Bolden Says SLS “Will Go Away,” Expects Few Other Changes at NASA if Biden Elected

Charles Bolden

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.

“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”

Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.

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Chairwoman Johnson Demands Cooperation from Department of Commerce on Hurricane Dorian OIG Report

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross regarding the July 1 memorandum sent to Secretary Ross by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, Peggy Gustafson. The memo expressed concerns over the Department’s efforts to obstruct the publication of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, which was provided to the Department on June 26 and due to be published on June 29.

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House Science Committee Members Request GAO Review of ISS National Lab

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) along with Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX) sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller Gene Dodaro requesting a broad examination of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space’s (CASIS) performance, management, and governance structure. CASIS is a non-profit organization that currently manages the International Space Station National Laboratory (ISSNL).

In the letter, the Committee leaders express longstanding concerns regarding CASIS’s use of the its ISSNL resource allocation, its internal governance structures, and its transparency and accountability to NASA and Congress, including those identified in a recently released Independent Review Team report.  

“The unique environment offered by the ISSNL is an invaluable resource to facilitate research and development,” said the Committee Chairs and Ranking Members in the letter. “Congress has sought to encourage commercial and cross-agency partnerships as one path to the full utilization of this resource, but CASIS’s organizational struggles appear to have undermined progress. As Congress addresses broader questions surrounding the ISS, its ongoing mission, and the future of NASA-supported research and development in low Earth orbit, it is imperative to ensure that an effective and accountable entity is in place to manage the full range of activities conducted through the ISSNL.”

A copy of the full letter can be found here.

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.”

House Members Ask FCC To Delay Action on Orbital Debris Rules

Distribution of space debris around Earth (Credit: ESA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay action on new orbital debris mitigation rules planned for Thursday.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, the immense effort undertaken to recover from the pandemic, and the potential for the FCC’s proposal to exacerbate impacts on U.S. industry and international competitiveness at a critical period in our nation’s history, we hope that you will agree to postpone future action,” the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai read.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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House & Senate Hearings Set on Space Situational Awareness, Planetary Defense

House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

Space Situational Awareness

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
02:00 PM
2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses

Dr. Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning, Secure World Foundation

Mr. Daniel Oltrogge, Co-Director, Space Safety Coalition, Founder and Administrator, Space Safety Coalition, AIAA Space Traffic Management Space Governance Task Force Chairman, Official International Standards Organization (ISO) representative to the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN COPUOS)

Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz, Professor Emerita of Space Law, University of Mississippi Law Center

Professor Danielle Wood, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group, Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences and Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Webcast

https://science.house.gov/hearings/space-situational-awareness-key-issues-in-an-evolving-landscape

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Space Missions of Global Importance: Planetary Defense, Space Weather Protection, and Space Situational Awareness

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
10:00 a.m
Hart Senate Office Building 216

The hearing will focus on U.S. leadership in space missions vital to the global economy and the protection of human health and life on Earth. Witnesses will also discuss policies, programs, and research that are important for planetary defense, space weather protection, and space situational awareness. 

Witnesses:*

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. William Murtagh, Director, Space Weather Prediction Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce, Department of Commerce

Dr. Moriba Jah, Associate Professor, Advanced Sciences and Technology Research in Astronautics, University of Texas

*Witness list subject to change

Webcast

Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing  will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

House Science Committee Approves Space Weather Bill

Space weather effects. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee has unanimously approved a bill designed to enable the federal government to coordinate its monitoring of and response to space weather events.

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Johnson: Commerce Dept Not Cooperating with SharpieGate Investigation

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a follow up letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama. This letter follows up on the Chairwoman’s September 11 and October 10  requests for information.

“To date, we have received no responsive materials from the Department that would address the items in either of these letters, despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs,” Chairwoman Johnson said in the letter. “The Department of Commerce’s communications with the public on weather forecasting is a critical government function that depends on the public trust in order to ensure the health and safety of all Americans. The Department’s refusals to give a public explanation for its actions in early September and to cooperate with Congressional oversight after the fact are harmful to our national weather enterprise.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.

GAO Report on SLS/Orion: Making Progress, But….

SLS core stage pathfinder is lifted onto the Stennis B-2 test stand (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Government Accountability Office released another depressing review this week of NASA’s Artemis program, specifically looking at the space agency’s progress on the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and the exploration ground systems (EGS) required to support them.

Cristina Chaplain, GAO’s director of Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, summarized the report’s conclusions on Wednesday in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

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House Science Chairwoman Slams Trump Administration’s Artemis Lunar Plans

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

Opening Statement (Excerpt)

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics Hearing:
Developing Core Capabilities for Deep Space Exploration: An Update on NASA’s SLS, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

….I also want to echo Chairwoman Horn’s comment about the lateness of NASA’s testimony. NASA was provided ample advance notice of this hearing and more than sufficient time to prepare testimony and have it reviewed by OMB and whomever else looks over NASA’s testimony these days. The fact that this testimony is overdue is not only frustrating, it leaves Members little opportunity to consider NASA’s testimony in advance of the hearing. If NASA and the Administration can’t meet simple hearing deadlines, it doesn’t inspire great confidence in their ability to meet the much harder deadline of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

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House Science Committee Chairwoman Blasts Ross, Trump on Hurricane Dorian Actions

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2019 – Yesterday, the New York Times reported “Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.”

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.

“I am extremely disturbed by the directive that NOAA leadership sent on September 6, which threatens the integrity and public trust of weather forecasts at the peak of Hurricane season. I am even more distressed to learn that political interference from the Secretary of Commerce may be behind the directive. The Committee will pursue this issue and we expect full cooperation from the Department of Commerce in our efforts. I would remind Department employees of the whistleblower protections afforded them by law. Any employees with information are welcome to share anonymously via the Committee Whistleblower Page.”

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NASA’s Uncertain Path Back to the Moon

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nothing illustrates the changes wrought by the Trump Administration’s decision to move up the deadline for returning astronauts to the moon from 2028 to 2024 than a pair of contracts NASA awarded for the Lunar Gateway that will serve as a staging point for the landing.

In May, Maxar won a competitively awarded $375 million contract to build the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). NASA released a source selection statement that detailed how officials evaluated the five bids they received and why Maxar’s proposal was superior to the others.

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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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House Subcommittee Boosts NASA Budget, Ignores Supplemental Request

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House commerce, justice and science subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2020 budget for NASA that increases the space agency’s budget while ignoring a $1.6 billion supplemental budget request from the Trump Administration that NASA says is required to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon in 2024.

The House measure would boost NASA’s budget from $21.5 billion to $22.32 billion, an increase of $820 million. The amount is below the Trump Administration’s total request of $22.62 million for fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020). That would be an increase of $1.1 billion over NASA’s current budget.

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