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What's Happening in Space Policy December 5-9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2016 (Updated: 04-Dec-2016 11:35 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of December 5-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This is make or break time for Congress to pass an appropriations bill or bills to keep the government operating past Friday.  The existing Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds agencies at their current (FY2016) levels, expires at midnight December 9. The House has no votes scheduled for Friday, so it apparently expects to complete action earlier in the week. The Senate schedule has not been announced.

The election put Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House so congressional leaders have decided to wait until the Trump Administration is in place to make final FY2017 appropriations decisions.  However, some key Republicans are insisting that Congress pass a full-year appropriations bill for DOD to match the funding levels recommended in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  That bill just passed the House on Friday and is expected to pass the Senate early this coming week. Congress can pass a full-year FY2017 appropriations bill for DOD and an extension of the CR for other agencies or any other combination it chooses, but it must do something by Friday or some parts of the government will have to close down. The existing CR provided full-year funding for activities in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill, so perhaps Congress will do the same for defense.  It really is up in the air at this moment.   All the other agencies, including NASA and NOAA, likely will end up with another CR.  There is some debate as to whether to extend it through either March or April, with the later date advocated by the Senate which expects to be busy holding hearings and votes on Trump cabinet nominees in the early months of next year.

Congress might also pass a new authorization bill for NASA this week. The 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in September and negotiations are ongoing with the House on a final bill.  The latest rumors are that it could reach the Senate floor for consideration early this week, but it still would have to pass the House and time is getting short.  Nonetheless, it is quite common for Congress to pass a flurry of legislation in its closing days.  Congresses last for 2 years and at the end all pending legislation is dead.  The next Congress must begin again, with its new set of Members, so there is an advantage to completing work before the 114th Congress ends and the 115th begins.

One bill that made it through the Senate last week and might be voted on in the House this week -- although it is not on the schedule yet -- is the Weather Forecasting and Research Innovation Act.  The version that passed the Senate is a compromise with the House and incorporates provisions of H.R. 1561, which passed the House in 2015, S. 1331, which cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in 2015, and two other bills (S. 1573 and H.R. 34).  Among many other things, it reforms NOAA's satellite procurement efforts.

The House is scheduled to consider the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 2726, as amended) tomorrow under suspension of the rules. The Apollo 1 Memorial Act is not on the list as of today, but the schedule notes that additional bills will be added to the suspension calendar (which is used for relatively non-controversial bills that are expected to easily win two-thirds of the votes and therefore get expedited consideration). 

So it will be a very busy week just with congressional activity, but there are many other interesting events, too.  For brevity's sake, we will mention only one -- Wednesday's Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law in Washington, DC.   This is the 11th Galloway symposium and they just keep getting better every year.  It's free, but seating is limited so pre-registration is REQUIRED.   Bob Walker, a former congressman who was a space policy adviser to the Trump campaign and presumably is still advising the transition effort (though not officially part of the "landing party" at NASA), and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), are both on the agenda, plus panels on topical space law issues and a luncheon speech on the "Next 50 Years of the Outer Space Treaty," which turns 50 next year.

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

Monday-Tuesday, December 5-6

Tuesday, December 6

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 6-7

Wednesday, December 7

Wednesday-Thursday, December 7-8

Wednesday-Friday, December 7-9

Friday, December 9

Russian Space Station Cargo Ship Fails to Reach Orbit

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Dec-2016 (Updated: 01-Dec-2016 05:49 PM)

Russia's Progress MS-04 robotic cargo spacecraft, which was headed to the International Space Station (ISS), failed to reach orbit today.  An anomaly occurred during the burn of the rocket's third stage.  An investigation is underway.  Russia launches approximately four Progress missions to ISS every year in addition to cargo delivered by U.S. and Japanese spacecraft.  The next cargo mission, Japan's HTV6, is scheduled for launch next week.

Progress MS-04 launched on time at 9:51 am EST (8:51 pm local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan) on a Soyuz-U rocket.  NASA refers to this as Progress 65.

Russia's space state corporation Roscosmos said a contingency occurred 382 seconds later at an altitude of 190 kilometers.  At that point, the Soyuz rocket's third stage should still have been firing.

Roscosmos said a state commission is beginning an investigation into what went wrong. 

