status of the Obama Administration's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The House bill (H.R. 2687) authorizes $16.9 billion, while the Senate bill (S. 1317) authorizes $18.1 billion. The House bill prohibits spending any funds on ARM; the Senate bill is silent on ARM. Both bills cleared their committees on party line votes, which is unusual for NASA, traditionally a bipartisan topic.
Intelligence Authorization. Like NASA, the FY2014 authorization bill for the Intelligence Community did not clear Congress. It was reported from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees (H.R. 3381/S. 1681) in November, but no further action was taken. The Senate bill "encourages" the relevant government decision-makers to allow commercial satellite imagery providers to sell imagery with better resolution than what is allowed today (0.25 meter instead of 0.5 meter). A statement in the unclassified report accompanying the House version of the bill (H. Rept. 113-277) says that it "continues to remove barriers to competition in space" and "advances technologies to enhance U.S. satellite capabilities," but no further details are provided.
Termination Liability for Certain NASA Programs. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) introduced one part of the House committee's NASA authorization bill as a separate bill in the hope of moving at least that part to the floor for a vote. Referred to as the "termination liability" bill (H.R. 3625), one portion would change how NASA manages funding for termination liability for contracts for the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft, International Space Station (ISS), and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Perhaps more significantly, however, it would require congressional approval before any of those programs could be terminated, which some view as an encroachment on presidential prerogatives. Congress has the power of the purse under the Constitution and strictly speaking can always countermand a presidential decision to either initiate or terminate a program that requires funding, but this bill explicitly requires congressional approval to terminater these particular programs. The bill passed the House SS&T committee on a bipartisan vote in December after the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), convinced committee Republicans to add JWST to the list of protected programs. Like the NASA authorization bill, H.R. 3625 was ordered reported, but not formally reported. There is no Senate counterpart at this time.
Weather Forecasting Improvement Act. The House SS&T Committee approved the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (H.R. 2413) in December, but, like the others, has not been formally reported. The bill does not focus on weather satellites, but does clarify that existing law does not prevent the government from buying commercial weather data or placing weather satellite sensors on co-hosted government or private sector satellites. There is no Senate counterpart to this bill yet, either.
Other Legislation. A number of other space-related bills were introduced last year, but whether they will see any action this year is somewhere between unlikely and possible. They include a bill to study an alternative to RD-180 rocket engines (S. 1679), the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (SOARS) Act (H.R 3038), and a bill to rename NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center after Neil Armstrong (H.R. 667 passed the House, but there has been no action on its Senate counterpart, S. 1636).
Nominations. The Senate had a major show-down over nominations this year. Democrats weary of Republicans preventing nominations from coming to the floor under existing Senate rules changed the rules so that only 51 votes instead of 60 votes are needed to bring a nomination to a vote. Republicans are furious and responded by slowing action on the Senate floor during the chamber's last days in 2013. How it will affect Senate business in 2014 remains to be seen.
In the meantime, although Deborah Lee James was finally confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force on December 13, other important space-related nominations did not reach the floor during the first session. Consequently they must be resubmitted by the President under Senate Rule XXXI paragraph 6. They include:
All of these nominations were returned to the President on January 3, 2014 (the end of the first session).
India's biggest rocket, the Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV), successfully returned to flight today, the first flight since double launch failures in 2010.
GSLV uses an indigenously produced cryogenic upper stage. Originally, India had a deal with Russia to supply cryogenic engines, but the United States objected to the proliferation of technology. As part of the U.S.-Russian agreement that brought Russia into the International Space Station (ISS) partnership, Russia agreed to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and reformulate its agreement with India to not provide technology or know-how. India responded by deciding to produce the cryogenic engines themselves. The "denial of technology" remains a sore point with India and was mentioned during the speeches following today's successful launch.
India's Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) lifts off from Sriharikota, India, January 5, 2014. Photo credit: Indian Space Research Organization.
Not counting today's launch, of the seven GSLV launches since 2001, only two were complete successes (the second development flight in 2003 and the first operational launch in 2004). Three were complete failures: one in 2006 and two in 2010. The other two were partial successes.
Without the GSLV, India has been forced to use its smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for missions -- like the Mars Orbiter Mission launched in November -- that could have benefitted from more thrust. The most capable version of the PSLV can place 1,800 kilograms (about 4,000 pounds) into low Earth orbit (LEO) or 1,140 kilograms (about 2,500 pounds) into geostationary transfer orbit (GEO). GSLV can launch 5,000 kilograms (about 11,000 pounds) into LEO and 2,500 kilograms (about 5,000 pounds) into GTO. That is still modest compared to the most capable launch vehicles available in the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and China, but a considerable improvement over the PSLV. (The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation publishes free reports with helpful tables comparing the various launch vehicles in the world.)
