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NASA's Study of Adding Crew to EM-1 is Completed, Awaiting Response

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2017 (Updated: 19-Apr-2017 10:02 PM)

NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said today that the agency's feasibility study of adding a crew to the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion has been completed and briefed to agency and White House officials.  The report is not public, she added, and the agency is now waiting for a "go forward" plan.   She also said that NASA is expecting a flat budget for the next 5 years, not even including adjustments for inflation, which will reduce its buying power by $3.4 billion over that time period.

Allen spoke to a colloquium of microgravity scientists meeting in conjunction with a National Academies committee that is assessing NASA's implementation of a 2012 Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences in space. Although the International Space Station (ISS) was built largely to serve as a research laboratory, funding for that research has been constrained because of the costs of building and operating the facility.

Her message was that the budget outlook is not promising in terms of any increase for research funding.  Thus it is imperative that the microgravity science community make a "compelling" case as to why proposed research is essential.  Decisions also will be needed as to where the research must be conducted.  How much must be done on ISS, for example, versus cis-lunar space where NASA is planning to build a Deep Space Gateway.  The Gateway will have "minimal" research capabilities, Allen said, but some research must be done there instead of ISS.  One example is galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) studies.  The ISS, in low Earth orbit (LEO), is protected from GCR by Earth's magnetosphere, but astronauts going to the Moon or Mars will be fully exposed so the research is critical.

Allen laid out NASA's near-term plans for human exploration beyond LEO and mentioned in passing that the study of the concept of adding a crew to the first SLS flight -- Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) -- is completed and was briefed to Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and "the White House."  NASA is now "waiting for a go-forward plan."

EM-1 has been designed from the beginning as a test flight carrying an uncrewed Orion spacecraft.   The first flight with a crew, EM-2, is officially scheduled for 2023, but NASA is hoping to accelerate that to 2021.  In addition to assessing the risk to the crew of launching on the first flight of a new rocket, the Orion spacecraft to be used for EM-1 does not have life support systems. A decision to launch a crew earlier would require a schedule delay and more funding in the near-term to outfit Orion with the necessary systems.   EM-1 and EM-2 also will use two different upper stages.  The more capable upper stage for EM-2 (the Exploration Upper Stage) is taller and requires modifications to ground facilities at the launch site.

The sudden decision to assess the feasibility of putting a crew on EM-1 was announced in February, shortly after President Trump took office.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a later media briefing that there was no "preconceived decision" and he wanted to "let the data drive us to an answer." 

The United States is the only country to ever launch a crew on the first flight of a new launch vehicle -- the space shuttle.  All other U.S. crewed launch systems as well as those of the Soviet Union/Russia and China have been tested without a crew first.   An exception was made for the first shuttle mission, STS-1 in April 1981, because it required humans to land the vehicle.  Gerstenmaier said in February, before the EM-1 crew feasibility study was announced, that prior to STS-1 NASA calculated the risk of losing the crew on that first flight was 1 in 500 to 1 in 1000.   After 30 years of experience and the loss of the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia missions and their crews, NASA recalculated the actual Loss of Crew risk for STS-1 was 1 in 12.



NASA IG: Journey to Mars Cost $26 Billion Through FY2016, Future Costs Unclear

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Apr-2017 (Updated: 19-Apr-2017 08:34 PM)

NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that NASA spent $26 billion from FY2006-2016 on programs to send humans beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) -- what was called the Journey to Mars during the Obama Administration.  In an April 13 report, the OIG expressed reservations about future cost estimates and technical challenges facing the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion crew spacecraft, and associated Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) that are "likely to delay their launch."

It can be difficult to follow how much NASA is spending on its program to send humans beyond LEO. Humans have not traveled beyond LEO, where the International Space Station is located, since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 -- the last time astronauts set foot on the lunar surface. 

The current effort, sometimes called "deep space human exploration," began in FY2006 as the Constellation program under President George W. Bush.  His goal was returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020.  That program involved building the Ares I and Ares V rockets, the Orion crew spacecraft, and the Altair lunar lander.  The Obama Administration cancelled Constellation and replaced it with the Journey to Mars (J2M) to put humans in orbit around Mars in the 2030s without any missions to the lunar surface.  Ares I and Ares V were cancelled and the SLS program began in their stead.  Altair never got started.  The Orion crew spacecraft survived the transition from Constellation to J2M.  J2M included the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in cis-lunar space as a steppingstone to Mars.  The Trump Administration has proposed terminating ARM. NASA now talks about building a Deep Space Gateway in cis-lunar space and a Deep Space Transport to take astronauts from there to orbit Mars in the 2030s.  Landing people on the Moon or Mars are not in NASA's current plan, although officials express optimism that international or commercial partners might send astronauts to the lunar surface via its Deep Space Gateway, and the long-term goal remains eventually landing people on Mars.  

