Quick Takes (08-01-2016)

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Mark Kelly at DNC 2016

“From orbit, I saw our planet as a perfect blue marble, just floating there in the blackness of space. But I also saw receding glaciers and shrinking rain forests. At war, and in space, I saw the awesome extent of American power and capability. But it was so frustrating to return home and see how we struggle to address some of our greatest challenges.”

— Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, speaking July 27 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Kelly spoke primarily about gun violence and not space policy in his brief address.


Former astronaut Eileen Collins speaking at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 20. Credit: RNC webcast

“Nations that lead on the frontier lead in the world. We need that visionary leadership again, leadership  … that will challenge every American to ask, ‘What’s next?’ We need leadership that will make America’s space program first again, and we need leadership that will make America great again.”

— Former NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, speaking July 20 at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland praised the country’s achievements in the Apollo program on the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, while also suggesting the nation was no longer a leader in space.


Conventional Wisdom

Democrats added a space policy plank to their 2016 platform. The updated platform includes one paragraph about NASA, with general support for the space agency and space exploration. “We will strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space,” it stated, without offering specifics. An earlier draft of the platform included no mention of NASA.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called NASA “wonderful” during a July 27 “ask me anything” discussion on Reddit. When asked about the role NASA should play in his campaign’s theme to “make America great again,” Trump responded, “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful! America has always led the world in space exploration.” That is a different theme than one offered at the Republican National Convention, when former astronaut Eileen Collins called for “leadership that will make America’s space program first again.”


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stands for the national anthem before the start of a July 20 baseball game between the L.A. Dodgers and Washington Nationals. Bolden and other NASA officials were recognized on the field before the game, which coincided with the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stands for the national anthem before the start of a July 20 baseball game between the L.A. Dodgers and Washington Nationals. Bolden and other NASA officials were recognized on the field before the game, which coincided with the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Charles in Charge

SAGAL: It is true that your voice was the first broadcast to Mars.

BOLDEN: Actually from Mars.

SAGAL: From Mars?

BOLDEN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Oh, how did that work?

BOLDEN: We sent the file to Mars, to the Curiosity Rover.

SAGAL: Yeah.

BOLDEN: And then when Curiosity woke up, it was asked to send my voice back.

SAGAL: Really? And what did you say from Mars?

BOLDEN: I have no idea.

SAGAL: You don’t know?

BOLDEN: No. I don’t remember.

Peter Sagal, host of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me  and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a guest on the show’s July 23 episode. During the show’s “Not My Job” segment, Bolden was quized about about actor Scott Baio, a featured Republican National Convention speaker who starred on the sitcom Charles in Charge (get it?) from 1984-1990. Bolden answered all three mulitple-choice questions correctly.


Significant Digits

$39 billion

The amount the U.S. government spends on civilian and military space programs annually, accounting for roughly half of worldwide government space spending.
$300 million
The amount of money NASA anticipates SpaceX  investing in its Red Dragon Mars lander program over the next four years. That’s about 10 times what NASA expects to spend over the same period providing technical support to SpaceX under an unfunded Space Act Agreement.

15,000

The number of subscribers Dish Network lost las quarter due to “stricter customer acquisition policies” and satellite capacity constraints it expects will ease as Hughes  and ViaSat launch new satellites

60

The number of stakeholder organizations across the U.S. Department of Defense, the Executive Office of the President, the Intelligence Community, and civilian agencies that have a role in national security space acquisitions management or oversight, according to a new Government Accountability Office report decrying the fragmentation.

9.4 percent

The decline in revenue Intelsat reported for the last quarter compared to the same three-month period a year ago. Intelsat is hoping its new Epic high-throughput satellites disrupt the entrenched satellite communications market — one that Intelsat itself is heavily invested in. The first Epic spacecraft, Intelsat 29e, entered service last week over Latin America, and competitors said they are seeing new pressure on satellite bandwidth prices there. Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said he believes the Epic satellites, while pushing down prices, will have an “overall positive effect” on the data market by stimulating demand.


An Orion ground test article completed its first swing splash test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia in early June. Credit: NASA

An Orion ground test article completed its first swing splash test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia in early June. Credit: NASA

Orion cost and schedule concerns

NASA has less than a 50 percent chance of having Orion ready for its first crewed mission in 2021, according to a July 27 report by U.S. Government Accountability Office.

NASA is working to an internal goal of August 2021 for that mission, although an analysis done last year set a goal of April 2023 at a confidence level of 70 percent. The GAO says that 2021 date is only at the 40 percent confidence level, making it “aggressive beyond agency policy.” The GAO also concluded that NASA was asking for Orion funding that would only achieve the 2023 date, counting on Congress to provide additional money to keep 2021 feasible.

A second GAO report released the same day raised cost and schedule concerns about the Space Launch System and ground systems in advance of the heavy-lift rocket’s 2018 first launch. NASA says the launch is on schedule for the fall of 2018 despite issues with one element of the Orion spacecraft.

Agency officials told a NASA Advisory Council committee meeting July 25 that they are adjusting the schedule for work leading up to the Exploration Mission 1 launch to account for a delay of at least three months in the delivery of Orion’s service module, being built in Europe. Those changes could include doing a wet dress rehearsal of the SLS on the pad without Orion attached. That mission is scheduled for launch between September and November of 2018.