SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
International Space Station (ISS) crew members released Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo spacecraft this morning. Cygnus is now maneuvering away from the ISS and will reenter tomorrow. The spacecraft, filled with 3,000 pounds of trash, will burn up in the atmosphere. That will bring to an end not only this demonstration mission, but NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program as Orbital joins SpaceX in providing operational cargo resupply services.
The COTS program, also called "commercial cargo," began in 2006. It is a public-private partnership where NASA and two companies, Orbital and SpaceX, shared the costs of developing space transportation systems to take cargo to the ISS. The two systems, Orbital's Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, are now operational and transitioning into the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.
NASA contracted with Orbital for eight CRS missions and with SpaceX for 12 CRS missions through 2016. Orbital's first CRS mission is scheduled for December 8, just over six weeks from now. SpaceX already has launched two and the next is scheduled for February 2014. The fixed price CRS contracts are for $1.9 billion with Orbital, and $1.6 billion with SpaceX.
These two U.S. systems join Russia's Progress, Japan's HTV and Europe's ATV cargo transportation systems as means to take cargo to the ISS, which typically has six people aboard at any time. Crews rotating on 4-6 month shifts have permanently occupied the ISS since November 2000. The space shuttle was originally intended to be the main transportation system to take crews and cargo back and forth to ISS throughout its lifetime, but the U.S. decision to terminate the shuttle program after construction was completed meant that other systems were needed for the space station's operational period, which will last through at least 2020. (NASA is trying to build support for extending that to 2028, which would be 30 years after the first ISS modules were launched.)
Cygnus, HTV, ATV and Progress are designed only for transporting cargo up to ISS; none of them return to Earth. Only SpaceX's Dragon makes a round trip. Crews are ferried to and from ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA is in the midst of another public-private partnership, the "commercial crew" program, where three companies are competing to build systems to transport crews so that NASA does not need to pay Russia for such services and also to provide redundancy. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is one of the contenders in that program. It can be outfitted to carry people as well as cargo. Orbital is not competing in the commercial crew program, however. The other two commercial crew competitors are Boeing and Sierra Nevada.
The COTS program achieved its technical goal; NASA now has two companies competing to provide cargo resupply services for the ISS on a commercial basis. Whether the business case will prove out probably will not be known for many years.
The public may not trust the government as a whole, but it likes many federal agencies, especially NASA. Those are the findings in a new poll by Pew Research conducted in the midst of the shutdown.
Among the questions asked in the October 9-13 poll was whether selected federal agencies are viewed favorably. NASA came in second at 73 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was the only agency with a higher score -- 75 percent. DOD was third at 72 percent. The IRS was at the bottom of the list, with just a 44 percent favorable rating.
Federal workers are viewed favorably by 62 percent of those polled.
As for the federal government overall, only 19 percent of those polled trust the government to do what is right just about always or most of the time, according to Pew, and 30 percent are angry at the federal government. Congress has a 23 percent favorable rating, with 73 percent holding an unfavorable view, although individual Members of Congress get the blame, not the institution itself.
Lori Garver may have left her post as NASA Deputy Administrator to be General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association, but she clearly is not stepping out of the space limelight. On November 15, she will headline a discussion at the National Press Club on "Space Exploration: How and Why?"
Garver departed NASA on September 6 after four years as second-in-command at the space agency. That was her second tour of duty at the agency having served as a top policy advisor to then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. Before that she headed the National Space Society and in between her NASA posts was a space industry consultant.
She is one seven panelists for the Arizona State University meeting, which will be moderated by Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society. The session is just 90 minutes (9:00-10:30 am ET) so each person will have only a short time to express his or her views, but it should be interesting.
Garver is credited with pushing for commercial space activities while she was Deputy Administrator, particularly the commercial crew program, as well as for investments in space technology. The panelists include three other former NASA officials, but no one who currently works at the agency.
RSVP instructions are on the emailed announcement.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House will be in session for part of the week; the Senate is in recess.
During the Week
The government is slowly returning to normal after the 16-day shutdown. The House will be in session beginning Tuesday, while Senators will be back home hearing first hand how voters feel about Washington these days.
