Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Let's Talk Space

For whatever reason, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns finally are talking more about U.S. space policy.

Space News published on October 19 a guest column by two Trump campaign surrogates detailing what they say would be a Trump administration space policy. A second “peace through strength” Trump column appeared on October 24, written by the same authors.

Mr. Trump was supposed to have toured Kennedy Space Center yesterday, but bailed on that for a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. Marcia Smith of reported on his space-related comments. Trump insulted NASA, stating, “I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity. Big deal.” Anyone paying attention knows that the human spaceflight part of the agency is focused on developing the technology and strategy to put a human on Mars by the end of the 2030s. NASA robotic craft are at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and last year flew past Pluto.

Trump claimed, “My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here.” That contradicts what he said to a ten-year old boy in New Hampshire last November, telling the lad that filling potholes is more important.

The Clinton campaign until now hasn't said much about space, but yesterday Clinton surrogate Jim Kohlenberger published on Space News what he claimed will be her space policy.

The column has little in the way of new initiatives, but Kohlenberger did write this interesting passage:

And, to solve problems more effectively and expeditiously, she will elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives and accelerate the development of advanced new technologies — multiplying what we can achieve in space and providing taxpayers even more bang for their buck.

I find the phrase “elevate executive branch coordination of federal agency space initiatives” curious. It could just be a surrogate writing filler. Or it might signal an intent to create a Cabinet-level science technology agency. Some space advocates have dreamed that NASA become a Cabinet-level agency. That won't happen, but a Cabinet-level agency dedicated to science might be plausible, if it can get past Congress.

The balance of the article seems to support the Obama-era space policies, although no specific mention is made of Congress' favorite pork project, the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System, because Congress created SLS in 2010 to protect Shuttle-era jobs in the space-related states and districts of certain members of Congress.

President Obama will be in Orlando Friday for a Clinton campaign rally at the University of Central Florida. It's too much to hope that Obama might take one final lap at KSC, but let's see if he makes any space-related comments.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Empty Space

First Lady Hillary Clinton (left) with first female Space Shuttle commander Eileen Collins at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC on March 5, 1998.

The news broke earlier today that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign has cancelled plans announced earlier this week to tour Kennedy Space Center on October 24 or 25.

The invitation came from the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, whose web site describes the agency as “an innovative, countywide, not-for-profit partnership between the Brevard County Commission and the Space Coast business community. Business leaders, chambers of commerce, local and state government leaders, and community organizations contribute to the overall mission of the EDC.”

According to the October 18 Florida Today report, the EDC issued invitations to both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

If the Clinton campaign responded, we haven't heard about it.

From a calculated political perspective, there's little upside to Clinton spending campaign time in Brevard County.

As I wrote on October 18, the county is a safe Republican district. In the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate lost by anywhere from about 10% to 16%. For this election, about 42% of the county is registered Republican, while 32% are Democrat.

As of this writing, election forecast web site projects that Clinton will beat Trump in Florida by 49.2% to 45.5%. Both candidates will be trolling safe districts in the next two weeks trying to increase turnout. Few undecided voters remain, and early voting has already begun in the state. estimates that, as of this writing, Clinton has an 85.8% chance of winning the electoral college and therefore the Presidency. Her margin of victory in the college would be about 140 votes.

So let's go with the statistical data, and assume Clinton is elected President.

What might be her administration's space policy?

Hard to say.

Visit her campaign web site, and you won't find any position papers on space policy.

Space News posted on October 10 a side-by-side comparison of space policy responses from the two campaigns. Neither offered much in the way of specifics or new initiatives, although Clinton's responses were lengthier. Clinton seems inclined to continue the Obama administration's space policy, which largely reflects a compromise between the NewSpace policy of the current administration and the preference of Congress to protect OldSpace pork for their districts and states.

The Clinton campaign's response stated:

Mars is a consensus horizon goal, though to send humans safely, we still need to advance the technologies required to mitigate the effects of long-duration, deep-space flight.

The Trump campaign said nothing about Mars, instead proposing “a comprehensive review of our plans for space, and will work with Congress to set both priorities and mission.”

NASA is much more than a deep-space human exploration program. The Clinton campaign acknowledges that, discussing both civilian and military space activities, robotic exploration, investment in innovation, studying climate change, and public-private partnerships.

But no new initiatives are proposed. No grand vision is offered.

Hillary Clinton with President Bill Clinton in the Launch Control Center for the STS-95 Shuttle launch on October 29, 1998. The First Couple attended because former astronaut and senator John Glenn was on the flight.