Cost estimates vary depending on how many years and which of those programs to reach what destination are included. The OIG report is focused on J2M as it existed at the end of  the Obama Administration, but includes money spent on Orion during the Bush Administration since it continues.

NASA's internal procedures require the agency to commit to a cost estimate and launch schedule for each of its flight programs at their Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) milestones.  Congress uses those estimates as the baseline against which cost overruns and schedule delays are measured.  NASA is required to take certain steps if those overruns or delays exceed specified thresholds.

NASA made separate KDP-C estimates for SLS, Orion and GSDO, but only through initial launches.  The commitments for SLS and GSDO are through the first launch, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), in late 2018.  For Orion, it is through the first launch with a crew, EM-2. The official commitment is for EM-2 to take place in 2023, although NASA hopes to accelerate it to 2021.   in August 2014, NASA announced  its cost estimate for SLS through EM-1, including formulation and development, as $9.695 billion.  In September 2015, it released its KDP-C estimate for Orion, $6.77 billion, but that covered only FY2015 through EM-2, not the money spent from FY2006-FY2014. The estimate for GSDO was $2.8 billion through EM-1.

NASA announced in February that it is examining the pros and cons of launching a crew on EM-1 instead of waiting until EM-2, but no decision has been reached yet.  The concept was not addressed in the OIG report. 

A major point of this OIG report, in fact, is that NASA's plans beyond EM-1 are unclear.  They were unclear before the change in administrations and are less clear now with the Trump Administration in office and, for example, proposing the termination of ARM.   "In light of the enormous costs and challenges and the critical decisions that will need to be made in the next several years," the OIG says it prepared the report to provide "policy makers with a better sense of the significant technical, financial and political challenges" that lie ahead.

The OIG calculates a total of $26 billion spent on the humans-beyond-LEO program through FY2016 as follows: 

  • $15.6 billion from FY2012-FY2016 for SLS, Orion, GSDO and Exploration Systems Development integration activities for EM-1 and EM-2;
  • $5.7 billion from FY2006-FY2011 on Orion (initiated as part of the Bush Administration's Constellation program);
  • $1.8 billion in FY2011 to transition from Constellation to J2M; and
  • $2.8 billion from FY2012-2016 on technology development related to human and robotic spaceflight associated with the program.

For SLS, Orion and GSDO alone, the OIG estimates that NASA will spend $23 billion through the end of FY2018.  It points out that its own earlier studies and those from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) express concerns about NASA's ability to meet the current schedule of EM-1 no later than November 2018 and EM-2 as early as 2021. 

In particular, it notes that NASA has not developed an integrated cost estimate for EM-2.  Further, the reserves included in the estimate for EM-1 are "much lower than the 10 to 30 percent" recommended by Marshall Space Flight Center, where SLS is managed. That means less flexibility in dealing with unanticipated problems.  Added to budget uncertainties resulting from congressional delays in enacting annual appropriations bills, which hamper NASA's ability to make "informed and timely" funding allocation decisions, the OIG concludes that delays are "likely."

The OIG made six recommendations, including that NASA develop an integrated SLS/Orion/GSDO schedule for EM-2 and "establish more rigorous cost and schedule estimates for SLS and associated GSDO infrastructure for EM-2."   NASA was provided with a draft of the report and concurred or partially concurred with all the recommendations and proposed corrective actions.  OIG was satisfied with NASA's response except for the recommendation about establishing more rigorous cost and schedule estimates for SLS and GSDO for EM-2.

NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier's response to the OIG report is published therein (Appendix I).  He stated that he did not see what decisions would be informed by providing a cost estimate for a specific flight, that NASA was developing a program and not a series of missions, and the phasing of funds from congressional appropriations is the driver in cost estimate variability. 

The OIG disagreed.  "In our judgment, a detailed EM-2 cost estimate would allow Agency officials and external stakeholders to better understand the mission's progress and the full costs involved.  Therefore, this recommendation is unresolved pending further discussions with Agency officials."