Today's launch lofted India's GSAT-14 communications satellites into GTO. It has a mass of 1,982 kilograms and is equipped with 6 C-band and 6 Ku-band transponders and 2 Ka-band beacons to carry out attenuation studies.
The launch was originally scheduled for August 2013, but a second stage leak was detected an hour before launch. Today's launch, at 5:48 am Eastern Standard Time (4:18 pm Indian Standard Time, which is 10.5 hours ahead of EST), proceeded nominally. India launches from Sriharikota, an island in the Bay of Bengal just off the southeastern coast of the Indian mainland.
The first operational launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) is being delayed for one or two days because of forecasted frigid temperatures at the Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia.
Originally scheduled for December 2013, the launch initially was delayed so ISS astronauts could focus on repairing a malfunctioning coolant loop. With that problem fixed, a new launch date of January 7 was set, but very cold weather at Wallops Island, VA led Orbital and NASA to decide to wait for better weather. Orbital says that a launch on January 8 between 1:32-1:37 pm ET is possible, but it is more likely the launch will be on January 9 between 1:10 - 1:15 pm ET. In either case, berthing to the ISS would take place on Sunday, January 12.
This is Orbital's first operational cargo mission to the ISS. The company successfully completed a demonstration mission in September 2013.
Two people viewed in the space policy community as epitomizing the differences between the Democratic and Republican views on NASA -- Lori Garver and Scott Pace -- were joined by Joel Achenbach and Mike Gold on today's Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio to talk about the present and future of the space program. Their views, along with listeners who called in with questions and Rehm herself, are quite interesting.
Garver was Deputy Administrator of NASA for four years of the Obama Administration under current NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. She left the agency in September 2013 to become General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association and has not hesitated to remain in the forefront of the debate over the space program from her new position outside of government. Pace was one of the top NASA officials under former Administrator Mike Griffin during the George W. Bush Administration and one of the architects of the Constellation program to return humans to the Moon by 2020, a program cancelled by Obama. Both have held many positions in the space policy community over the decades. Pace is currently Director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.
Achenbach is a science reporter for the Washington Post who occasionally writes about NASA, most recently last week in an article entitled "To Go Boldly (and on budget)." Gold is director of Washington operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace, which is building inflatable modules for use in space -- one will be attached to the International Space Station next year as a test and Bigelow wants to put them on the lunar surface, too.
The Diane Rehm show is one of NPR's most popular programs and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It is broadcast by WAMU here in Washington, DC.
Garver made clear that she opposes the Space Launch System and the Mars 2020 mission, which is essentially a repeat of the current Mars Curiosity mission, because she believes NASA should do new and innovative things, not build rockets based on 1970s technology or redo science missions. Pace stressed the value of international cooperation in space and argued that returning humans to the Moon is the type of mission that would attract international partners.
The program is worth a listen. Here are some of the key discussion points.
UPDATE 3, January 6, 2014: SpaceX's launch of Thaicom-6 is now scheduled for today, January 6, at 5:06 pm ET. Orbital's Orb-1 launch is now scheduled for Wednesday, January 8 at 1:32 pm ET and the associated pre-launch briefings are now on Tuesday (January 7) instead of today. They still are at 2:00 pm ET (science) and 3:00 pm ET (mission status). (India's GSLV launch did go off on as planned on January 5.)
UPDATE 2, January 3, 2014: The Orb-1 Antares/Cygnus mission to the ISS has been delayed from January 7 to January 8 or 9 because of weather. Orbital Sciences Corp. says January 9 is the more likely day -- launch window 1:10-1:15 pm ET. (But January 8 is a possibility -- launch window 1:32-1:37 pm ET).
UPDATE, January 2, 2014: Multiple sources report that the SpaceX launch scheduled for January 3 has been postponed to no-earlier-than January 6.
ORIGINAL STORY, January 1, 2014: Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully you've been having a nice few days of rest because, for space policy aficionados, the New Year gets off to a quick start with three interesting launches and Congress returning for the second session of the 113th Congress all within the first seven days -- and that's just the beginning.
During the Week
OK, so we're defining "week" loosely this time to mean the first 10 days of 2014. We don't cover all the launches that take place each year since not all have space policy implications. There are three coming up that are of special interest though: SpaceX's launch of Thaicom-6 on January 3, India's return-to-flight of its Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV) on January 5, and the rescheduled first operational launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares/Cygnus system to resupply the International Space Station on January 7.
