WFIRST Continues to Make Progress Despite Cancellation Attempts

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) continues to making steady progress toward an October 2026 launch despite the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to cancel it, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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House Science Committee Leaders Johnson, Horn Criticize NASA Human Landing System Awards

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) — Yesterday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX have been awarded contracts to design and develop Artemis program human landing systems, one of which NASA plans to use for a 2024 lunar landing.

“I am troubled that NASA has decided to ignore congressional intent and instead press forward with Human Landing System awards to try to meet an arbitrary 2024 lunar landing deadline,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As the Apollo program showed us, getting to the Moon and back safely is hard. The multi-year delays and difficulties experienced by the companies of NASA’s taxpayer-funded Commercial Crew program—a program with the far less ambitious goal of just getting NASA astronauts back to low Earth orbit—make clear to me that we should not be trying to privatize America’s Moon-Mars program, especially when at the end of the day American taxpayers—not the private companies—are going to wind up paying the lion’s share of the costs. I want our Nation to pursue the inspiring goals of returning to the Moon and then heading to Mars, but we need to do it sensibly and safely while we also protect the interests of the tax paying public.”

“America’s human space exploration program has inspired generations and led to discovery, development, and innovation,” said Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK). “Returning humans to the Moon safely is an important and worthy endeavor for our nation. It is also a challenging one that requires significant investment of taxpayer dollars to achieve. I was disappointed to see that NASA’s decision on lunar landing systems development starkly contrasts the bipartisan House NASA Authorization bill and the advice of experts on minimizing risk and ensuring the highest likelihood of success in landing humans on the Moon.”

“Unfortunately, more than a year after their announcement to accelerate the Artemis program, NASA has yet to provide Congress a transparent architecture and technical and cost assessment, despite our repeated requests. The American taxpayer deserves to know their money is being spent wisely, especially if they are being asked to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a private lunar landing system. Our nation should dream boldly and pursue aspirational goals but we have to do so thoughtfully and intentionally. I look forward to working with NASA in good faith to steer our nation’s space program in a direction that allows our country to achieve inspiring goals and explore space in a responsible and measured way.”

Space Force Welcomes First Academy Graduates to its Ranks

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, administers the U.S. Space Force Oath of Office to the Eighty-Six Space Force Cadets during the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2020 graduation at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 18, 2020. In all, Nine-hundred-sixty-seven cadets crossed the stage to become the Air Force/Space Force’s newest second lieutenants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) — Eighty-six graduates from the United States Air Force Academy celebrated receiving their diplomas April 18 and moved directly into the U.S. Space Force, marking the first infusion of commissioned personnel into the new service since its creation last year.

Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance at the event and congratulated the entire graduating class.

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AIA CEO Urges American Leaders to Protect Aerospace Workforce

Arlington, Va., March 18, 2020 (AIA PR)  — Today, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President and CEO Eric Fanning released the following statement, which sets a path forward to ensure the resilience of the industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. AIA represents more than 300 companies and the industry’s 2.5 million workers — ranging from multinational prime contractors to family-owned businesses.

“Unprecedented challenges present unprecedented opportunities for America’s leaders to work together to support our country’s economic and national security. Few industries are more inextricably linked to our nation’s continued success and global competitiveness than aerospace and defense. Our people, products, and common supply chain help to power our economy and to provide our warfighters—many of whom are currently deployed—the world-class capabilities and tools they need to defend our nation’s security.

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Commercial Spaceflight Federation Seeks Bailout Money for Industry

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the economy grinding to a halt, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is seeking billions of dollars from the federal government to keep the rockets launching on time.

In a March 18 letter sent to Congressional leaders, CSF President Eric Stallmer proposed establishing “a $5 billion grant and/or low-interest loan program to ensure the continued availability of critical aerospace infrastructure, capability, personnel, and mission readiness to maintain assured access to space for national security, civil, and commercial space missions.

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Space Commerce Office Seeks Major Budget Increase

Wilbur Ross

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is seeking a major boost in its budget from $2.3 million to $15 million for fiscal year 2021.

The office’s director, Kevin O’Connell, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the bulk of the increase would go toward improving space situational awareness (SSA) so objects in Earth orbit can be accurately tracked and collisions that increase space debris can be avoided.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants OSC to be elevated from an office within NOAA to a higher profile bureau that would be headed by an assistant secretary. The new bureau would be in charge of non-military SSA activities and a host of other activities.

Congress has not approved either the creation of the bureau nor giving the Commerce Department authority over SSA. Different bills are pending in the Senate and House that address Ross’ plan and which government agency will oversee SAA activities.

Congress is now considering the FY 2021 budget proposal, which the Trump Administration unveiled last Monday.

Trump Calls for Full Support for Artemis Moon Program

Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump urged Congress to fully fund NASA’s Artemis program to astronauts on the moon in 2024.

The Administration will release its budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year next week. We will finally get some idea of what the program will actually cost for the first time since the Administration moved the landing date up from 2028 last March.

Congress will probably gag if the estimate is too high. It won’t take the proposal seriously if the Administration tries to low ball the estimate.