NASA notified astronaut Shane Kimbrough aboard the ISS about the failure, saying that there were indications of "third stage sep occurring a few minutes early and we haven't had any communications with Progress at all."   "Third stage sep" refers to separation between the rocket's third stage and the spacecraft.  NASA posted the audio of its communication with Kimbrough on its ISS blog.

The spacecraft was loaded with 2.6 tons of food, scientific equipment, spare parts, oxygen, water, and propellant to refill tanks for the engines on ISS that periodically raise the space station's orbit to compensate for atmospheric drag.  NASA said in a press release that U.S. supplies on board were spare parts for the environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and clothing, "all of which are replaceable" and not critical for the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS).

Progress MS is the latest variant of Russia's venerable robotic spacecraft that has been used to deliver food, fuel and other supplies to space station crews since the 1970s.  Its first use was in 1978 delivering fuel to the Soviet Union's Salyut 6 space station, the first space station to have two docking ports, thereby enabling such resupply missions and extended duration spaceflights.  It has been through several upgrades over the decades (Progress, Progress M, Progress M_M and now Progress MS).  The first flight of this variant, Progress MS-01, took place just about a year ago on December 21, 2015.  (NASA refers to Progress missions sequentially based on when they began supplying ISS.  Hence they call today's mission Progress 65 because it is the 65th Progress mission to the ISS.)

The Soyuz-U rocket also has been in use for a long time -- since 1973.  Russia is phasing it out and the newer Soyuz-2 is intended to replace it for these missions.  However, a Soyuz-2.1a launch of a Progress spacecraft (Progress M-27M) failed in April 2015.   Russia's investigation concluded it was due to a "design peculiarity in the joint use of the spaceship and the rocket related to frequency-dynamic characteristics of the linkage between the spaceship and the rocket's third stage."  In that case, the spacecraft reached orbit (along with the third stage), but was out of control and in the wrong orbit.  It soon reentered.

Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan's Space Report tweeted today about the ironic difference in the Progress M-27M and Progress MS-04 failures:

Anatoly Zak, editor of RussianSpaceWeb.com, tweeted that residents of the Tuva Region reported an explosion and shaking at the time of the anomaly.

Roscosmos said most of the fragments burned up in the atmosphere, while Russia's official news agency, TASS, reported that debris may have fallen 60-80 kilometers west of Kyzyl, the capital of the Tuva Republic. The area, in southern Siberia, is rugged and mountainous according to Russian media reports.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 28-December 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Nov-2016 (Updated: 27-Nov-2016 03:49 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 28 - December 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate return to work this week.  They must pass an appropriations measure by December 9 to keep the government operating and there is a strong desire to complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but apart from that, it appears that the plan is to wait until next year to deal with most issues.   Appropriations likely will be handled by extending the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) through March 31 and agreement on the NDAA seemed close just before Thanksgiving.  The 114th Congress could adjourn "sine die"  ("without a day" for recovening, meaning it is the end of the session) as soon as those are passed.  A slim chance remains for getting the NASA Transition Authorization Act passed, but time is running out.

The Presidential election is over -- sort of.  Officially it is not final until after the Electoral College votes on December 19 and Congress certifies that vote on January 6, 2017 (CRS has a very useful report about the Electoral College for those who are interested).  At the moment, Donald Trump is expected to win the Electoral College decisively with at least 290 votes (270 are needed to win) versus 232 for Hillary Clinton.  Clinton has decisively won the popular vote by more than 2 million (64,637,503 for Clinton versus 62,409,389 for Trump according to Cook Political Report ).  Under the Constitution, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the winner.  The race in Michigan still has not been called for either candidate, but its 16 electoral votes are not enough to change the outcome.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and plans to ask for recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.  Stein says she is doing it to ensure the "integrity" of the election process and it "is not intended to help Hillary Clinton."  Indeed, few (if any) expect the outcome of the election to change, including Clinton herself.  Her spokesman made that clear, saying they are "fully aware" that the vote margin in the closest of the states (Michigan) is much larger than any margin ever overcome in a recount.  Any recounts must be completed before the Electoral College meets.

The Trump transition team continues its work, announcing a number of White House appointments and three Cabinet nominees (Attorney General, Secretary of Education and Ambassador to the U.N.).   While there are strong rumors about who will be nominated for Secretary of Defense (national security space programs) and Secretary of Commerce (NOAA satellite programs), Trump has not made any official pronouncements.  Nothing has been said about NASA so far. 