NASA's Inspector General (IG), like those in most federal agencies, is appointed by the President pursuant to the Inspectors General Act of 1978.  Paul Martin has been the NASA IG since 2009.  Previously he was the Deputy IG at the Department of Justice.

The 71-page report is a treasure trove of facts, figures and explanations of NASA's humans-beyond-LEO effort and challenges going forward.

China Readies First Space Station Cargo Mission - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Apr-2017 (Updated: 19-Apr-2017 06:12 PM)

China is getting ready to launch its first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1, to its Tiangong-2 space station later this week.  China's Xinhua news services says the launch will take place between April 20 and 24.  This is a test of robotic in-orbit refueling.  No one is aboard the space station or the cargo spacecraft. [UPDATE: China has announced the launch will take place on April 20 at 7:41 pm local time (7:41 am Eastern Daylight Time.]

Tiangong-2 was launched last year and occupied by a two-man crew for 30 days.  It has been empty since then.  China's first space station, Tiangong-1, was launched in 2011 and occupied by two three-person crews (two men and one woman each) in 2012 and 2013 for 13 days and 15 days respectively.  The Tiangong space stations are quite small - 8.6 metric tons (MT).  China is planning to build a three-module 60-MT space station by 2022.  Tianzhou spacecraft would be used to deliver fuel and cargo to it.

Tianzhou-1, which is larger (13 MT) than Tiangong, will be launched from China's new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island using the new Long March 7 mid-sized rocket.  The first Long March 7 was launched last year.

Tianzhou-1 space station cargo spacecraft atop its Long March 7 rocket being transferred from the assembly building to the launch pad at Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, Hainan Island, China, April 17, 2017.  Photo credit:  Xinhua

Tianzhou-1 will dock with Tiangong-2 three times to test in-orbit liquid propellant refueling.  The Soviet Union demonstrated the first robotic refueling of a space station in 1978 when Progress 1 refueled Salyut 6.  Russia still uses Progress spacecraft today to refuel the International Space Station's (ISS's) station-keeping engines as well as to take supplies to ISS.

Tianzhou-1 can carry 6.5 MT of cargo according to China Global Television News (CGTN).  The current version of Russia's Progress can deliver about 2.5 MT of cargo.  Three other spacecraft resupply ISS -- SpaceX's Dragon, Orbital ATK's Cygnus (one of which will be launched tomorrow), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) HTV or Kounotori.    HTV is the largest of those, capable of delivering approximately 6 MT of cargo.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 17-22, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Apr-2017 (Updated: 16-Apr-2017 01:32 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 17-22, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

Topic A this week is the International Space Station (ISS) and not just logistics, but the microgravity science research being conducted there.

Logistically, the next cargo launch is on Tuesday -- Orbital ATK's OA-7 mission -- and two new crew members will launch and dock on Thursday on Soyuz MS-04.  Pre-launch briefings are scheduled for tomorrow (Monday). The OA-7 launch is on Tuesday at 11:11 am ET from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  The launch has a 30 minute window and the weather is 90 percent favorable as of today. 

This will be the first-ever launch to be broadcast with a 360-degree view according to NASA.  Coverage on NASA's regular TV outlets begins at 10:00 am ET.  The 360-degree view begins on NASA's YouTube channel 10 minutes before launch.  NASA, Orbital ATK and ULA are all working together on the 360-degree view, so the two companies' websites may also carry it.  A post-launch press conference is scheduled for 2:00 pm ET.  Two days later, Soyuz MS-04 will take NASA's Jack Fischer and Roscosmos's Fyodor Yurchikhin to ISS.  As we explained last week, Russia is reducing its ISS crew complement from three to two, so there's an empty seat on this launch, which will be filled by Peggy Whitson on the return.

A key point of having ISS in the first place is to perform scientific research in microgravity.  In Washington, DC, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will hold a day-long public symposium on Wednesday where scientists will discuss that research.  The next day (Thursday), a panel discussion will take place on Capitol Hill to highlight some of it.  

The Academies symposium is in conjunction with a meeting of a committee that is performing a mid-term review of the 2011 Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences research in space to evaluate how NASA is implementing those recommendations.   Decadal Surveys cover 10 years (a decade, hence "decadal").  Congress requires NASA to contract with the Academies for Decadal Surveys in each of the science disciplines as well as for mid-term reviews of each study half way though the relevant decade.  The mid-term review committee cannot change the priorities in the original report, but assesses how things are going.  The mid-term review committee is meeting Tuesday-Thursday, but most of Tuesday and all of Thursday are in closed session.  Wednesday's public colloquium will be webcast.  The Academies requests that everyone pre-register whether planning to attend in person or watch the webcast.