Trump’s ideas for how to fund Artemis — by cutting Earth science and other NASA programs — probably won’t go over any better with Congress than they did in previous years.

And Congress probably won’t pass a budget until next fall, probably after the election.

Other than that, no problemo.

China’s Ambitious Plans to Dominate Cislunar Space

China’s Yutu 2 rover drives off the Chang’e-4 lander. (Credit: CNSA)

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine China’s plans to achieve a commanding position in cislunar space. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China is determined to establish a commanding position in cislunar space, seeing it as a strategic location from which to dominate the final frontier.

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EXIM Bank Reauthorized for Seven Years

Washington, D.C. (Ex-Im Bank PR) – President Donald J. Trump signed legislation today that reauthorized the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) for a historic length of seven years. The bipartisan legislation approved by Congress achieved two important goals: providing certainty to American businesses and workers that EXIM is fully open for business, and giving clear direction to focus on the economic and national security challenges from China. 

“I thank President Trump for making history today by signing into law the longest reauthorization of EXIM in the agency’s 85-year history,” said EXIM President and Chairman Kimberly A. Reed. “The legislation signed into law by the President also directs EXIM to focus on the important economic and national security challenges posed by China, which at my direction, EXIM has prioritized since my confirmation in May. I am proud to have the support of President Trump and Congress in this undertaking.”

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Legislation to Create Space Force as 6th Branch of Armed Forces

The White House and Congress have worked out a deal that will establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Services in exchange for 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees with newborn babies.

The details of the Space Force taken from a summary of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are below.

Space Force

The FY20 NDAA recognizes space as a warfighting domain and establishes the U.S. Space Force in Title 10 as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the U.S. Air Force. In doing so, the NDAA provides the Secretary of the Air Force with the authority to transfer Air Force personnel to the newly established Space Force. To minimize cost and bureaucracy, the Space Force will require no additional billets and remains with the President’s budget request.

The conference agreement creates a Chief of Space Operations (CSO) for the U.S. Space Force who will report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During the first year, the CSO may also serve as the Commander of U.S. Space Command. The CSO will provide updates to the committees of jurisdiction every 60 days, with briefings and reports on implementation and establishment status. The conference report also creates:

  • A Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, as the senior space architect, who will:
    • Provide a renewed focus on the acquisition of space systems as the Chair of the Space Force Acquisition Council, ensuring integration across the national security space enterprise;
    • Synchronize with the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive on all space system efforts, and take on Service Acquisition Executive responsibilities for space systems and programs effective on October 1, 2022; and
    • Oversee and direct the Space and Missile Systems Center, Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and Space Development Agency.
  • An Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy as the senior civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for oversight of space warfighting.

China Aims to Knock Out U.S. Space Systems in Conflict

China’s 2007 test of its ground-based ASAT missile destroyed one of its own defunct satellites in LEO. The graphic depicts the orbits of trackable debris generated by the test 1 month after the event. The white line represents the International Space Station’s orbit. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Continuing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine the growing threat from China’s military space systems. [Full Report]

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China has spent the last 15 years testing kinetic kill, directed energy, electromagnetic, cyber and other systems in an effort to develop methods for crippling American satellites during a conflict.

“China’s development of offensive space capabilities may now be outstripping the United States’ ability to defend against them, increasing the possibility that U.S. vulnerability combined with a lack of a credible deterrence posture could invite Chinese aggression,” according to a new report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

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House Science Committee Not Buying Ajit Pai’s Assurances on Weather Forecasting

Ajit Pai

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The battle over 5G wireless frequency allocation is heating up.

On  one side, there’s NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who say that spectrum in the 24GHz band the government recently auctioned off to private companies will likely result in cell signals that would interfere with accurate weather forecasting.

On the other side is Federal Communications Commission  and its chairman, Ajit Pai, who ignored requests to delay the auction while more studies were done. Pai recently told the Senate Science Committee to ignore what he called faulty data presented by NASA and NOAA at the 11th hour.

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Bridenstine: NASA Needs Funding Surge to Land on Moon by 2024

Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceNews reports that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine didn’t do much on Wednesday to clear up what the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 is going to cost in testimony before the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bridenstine declined to offer a dollar figure, saying that the agency submitted a “pretty good” proposal to the Office of Management and Budget, which is performing its own review along with the staff of the National Space Council. The goal, he said, is to “come up with a unified administration position” on how much additional funding NASA will request.
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Bill Asks for NASA Report on Establishment of Space Resources Institute

A vision of a future Moon base that could be produced and maintained using 3D printing. (Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A bill seeking a report on whether NASA should establish a space resources institute has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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NASA Galactica: The Plan

No. 6 with two old model Cylons.

“The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.”

— Battlestar Galactic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Watching the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactic,” I was never quite sure exactly what the Cylons’ plan was beyond the whole exterminate all humans with nukes thing. In an apparent nod to this lack of clarity, the producers created a two-hour TV movie called, “Battlestar Galactic: The Plan,” to explain it all.

NASA has suffered from a similar lack of clarity over the past week. At a National Space Council meeting last Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced it was the Trump Administration’s policy to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon by the presidential election year of 2024 — four years ahead of the current schedule.

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