Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elon Musk Opposes House NASA Funding Bill

Florida Today reports that SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk sent an e-mail blast today hoping to rally opposition to the House FY 2011 NASA funding bill.

"Despite the imminent retirement of the Space Shuttle, H.R. 5781 authorizes over five times as many taxpayer dollars to fly NASA astronauts on the Russian Soyuz than it invests in developing an American commercial alternative, moreover at a time when jobs are sorely needed in the United States," Musk writes. "Quite simply, this bill represents the sort of senseless pork politics that has driven our national debt to the point where our economy can barely service it."

UPDATE July 30, 2009Florida Today reports that Musk met with their editorial board to discuss his position.

"It seems like just a basic rule of thumb -- maybe you want to spend as much on the American team as you do on the Russians," Musk said in a meeting with FLORIDA TODAY's editorial board at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Articles of Interest

Florida Today reported on July 27 that United Space Alliance notified 900 local employees they'll be laid off by October 1.

Laid off workers will receive between four and 26 weeks of pay, depending on their years of service. Some identified as having "critical" skills will receive an additional bonus of 15 to 26 weeks' pay.

My personal experience, and most people I know, is that you get no advance notice of a layoff. You're marched out the door. My last employer offered one week's pay for each year of service. My wife got two weeks per year.

The future of America's space program should be guided by need, but as Florida Today reported on July 27 it's all about politics.

President Barack Obama's proposals for NASA calls for using federal money to help commercial companies develop rockets and spacecraft that could carry crews to the space station, while NASA prepares for future missions beyond Earth's orbit.

Obama wants to spend $312 million next year to help such companies develop rockets to carry cargo and $500 million to help them prepare to carry people. He would spend $3.3 billion over a three-year period to foster commercial crew services, with the total growing to $6 billion over five years.

The Senate science and appropriations committees agreed to spend $312 million next year supporting commercial cargo rockets and $300 million supporting commercial crews. The combined amount would increase to $500 million in 2012 and 2013, for a total of $1.6 billion over three years.

The House science committee was stingier, agreeing to $14 million for cargo rockets and $50 million for crew rockets, with a $100 million loan program for commercial rocket developers. The three-year total wouldn't reach $1 billion.

The question now is whether members of the House Appropriations subcommittee governing NASA will go along with the amounts approved by their colleagues on the science panel or will choose those approved by the Senate committees, a compromise that also has the administration's backing.

Jeff Foust, as always, wrote an excellent analysis of the budget process for The Space Review. He quotes PoliSpace president Jim Muncy:

The real fight, Muncy said, is between "a white-collar welfare state space program and a frontier-opening, settlement-enabling, future-changing space strategy." Put another way, he said, "We can’t let this conversation be about SpaceX versus ATK, or how NASA astronauts get to space. We have to make it about the future of humanity."

Some members of those Congressional committees who felt the space pork coming to their districts was threatened by the Obama budget proposal claimed the administration was illegally terminating the Constellation program and demanded the Government Accountability Office investigate. The GAO did, and concluded the administration acted legally. According to Florida Today:

U.S. Government Accountability Office attorneys found "no evidence" that NASA was holding back Constellation funds or "taking any steps to terminate or end the Constellation program."

They also said NASA wasn't wrong to ask contractors to set aside nearly $1 billion to cover the cost of terminating contracts, but took no position on whether past contracts had established different expectations.

The opinion responded to a request from members of Congress who criticized a June 9 letter from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as a back-door effort to kill Constellation, the return-to-the moon program that President Barack Obama wants to cancel.

Click here to read the report. No sign of apology from those who made the false accusations.

Aviation Week reports the recently released National Space Policy "remains largely consistent with that of previous administration," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Many of his commercial space guidelines are almost verbatim those of President [George W.] Bush," CSIS found. "Like previous administrations, however, the policy was issued without an executable strategy, the absence of which may render accomplishment of the policy’s goals problematic."

Space News notes that CSIS believes, "The U.S. government should permit China to launch U.S.-built commercial satellites and force an overhaul of the U.S. Air Force’s relationship with its principal launch-services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), as part of a strategy to assure long-term access to commercial satellite bandwidth."