Admittedly the SpaceX launch is less exciting than its successful SES-8 launch last month, the company's first launch to geostationary transfer orbit, but getting another rocket ready to repeat that success just a month later is a sign of maturity for the entrepreneurial launch firm so deserves a mention here. It's interesting to note that we couldn't find anything about the upcoming launch on SpaceX's website other than a mention on its 2013 launch manifest when the launch originally was scheduled to take place. NASASpaceflight.com, however, reports the launch window on January 3 as 5:50 - 7:17 pm ET from Cape Canaveral, FL.
Two days later, on January 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will try to launch the return-to-flight-mission of its GSLV, the first flight since two failures in 2010. This is India's most capable launch vehicle, with a cryogenic upper stage. The return-to-flight was supposed to occur last August, but was scrubbed an hour before launch because of a second stage leak. The payload is India's GSAT-14 communications satellite.
Two days after that, on January 7, Orbital Sciences Corporation is scheduled to launch its Antares rocket with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to take supplies to the ISS. The launch was delayed from last month because of a coolant loop problem on the ISS that necessitated a couple of spacewalks to resolve and NASA needed to focus on that instead. This is Orbital's first operational cargo launch to the ISS, designated Orb-1.
Separately, the United States is hosting an International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) concomitantly with an International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) symposium and "Heads of Agencies" summit on Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, DC to discuss the future of space exploration and international cooperation in space.
Just outside Washington, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is holding its annual winter meeting all week with major announcements of scientific discoveries from ground- and space-based instruments expected.
Meanwhile, the second session of the 113th Congress will commence. The Senate convenes on January 6 and the House on January 7. They have a lot of work to do!
Friday, January 3
Sunday, January 5
Sunday-Thursday, Janary 5-9
Monday, January 6
Tuesday, January 7
Wednesday-Thursday, January 8-9
Thursday, January 9
Thursday-Friday, January 9-10
NASA says it is looking forward to China publicly releasing the scientific results from the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover that arrived on the lunar surface earlier this month. Yesterday, NASA scientists released a photo of the duo taken by the U.S. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that has been in lunar orbit since 2009.
The photo was one of several taken by LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) on December 24-25 when its orbit took it over the landing site in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium). The highest resolution image (below) was taken when LRO was nearly overhead at approximately 150 kilometers on December 25, with a pixel size of 150 centimeters. NASA’s LRO team noted that the Yutu rover is only 150 centimeters wide, but shows up in the image because its solar arrays are effective at reflecting sunlight and the Sun was setting so the rover had a distinct shadow.
Source: NASA website. Caption: LROC NAC view of the Chang'e 3 lander (large arrow) and rover (small arrow) just before sunset on their first day of lunar exploration. LROC NAC M1132582775R, image width 576 m, north is up. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.
Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon and Yutu is her companion, a jade rabbit. Chang’e-3 and Yutu landed on the Moon on December 14, the first survivable landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched on September 3, 2013, also is in lunar orbit although its path does not pass over the Chang’e- landing site. Nevertheless, it did watch for any increase in lunar dust or gases caused by the landing, but did not detect any. LADEE’s studies were aided by two other NASA spacecraft that are orbiting the Moon, ARTEMIS P1 and P2. They originally were part of a 5-spacecraft constellation of satellites studying interactions between the Sun and the Earth as part of the THEMIS mission. After completing their primary missions in 2010, these two spacecraft were placed into lunar orbit to study the Sun’s interaction with the Moon and redesignated ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun).
NASA’s statement on Chang’e-3 and Yutu, issued in response to media inquiries, referenced its ongoing robotic lunar exploration activities and noted that scientists around the world view China’s spacecraft as “a new scientific opportunity.” NASA’s full statement is as follows:
“After sending 12 humans to the moon's surface during the Apollo Program, NASA continues to explore the moon with three current missions, all in an effort to learn more about our nearest neighbor and enable exploration to an asteroid and Mars. We welcome all countries' peaceful exploration of space, and look forward to China’s public release of the scientific results from the Chang'e 3 mission to the moon. NASA satellites will examine the lander's arrival from various perspectives, and scientists around the world view it as a new scientific opportunity that could potentially enhance studies and observations of the lunar atmosphere that could contribute to our journeys to those farther destinations.”
The activities of the U.S. spacecraft may help dispel a misimpression among some members of the public that the United States is not doing very much in lunar exploration while China is taking the lead. That viewpoint was exemplified by a reporter at the State Department’s daily briefing on December 16. Neither the reporter nor the State Department briefer were well informed about the U.S. or Chinese space programs, but the gist of the conversation was the reporter asking whether China was taking the lead and how much its global standing would therefore benefit.
Indeed, many of the news reports about China’s achievement suggest that the United States is losing its leadership position while China is forging ahead, which is hardly the case as LRO, LADEE and ARTEMIS demonstrate today (not to mention the long history of U.S. lunar exploration including the Apollo landings). Unfortunately, the State Department spokeswoman did not make that case. She at least knew that China had recently landed something on the Moon and offered congratulations, but demurred on answering any of the questions saying she simply did not know and would have to check with others.
