Today’s Tidbits: March 6, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: March 6, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for March 6, 2019:  Pence chats with ISS crew, confirms upcoming all-female spacewalk; Canada releases new space strategy; EELV is now NSSL.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Pence Chats with ISS Crew, Confirms Upcoming All-Female Spacewalk

Vice President Mike Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine chatted with the International Space Station (ISS) crew today as they continued to conduct operations with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The Demo-1 test flight successfully docked with ISS on Sunday morning.  Pence lauded the docking as part of “evidence of America’s renewed commitment to leadership in space and advancing human exploration in space.”  NASA calls it a “new era in human spaceflight.”

No humans are aboard Demo-1. The passengers are an Anthropomorphic Test Device named Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien, and a “Little Earth” plushy toy that is delighting the ISS crew and everyone watching.  Little Earth joined NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques during the chat.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, “Little Earth,” and NASA astronaut Anne McClain chat with Vice President Pence and NASA Administrator Bridenstine, March 6, 2019.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, currently the ISS Commander, is the third crew member aboard.  They are about to be joined by two more Americans, Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and another Russian, Aleksey Ovchinin, who are scheduled to launch on March 14 on Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft.  NASA has had to rely on Russia for crew transportation to and from ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  This test flight of Crew Dragon is a major step towards enabling NASA to resume launching astronauts itself.

Pence confirmed that the first all-female spacewalk in history will take place next month when McClain and Koch go outside to perform maintenance tasks.  It is one of three scheduled spacewalks that will involve all four  U.S. Operating Segment (“USOS”) crew members (i.e., non-Russian), McClain said.

Canada Releases New Space Strategy

Canada released a new space strategy today, less than a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will partner with the United States in building the lunar-orbiting Gateway for human exploration of the Moon and beyond.  The strategy, Exploration, Imagination: A New Space Strategy for Canada, [], “aims to leverage Canadian strengths like robotics, while advancing science and innovation in exciting areas like AI and biomedical technologies.”

Canada built the robotic Canadarm for the U.S. space shuttle, and Canadarm2 for ISS.  It will build Canadarm3 for the Gateway.  Canada also has extensive experience with communications and radar earth remote sensing satellites.

A fact sheet accompanying the strategy [] lists four priorities:

  • investing in satellite communications technologies for broadband, including connectivity in rural and remote regions;
  • exploring how the delivery of healthcare services in isolated communities can be improved through lessons learned in space;
  • funding the development and demonstration of lunar science and technologies in fields that include AI, robotics and health; and
  • leveraging the unique data collected from Canada’s space-based assets to grow businesses and conduct cutting-edge science, including about the impact of climate change on Earth’s atmosphere.


Rockets are generally categorized either as an Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) that can only be used once or a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) that can be used more than once.

Until recently, NASA’s space shuttle was the only example of an operational RLV.  SpaceX has created a new paradigm, however, with its Falcon 9 rocket where the first stage is usually recovered, landing back on land or on an autonomous drone ship at sea.  Such landings have become so routine that they rarely make the headlines, nor the fact that the “flight proven” stages fly again and again.

The workhorse rockets of the early decades of the space programs — Atlas, Delta, Titan — were all ELVs.  In 1994, President Clinton signed a National Space Transportation Policy that assigned DOD responsibility for modernizing Atlas and Delta. It became known as the “Evolved” ELV, or EELV, program.  DOD has procured launch services for national security satellites using that name since then.

With SpaceX’s entry into the DOD launch services market, and other companies similarly developing reusable vehicles, the name is no longer appropriate. Congress made that clear in Sec. 1603 (b) of the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Effective March 1, 2019, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program of the Department of Defense shall be known as the “National Security Space Launch Program.” …  In carrying out the National Security Space Launch Program, the Secretary of Defense shall provide for consideration of both reusable and expendable launch vehicles with respect to any solicitation occurring on or after March 1, 2019 for which the use of a reusable launch vehicle is technically capable and maintains risk at acceptable levels.  FY2019 NDAA, Sec. 1603 (b)

As required, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center announced the name change on March 1 []/]. Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Directorate, called the program’s 25-year legacy “remarkable,” with 75 successful launches “placing more than $50 billion of space warfighting assets on orbit.”

NSSL may be a new name, but the goal remains the same — maintaining U.S. assured access to space with U.S. launch service providers.  “The program is committed to 100 percent mission success and providing the most innovative, flexible, and affordable services to meet National Security Space mission needs and maintain U.S. dominance in space,” he said.

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