The National Space Policy is not law. It just expresses the President's direction for the nation's space activities. As we've seen with this year's budget hearings, Congress is free to ignore the National Space Policy and usually does. So it would seem to me that any blame lies not with the White House, but with Congress.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bumper 60th Anniversary

Bumper 8 launched at 9:28 AM Eastern Time on July 24, 1950. Click here to see more photos on

Florida Today reports that sixty years ago today a captured German V-2 missile designated Bumper 8 launched from Cape Canaveral, becoming the first official launch from the Space Coast.

Bumper 8 launched from Pad 3 at the Joint Long Range Proving Ground, now known as the Air Force Eastern Range.

Since then, more than 3,400 missiles, rockets and spaceships have launched from the range, which provides tracking and public safety services for all launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Florida Today Updates FY 2011 NASA Budget Process

The July 22 Florida Today updates the NASA budget process for FY 2011.

The article correctly notes the lawmakers are more interested in redirecting pork to their districts than any meaningful long-range plan for America's space program. Particularly shameful is Alabama's Senator Richard Shelby, who said:

The president's budget proposal surrendered our nation's leadership in space to the Russians, Chinese and Indians, and instead chose to set up an entitlement program for the so-called commercial space industry.

Shelby is either a shameless liar or a lunatic.

It was the Bush Administration in January 2004 that opted to go with the Russians for International Space Station access once Shuttle was retired — a decision made that month by Bush. His administration signed several agreements during the remainder of his term buying astronaut time on Soyuz.

The Chinese have launched only three human flights, none with more than two people aboard.

The Indians?! They've never even launched a human.

This is why Citizens Against Government Waste named Shelby the Porker of the Month for June 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Boeing, Bigelow Combine to Provide Access to Private Space Station

Bigelow's proposed BA 330 inflatable space station module.

Aviation Week reports that "Boeing will use the commercial crew capsule it is developing under an agreement with NASA to provide transportation to the private space station that Bigelow Aerospace intends to have in service by 2015."

Dubbed the CST-100, for Crew Transportation System, the partially reusable capsule will be able to fly unmanned or with as many as seven astronauts to the Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex. The commercial facility is to be built with inflatable modules and have a volume about two-thirds that of the International Space Station (ISS).

Boeing is maturing its design for the vehicle under an $18 million Commercial Crew Development Space Act agreement with NASA.

Brewster Shaw, a former astronaut who leads Boeing’s space exploration efforts, says the ultimate goal is for the CST-100 to be the seed from which Boeing will grow a space business analogous to its vast commercial airplanes segment.

While Boeing says it would be difficult to develop the CST-100 without NASA’s commitment to go forward with a commercial crew vehicle, company officials also say servicing the ISS alone would probably not support the business case for the vehicle.

Congress Fiddles with NASA

Constellation apparently won't survive the Congressional budget process in its current form, although elements may continue to ensure pork for the districts of certain elected officials.

The Senate Commerce Committee and the House Science Committee are moving ahead with their respective bills authorizing the FY 2011 NASA budget.

The Senate bill has already passed its committee, while the House bill is still in markup.

Click here to read the House bill.

Click here to read a press release about the Senate bill.

The consensus seems to be that both houses are keeping in place much of the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget, but are underfunding key elements such as the migration to commercial space to ensure pork continues to flow to their respective districts.

Aviation Week reported on July 16 about the Senate committee's bill:

A NASA oversight committee unanimously passed a bill July 15 that supports the Obama administration's plan to end the Constellation Moon program — in name anyway — but replaces the White House’s proposed technology initiatives with a heavy-lift rocket program, continued support for the space shuttle and an Orion-like capsule capable of deep space travel.

The spending plan passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation keeps NASA’s overall budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 at $19 billion, as requested by the White House. However, rather than spending $6 billion over five years to seed commercial launch services for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, the Senate plan requests $1.6 billion over three years for commercial launch development.

Spaceflight Now reported on July 20 about the House bill:

A draft NASA bill being considered by the House Science Committee does not provide for an extra space shuttle mission and undercuts a compromise forged last week between the White House and Senate.

The legislation calls for NASA to restructure its exploration program and develop a government-owned transportation system for U.S. astronauts by the end of 2015 ...

The House committee, chaired by Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., directs NASA to build upon $9 billion already invested in the Constellation program, which the White House proposed terminating in its February budget request for fiscal year 2011.

The Obama administration has claimed that if the government continues to build its own rockets, it effectively kills the commercial industry because the government will have no need to purchase rides on commercial vehicles. The logic seems sound; if the government built its own cars, then a government agency would be unlikely to buy a Ford or Chevy as a staff car.

