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NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will hold a media teleconference to discuss the agency's FY2014 budget request on Wednesday, April 10.
Word that the budget request includes about $100 million for work on the concept of robotically capturing an asteroid and bringing it to the Earth-Moon system for study by astronauts has heightened interest in this year's request.
Bolden's media teleconference will take place while the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is holding its second hearing on the threat to Earth posed by asteroids. That hearing begins at 2:00 pm ET. The hearing should be available via webcast on the committee's website.
In its annual assessment of major defense acquisition programs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) laid out the cost growth affecting many of those programs, including space programs. The Space-Based Infrared System High Component (SBIRS-High) leads the pack for space programs with a nearly 300 percent cost growth, with Wideband Global Satcom not far behind.
A table at the end of the report shows the cost changes for each of the Department of Defense's (DOD's) major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) in 2012. The table compares the "current estimated total acquisition cost" to the "first full estimated acquisition cost" in three ways: the change since that first estimate was made, the change over just the past year, and the change over the past five years. Focusing only on the change since the first estimate was made, GAO reports the percent change for each space program in its list as follows:
The table also lists the canceled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that, not surprisingly, shows a cost reduction since it was, in fact, terminated.
The cost growth in those space programs are not the highest of all the MDAPs. The MQ-9 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Reaper's cost increased 359.8 percent (from $2.714 billion to $12.476 billion); the MQ-1C Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Gray Eagle grew 354.2 percent (from $1.045 billion to $4.745 billion); the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer's cost is up 335.7 percent (from $15.629 billion to $103.166 billion); and the Tactical Tomahawk Block IV grew 239.9 percent (from $2.178 billion to $7.402 billion). None of those begins to compare, however, with the 1581.1 percent increase of the C-130J Hercules military transport aircraft program (from $977 million to $16.418 billion).
GAO picked 64 programs for a more detailed review. They included programs in development or early production, future programs, and recently canceled programs. Not all are included in the list at the end of its report.
Those 64 include the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program; Space Fence, a set of ground-based radars that will be used to track space objects (replacing the Air Force's Space Surveillance System), the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS) for space-based persistent tracking of ballistic missiles, and the Enhanced Polar System (EPS) of extremely high frequency (EHF) communications payloads on classified polar orbiting satellites.
GAO said that the EELV program's cost is estimated at $69.6 billion for 150 launches through 2030. That is $34.6 billion more than what DOD reported in its March 2012 Selected Acquisition Report, which estimated costs for 91 launches through 2020. EELV program officials reportedly told GAO that the reasons for the cost growth included the extra 10 years and 59 launches, as well as "the inherently unstable nature of the demand for launch services, and industrial base instability." A new acquisition baseline for the program was approved in early 2013, GAO states.
The report contains no recommendations. Instead, GAO makes nine observations about DOD's acquisition of major weapons systems generally, not specific programs. Among the observations is that, overall, the performance of DOD's major acquisition portfolio has improved since last year.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. The House and Senate both are in session, returning from their Easter/Passover break.
During the Week
The big event this week is the release -- at last -- of President Obama's FY2014 budget request. It will be sent to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the same day the House Science, Space and Technology Committee has scheduled Part II of the committee's hearings on Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Those are asteroids and comets that come close to, and may threaten, Earth. The President's budget request reportedly includes funds for NASA to begin work on the idea of capturing an asteroid, moving it into the Earth-Moon system, and sending astronauts to study it. Such a mission would respond to scientific interest in asteroids, human exploration goals, planetary defense (defending Earth from asteroids or comets that could cause significant destruction), and the plans of a couple of entrepreneurial companies that want to mine asteroids for their raw materials. A study by the Keck Institute of Space Studies last year estimated it would cost $2.6 billion in FY12 dollars. The request for FY2014 is said to be about $100 million.
Several congressional hearings are scheduled this week on the budget requests for the Department of Defense (DOD) and, separately, the Department of Commerce (DOC), which manages weather satellites. The budget request usually is sent to Congress by the President in February and by this time of the year, most of the budget hearings are completed. Everything is behind schedule this year, though, because of the extended debate over the sequester and funding for the current fiscal year (FY2013).