Mars One, the Dutch non-for-profit foundation advocating one way trips to Mars for people who want to settle the Red Planet, announced today that it chose 1,058 candidates to proceed to round 2 of its selection and training process.
Mars One said in September that it had "received interest" from 202,586 people to make one-way trips to Mars, four people at a time beginning in 2023. That statement left open the question of how many of those who expressed interest actually applied, a process that involved paying a fee. However, today's press release said that the 1,058 candidates chosen for the next step were drawn "from an applicant pool of over 200,000." Applicants were asked to pay "a small administration fee that varies across nations according to their per capita GDP" to make the program "equally accessible" for everyone and to reduce "the number of insincere entries." Mars One did not announce how much revenue it earned from the applications. The foundation says it plans opportunities for people to apply "regularly" in future years.
Mars One plans to finance its effort through crowdsourcing (through Indiegogo), exclusive partnerships, selling broadcasting rights, "involvement with high net worth individuals," and "revenues from intellectual property." The next steps in the selection process were not announced today because Mars One said it is still in negotiations with media companies for the rights to televise the process.
Earlier this month, Mars One, Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce the first step in Mars One's plans -- a robotic lander/orbiter combination to be launched in 2018. The orbiter would be a communications satellite built by SSTL, while the lander would be provided by Lockheed Martin based on the Mars Phoenix spacecraft it built for NASA, which landed on Mars in 2007. The Mars One lander will carry a camera providing continuous video (though the communications satellite), a robotic arm to scoop up Martian material, an experiment to produce liquid water from that material, and a test of a thin film solar panel to provide power.
The Mars One contracts with Lockheed Martin and SSTL are for mission concept studies only at this point. Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp declined to say how much the robotic mission would cost, saying that is part of the mission concept studies. He did say, however, that the study contract with Lockheed Martin is for $250,000 and the SSTL contract is for 60,000 Euros (about $83,000).
Mars One's effort should not be confused with a completely separate and quite different proposal to send people to Mars called Inspiration Mars. The latter effort is led by Dennis Tito, an American multimillionaire best known in space circles as the person who paid Russia a reported $20 million to fly to the International Space Station as the first ISS "tourist." Tito wants to send a man and a woman, preferably married, on a round-trip flight to Mars in 2018, but they will not land. The closest they will come is 100 kilometers above the surface as they fly past on a "boomerang" trajectory that returns them to Earth.
One similarity between Mars One and Inspiration Mars is that both have evoked a lot of skepticism not only because of the expected cost and ambitious schedule, but the risk. NASA has not determined how to protect astronauts from the harmful radiation environment in space for long duration missions, never mind how to support people living on the surface of another planetary body. NASA's own current plan is to send people to orbit -- not land on -- Mars in the 2030s, with a human landing at an indefinite time thereafter.
Bansdorp and Tito both are focused on 2018 -- Bansdorp for the robotic mission, Tito for his crewed mission -- because it is an excellent opportunity to launch to Mars from an energy standpoint. Earth and Mars are properly aligned in their orbits around the Sun every 26 months to allow such journeys, but some of those opportunities are better than others. January 2018 is one of the best. An equivalent opportunity will not be available for 15 years after that. Bansdorp wants to launch his first four-person crew in 2023, which is not a good energy opportunity. He has not said what launch vehicle he plans to use.
Tito's plan to launch only two people at the best energy opportunity requires a very big rocket. He determined that the only launch vehicle capable of launching the requisite mass that might be available in 2018 is NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), but it will not be ready under NASA's current schedule. SLS's first flight -- without a crew -- is currently scheduled for 2017 and the first flight with a crew is not until 2021. Tito told a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing in November that, after initial studies, he now believes this primarily should be a NASA mission. He estimates it will cost $1 billion and wants NASA to provide 70 percent of that. NASA replied that it is "unable to commit to sharing expenses" with Inspiration Mars, but "we remain open to further collaboration."
For its part, Mars One stresses that it is not a government program and is not looking for government money.
President Obama signed the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law yesterday, sustaining a record that spans more than 50 years of enacting this annual law despite the ups and downs of Washington politics.
The law provides a total of $607 billion for defense: $527 billion as the base budget plus $80 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) such as the war in Afghanistan.
Among the provisions related to national security space activities in the bill as passed by Congress and explained in a joint explanatory statement from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are the following ("sec." refers to section numbers in the bill):
Congress did not agree to a House-passed provision that would have required an analysis of alternatives to the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), which was terminated.
President Obama did not mention any of the space-related provisions in his signing statement, which focuses on provisions regarding Guantanamo.
Events of Interest