In any case, both bills will move on to the respective houses' appropriations committees, where the interests are different and many members couldn't care less about which space center gets what pork.

After both houses pass their bills, they go to reconciliation to combine the bills into a final version. The reconciled bill, after final passage by both houses, goes to the President for signature.

So we have a long way to go before seeing what sausage finally comes out of the grinder.

UPDATE July 21, 2010Florida Today reports on the House Science Committee's draft bill and seems to conclude it's a disaster for the Space Coast.

A House committee drafted legislation that would give NASA $19 billion next year, as President Obama has proposed, but with far different spending priorities than the White House and Senate have supported.

There is no additional shuttle flight, funding would be slashed for commercial rockets and NASA would be told to "restructure" the Constellation program that Obama wanted to kill. The bill diverges significantly from a measure approved by a Senate panel last week, which the White House supports ...

"If this goes forward, we're going to remain in . . . purgatory for quite some time," said Dale Ketcham, director of the University of Central Florida's Spaceport Research and Technology Institute. "I think the people who will be most happy here are the Russians, because clearly we'll be relying on them to get to the space station for a long, long time."

Russians to Build New Spaceport

The Russians plan to modernize their civilian launch capability by building a new spaceport in the Far Eastern Amur region.

BBC News reports that Russia will spend $800 million to build a new spaceport in the Far East, according to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The move is meant to ease the dependence on the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan, built during the Soviet-era.

The future cosmodrome will be built near the town of Uglegorsk in the Far Eastern Amur region, close to the border with China.

It is planned to be mostly used for civilian launches and should be operational by 2015.

The Obama administration's FY 2011 NASA budget proposes to spend $2 billion dollars over the next five years on modernizing Kennedy Space Center, although it's been under attack by members of Congress who want the pork redirected to their districts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

CAIB Members: Obama Space Plan Is Safe

The Orlando Sentinel reports a letter sent to Congress by five members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) states that President Obama's new direction for NASA can be "just as safe, if not more safe, than government-controlled alternatives" and "will achieve higher safety than that of the Space Shuttle."

In contrast to Ares I and Orion, intended to both bring crews to the Space Station and to launch complex exploration missions, the commercial services under consideration as part of the President’s new plan are focused exclusively on the mission of safely transporting humans to low Earth orbit. These services may well use the extensively proven Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) such as Atlas V and Delta IV that have executed thirty-four successful launches in total to date. We anticipate that newer commercial vehicles such as Falcon 9 will also build up a strong history of cargo carrying launches over the next few years.

Click here to read the letter.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

Meet Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud of Saudi Arabia, who flew on the Space Shuttle in 1985 at the invitation of the Reagan administration.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden gave an interview on July 1, 2010 to the English-language version of the Al Jazeera television network. Bolden said President Obama had charged him with reaching out to the Arab world so they can help contribute to the International Space Station and other global spacefaring efforts.

Click here to watch the complete interview on YouTube.

Bolden's remarks generated much outrage — some of it no doubt feigned — on right-wing propaganda outlets and also among those opposed to Obama's FY 2011 proposed NASA budget. Florida Today reported on July 7:

On Fox News Channel, commentator Charles Krauthammer called Bolden's comments "a new height of fatuousness. NASA was established to get America into space and to keep us there. This idea of 'to feel good about your past scientific achievements' is the worst kind of group therapy, psycho-babble, imperial condescension and adolescent diplomacy. If I didn't know that Obama had told him this, I'd demand the firing of Charles Bolden."

Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan went on Fox News and called on Bolden to resign after his Al Jazeera remarks. Cernan is a vocal advocate of Constellation.

Apparently none of these critics have heard of Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud.

He was a Saudi Arabian who flew on STS-51G Discovery in June 1985 at the invitation of the Reagan administration.

To quote from a September 19, 1985 Los Angeles Times article:

NASA offered the Arab League the opportunity to fly a payload specialist as part of its policy toward countries and companies doing business with it. The League decided that rather than open a competition among its 22 members, the opportunity would go to Saudi Arabia, Prince Sultan said, because it was the major shareholder.