On Thursday morning, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Rep. Brian Babin (chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee) will hold a panel discussion on Capitol Hill with four scientists who will discuss their own ISS research on water engineering, the movement of fluids, tissue healing, and plant research.  The event is free, but pre-registration is required.

On another topic, Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day and "March for Science" rallies will take place around the globe.  One will be on the National Mall in Washington, DC (near the Washington Monument).  Organizers are requesting that people who plan to attend let them know through the RSVP link on their website, where you can also find the locations of other rallies that might be closer to you if you can't get to DC.

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

Monday, April 17

Tuesday, April 18

  • Orbital ATK 7 (OA-7) Launch, Cape Canaveral, FL, 11:11 am ET (30 minute launch window).  Regular NASA TV coverage begins 10:00 am ET; first-ever 360-degree launch view coverage begins 10 minutes before launch on NASA's YouTube channel.   Post-launch press conference 2:00 pm ET.

Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20

Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21

Wednesday, April 19

Thursday, April 20

Thursday-Friday, April 20-21

Friday, April 21

Saturday, April 22

Evidence Mounts for Hydrothermal Vents on Enceladus, Plumes on Europa

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Apr-2017 (Updated: 14-Apr-2017 12:45 AM)

NASA announced new findings today about two of the solar system's "ocean worlds" -- places other than Earth where global oceans may exist and, with them, the chance for life.  Data from the Cassini spacecraft already have indicated that Saturn's moon Enceladus has an ocean that spews into space through cracks in its icy crust. The announcement today is that those plumes contain hydrogen, hinting that the ocean has hydrothermal vents akin to those on Earth's ocean floors where life improbably exists.  Meanwhile, the Hubble Space Telescope has again detected what may be plumes emanating from an ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa, though definitive data remain elusive.

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and is in its last months of life.  At a press conference last week, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) reviewed some of Cassini's key findings to date, including the plumes from Enceladus, a small moon that has a liquid ocean under an icy crust.  Cracks in the crust allow material from the ocean to burst up into space and Cassini was able to fly through the plumes to gather data on their constituents. Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker discussed what the spacecraft discovered when it flew through the plumes in October 2015 at a height of just 49 kilometers (30 miles) -- water vapor and organics. 

Artist's illustration of Cassini flying through plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus.  Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

At today's press conference, Spilker revealed that hydrogen gas was also detected.  Hydrogen combined with carbon dioxide in the ocean could generate the energy needed to create chemical reactions essential to life.  Details of the discovery were published in the journal Science today.

Life requires three ingredients according to NASA: liquid water; an energy source for metabolism; and the correct chemical ingredients (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur).   With the findings announced today, Enceladus is known to have all of those except phosphorus and sulfur.  Scientists suspect they are there, however, because the rocky core of the moon is thought to be similar to meteorites that contain them.

It will be up to future spacecraft to prove that point, however.  Cassini is beginning its "grand finale" of 22 deep dives into Saturn's atmosphere later this month.  The spacecraft will meet its end on the final dive on September 15.  It is running out of fuel and NASA wants to deliberately destroy it to avoid accidental contamination of Enceladus or Saturn's other scientifically tantalizing moons, including Titan with its methane lakes.

Like Enceladus, Jupiter's moon Europa is thought to have an ocean under an icy crust.  In 2014, data from the earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope suggested that it also may have plumes.  Today's announcement was that observations in 2016 showed a plume at the same location as the one seen in 2014.  Scientists do not have as much close up data about Europa as they do for Enceladus, however, and the Hubble data are not definitive.  NASA's Galileo spacecraft orbited Jupiter for many years (1995-2003), but Europa was not a main target of its investigations and only about a dozen flybys of the moon were made.

When Hubble spotted what might be a plume in 2014, scientists looked at the Galileo data and discovered that it had indicated a hot spot right at that location.  Theories are that higher temperatures under the ice might open a crack in Europa's surface and allow ocean contents to reach into space or that the contents spew into space and fall back onto the surface, making it warmer.  The 2016 Hubble observations are discussed in a paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Hubble Space Telescope images of possible plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa.  Credit:  Space Telescope Science Institute website.