Monday, April 8
Monday-Thursday, April 8-11
Tuesday, April 9
Wednesday, April 10
Thursday, April 11
Friday, April 12
Note: The text of this article has been changed to reflect the fact that Wednesday's hearing on NEOs has been upgraded from a subcommittee hearing to a full committee hearing.
A House subcommittee will hold a third congressional hearing on the threat to Earth posed by asteroids and comets on April 10, the same day President Obama will submit his FY2014 budget request to Congress. The hearings were catalyzed by the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February.
Asteroids and comets that come close to Earth collectively are known as Near Earth Objects (NEOs). The April 10 hearing, before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee, will feature Ed Lu, former astronaut and current head of the B612 Foundation; Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Lab; and Mike A'Hearn of the University of Maryland who co-chaired a 2009 National Research Council study on the NEO threat.
Lu testified to a Senate Commerce subcommittee in March. His B612 Foundation is trying to raise funds, primarily from philanthropists, to build a space-based inrfared telescope that would be placed in a special orbit around the Sun that affords a better view of NEOs in Earth's vicinity. Ground-based telescopes and those in Earth orbit can only see sections of the sky and B612 wants to create a more complete catalog of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs). Yeomans is one of the world's leading authorities on identifying, tracking and cataloging NEOs as part of a NASA program that was mandated by Congress beginning in the 1990s. The NRC study that A'Hearn co-chaired was requested by Congress in the 2008 NASA Authorization Act. It looked at tracking and cataloging NEOs as well as how to mitigate the threat they pose to Earth.
The full HSS&T committee, which has led the charge over the past two deades in directing NASA to study NEOs, held the first of the three post-Chelyabinsk hearings on March 19. Witnesses were Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren. Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. The next day, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Science and Space held a hearing on space "threats" where Lu and Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, testified about the threat from NEOs. The April 10 hearing, back on the House side, will continue the discussion.
The House and Senate committees hope to pass a new NASA authorization bill this year that may well address NEOs again. While congressional interest in NEOs has been rather limited in the past to certain members of the House committee, the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk on February 15 stimulated much broader concern. Over 1,000 people were injured, mostly from flying glass as windows broke from the shock wave created by the meteor passing through the atmosphere. Asteroids are rocks in space. When they enter Earth's atmosphere, they are called meteors. Any pieces that reach the ground are called meteorites.
In addition to tracking and cataloguing NEOs, NASA has sent robotic probes to study them. The next U.S. probe, OSIRIS-Rex, is planned for launch in 2016. President Obama also directed NASA to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. A concept currently being promoted by a diverse array of groups as an alternative or adjunct is to capture an asteroid using a robotic spacecraft and tow it to a location close to Earth (perhaps placing it in orbit around the Moon) and send astronauts to study it there. Aviation Week reports that the President's FY2014 budget request includes $100 million to continue studies of such a mission.
The asteroid hearing is at 2:00 pm ET on April 10 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Buildkng. The committee usually webcasts its hearings.
Editor's Note: One silver lining of the imbroglio over the New York Times's bungling of Yvonne Brill's obituary is that it has piqued people's curiosity about her. There's no better way to learn more about her amazing career than to hear it in her own words.
On April 2, 2009, Yvonne gave the 32nd Astronautics and Aeronautics Department Lester D. Gardner Lecture at MIT, another one of the honors bestowed upon her. The video is available on the Internet. It is a technical presentation, mostly about communications satellites and their propulsion systems, but I think you'll feel like you've met Yvonne if you watch it. She was 84 when she gave this lecture.
Sam Ting's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) instrument was attached to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2011 and scientists have been eagerly awaiting results ever since. Tomorrow, April 3, Ting and others will announce their findings to date at a NASA press conference.
AMS actually is not a NASA instrument. It was primarily funded by a consortium of institutes in 16 countries brought together by Ting, a 1976 Nobel Prize winning physicist. The U.S. portion of the project was funded through the Department of Energy (DOE). NASA's role was to get it into space and give it home as part of the ISS complex.
AMS is a particle physics instrument that is being used to search for antimatter in the universe, as well as study dark matter and other cosmological mysteries.