The quotes about his flight that Prince Sultan gave to the Times sound exactly like what it is that Bolden (and Obama) intend to accomplish today with the Arab world:

He is well aware of the symbolic significance of being the first Arab astronaut. He carried not only a Koran with him on his space voyage, but an astrolabe, the instrument of astronomical computation used in the medieval Islamic world. While he might not feel like the personification of the Islamic renaissance, he knows the comparison is not without meaning.

It is not coincidental that so many of the stars have Arab names, he said, referring to the astronomers, mathematicians and physicists of that earlier time.

"We had our own NASA a long time ago . . . " he said. "We went into a tailspin for a while. Hopefully this will be a revival of that."

Although at least 80% of the population of his strictly Muslim society is conservative, he said, his trip into space and the revival he envisions is ccompatible with Islam ...

"We can see a future role for ourselves in the world. Not to compete, but to contribute."

For all his nationalism, like others who have gone up in space and taken a look at the Earth, the prince described its profound effect on him, and the sense it gave him of a world community.

While still in space he was interviewed and asked how the trouble in the Middle East seemed from up there. He remarked at the time that all the trouble spots of the world seemed the same, and rather small. Perhaps, he said, those who were causing the trouble should come up for a look.

Now, he said, he does not believe in passports and visas and, in fact, almost left Saudi Arabia without his. It seems absurd to him, in particular, that an astronaut should have a passport.

"The first day or two up there, you try to recognize the countries, especially Saudi Arabia. It stands out. It's very distinct. Then, you keep missing the countries and you look only at the continents. By the sixth day, the whole world becomes a beautiful blue and white and yellow painting. Those boundaries really disappear. With me they still are."

An article in the January-February 1986 issue of Saudi Aramco World details all the positive public relations the United States and NASA received as a result of the Saudi prince's flight on Discovery.

The impact of his becoming an astronaut, and the flight into space, Prince Sultan went on, was tremendous, especially on young people in Saudi Arabia. "I think it showed them that space, like the rest of high technology, is not the exclusive hunting ground of the West and that - literally - not even the sky is the limit any more." In addition, he said, the flight had an important effect on Saudi-American friendship. "This flight," he told Charles Wick of the USIS, "had more effect than a million hours of Voice of America broadcasting because it showed our friendship."

The National Aeronautics and Space Act specifically requires NASA to reach out to other nations. One NASA objective, Section 102(d)(7), is:

Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results thereof.

Seems straightforward enough to me. It was straightforward enough for Reagan.

But apparently it wasn't straightforward enough for Florida Today columnist John Kelly, who wrote in a July 11 article:

If you're concerned about NASA's future, you should be incredibly concerned about Administrator Charlie Bolden's interview on an Arab television network.

If you're passionate about space exploration, you should be fired up about the web- and cable-news furor over Bolden saying improving relations with Muslims is "foremost" among the goals President Barack Obama gave him when he took over NASA.

You should be hopping mad. You should be complaining to elected officials and decision-makers, at NASA headquarters, the White House and Congress. You should demand immediate action to rectify a crisis that threatens to stymie America's space program.

John Kelly, meet Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud.

UPDATE July 19, 2010 — Jeff Foust of The Space Review offers this insight into the "Muslim" flap.

... Bolden's statements did catch fire primarily among conservative commentators, who expressed varying degrees of outrage about Bolden's comments. However, they typically did little else, like digging into the issue to see if NASA's actions, beyond the administrator’s comments, matched their rhetoric. If they had, they might have found that such outreach — and controversy — wasn’t new: in a February speech Bolden talked about reaching out to "non-traditional" partners, including "dominantly Muslim countries", although not as the agency’s "foremost" mission. (And lest one think that such outreach is limited to the current administration, recall that a quarter-century ago a Saudi prince flew as a payload specialist on a shuttle flight.) Moreover, NASA's budget proposals and other actions provide scant evidence that the agency is reorienting to make outreach to Muslim nations a major priority, let alone its "foremost" one.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

National Space Policy Released

President Obama's National Space Policy emphasizes collaboration in space and growing the commercial space industry.

The Obama administration revealed on June 28 the latest update of the government's National Space Policy. The last update was August 2006 during the Bush administration, and before that 1996 during the Clinton administration. The policy statement covers the nation's military and civilian space activities.

The National Space Policy is not law, of course.

According to a fact sheet issued by the White House, the policy "expresses the President’s direction for the Nation’s space activities."

The White House also issued a statement by the President.