House-Senate budget negotiations that were part of the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit are due to begin this week. Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) will lead the discussions to reconcile the starkly different budget resolutions passed by the Senate and House earlier this year. The Senate Budget Resolution ignored the sequester and set spending for FY2014 at $1.058 trillion. The House Budget Resolution holds FY2014 spending to $967 billion, $91 billion less than the Senate, and protects defense spending, taking the cuts from elsewhere in the budget. These disparities are why the House and Senate Appropriations Committees recommended such different funding levels for NASA in their FY2014 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bills. The House Appropriations bill would give NASA $16.6 billion, while the Senate bill would provide $18.0 billion. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's NASA FY2014 Budget Request fact sheet for more details on what the appropriations -- and authorization -- committees recommended.) Murray and Ryan are supposed to complete their negotiations by December 13, presumably allowing for appropriations bills to pass by January 15, the date when the current Continuing Resolution expires.
In other events, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will speak to the NRC's Committee on Human Spaceflight tomorrow (Monday) at 10:00 am ET and Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier will update the committee at 2:00 pm ET. For all the Neil DeGrasse Tyson fans out there, he will speak to the committee Wednesday from 9:00-10:00 am ET on "Delusions of Space Enthusiasts." That and other meetings we know about right now are listed below.
Sunday-Friday, October 20-25
Monday-Wednesday, October 21-23
Tuesday, October 22
Thursday, October 24
UPDATE, October 22, 2013: November 5 is the new launch date. Launch time is 14:36 local time at the launch site in Sriharikota, India.
ORIGINAL STORY: India is postponing the launch of its first mission to Mars because two ships outfitted with tracking equipment are not ready to support the mission.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan, is India's first interplanetary mission. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) decided to lease two ships, Nalanda and Yamuna, outfit them with tracking equipment, and deploy them to the Pacific Ocean so they can monitor ignition of the PSLV rocket's fourth stage and spacecraft separation. Those events will occur outside the range of India's usual tracking facilities.
Several Indian press accounts say the launch delay is because the Nalanda did not reach Figi on time due to bad weather. However, the Deccan Chronicle reports that the actual problem is with the tracking equipment on at least one of the ships and ISRO engineers need to check it before the ships leave Figi for their operational locations.
A new launch date will be announced on Tuesday, but the delay is expected to be about a week. Launch had been scheduled for October 28. The launch window is open until November 19.
The goals of the mission are primarily technological -- to prove that India can launch a probe and insert it into a Martian orbit -- but it carries five scientific instruments, one of which will search for methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo spacecraft will depart from the International Space Station (ISS) on October 22. That will bring to an end this demonstration mission as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and signal the beginning of Orbital's operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS).
Cygnus was launched on September 18 by Orbital's Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. It was berthed to ISS on September 29. NASA TV will cover the departure of Cygnus from the ISS beginning at 7:00 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on October 22. Orbital's first operational CRS mission is scheduled for December.
SpaceX is the other U.S. company that provides CRS services for the ISS using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.
Cygnus and Dragon are the two U.S. cargo spacecraft for ISS. Russia, Europe and Japan also provide cargo resupply missions as part of the partnership agreement for ISS. Europe's ATV-4 is also currently docked with ISS. It will depart on October 28 and NASA TV will cover that as well. ATV-4 departure coverage begins at 4:45 am EDT on October 28.
Neither Cygnus nor ATV are designed to survive reentry. Both will be filled with trash by the ISS crew and the spacecraft and trash will disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere.
Of all the cargo spacecraft used to resupply ISS, only SpaceX's Dragon returns to Earth's surface. Cygnus, ATV, Japan's HTV and Russia's Progress all burn up during reentry.
UPDATE, October 17, 2013, 12:37 am ET: The President has signed the bill into law.
ORIGINAL STORY, October 16, 2013, 11:50 pm ET: President Obama is expected to sign the bill that reopens the government and raises the debt limit tonight and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is telling furloughed federal workers to return to work tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 17.
The FY2014 Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2775 as amended) passed the Senate this evening by a vote of 81-18 and the House by a vote of 285-144. All no votes were Republican. All Democrats who cast a vote, voted yes.
In the Senate, 27 Republicans joined the 52 Democrats and two Independents (who usually vote with Democrats) in voting in favor of the measure. (One Republican Senator did not vote.) A tally of the vote is posted on the Senate's website.