At today's press conference, Bill Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble, explained what is known, and not known, about the Europa plumes.   He led the 2014 and 2016 plume studies.  Sparks said that his team has looked for plumes 12 times and found them twice.  NASA's carefully worded press release makes clear that scientists remain uncertain that the plumes are there, however, saying the 2016 images "bolster evidence" that the plumes "could be a real phenomenon."  Sparks himself characterized it as "not completely unequivocal as it is with Enceladus, it's still at the limits of what Hubble can do, but we are growing in confidence" because they now have seen it twice and its location correlates with the Galileo hot spot data.

The possibility of an ocean under Europa's crust, never mind plumes, was unknown when Galileo was built, so it was not designed to look for them.  NASA currently has a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, Juno, but it is not designed to study Europa either.  Close-up measurements will have to wait until the 2020s when NASA plans to launch missions whose entire purpose is investigating Europa.  

A Europa orbiter and lander were added to NASA's science program by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA.  Sending a probe to Europa was a high priority in the last two planetary science Decadal Surveys written by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  Decadal Surveys guide NASA's science program. The most recent survey ranked Europa second, however, behind a series of missions to return a sample of Mars to Earth.   NASA had enough money only to pursue the top priority, Mars sample return, so did not request funds for Europa.

Congress has the power of the purse, however, and Culberson added money for Europa.  He has said in many venues that he believes life will be found on Europa and he intends to make certain NASA looks for it.  He wants the orbiter, Europa Clipper, launched in 2022 and the lander in 2024.  (Europa Clipper actually will orbit Jupiter, not Europa.  It will make flybys of Europa.)  The lander is still in the conceptual phase.  As he explained in an interview with Miles O'Brien on the PBS NewsHour last night, he wrote into law that NASA must launch those missions:  "The Europa orbiter and lander is the only mission it is illegal for NASA not to fly."

That being said, President Trump's budget request for FY2018 funds Europa Clipper, but specifically states it does not fund the lander.  The President's request is just that, of course, a request.  Only Congress decides how much money the federal government will spend and how.  As chairman on the House CJS subcommittee, Culberson has considerable influence on the outcome.


G-7 Foreign Ministers Call for Safe, Secure, Sustainable Space Environment

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Apr-2017 (Updated: 12-Apr-2017 10:13 PM)

The foreign ministers of the G-7 countries issued a joint communique yesterday in which they recognized the importance of space activities and called for a safe, secure, sustainable and stable space environment, increased transparency, and strengthened norms of responsible behavior.  At the same time, the G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group issued a statement on non-proliferation and disarmament that includes four paragraphs about space that goes further, urging, for example, that countries refrain from destruction of space objects -- intentionally or unintentionally.

The G-7 is an informal group of industrialized countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- that meets annually  Their foreign ministers met April 10-11 in Lucca, Italy in preparation for the upcoming heads-of-government summit next month.  Their 30-page joint communique following the meeting includes one paragraph about space:

Outer space activities have immense potential. We recognize the rapid development of the modern space environment and the importance of outer space activities both in the day to day lives of our citizens and for the social, economic, scientific and technological development of all states. We are committed to enhancing the long-term safety, security, sustainability, and stability of the space environment, to increasing transparency in space activities, and to strengthening norms of responsible behaviour for all outer space activities.

The G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group went further. Their 13-page statement similarly reiterates a commitment to a safe, secure and sustainable space environment, but also calls on countries to "refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects."  They also "strongly encourage" countries to "cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law" and to prevent the creation and diffusion of space debris.   The full text of the space section is as follows:


60. Outer space activities play a significant and increasing role in the social, economic, scientific and technological development of States, as well as in maintaining international peace and security. In this context, we reiterate our commitment to preserve a safe, secure, and sustainable outer space environment and the need to evolve and implement principles of responsible behavior for all outer space activities in a prompt and pragmatic manner, ensuring the peaceful exploration and use of outer space on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law.

61. We call on all States to refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects. We strongly encourage all States to take appropriate measures to cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law, as well as to cooperate to prevent the creation and diffusion of long-lived orbital debris.

62. We reaffirm our commitment, and call on all States, to review and implement, to the extent practicable, the proposed transparency and confidence-building measures contained in the recommendations of the UN Group of Governmental Experts Report (A/68/189, 29 July 2013) such as information exchange on space policies and strategies, information exchange and notifications related to outer space activities in a timely manner and an effective consultation mechanism.