Our policy reflects the ways in which our imperatives and our obligations in space have changed in recent decades. No longer are we racing against an adversary; in fact, one of our central goals is to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space, which not only will ward off conflict, but will help to expand our capacity to operate in orbit and beyond.

One main argument by many opposed to Obama's proposed FY 2011 NASA budget is that they claim we're still in a "space race," that the Russians are our enemies, that the Chinese will soon land humans on the Moon.

The truth is that the first Bush administration in the early 1990s reached agreements with the Russians to collaborate in space, including the June 1992 Joint Statement on Cooperation in Space that set the groundwork for a series of U.S. Shuttle flights to the Russian space station Mir. American astronauts have been flying on Soyuz craft since Norm Thagard flew to Mir in March 1995.

Providing fodder for the Cold War conspiracy theorists was the revelation last week that eleven people had been arrested for allegedly spying on behalf of Russia, although it's unclear how many were actually Russian and whether they ever had access to any significant sensitive information. According to the Washington Post:

The operation, referred to by U.S. investigators as "the Illegals program," was aimed at placing spies in nongovernmental jobs, such as at think tanks, where they could glean information from policymakers and Washington-connected insiders without attracting attention.

There's some speculation this so-called "spy ring" may have been a forgotten relic from the last days of the Cold War.

In any case, all nations spy on each other just to gather intelligence. Israel has been caught spying on the United States, most infamously the Jonathan Pollard case, yet no one would deny that Israel and the U.S. have a firm alliance. We are most certainly spying on the Russians; I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few weeks the Russians round up some Americans in Moscow and eject them from the country for "spying."

As for China, they have no active human lunar program. They're more focused now on launching a space station by the early 2020s, although it appears that feelers are out for China to join the International Space Station partnership. It appears more likely that China may send robotic missions about ten years from now to sample the lunar surface and perhaps return moon rocks to Earth. You may recall the United States brought back moon rocks from 1969 to 1972, so it won't exactly be unprecedented except for the use of robotic craft — which would raise the question of why we should spent a lot of money to send humans on a dangerous and expensive mission just to collect more rocks when robots can do it more cheaply and safely.

The general consensus seems to be that Obama's policy most significantly differs from his predecessor on the subject of multilateral cooperation. This analysis appeared in Space News:

Obama’s space policy reserves America’s right to protect its space systems, but also leaves the door open to international discussions aimed at limiting space-based weapons, something the Bush administration rejected on grounds that such arrangements would be difficult if not impossible to verify. The new policy also invites outside participation in developing key technologies for deep space exploration.

"The most striking change in the new National Space Policy is the recognition of mutual interdependence among the United States and the other space-capable countries of the world," said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs here. "The policy acknowledges that the United States needs partners in making sure that space remains a sustainable environment for what this country wants to do in space, and commits the United States to take the lead in working with other countries to achieve that goal."

Logsdon said the government now formally acknowledges that the United States will be better off if it shares responsibilities and costs in many areas while still retaining a unilateral capability in critical ones.

"This shift away from unilateral leadership to leadership among partners is a sea change,” he said. “The many specific cooperative activities outlined in the policy follow from that basic recognition."

Aviation Week reported on June 27 that "Deputy Administrator Lori Garver was in Berlin last week on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also take her to Paris and Vienna. Garver said the trip is intended to explain new programs planned and solicit potential international cooperation, even though formal commitments will have to await approval of the agency’s new budget."

The article suggests the two main areas for increased cooperation are earth science reseach and the International Space Station.

A second major focus of Garver’s trip involves discussions to extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2020. Europe is keen on developing a cargo return capsule based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle. A feasibility study for the concept, known as the Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV), is to be completed toward year-end and a development proposal could be presented in 2011/2012.

ESA envisions proposing the ARV, which would have ten times the download capacity of the Soyuz, as a replacement or complement for two additional ATVs that it could be expected to supply for the ISS extension in return for utility services.

However, ESA head Dordain says Europe will not embark on ARV development until the five ISS partners agree on common download requirements. "One thing the shuttle retirement has taught us is that we need to adopt a common approach to space transportation, from cargo download/upload to crew transport," says Dordain. ESA is circulating a common transportation policy proposal as part of the extension talks.

Some partners have reacted positively to the proposal but others, including the U.S., appear reticent, Dordain says. Garver says NASA is "in favor of common requirements" and will do all it can "to promote a more robust, redundant space transportation system."