Keith's note: According to a release issued today: "The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today approved three bills with bipartisan support. ... Prior to debate on a fourth bill [H.R. 3625] offered by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), the Committee recessed subject to the call of the Chair. Chairman Smith indicated that he expects the Committee to reconvene to consider the bill next week."
Full Bill information (note the cosponsors).
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is going to join the party and will introduce an amendment to give the Webb Space Telescope the same protection against cancellation as SLS and Orion would get under this bill. Think of all the large contracts that will soon be voided and what this means for the way in which NASA engages in contracting for future programs - to say nothing of the contingencies that won't be in place in case a program runs into trouble - and the decreased flexibility the agency will have to manage its finances.
Rep. Brooks is submitting an amendment that says "Page 5, line 6, insert "If the Administration terminates a covered program for the convenience of the Government, then the Administration is responsible for payment of all termination liability costs." after "such prime contracts." In other words, the government accepts all the responsibility and lets the SLS and Orion prime contractors off the hook when it comes to termination costs. This bill only affects the prime contractors. None of the subcontractors get anything out of it i.e. ATK, Aerojet etc. Indeed, they are left holding the bag as far as their potential termination costs are concerned. I have to wonder what CBO will say when it scores this bill and what the Budget Committee might have to say. This bill sets a precedent that could spread across the government.
If passed into law, H.R. 3625 would make it exceptionally difficult to ever halt SLS, Orion, or Webb or to adjust funds internally by treating them in a way that is utterly different than other NASA programs. Indeed it would make these programs into Zombies that can never be killed.
"(2) While the Space Launch System and the Orion programs, currently under development, have made significant progress, they have not been funded at levels authorized, and as a result congressionally authorized milestones will be delayed by several years.
(3) In addition, contractors are currently holding program funding, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to cover the potential termination liability should the Government choose to terminate a program for convenience. As a result, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are unavailable for meaningful work on these programs.
(a) GENERAL RULE. Termination liability costs for a covered program shall be provided only pursuant to this section.
(b) PROHIBITION ON RESERVING FUNDS. The Administrator may not reserve funds from amounts appropriated for a covered program, and shall direct prime contractors not to reserve funds, for potential termination liability costs with respect to a covered program.
(c) INTENT OF CONGRESS. It is the intent of Congress that funds authorized to be appropriated for covered programs be applied in meeting established technical goals and schedule milestones.
(d) VOID CONTRACTUAL PROVISIONS. Any provision in a prime contract entered into before the date of enactment of this Act that provides for the payment of termination liability costs through any means other than as provided in this section is hereby declared to be void and unenforceable.
(1) TERMINATION FOR CONVENIENCE. The Administrator may not initiate termination for the convenience of the Government of a prime contract on a covered program unless such program termination is authorized or required by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act."Congress, SLS and Orion
"Photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures captured this beautiful photograph last Friday at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis. Bileski tells us she was out at the beach attempting to witness and photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club."Categories: Space & Planetary Science
Are the Days of NASA's Science Flagship Missions Over?, Space Policy Online
"NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had a tough message for the space science community today - forget about flagship missions, they're not affordable today. At the very same time on Capitol Hill, however, the chairman of one of NASA's key committees was expressing enthusiasm about a mission to Europa - unquestionably a flagship mission. The disconnect could not be more stark. Flagship missions are NASA's most expensive (over $1 billion) and risky space science missions, but offer exceptional scientific payoff."Categories: Space & Planetary Science
"The Planetary Science Division announces a virtual town hall presenting the Research and Analysis Program Restructuring. The town hall will be held on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm (EST). A presentation by Jonathan Rall will be followed by a question/answer period. The town hall will be live-streamed with participation available to anyone having Internet access."
Keith's note: Follow comments on Twitter in real time here
Keith's note: From the comments section: "Michael H. New: [personal, non-official, comment] The degree to which the field shrinks is driven by the budget and the number of hard-money positions available. Regardless of how PSD's solicitations are organized, when the budget is flat and there are few hard-money positions available, people will be forced to leave the field. [end]"
New also posted this: "Michael H. New: Do you want us to predict the number of funded PIs in FYxx? A very, very, rough estimate is to take your favorite R&A budget estimate and divde by $125,000 which is not a bad approximation for the overall average annual award size. This estimate, of course, ignores all year-to-year variations in the actual budget and how that propagates from year-to-year."
"The following is a statement from NASA's Planetary Director Jim Green on Tuesday's virtual town hall meeting with the planetary scientific community. During the afternoon call, he outlined and answered questions about the proposed agency restructuring plans to consolidate some of the supporting research and technology activities to ensure a balanced planetary science portfolio for the next decade."
"Few dispute that the research and analysis programme needed fixing. The reshuffle eliminates a large and unwieldy list of funding programmes and reorganizes them into five themes: emerging worlds, Solar System workings, habitable worlds, exobiology and Solar System observations. The biggest and potentially most popular of the new areas is Solar System workings. But at the town-hall meeting, NASA's Jonathan Rall said that funding proposals in this field are not likely to be due until February 2015. That was the last straw for many researchers who live from grant to grant, because most of their existing funding is likely to expire well before money becomes available for the new Solar System workings area. Outraged scientists vented their frustration in the comments section of the meeting website and on Twitter. "People are upset with not knowing where their next paycheck is going to come from, how they're going to pay the mortgage," says Schmidt."