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets in public session on Wednesday in Palmdale, CA, near NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Facility (available by WebEx/telecon). The agenda has not been posted yet, so there is no way to know what they plan to discuss, but any news about a "landing team" being assigned to NASA and the impact of operating under a FY2017 CR for 6 months instead of just 3 months are possible topics.  This is the last NAC meeting under the Obama Administration and, presumably, Charlie Bolden's tenure as Administrator.  The NASA Administrator appoints the members of NAC, so its composition could change before the next meeting.

The Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency (ESA) will meet in Switzerland on December 1-2.  The ministers responsible for space activities in each of ESA's 22 member countries get together every 2-3 years to make policy and funding decisions.  ESA says this meeting will "further the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0."   A press conference is scheduled for the end of the meeting on December 2 at approximately 13:00 CET (7:00 am ET).  One of the topics they will consider is whether to provide an increase of approximately 400 million Euros  to complete the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. The first two ExoMars spacecraft -- the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander -- were launched together in March and arrived at Mars last month.  TGO successfully entered orbit, but Schiaparelli crashed.  Schiaparelli was a technology demonstrator for a Russian lander and ESA rover scheduled for launch in 2020 (delayed from 2018).  Costs for the 2020 mission have grown, necessitating a decision by the Council on whether to proceed.   ESA's portion of the total program cost was estimated in 2008 at 1.3 billion Euros.  ExoMars originally was an ESA-NASA program, but the Obama Administration declined to fund the U.S. portion, so ESA turned to Russia instead.

Mars is but one planet in our beautiful solar system.  NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) meets Tuesday-Thursday at NASA Headquarters to discuss future exploration of that planet.  The meeting will be available remotely via WebEx and telecon.

And then there's Earth itself!  The American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society will hold an event to highlight Space-Based Environmental Intelligence on Thursday evening at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is the speaker.  He chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and crafted provisions in law to create commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD (NOAA's is underway; the DOD provision is in the FY2017 NDAA).

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

Tuesday-Thursday, November 29-December 1

  • VEXAG, NASA HQ, Washington, DC

Wednesday, November 30

Thursday, December 1

Thursday-Friday, December 1-2

 

Bad IMU Data Doomed ESA's Schiaparelli Lander

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Nov-2016 (Updated: 23-Nov-2016 04:33 PM)

The European Space Agency (ESA) said today that erroneous data from an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) doomed its Schiaparelli Mars lander last month.  The bad data convinced onboard systems that the spacecraft had already landed when it actually was still 3.7 kilometers (km) above the surface.  The spacecraft made a free fall the rest of way, hitting the surface at a high velocity.  Schiaparelli is part of ESA's ExoMars program and traveled to Mars with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) spacecraft, which successfully entered orbit.

TGO and Schiaparelli were launched together in March. TGO will study trace gases, like methane, in the Martian atmosphere that may reveal whether life ever existed there. Schiaparelli and TGO are the first two of four spacecraft that comprise ESA's ExoMars program, which it is conducting cooperatively with Russia's Roscosmos state space corporation.  Initially ExoMars was an ESA-NASA program, but the Obama Administration declined to fund NASA's portion and ESA turned to Russia instead. 

The other two spacecraft -- a Russian lander and an ESA rover -- are scheduled for launch in 2020 (delayed from 2018). Schiaparelli was designed to test entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies in preparation for the lander/rover mission.

TGO and Schiaparelli separated from each other on October 16, three days before Mars arrival. TGO went on to successfully achieve orbit on October 19 while Schiaparelli aimed for the surface.  Contact was lost during descent.  Using imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, the crash site was located just two days later and high resolution images were available a week after that.  The imagery shows the parachute, front and back sections of the heatshield, and scattered debris from the lander itself.

Using data Schiaparelli transmitted to TGO as well as from an Earth-based Indian radio telescope that was tracking it, ESA said today that atmospheric entry and braking occurred as expected.  The parachute deployed as planned at an altitude of 12 km and the heatshield was jettisoned at 7.8 km. 