63. We strongly support efforts to rapidly complete clear, practicable and proven Guidelines for Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) by 2018. We encourage all Member States of the Committee to play a constructive role to this end, building on the significant results recently achieved, both during the 59th session of the UN-COPUOS and the 54th session of the Committee’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittees.

These communiques will feed into the 43rd G-7 summit to be held May 26-27 in Taormina, Italy (on the island of Sicily).  Italy is currently president of the G-7. Russia became a member of the group in 1998 and it was then known as the G-8.  Russia was suspended in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, however, so it is now once again the G-7.

On Cosmonautics Day, Russia Laments State of Space Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Apr-2017 (Updated: 12-Apr-2017 06:43 AM)

On this day in 1961, the Soviet Union launched the first human being into space -- Yuri Gagarin.  It was the height of the Cold War and Soviet space achievements were outshining the United States.  Fast forward 56 years and the two former space rivals are now engaged in a successful partnership operating the International Space Station (ISS), but some Russians are lamenting the state of their space program especially when compared with U.S. advances.

Russia's official news agency Tass published a lengthy article today -- Cosmonautics Day in Russia in commemoration of Gagarin's flight.   "The recent years have been difficult" for Russia's space program "due to international sanctions against Russia and successes by the country's space rivals, notably from the United States," Tass reports.  While space program funding has been cut in Russia, "the United States successfully tested reusable rocket boosters and continued tests of delivery vehicles intended to replace Russian-made Soyuz" rockets.

SpaceX's launch of a reused rocket and plans to replace Russia's RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket "demonstrate that we are entering difficult times and that the reserves of the Soviet space program are now about to be depleted," according to Alexander Zheleznyakov of the Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics.

Indeed, the Russian space program has been plagued with failures of several of its once-reliable rockets, including Soyuz and Proton.  Russia is developing the new Angara family of rockets to replace those and other Soviet-era designs, but more than two years have passed since the first tests.  Corruption is one of the problems facing the space program overall.  Funding cutbacks are another.  Sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries because of Russia's actions in Ukraine have had a significant economic impact and the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship led to the decision to replace the RD-180 engines on Atlas V with American-made equivalents.

To date, at least, the ISS partnership has been spared any fallout from the changed relationship.  While April 12 is known as Cosmonautics Day and primarily celebrates Gagarin's flight, it is also the 36th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle flight.  The decision to terminate the shuttle program in 2011, after 30 years of service, made the United States dependent on Russia for access to the ISS.  Crews are taken to and from ISS in Soyuz spacecraft on Soyuz rockets.  Three ISS crew members just returned to Earth on April 10 and a new crew will launch on April 20.  As a sign of the times, Russia is reducing its ISS crew complement from three to two to lessen resupply requirements so fewer Progress cargo spacecraft are needed.

Nonetheless, Russia's space state corporation Roscosmos is making big plans for the near- and long-term future, including sending cosmonauts to the Moon using Angara-5 rockets and a new "Federatsiya" (Federation) spacecraft.

Whatever the future may hold, today is a day of celebration for human spaceflight enthusiasts everywhere with Yuri's night events scheduled around the world.



What's Happening in Space Policy April 10-22, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Apr-2017 (Updated: 10-Apr-2017 05:50 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 10-22, 2017, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks.

During the Weeks

At last!  We're getting a bit of a break.  With Congress in recess until April 24 and most of the big U.S. space conferences over for the first half of the year, the list of events is shorter than it's been recently.  We've decided to combine the next two weeks, taking us through April 22 -- Earth Day and the March for Science.

During this period, three crew members will return from the International Space Station (ISS) and two -- yes, just two -- will launch to the ISS.  Russia is cutting back on how many of its cosmonauts are aboard ISS to reduce requirements to resupply them using Progress cargo spacecraft.  It's a cost cutting move that presents opportunities for NASA astronauts.  First among them is Peggy Whitson who will get to remain aboard ISS for an extra three months. 

The do-si-do of ISS crews is difficult to follow sometimes, but under normal circumstances in the post-shuttle era there are six crew members aboard -- three from Russia and three from the other partners (at least one from NASA and others from ESA, JAXA, and CSA).  The limit is based on how many can get off the ISS in an emergency, which is dictated by how many Soyuz spacecraft are attached since they not only routinely take people back and forth, but serve as lifeboats while there.  Each Soyuz can accommodate three people, so with the usual two Soyuzes docked, six people are OK.   With Russia cutting its crew from three to two, that means there's an extra Soyuz seat for an emergency or a routine return to Earth.