Joining Ting at the press conference at NASA Headquarters tomorrow at 1:30 pm ET will be NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, DOE's program manager for AMS Michael Salamon, and NASA's AMS program manager Mark Sistilli. The briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, commented in her blog today about the tempest created by the newspaper's obituary of Yvonne Brill this weekend. In response to a slew of negative comments from readers, the Times changed the opening line of the obituary to note that she was a brilliant scientist rather than praising her cooking skills.
The original obituary's opening line, recounted in Sullivan's story, was "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise her three children."
The new opening sentence changes only the beef stroganoff remark. It now begins "She was a brilliant rocket scientist" but following her husband and taking eight years off from work are still there. As pointed out later in the obituary, that last statement is incorrect since Brill worked as a consultant during those years.
Sullivan interviewed her colleagues who wrote and approved -- and continue to defend -- the original version. She also posts some of the reaction the paper received. Her bottom line is that "The emphasis on her domesticity ... had the effect of undervaluing what really landed Mrs. Brill on the Times obituaries page: her groundbreaking scientific work."
Editor's Note: As I mentioned in my own post about Yvonne's passing, she was a dear friend and I think it's sad that the Times was, in my opinion, initially so demeaning about her scientific accomplishments. I must say, however, that Yvonne was every bit as proud of her three children -- and their children -- as she was of her professional achievements. I can't help but wonder if she would be dismayed that this has created such a ruckus. She was one of the most unassuming people I have ever known. I fault the Times for turning her passing into a news story about clueless obituary writers and can only recommend that they "stop digging," as the saying goes.
The National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Human Spaceflight and one of its two supporting panels have had several meetings already, but on Friday, April 5, the second supporting panel will meet for the first time. This panel is focused on the topic of public and stakeholder opinions about human spaceflight.
One of the tasks of the NRC committee is to examine and articulate the "value proposition" of the human spaceflight program -- essentially what do the taxpayers who pay for NASA's human spaceflight activities get in return. In fact, according to the drafters of the legislative language that led to the study, that is its primary purpose. Ann Zulkosky and Jeff Bingham, on the Democratic and Republican staff, respectively, of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, said in February that they, at least, are not looking for a new plan for the nation's human spaceflight program, but an understanding of its value proposition.
About one-third of the members of the NRC committee have backgrounds in public opinion polling, sociology and related fields. The NRC also created a specific panel with additional expertise to assist the committee, similar to the Technical Feasibility panel that held its second meeting last week.
This Public and Stakeholder Opinions panel is chaired by Roger Tourangeau of Westat, Inc., a survey firm. Six of the other seven panel members are from universities. The seventh -- and likely the only familiar name in space policy circles -- is space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and former NASA chief historian.
The panel's meeting on April 5 is closed except for one hour when NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Outreach, Alan Ladwig, will speak. That will be from 9:15 - 10:15 am at the NRC's Keck Center, 500 5th Street, N.W., Washington, DC.
The panel's full roster is the following eight individuals. Presser is also a member of the full committee.
UPDATE: The first meeting of the Panel on Public and Stakeholder Opinions of the NRC's Human Spaceflight Committee on Friday has been added.
The following events may of interest in the coming week. The House and Senate are not in session as they continue their 2-week Easter/Passover recess.
During the Week
At last, a relatively quiet week, but there are a couple of space policy-related events that should be interesting. Here are the ones we know about as of today.
Wednesday, April 3
Thursday, April 4
Thursday-Friday, April 4-5
Friday, April 5
UPDATE 2, March 28, 10:30 pm ET: Contact and capture confirmed at 10:28 pm ET. Soyuz TMA-08M has arrived at the ISS.
UPDATE, March 28, 4:45 pm ET: Launch was on time at 4:43 pm ET (2:23 am March 29 local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan).
ORIGINAL STORY: The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft is on schedule for launch at 4:43 pm ET this afternoon, March 28, 2013. The three-man crew will be the first to make a direct-ascent approach to the International Space Station (ISS), docking just 6 hours instead of 2 days after launch.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin are aboard the spacecraft and awaiting launch in less than 15 minutes. Docking is scheduled for 10:32 pm ET with the hatches between the ISS and Soyuz opening at 12:10 am ET tomorrow.
Check back here for updates as the day progresses. NASA TV will air coverage of the events.
Events of Interest