As Schiaparelli descended under the parachute, something went wrong. The "radar Doppler altimeter functioned correctly and the measurements were included in the guidance, navigation and control system.  However, saturation -- maximum measurement -- of the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) had occurred shortly after the parachute deployment. The IMU measures the rotation rate of the vehicle. Its output was generally as predicted except for this event, which persisted for about one second -- longer than would be expected.  When merged into the navigation system, the erroneous information generated an altitude estimate that was negative -- that is, below ground level."

Consequently, the parachute released. the landing thrusters fired briefly and on-ground systems were activated "as if Schiaparelli had already landed.  In reality, the vehicle was still at an altitude of 3.7 km."   ESA earlier estimated that Schiaparelli was traveling at more than 300 km/hour when it hit the surface and probably exploded since its fuel tanks were still fairly full.

David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, emphasized that this is a preliminary conclusion.  An external independent review board is currently  being established "as requested by ESA's Director General, under the chairmanship of ESA's Inspector General,"' Parker continued.  Its report is expected in early 2017.

ESA officials stress that the whole point of launching Schiaparelli was to test EDL technologies and they are pleased that the early phases went as planned even if the ending did not.

Only the United States has successfully landed spacecraft on Mars.  Seven of eight attempts since 1976 have succeeded:  Viking 1, Viking 2, Mars Pathfinder + Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Phoenix and Curiosity.  Only the 1999 Mars Polar Lander (MPL) failed.  One of the four landers sent to Mars by the Soviet Union in the 1970s sent back data after landing, but for less than 20 seconds so is not considered a success.  The United Kingdom sent the Beagle 2 lander to Mars along with ESA's Mars Express in 2003, but it landed in a semi-deployed manner and was unable to communicate. 

Interestingly, MPL failed for somewhat similar reasons as Schiaparelli. The MPL failure review board concluded that vibrations in MPL's landing legs when they were deployed as it approached the surface were incorrectly interpreted by onboard software as an indication that the spacecraft had landed.  In fact, it was still about 40 meters above the surface and could not survive the impact.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 21-25, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2016 (Updated: 20-Nov-2016 02:50 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 21-25, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are not in session this week.

During the Week

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Across the nation, people are focused on shopping, cooking and traveling to celebrate with friends and family more than attending meetings on space policy or anything else.  We do not have a single space policy event on our list for this week in the United States and only one that will be held abroad (see below).

This is, indeed, a good time to take a breath after a fractious election season.  Melanie Kirkpatrick, acting editorial features writer for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), published a commentary on Thursday noting that "healing" is the watchword of post-election America.  Author of "Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience," she shared the story of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time of national strife and urged that this year it serve as "a moment to focus on our blessings as Americans, on what unites us, not on what divides us."  

The tale of the First Thanksgiving with Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 is fairly well known, but how the holiday evolved over the centuries less so.  Presidents had occasionally designated national days of thanks since the time of George Washington, but the holiday did not achieve permanence at the national level until it was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  Yes, 1863, in the middle of the Civil  War and just months after the horrific Battle of Gettysburg with its approximately 50,000 casualties (killed, wounded or missing).  Poet, novelist and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale (a very interesting woman) had made it her mission to establish a single national day of Thanksgiving.  Over three decades, she convinced many states to declare a day of thanks, but they were on various dates.  Her goal was a single national day every year.   Lincoln agreed as part of an effort to unite Americans on both sides of the conflict by reminding them of all that is good about our country even in such a painful time.  He issued a Proclamation on October 3, 1863 designating the last Thursday of November (the date originally chosen by George Washington) as a day of thanksgiving.  Kirkpatrick's commentary is behind the WSJ paywall unfortunately, but her bottom line is "Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation was profoundly hopeful, reminding the American people of the nation's capacity for renewal.  It's a message that resonates today."

On that note, SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, there is one space policy-related conference that we know about this week -- in Dubai.  Sponsored by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this "High Level Forum" focuses on space as an economic driver for socio-economic sustainable development.  Among the co-sponsors are the Secure World Foundation, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems Division and the International Committee on Global Navigation Systems.   It is part of the lead-up to UNOOSA's UNISPACE+50 conference that will take place in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the first UNISPACE conference (two others were held in 1982 and 1999).   The website does not indicate if any of this week's conference will be webcast.

Three Up, Two Down -- Busy Time for Space Stations - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Nov-2016 (Updated: 20-Nov-2016 03:11 PM)

Hours apart, three new crew members headed to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan while two Chinese astronauts landed in Inner Mongolia after a month aboard China's Tiangong-2.