One significant difference between the two candidates has been their perspectives on the female gender, and their differences extend to the space program as well.

Clinton often tells a story about how as a child she wrote NASA asking how she could become an astronaut. She claims to have received a reply from NASA telling her there would be no women astronauts. Subsequent research by the Washington Post verified such letters were sent by NASA during the period.

A President Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be more vocal in opening opportunities for females, not just in the government but in the nation as a whole.

We might even see the first female NASA Administrator.

President George W. Bush appointed the first female deputy administrator, Shana Dale, in 2005.

She was succeeded by Obama appointee Lori Garver, who originally had been the space policy advisor to Clinton's 2008 campaign. Once Clinton lost the nomination to Senator Barack Obama, Garver moved over to the Obama campaign to refine what up to then had been a largely absent, much less coherent, space policy.

Garver's four years were controversial, as she was a vocal proponent of NewSpace, a term generally describing a movement to open space to the private sector through incentives, partnerships and technology transfers.

Garver left in 2013, as Obama's second term began, and was replaced by Dava Newman, an aerospace biomedical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Newman might be a less controversial choice than Garver, whose NewSpace evangelism earned her enemies on Capitol Hill. Freed of political correctness, Garver has spoken her mind since leaving NASA, saying that the agency has a “socialist” approach to space exploration. Garver said in November 2015:

“NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing. Don’t try to compete with the private sector. Incentivize them by driving technologies that will be necessary for us as we explore further.”

It shouldn't be an automatic assumption that women in the space business will line up behind Clinton.

First Lady Hillary Clinton names Eileen Collins the first female Space Shuttle commander on March 5, 1998. Original video source: C-SPAN.

Former astronaut Eileen Collins addresses the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016.

Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle commander, spoke at the Republican National Convention on July 20. She did not specifically endorse Trump, but there were reports that she had deleted a line from the campaign-approved speech doing so. Her speech was riddled with falsehoods about the Obama administration's space policy, and chose to overlook the NewSpace movement.

Collins, ironically, was feted by First Lady Clinton on March 5, 1998 during a ceremony at the White House. The two later went to Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. Ms. Clinton was quoted as saying, “I hope there will be girls in the audience who look up at her and say, that's what I want to do.” Clinton that day repeated the story about her childhood letter to NASA.

During the 2008 general election campaign, President Obama made a campaign stop in Titusville to discuss space policy. During his administration, he twice visited Kennedy Space Center, once in 2010 to deliver a controversial space policy proposal, the second in 2011 to watch a Shuttle launch that was scrubbed. These visits found him little political support in Brevard County, offering more evidence that there's no upside to Clinton spending time here.

A President doesn't have to come to Kennedy Space Center to discuss space policy. John F. Kennedy delivered his famous space policy speech at Rice University in September 1962. George H.W. Bush proposed a Mars program on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. That went nowhere, as have most grandiose space proposals since the Apollo era.

Hillary Clinton's general neglect of any specific space policy is realpolitik. Coming here now, or any time in the next four years, won't affect her election or her political power within the Beltway. Space advocates, justifiably, want to hear more. I wish we would hear more.

But space is, and has been since the late 1960s, a low priority for the federal government. A half-century of wishing otherwise doesn't make it so.

In her inaugural address, Clinton could propose doubling NASA's budget, but it wouldn't matter, because Congress determines NASA's budget and would probably ignore her request. NASA's bureaucracy hasn't shown it can wisely spend money. Any spending increase, in my opinion, should go to NewSpace.

Our NewSpace economy is almost at the point where it's beyond the crawling stage and able to walk on its own. NewSpace companies are contracting with one another to offer services, in low Earth orbit and beyond.

If the new administration is to have any space policy, I'd suggest it would be to get out of the way and let the NewSpace economy lead.

Trump Dump

You can forget any plans for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to tour Kennedy Space Center next week.

Local officials announced on October 18 that Mr. Trump intended to land at the former Shuttle runway, tour facilities, participate in a roundtable discussion with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, and then hold a campaign rally.

Apparently Mr. Trump is more interested in how many people can turn out to cheer for him.

Florida Today space journalist James Dean reports:

Donald Trump's campaign has scrubbed plans for the Republican presidential nominee to tour Kennedy Space Center and talk about the space program in Brevard County this week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump will instead hold a rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, a day after stops in St. Augustine and Tampa.

The switch apparently was made because no indoor venue near KSC was approved for a rally that would draw thousands of supporters, and available outdoor venues presented security concerns.

