Today’s Tidbits: November 9, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: November 9, 2017

Here are our tidbits for November 9, 2017:  House committee gets update on NASA’s exploration systems; how to see the OA-8 launch from home (on the East Coast).  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

House Hearing:  Exploration Systems Update

Sandy Magnus, AIAA Executive Director, testifying to House SS&T Space Subcommittee Nov. 9, 2017. Screengrab.

The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing today to receive an update on NASA’s exploration systems — the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft, and associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS).  The witnesses were Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, and Sandy Magnus, Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).  Magnus flew on the space shuttle four times, including the shuttle’s final flight (STS-135).

Yesterday NASA announced a delay of at least one year for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first flight of SLS with an uncrewed Orion.  It will be delayed at least from November 2018 to December 2019 and possibly to June 2020.  The first SLS flight with a crew is EM-2.  NASA is officially committed to a launch date of 2023 for EM-2, but for several years has been saying that it is working towards an internal date of 2021.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, testifying to the House SS&T Space Subcommittee Nov. 9, 2017. Screengrab.

Gerstenmaier downplayed the impact of the EM-1 delay.  He asserted it would not affect the EM-2 launch date, obviously referring to 2023 since it will take 33 months between EM-1 and EM-2 to modify the Mobile Launcher needed to move SLS out to the launch pad.  EM-2 and subsequent flights will utilize a larger upper stage, necessitating the modifications.

He also said the delay in EM-1 will not affect plans to use SLS to launch a robotic planetary spacecraft, Europa Clipper, to Jupiter’s moon Europa. By law, the Europa launch is to take place in 2022.

Furthermore, he said the cost increase due to the delay is less than 15% for SLS and slightly more for EGS.  That 15% is a threshold that triggers congressional reporting requirements.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the full committee, read a stern opening statement warning NASA that more delays and cost increases will have “consequences,” but he is retiring at the end of this Congress so will not be a position to oversee these programs much longer. []

Most of the subcommittee members seemed more interested in discussing the missions for which SLS and Orion are being built — sending humans to the Moon and Mars — than in the delay.

For her part, Magnus’s main point was that the United States needs a comprehensive national space strategy upon which which it can make decisions about the best roles for the U.S. government, international partners, and the private sector in future human spaceflight.

We live tweeted the hearing.  You can read all of our tweets on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline.  Here is a sample.  “Gerst” is Gerstenmaier.  “Bera” is Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), ranking member of the subcommittee.  “Perlmutter” is Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).  He is well known in space circles as the member of Congress who holds up a “Mars in 2033” bumper sticker at just about every hearing on NASA and space exploration.

How to Watch Saturday’s OA-8 Launch From Home (East Coast Only)

The launch of Orbital ATK’s eighth cargo mission to the International Space Station, OA-8, is scheduled for 7:37 am ET on Saturday, November 11.  For those on the East Coast unable to travel to Wallops Island, VA to see the launch in person (or who just don’t like standing around in bitter cold temperatures), here is a map showing where to look for the Antares rocket and its Cygnus spacecraft while they are on their way to orbit.  The launch has a 5 minute window.  It may be difficult to see because it is just after sunrise and most people will be looking east (into the Sun).  Of course, one can always watch it on NASA TV.

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Correction:  An earlier version said that Rep. Perlmutter is running for Governor of Colorado, but we are informed that he dropped out that race.

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