The ISS crew, comprised of NASA's Peggy Whitson, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Thomas Pesquet, and Roscosmos's Oleg Novitsky launched at 3:20 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) November 17, which was 2:20 am November 18 local time at the launch site, aboard the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.  They will dock with ISS on Saturday at 5:00 pm EST, joining three crew members already aboard -- NASA's Shane Kimbrough and Roscosmos's Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko.  [UPDATE: The Soyuz MS-03 crew docked with ISS on November 19 as scheduled, but two minutes early at 4:58 pm ET.]

ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 European countries working through ESA.  The 400 metric ton (MT) multi-modular facility has been permanently occupied by international crews rotating on approximately 4-6 month shifts for 16 years.  The various groups of crew members are referred to as "expeditions" and this is Expedition 50.


International Space Station Expedition 50.  Left to Right:  Borisenko, Kimbrough, Ryzhikov, Pesquet, Whitson, Novitsky.  Photo credit:  NASA

This is Whitson's third spaceflight, Novitsky's second, and Pesquet's first.  Whitson's other two flights also were to ISS and she was the first woman to serve as ISS commander during her second tour in 2008.  She also will serve as commander during this rotation -- the only woman to command the ISS twice so far.  At 56, she is the oldest woman to launch into space and did an interview for AARP (available on YouTube) where she talks about the value of age and experience on spaceflights.  (John Glenn became the oldest man to make a spaceflight when he was a member of a space shuttle crew at the age of 77 in 1998.  In 1962, 36 years earlier, he was the first American to orbit the Earth on his only other spaceflight.)

Less than 10 hours after Soyuz MS-03 lifted off from Kazakhstan, China's Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong returned to Earth aboard their Shenzhou-11 spacecraft after a month on China's second space station, Tiangong-2.  At 8.6 MT, Tiangong-2 is much smaller than ISS and is not equipped for permanent occupancy.  China has sent mixed messages about whether a second crew will be sent there or if it will wait for its own larger, multi-modular space station.  A three-module 60 MT space station is expected to be completed around 2022. China does plan to send a robotic cargo ship to Tiangong-2 in April.  Named Tianzhou-1, its primary purpose is to test refueling.

China's human spaceflight program proceeds at a measured pace.  Since 2003, it has launched people into space only six times.  This 32-day mission (30 days on Tiangong-2, 2 days in transit) is China's longest to date.  Jing and Chen landed at approximately 1:00 am EST (2:00 pm local time in China) some distance from their predicted landing site.  At press time, they still had not exited the capsule.  This was Jing's third spaceflight and Chen's first.


Jing Haipeng.  Photo Credit: Xinhua


Chen Dong.  Photo Credit: Xinhua

What's Happening in Space Policy November 14-19, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Nov-2016 (Updated: 14-Nov-2016 08:21 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 14-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate return to work for one week beginning tomorrow (Monday).  The House meets for legislative business Monday-Thursday; the Senate will be in pro forma session on Monday and meet for legislative business the rest of the week.  Then they will recess again until after Thanksgiving.

With Republicans retaining control of both chambers, there will be less organizational work to prepare for the 115th Congress that convenes in January.  The one "must do" item between now and the end of the year is passing appropriations bill(s) to fund the government past December 9.  As we wrote yesterday, it's not clear how that will play out, but it's hard to imagine anyone wants a government shutdown at this point, so they will have to work something out.  One "probably will do" is complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  A number of other pieces of legislation could also be completed, such as the NASA Transition Authorization Act, if the various parties can reach agreement.  It's doubtful any of that will be finalized this week, but progress may be made behind the scenes.

Everyone is still catching their breaths after the stunning election results. The quadrennial parlor game of guessing who will be to tapped to lead NASA and NOAA (and every other government agency) is in full swing along with prognosticating about the incoming Trump Administration's space priorities.  It's far too early to know based on the limited information the Trump campaign issued, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to play.  We'll refrain from speculating on new agency leaders, but, programmatically, here's our two cents worth on NASA's future.  Human spaceflight will be fine, though we think the days are numbered for the Asteroid Redirect Mission and fully expect a human return to the surface of the Moon to be restored to the long term plan; space science will hold its own, though within a more constrained budget if deficit-cutting regains popularity; and earth science will not do very well not only because President-elect Trump is a climate change skeptic, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski is retiring so will not be in a position to rescue it.  We don't have a good feel for aeronautics or space technology.  Both are very popular in theory, but routinely underfunded in practice.  One worry is that if the total NASA budget is constrained due to broad deficit cutting goals, and human spaceflight programs exceed current cost targets -- let's be honest, that would hardly be surprising -- other parts of the NASA portfolio will pay the price.   Meanwhile, public private partnerships will continue to be encouraged, as will interagency and international cooperation/coordination.