The article speculates that the Trump campaign still has time to schedule a KSC event before Election Day on Tuesday November 8.

Here in Brevard County, early voting begins on Monday October 24 and runs through Saturday November 5.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Foul Weather

Donald Trump campaigns August 3 in Daytona Beach. Image source: Orlando Sentinel.

Space News published today a space policy guest column by two senior policy advisors to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Nowhere in the article does it state that Mr. Trump himself participated in the writing of the column, or the policies proposed in it. The co-authors simply claim they know what a Trump administration would do.

Robert Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, once chaired the House Science Committee while Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Gingrich reportedly was on the short list of individuals considered to be Trump's vice-presidential running mate. Both are long-time supporters of space exploration, in particular advocating for a larger role by the private sector.

In January 2012, Republican presidential candidate Gingrich delivered a space policy speech in Cocoa, Florida. His proposals got him mocked by rival Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who went on to win the Florida Republican presidential primary and nomination. Saturday Night Live satirized Gingrich's moon base proposal with a skit titled, “Newt Gingrich: Moon President.”

Walker and Gingrich, ironically, endorsed in February 2010 President Barack Obama's space policy program. In a Washington Times guest column, “Obama's Brave Reboot for NASA,” the two took a lonely stance defending the administration's plans to open space to the private sector.

Despite the shrieks you might have heard from a few special interests, the Obama administration’s budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves strong approval from Republicans. The 2011 spending plan for the space agency does what is obvious to anyone who cares about man’s future in space and what presidential commissions have been recommending for nearly a decade.

Peter Navarro, co-author of today's Space News column with Walker, is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of California Irvine. I haven't found anything to suggest Dr. Navarro has any kind of knowledge or experience about the government space program or the emerging NewSpace industry.

The policies and proposals in today's column are not that far off from the Obama administration, which has prioritized NewSpace as a means for lowering the cost and improving the technology to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Unlike Mr. Trump, President Obama put his name on the column that reflects his current space policy. “America Will Take the Giant Leap to Mars“ was posted on on October 11. The President wrote:

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth's orbit. I'm excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we'll need for the long journey to Mars.

Nowhere in Mr. Obama's column does he mention the Space Launch System and its Orion capsule. Congress imposed that program upon NASA in 2010, to protect Space Shuttle and Constellation government contractor jobs in the districts and states of certain members of Congressional space committees. Called the Senate Launch System by its critics, the design was unveiled in September 2011, not by NASA but by members of the House and Senate who imposed SLS upon NASA. They bragged about the jobs they'd saved. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) called it “the Monster Rocket.”

September 14, 2011 ... Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), among other members of Congress, unveil the design for Space Launch System.

Walker and Navarro didn't mention SLS either, but they did write:

Creating the technologies necessary to meet these goals would push us into the forefront of technological development and benefit our economy for decades to come. However, NASA cannot be expected to do this kind of 21st century Apollo-like mission if it is forced to accept outdated operational structures, contracting procedures, and bureaucracies created in the last century.

Space Launch System, wink wink, nudge nudge.

The co-authors claim that “space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government,” without offering any proof to substantiate that. They wrote, “A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president.”

The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests. Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared.

Apparently the co-authors chose to ignore that the United States government has been doing that since NASA began in 1958.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 is NASA's charter. It spells out the agency's charges and permissible activities. Section 102(c) is the key; it lists what NASA is supposed to do. “The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives.” Note that the agency is required only to “contribute materially,” not lead, and for only “one or more” of the listed objectives.

Objective (6) states:

The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defenses of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency.

Objective (8) states:

The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment.

For many years, NASA used boosters developed originally as military weapons to send its payloads into space. Thor, Titan, Redstone, and Atlas were all originally military weapons that NASA purchased or accepted from the military for its programs.

In recent years, commercial launch company United Launch Alliance has used its Delta IV and Atlas V boosters to launch both NASA and military payloads from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Upstart SpaceX recently won its first U.S. Air Force contract, and hopes to one day launch military reconnaissance payloads on its new Falcon Heavy booster. SpaceX is a prime example of the success of NASA's commercial crew and cargo programs, which began in November 2005 under President George W. Bush. By acting as an anchor tenant, NASA helped SpaceX to attract investors to build commercial launch systems. SpaceX spent 100% of the money used to develop the Falcon 9 and the next-generation Falcon Heavy. SpaceX now provides a far cheaper, yet still unproven, option for launching government payloads into space.

The problem with the national space policy council idea is that it's been tried in the past, and never worked.