An American (Shane Kimbrough) and two Russians (Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko) will return on April 10 in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft, leaving three people on board (NASA's Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy) along with their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.  On April 20, an American (Jack Fischer) and a Russian (Fyodor Yurchikhin) will launch on Soyuz MS-04, with an empty seat.  Whitson was supposed to return on Soyuz MS-03 with Pesquet and Novitsky, but now will remain and come back with Fischer and Yurchikhin.  Whitson is setting records for most cumulative time in space for an American (on April 24 she will break Jeff Williams' 534-day record) and the most spacewalks for an American woman (8).  This morning a change of command ceremony took place as the Soyuz MS-02 crew prepares to depart.  She will be the new commander.  This is her second assignment as ISS commander.  She was the first woman commander of ISS on her last trip there in 2008.  (This is her third long duration ISS mission. Her first was in 2002.)

A U.S. cargo mission to the ISS also is coming up during this period.  Orbital ATK-7 (OA-7) is launching on United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket this time instead of Orbital ATK's Antares.  The launch therefore is from Cape Canaveral and has been delayed several times in recent weeks because of one technical problem or another.  It is currently scheduled for April 18, though we haven't seen a time posted by ULA or NASA yet.

Staying with the human spaceflight theme, it also is worth noting that April 12 is the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the Earth, and the 36th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch.  We haven't heard of any commemorative events, however,

Other events of particular note include: meetings of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (April 12-13), NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES, April 12), and the National Academies committee performing a mid-term review of the Decadal Survey of physical and biological sciences in space (April 18-20); a European Conference on Space Debris (April 18-21); and a WSBR panel discussion on defense space priorities for the Trump Administration (April 20).

And on Saturday, April 22, a March for Science rally will take place. Actually, there several hundred taking place around the world according to the Earth Day Network website, which says it is the lead organizer.  Washington, D.C. will be the site of a "rally and teach-in" on the National Mall (north side of the Washington Monument, South of Constitution Ave NW, between 15th and 17th Street, NW) beginning at 9:00 am ET.  No tickets are needed, but organizers hope people will register to attend any of the rallies.  Earth Day itself has been held every year since 1970 to focus attention on the fragility of Earth's environment.  (The iconic Earthrise photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew -- the first crew to orbit the Moon - in 1968 is often cited as a catalyst for the environmental movement and Earth Day.  The Blue Marble photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 has been widely adopted as an emblem for Earth Day.)

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

Monday, April 10

Wednesday, April 12

Wednesday-Thursday, April 12-13

Friday, April 14

  • Space Capabilities (Mitchell Institute), Capitol Hill Club, Washington, DC, 8:00 am ET (pre-registration required)

Tuesday, April 18

Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20

Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21

Thursday, April 20

Thursday-Friday, April 20-21

Friday, April 21

Saturday, April 22

Hyten: Our Job is to Ensure No War in Space, But ...

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Apr-2017 (Updated: 07-Apr-2017 06:38 AM)

General John Hyten (USAF), Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), said today that "our job is to make sure war does not extend into space" if possible.  At the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, he repeatedly invoked the Command's motto "Peace is Our Profession," but added there is an implied "dot dot dot" at the end of that phrase for those who want "to go in another direction."

Hyten assumed his current post after serving as Commander of Air Force Space Command so is completely versed in national security space matters.  He testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Tuesday, the same day that Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow and Air Force Chief of David David Goldfein announced organizational changes to "reflect the reality that space is a joint warfighting domain" as Disbrow phrased it.

At USSTRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for all U.S. strategic forces, including nuclear command and control.  At the hearing and today, Hyten stressed that his first priority is strategic deterrence, but that a 21st Century approach to deterrence is needed that moves beyond the focus on nuclear weapons to incorporate space and cyberspace.  "If deterrence fails," however, "we will be prepared to deliver a decisive response."

For that, space systems are essential -- from early warning to communications to weapons delivery. Thus it is critical to know what is going on in space -- space situational awareness (SSA) -- which requires an integrated approach encompassing allies and the commercial sector.

The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base includes personnel from all the U.S. military services plus Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada, Hyten explained, adding that a new Multinational Space Collaboration (MSC) program is underway to bring in other close allies, starting with Germany.  Another U.S. organization was created to merge the military JSpOC with the intelligence community.  Originally called the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC), Hyten announced at the hearing and today that it was just renamed the National Space Defense Center to better convey its purpose -- to facilitate decision making "if we ever see a threat scenario" in space.