In the House, 187 Republicans joined all 198 Democrats who voted in passing the bill. (There are three vacancies in the House, and one Republican and two Democrats did not vote). A tally of the vote is on the House website.
To recap, the bill:
The bipartisan agreement also calls for a conference committee to be appointed to develop a long range budget agreement to reduce the deficit, although that is not included in the legislation.
The bill ends a 16-day partial government shutdown. Shortly after the House vote, OMB director Sylvia Matthews Burwell issued a statement to federal employees saying "Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning. Employees should be checking the news and OPM's website for further updates." OPM is the Office of Personnel Management.
The House followed the Senate this evening in passing a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
The vote in the House on H.R. 2775 as amended was 285-144. The amended bill, the Continuing Resolution Act, 2014, now needs only the President's signature, which he has agreed to do.
The bill funds the government through January 15, 2014 at current levels and raises the debt ceiling until February 7. It contains a number of other provisions as well, including allowing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to spend its funds so as to protect the launch dates of its new weather satellites.
The Senate passed the bill earlier this evening by a vote of 81-18. One Republican Senator did not vote.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that there is one vacancy in the Senate as an explanation for why there were 99 instead of 100 votes. However, the discrepancy is because one Republican Senator did not vote. Cory Booker did win an election in New Jersey tonight to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, as earlier reported, but the Lauternberg seat is currently filled on a temporary basis by Senator Jeff Chiesa, so there is no vacancy. The Senate vote tally is posted on the Senate website.
After a 16-day partial government shutdown and one day before the government hits the debt limit, the Senate passed a bill this evening to resolve the fiscal crisis.
The Senate used a bill already passed by the House, H.R. 2775, as the legislative vehicle, amending it with the agreement reached by Senate Democratic and Republican leaders earlier today. As amended, the bill is entitled the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014. It passed the Senate 81-18.
Action now moves to the House. Expectations are high that the House also will approve it tonight and the government will return to normal operations at least for a few months.
The main features of the bill are providing funding for the government at current levels through January 15 and raising the debt limit through February 7. Between now and those deadlines, House and Senate conferees are supposed to find agreement on a long term solution to deficit reduction, a goal that has remained elusive for many years.
The 35-page bill has a number of other provisions, however. Among them is language that allows that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to spend its funds in a manner to maintain the planned launch dates for its new weather satellites -- the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series. The language was included in earlier versions of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded and was retained in this version. The text of the bill and a summary of its provisions are posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee website.
On this 16th day of the partial government shutdown and one day before the Treasury hits the debt limit, Senate leaders reached agreement to resolve the stalemate. The White House accepts it and there is optimism that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will bring it to the floor of the House for a vote even if a majority of Republicans do not support it. If he does, the expectation is that it will pass with most Democratic and some Republican votes.
The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is similar, but not identical, to the plan they agreed to on Monday and that many House Republican members opposed. Today's plan would:
Other changes to Obamacare proposed in earlier House or Senate versions -- such as defunding or delaying it, repealing or delaying the medical device tax, or delaying a reinsurance tax -- were dropped.
At the moment, the plan is for the Senate to vote on the proposal this afternoon. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who are viewed as the originators of this budget and debt ceiling standoff with their goal to defund Obamacare, reportedly have indicated that they will not filibuster the measure, allowing it to come to a vote expeditiously.
There is broad optimism that it will pass the Senate and Boehner then will allow a vote in the House even if he does not have a majority of his Republicans on board. Boehner released a statement this afternoon saying "The House has fought with everything it has to convince the President of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations... That fight will continue. But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us."
Under an informal rule dubbed the Hastert Rule after former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the House Republican leadership is reluctant to bring a bill to the floor unless there is a "majority of the majority" in favor of it; that is, most of the members of the Republican caucus. Boehner ignored that rule at the beginning of the year in order to win passage of legislation to avert the "fiscal cliff," but it is risky politically and he has avoided it so far. Boehner reiterated yesterday, however, that he strongly believes the government should not default on its debt and the debt limit will be reached tomorrow, adding urgency to resolving the stalemate.
Events of Interest