The 1958 act created a National Aeronautics and Space Council which answered to the President, but its purpose was strictly advisory. President Dwight Eisenhower only agreed to its creation in 1958 after negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, but in 1960 recommended it be abolished.

April 25, 1961 ... President John F. Kennedy signs a bill amending NASA's charter to designate the Vice-President as the space council chair.

In the spring of 1961, President John F. Kennedy charged Vice-President Lyndon Johnson with chairing the council for one specific task — to recommend a response to the Soviet orbiting of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. After that, Johnson had no influence on U.S. space policy until he succeeded the slain President on November 22, 1963.

President Nixon, when he took office in January 1969, appointed his Vice-President Spiro Agnew to a similar advisory role. Their charge was to recommend what to do with NASA once humans walked on the Moon. The advisory report offered a grandiose vision for the future, which was largely ignored, although its recommendation of a Space Transportation System led to the Space Shuttle program.

The Council was abolished in 1973, and briefly revived under George H.W. Bush from 1989 until 1993, then discarded. Vice-President Dan Quayle, chair of the Council, tried to usurp control of NASA from Administrator Richard Truly.

Since then, no President has brought back the Council, although 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at one time did propose its revival. After he became President in January 2009, Obama appointed a Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee to recommend a space policy direction for his administration, but after that space policy remained with NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Nearly sixty years of NASA history have shown that the idea of an advisory space council is a bad one. It will have no authority at best, and at worst will try to interfere with the daily operations of agencies far more knowledgeable about what they do. Neither will an advisory council be able to override Congress, which in the end determines space policy and appropriates the funding for it.

The article also falsely states another reason for NASA's existence, a common falsehood circulated these days by Republican politicians. The co-authors wrote:

NASA was formed in the crucible of Sputnik and took this nation to the moon and stars. Today, it has been largely reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring.

Another Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, falsely claimed that NASA isn't supposed to be involved in earth sciences or studying climate change.

But the first objective stated in NASA's 1958 charter is:

The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.

NASA's roots trace back to the International Geophysical Year, a globally coordinated program by the nations of the Earth to study the planet's meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and atmospheric interaction with space. The United States and Soviet Union, as part of the IGY, would launch the world's first satellites to study those phenomena. In the United States, that program was called Vanguard.

In the Soviet Union, it was Sputnik (Russian for “satellite”).

Public and political hysteria in the United States after the first two Sputniks launched in fall 1957 led to the creation of NASA. Vanguard was transferred to the new civilian agency.

April 1, 1960 ... The first weather satellite image from space, transmitted by TIROS I.

In 1960, NASA began the first weather satellite program, called TIROS (for Television Infrared Observation Satellite). TIROS created the world's first meteorological satellite information system. TIROS provided the first accurate weather forecasts based on data gathered from space, with continuous coverage beginning in 1962.

Collection of data by TIROS and other meteorological observation satellites provided the hard evidence to document climate change, which is why I suspect Republicans are so intent on shutting down NASA's earth science programs.

The article concludes:

Space is the frontier on which American aspiration can become humankind’s inspiration. It is our freedom and our courage that allows us to do great things. Space represents a challenge of infinite proportions. There is no environment more hostile. There are no distances to travel that are greater. And yet Americans seem to know intuitively that the destiny of a free people lies in the stars. Donald Trump fully agrees.

But in November 2015, Trump told a ten-year old boy he'd rather spend money on fixing potholes than on NASA.

And in August, Trump said in Daytona Beach that NASA is a space program “like a Third World nation,” which is laughable considering all that NASA is doing now. He also suggested that the purpose of the space program is to perpetuate government jobs, commenting, “Look what's happened to your employment.”

What does Donald Trump truly believe about NASA and American space activities?

He's scheduled to visit Kennedy Space Center on Monday October 24, which probably explains the timing of this column written by two surrogates. We await to see if what he says on Monday jibes with this column, his August statement, his November statement, or whatever other random thought comes out of his mouth.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Orbital Back in Orbit

Click the arrow to watch the launch of Orbital OA-5 to the ISS. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.

Almost two years after its first version of Antares exploded on launch, Orbital ATK returned to flight at the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport with the launch last night of the company's Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station.

The Orbital OA-5 mission was the first launch of the remodeled Antares booster. The original Antares used refurbished Soviet-era engines. The new version uses Russian RD-181 engines, a variant of the RD-180 used by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V.

After the October 28, 2014 accident, Orbital contracted with ULA to launch the Cygnus atop the Atlas V on two missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, so as to honor their delivery contract with NASA.

Click the arrow to watch the OA-5 post-launch media briefing. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.