"NASAWATCH: Is SMD management reading what the Twitterverse is saying about this Town Hall? Audience of followers exceeds 100,000 and includes journalists."Categories: Budget, Space & Planetary Science
Keith's note: Ed Stone Got A Big Surprise on Colbert Report last night -
but its not on the video. Colbert did a Sandra Bullock imitation from "Gravity" and presented Stone with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
"We stand on a great threshold in the human history of space exploration. On the one side of this threshold, we know with certainty that planets orbiting stars other than the Sun exist and are common. ... On the other side of this great threshold lies the robust identification of Earth-like exoplanets with habitable conditions, and with signs of life inferred by the detection of "biosignature gases" in exoplanetary atmospheres."
"Even today, children wonder, where did I come from? Astrobiology seeks to answer this enduring question."
"During my time as NASA Chief Historian, everywhere I went people of all ages wanted to know about life on other worlds. Astrobiology raises fundamental questions and evokes a sense of awe and wonder as we realize perhaps there is something new under our Sun, and the Suns of other worlds."Categories: Astrobiology, Congress
"Perhaps the biggest challenge NASA faced during the past year was managing its diverse exploration, science, and aeronautics portfolios in a time of diminishing and uncertain budgets. Along with the rest of the Federal Government, NASA began fiscal year (FY) 2013 under a 6-month continuing resolution that funded the Agency at the previous year's level. This was followed by a budget for the second half of FY 2013 that - after the sequestration reduction - provided NASA with $16.865 billion or $935 million less than the previous year. These financial pressures look to continue in FY 2014 with NASA shuttered at the start of the fiscal year and its long-term funding outlook clouded."Categories: Congress
Implementation of the Open Data policy, Public Private Sector
"This is a tracking tool setup to understand which federal agencies have deployed their data.json in compliance with Executive Order 13642 of May 9, 2013, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information and OMB Memorandum M-13-13 Open Data Policy-Managing Information as an Asset."IT/Web
"SpaceX launched the SES-8 satellite this evening on a Falcon 9.1 rocket. Launch occured as the window opened at 5:41 pm ET. Second stage reignition and burn was a success. The SES-8 spacecraft is now in a nominal GEO transfer orbit. So far it seems that the flight was completely nominal."
Blue Origin Debuts the American-made BE-3 Liquid Hydrogen Rocket Engine (with video)
"Blue Origin reached a key milestone in the development of the liquid-fueled BE-3 engine by successfully demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence. The BE-3 is the first completely new liquid hydrogen-fueled engine to be developed for production in the U.S. since the RS-68 more than a decade ago."
"NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has been working with the company on several aspects of the engine's development. The program supported testing of the BE-3 under the agency's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiative and continues to offer technical support. NASA and Blue Origin also are partnered in review and tests of the company's Space Vehicle design."Categories: Commercialization
"This interpretation responds to a request from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) regarding whether the space transportation regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would restrict NASA astronauts from performing operational functions during a commercial space launch or reentry under license from the FAA."
House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Extend Liability Protection for Commercial Space Launches, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
"The U.S. House of Representatives today approved the Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act (H.R. 3547) by a vote of 376 to 5. H.R. 3547 is a bipartisan bill that extends for one year a commercial space transportation risk-sharing and liability regime that was established by Congress in 1988 with passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments."
House Approves Bill to Extend Liability Protection for Commercial Space Launches, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
"The bill extends provisions of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments, which cover third-party liability for licensed commercial space launches. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), and Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.)."Categories: Commercialization, Congress
"Acting United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Edward J. Mango, (52, Orlando) today pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with acting in his official capacity while having a financial conflict of interest, a felony. Mango faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set."
"A felony conviction does not automatically make one unsuitable for Federal employment. When making a suitability determination, an agency will evaluate the individual's character traits and decide whether their employment or continued employment would or would not protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the service. The factors that may form the basis for finding a person unsuitable can be found under 5 CFR 731.202(b) and include criminal or dishonest conduct."
Keith's note: NASA says that they are not going to make any decision on Ed Mango's employment future until he is sentenced early next year. Back in the day if a government employee was found (or admitted to be) guilty of a job-related felony like this they'd have been shown the door regardless of what sentence they eventually got. Not any more, so it would seem. That said, there may be more shoes to drop - who knew what - and when did they know it, for example.Personnel News
Review of the NASA Science Mission Directorate Draft Strategic Plan
"In preparation for the release of its quadrennial strategic plan in February 2014, the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA asked the National Research Council to review a draft plan. In a new report, the Research Council provides specific recommendations in each of these key areas that would improve the clarity and consistency of the plan. The report notes that it is "more important than ever" for NASA to describe in plain language how it will prioritize and apportion its resources within the science program."