That will all take place over the next months and years.   Getting back to this week, there is, as usual, a lot of very interesting events coming up.  To pick just three, tomorrow's meeting of the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee at JSC could be interesting (available remotely by WebEx/telecon).  Kathy Lueders, program manager for the commercial crew program, is on the agenda for 1:45 pm Central Time (2:45 pm Eastern). Perhaps she will address some of the issues raised in the letter that Tom Stafford and his ISS Advisory Committee sent to Bill Gerstenmaier about SpaceX's plans to fuel the Falcon 9 rocket while crews are aboard.  At a minimum, she should provide an update on when the Trump Administration can expect to see American astronauts on American rockets sent to the ISS from American soil.  Instead of launching on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan, as will happen on Thursday when Peggy Whitson and her Soyuz MS-03 crewmates, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Roscosmos's Oleg Novitsky, blast off from Baikonur.

Our second top pick this week is Saturday's launch of NOAA's GOES-R satellite. NASA TV is in the unenviable position of needing to cover the Soyuz MS-03 launch and GOES-R pre-launch briefings both on Thursday afternoon, and the Soyuz MS-03 docking at ISS and GOES-R launch, both on Saturday afternoon.  NASA TV has a public channel and a media channel; if you don't find the programming you're looking for on one, try the other.   GOES-R is the first of four next-generation geostationary weather satellites that NOAA has been developing for many years.  It will be redesignated GOES-16 once in orbit.  The other three have launch dates stretching out into the mid-2020s.   The spacecraft has an on-board orbit-raising engine similar to one that failed on MUOS-5, but NASA and NOAA are confident that a backup system will get GOES-R to its correct orbit no matter what.

Third is a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) luncheon on Thursday featuring Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA).   He represents a Seattle-area district that is home to companies like Blue Origin and Planetary Resources -- he calls it the Silicon Valley of space.  He is one of the congressional champions of creating a legal and regulatory environment conducive to new types of commercial space ventures and worked with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) earlier this year to get the House Appropriations Committee to approve the full requested funding level for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. He may have some insight as to what Capitol Hill will do in these closing weeks of the 114th Congress and his own prognostication of what the next four years have in store for space.

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

Monday, November 14

Monday-Tuesday, November 14-15

  • NAC Aeronautics Committee, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (WebEx/telecon, but must contact NASA in advance to get call-in information)
  • Small Satellite Workshop (USGIF), NGA East Campus, Springfield, VA (Nov 15 sessions are classified)

Tuesday, November 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 15-16

Tuesday-Thursday, November 15-17

Wednesday-Friday, November 16-18

Thursday, November 17

Thursday-Friday, November 17-18

Friday, November 18

Saturday, November 18

 

Correction: an earlier version of this article listed the start time for Monday's NAC/HEO meeting as 9:00 am Central Time, but it begins at 9:30 am CT (10:30 am ET).

Republicans Win it All

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Nov-2016 (Updated: 09-Nov-2016 03:17 AM)

The Republican Party swept the 2016 national elections, winning the White House and retaining control of the House and Senate.

Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States on January 20, 2017, with Mike Pence as his Vice President.  The House and Senate will remain in Republican hands, though leadership elections will determine who is Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader.   House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has not been an enthusiastic supporter of Trump and very conservative Republicans had earlier indicated they might mount a challenge to his speakership when the 115th Congress convenes because of policy differences.

From the perspective of the space program, the Trump campaign's few remarks suggest little change in civil space except in the area of earth science.  Trump is a climate change skeptic, as are key members of Congress who oversee NASA and NOAA's budgets.  Otherwise, he and his representatives have expressed support for U.S. leadership in space with a bold exploration program that includes international and commercial partners.  Two space advisers, Bob Walker and Peter Navarro, wrote in a Space News op-ed that Trump would restore a National Space Council in the White House to ensure "proper coordination" among the various space sectors.