The commercial space sector also must be involved in SSA, he continued.  Companies working with JSpOC today, however, "come on their own dime" and because there is no contractual relationship, it is difficult to share information. "I asked the Senate for help" with that, Hyten said, but did not provide details on what remedy he requested. It was not discussed during the open hearing on Tuesday, but he also met with SASC during a closed session on Wednesday.

"There is no such thing as war in space.  There is just war," Hyten stressed.  The goal is to prevent conflict from moving into space, but if it does, the United States and its allies need to deal with it. 

Hyten's speech today was livestreamed on USSTRATCOM's Facebook page.

Air Force Restructures Space Responsibilities, JICSpOC Gets New Name

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2017 (Updated: 05-Apr-2017 12:47 AM)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Lisa Disbrow announced a number of changes to the Air Force "space enterprise" today, starting with creation of a new position of deputy chief of staff for space.  Also today, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Commander Gen. John Hyten told a Senate committee about a name change for the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) and discussed the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy that includes space.

In a statement, Disbrow said the Air Force changes "reflect the reality that space is a joint warfighting domain." Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein added that the new deputy chief of staff position will be a three-star (Lieutenant General) position and known as "A-11." That person will serve as the space advocate within Air Force Headquarters and be "instrumental in fostering ... the cultural change and capabilities evolution required to operate in an increasingly contested space domain."

Four other changes are in the works.  The Air Force is reforming its space acquisition program approval process and will consider alternative acquisition approaches.  That includes expansion of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) organization "to rapidly field systems, as well as procure existing commercial capabilities."  Air Force Space Command has developed a Space Warfighting Construct (SWC) to "evolve the space architecture to be more flexible, survivable and resilient."  Lastly, the Air Force, in conjunction with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other services, will "embed space professionals at every stage of decision making."

Disbrow stressed that the Air Force "seeks to deter conflict in space, but should deterrence fail, we will counter any attempt to deny freedom of action in this vital warfighting domain."  She has been serving as acting SecAF since January 20 when the Trump Administration began.   Former Rep. Heather Wilson has been nominated to serve as the new SecAf. Her confirmation hearing was held last week, but she has not been confirmed yet.

The Air Force is responsible for many national security space programs and the SecAf was named as the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA) in the Obama Administration.  Still, finding an effective organizational model to develop strategy for and execute space activities in the national security sector -- DOD and the Intelligence Community (IC) -- apparently remains elusive.

The Disbrow announcement came hours after Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in open session.  The hearing was quite broad and space activities were not a major focus. Hyten and several Senators referred to a classified hearing scheduled for tomorrow where they will be discussed in more detail.

Hyten announced yet another change.  The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) is being renamed the National Space Defense Center to better convey its purpose.   Established in September 2015, JICSpOC is intended to facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise including the military and the IC.

Hyten is a former commander of Air Force Space Command, but in his current role as head of USSTRATCOM has much broader responsibilities encompassing all U.S. strategic forces including nuclear command and control, space operations, global strike, global missile defense, and global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR).  At the hearing, Hyten expressed frustration on a number of issues across the command, especially acquisition and the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy.

"Deterrence is going to be expensive, but war will always be more expensive," he argued.  Current U.S. deterrence strategy is stuck in the past when the focus was nuclear weapons.  It needs to evolve to include space and cyber threats as well.  "The context has to be the fact that we're actually not deterring cyber, we're not deterring space, we're deterring an adversary who wants to operate and do damage in those domains. That's what we have to deter."

When asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about recent Russian efforts to develop antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, Hyten responded that while Russia may be developing such capabilities, the nearer-term threat is from China.  In response, the United States must "have the ability to defend" against those threats and "build an offensive capability to challenge" theirs.  Hyten told Cruz they could discuss it more in the classified hearing on Wednesday.

Cruz specifically asked about the vulnerability of GPS positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites.  Hyten listed the large number of military systems that have become dependent on GPS, from aircraft to artillery.   Six years ago, he said, the Air Force did a "day without space" exercise and took away GPS and communications satellite (SATCOM) capabilities from aviators.  "And it was not good."  Since then, training has changed to teach how to operate in an GPS- and SATCOM-denied environment.  "Maybe we were spoiled" because space was once considered a safe environment, but "we can't assume that any more."  The military needs to look at precision navigation and timing "as a mission and build resilience into that architecture as well as defending GPS on orbit."

Events of Interest

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