As for national security space, in a separate op-ed, Walker and Navarro asserted that Trump's priorities would be to reduce vulnerabilities, assure commands have the tools they need, reduce the cost of space access, and create new generations of satellites to deal with emerging threats.

Trump's own statements and the op-eds provide only the broadest strokes of what his presidency might do with the space program.  Budgets are always key, so further clues will have to wait until he submits his first budget to Congress next year.

In Congress, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) won the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikuilski (D-MD).  He is expected to follow in her footsteps as a strong supporter of NOAA and NASA (especially earth science and astrophysics programs at Goddard Space Flight Center), though as a freshman Democrat, he will lack her powerful position on the appropriations committee.   

Two other Senators with key roles in the space program won reelection -- John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 7-11, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Nov-2016 (Updated: 06-Nov-2016 12:40 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 7-11, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.

During the Week

Welcome back to Standard Time in the United States.  Daylight Saving Time ended overnight.  Adjust your clocks accordingly!  We lost an hour of sleep in the process, but can catch up on Friday, which is a Federal Holiday (Veterans Day).

One hardly needs to say what the big news is this week.  Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Who will control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all at stake and the results are completely up in the air.  Voter turnout will be, as always, a critical factor.  Get out and exercise your right - and your responsibility - to choose our nation's leaders. 

For the space program, especially NASA and NOAA, which are part of the non-defense discretionary part of the budget, the congressional races may be more important than the White House.   The Clinton and Trump campaigns haven't said much about their positions on civil and commercial space, but what they have said is very similar -- they want the United States to be a leader in space with a bold exploration program that incorporates international and commercial partners.  One area of difference, not surprisingly, is NASA's role in earth science research.  The Clinton campaign is enthusiastically supportive of NASA's earth science program and its role in understanding climate change; the Trump campaign thinks NASA should focus on space exploration while other agencies study the Earth.

Congress, however, is still battling over how to rein in the deficit.   The draconian sequestration rules have been held in abeyance since FY2013 by two-year agreements negotiated in 2014 by the Republican House and Democratic Senate (the Ryan-Murray deal), which relaxed budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015, and in 2016 by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and President Obama for FY2016 and FY2017.  Sequestration is still the law of the land (the 2011 Budget Control Act -- BCA), however, and whether it is strictly followed, loosely followed, or ignored (perhaps repealed) in the future depends in large measure on what parties control which parts of the government.  NASA has fared extremely well in recent years (Congress is poised to give NASA about $1 billion more than President Obama requested in appropriated funds for FY2017) in part because the BCA caps have not been rigorously enforced.  The two parties have been battling for years on how to cut the deficit.  Republicans want to do it entirely through spending cuts.  Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  Both parties want to protect the defense budget, though there are many differences on the details.  That leaves mandatory spending programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) and non-defense discretionary agencies (e.g. NASA and NOAA) as the go-to places to look for whatever cuts are to be made.  Generally speaking, Democrats are more protective of those activities than Republicans, hence the inclusion of tax increases in their deficit-reduction strategy to ensure they are not eviscerated in the process, but tax increases aren't very popular. 

This election has been ... draining ... and many look forward to its end, but the nation's problems will still be there on November 9 or whenever the outcome is known (it may not be on November 9 after all, there are many close races). The new leaders, whoever they are, will have a lot to do.  Every vote matters.  GET OUT AND VOTE.

In addition to voting, there are number of interesting things to do this week.  NASA has two media events, tomorrow (Monday) and Thursday, on small satellites for earth science.  Tomorrow's virtual briefing (listen at www.nasa.gov/live) will discuss the agency's overall program of utilizing cubesats and microsatellites for earth science research, including technology developments, and a preview of three upcoming small satellite missions.  Thursday's briefing at NASA HQ (watch on NASA TV) is specifically about one of them -- a constellation of eight small satellites to be launched next month that will gather data on the formation and intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes (CYGNSS). 

Meanwhile, out at the National Academies' Beckman Center in Irvine, CA, the steering committee of the Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet tomorrow through Thursday.  On Wednesday, it will hold a webinar for members of the earth science community to get an update on the status of the Survey and ask questions of the co-chairs, Waleed Abdalati and Bill Gail. 

In Paris, European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold a press conference tomorrow morning about the ESA Ministerial Meeting coming up next month.  It will not be webcast, unfortunately, but ESA says a video recording will be posted to the ESA website within 24 hours.

Lastly, the Atlantic Council will hold the next in its "Captains of Industry" series on Wednesday featuring representatives of four leading U.S. and European defense and aerospace companies (Airbus, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Thales USA) and the National Venture Capital Association on "Corporate-Venture Investing in Aerospace and Defense."  It will be webcast.

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

Monday, November 7

Monday-Thursday, November 7-10

Tuesday, November 8

  • ELECTION DAY IN THE UNITED STATES

Tuesday-Thursday, November 8-10

Wednesday, November 9

Thursday, November 10

 

China Launches Its Biggest Rocket Yet - Long March 5

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Nov-2016 (Updated: 05-Nov-2016 12:43 PM)

China conducted the first launch of its new Long March 5 rocket today.  At 25 metric tons (MT) to low Earth orbit (LEO), it has twice the capability of the largest existing Chinese rocket and is only slightly smaller than the largest U.S. rocket, Delta IV.  It opens many possibilities for China, which has identified large space stations and probes to the Moon and Mars among its nearer-term uses.

China announced on October 28 that the launch would take place in early November, but its English-language news services, Xinhua and CCTV, typically used by the Chinese government to herald headline-grabbing space events, provided virtually no new information in the interim.  Even a CCTV segment just hours before the launch (November 3, 12:46 Beijing Time; 12:46 am EDT) did not mention the launch date or time, again saying only it would be in November. 

Web- and Twitter-based sources who closely follow the Chinese space program kept the public apprised of the launch status, including Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI), who writes for gbtimes.com (@gbtimescom); Chris Bergin at NASASpaceflight.com (@nasaspaceflight); and two who do not identify themselves -- @cosmicpenguin and China Spaceflight @cnspaceflight (in Chinese).  About 1 minute before launch, CCTV finally began live coverage, which continued until the payload separated from the second stage.

Liftoff from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island was initially expected at 6:00 am ET (10:00 GMT; 18:00 local time at the launch site) based on Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) issued by the Chinese government to warn pilots to avoid the airspace.  Launch was briefly delayed twice due to technical issues, but ultimately came at 8:43 am ET (12:43 GMT; 20:43 local time).  [Editor's note:  several accounts have appeared about the causes of the delays based on Chinese sources.  SpacePolicyOnline.com cannot confirm them, but here are links to three for those who are interested.  The first is an account apparently from one of the launch crew translated into English by @cosmicpenguin and posted to NASASpaceFlight.com. The second (text) and third (audio) are in Chinese - we used Google Translate for the text copy -- and posted to Twitter by @cnspaceflight.  The gist is that the first delay was due to indications of a liquid oxygen leak and the second was related to a chill-down problem with the first stage engines.  Editor's note 2:  China's CCTV has now posted a YouTube video about the "nail-biting countdown."]


China's Long March 5 lifts off on inaugural flight from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, Hainan Island, China, November 3, 2016, 20:43 local time.  Photo Credit: China Xinhua News (@XHNews)

The payload is the Shijian-17 experimental satellite that is on its way to geostationary orbit.  Long March 5 delivered it to an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit. The spacecraft's on-board propulsion will take it the rest of the way (as is typical with such launches).

Until now, the most capable Chinese rockets have been the older Long March 3B (12 MT to LEO) and the brand new Long March 7 (13.5 MT to LEO), which made its first flight in June.

Delta IV Heavy is the most capable U.S. rocket in use today.  It can deliver 28.4 MT to LEO.  Long March 5 and Delta IV Heavy, though large by today's standards, are modest compared to the U.S. Saturn V developed for the Apollo program (118 MT to LEO) or the Space Launch System currently being developed by NASA in three versions (70 MT, 105 MT and 130 MT).  In addition, two U.S. private companies are developing or planning new heavy lift rockets: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, 54 MT to LEO, which is close to its first flight; and Blue Origin's New Glenn, 70 MT to LEO, still in the planning phase.

Among the payloads China has announced for Long March 5 are space station modules that will be docked together in orbit to form a 60 MT space station by 2022 and robotic exploration missions. Those include a sample return mission to the Moon (Chang'e 5) next year and an orbiter/lander/rover to Mars in 2020.