As the title implies, NASA released more info concerning its “gift” of obsolete telescope parts from the NRO.
To me, it just seems to me just standard government FIOA fare, mainstream script reading that gives the right amount of denial and hiding behind the moniker of “national security”:
NASA has released more information about the two space telescopes, held in storage, that it announced last week it had received from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).A painter freshens up the NASA logo that adorns NASA Glenn Research Center’s Flight Research Building.NASA
The news raised lots of questions among space-minded folks. In an effort to get a few more answers, USA TODAY has acquired the question-and-answer sheet provided to NASA Public Affairs folks last week to answer queries about the gift scopes.
Exactly what property was transferred?
The NRO transferred to NASA some space qualified optical systems hardware that was residual from previous development work.
What hardware was transferred?
The equipment consists of elements that with some work could make: two telescopes with support structure and a protective light baffle and other miscellaneous spares along with the associated documentation.
What are the technical specifications of the hardware?
Technologies include Exelis lightweight mirror, advanced structures, patented hybrid laminate technologies, and Hexcel/Exelis co-developed cyanate siloxane low moisture resin technology. Additional technical details include:
– 2.4 m, f/8 with <20% Obstructed Aperture
– Field of View: 1.6 arc min, as a Cassegrain
– Wavefront Quality: <60 nm, rms
– Stable, f/1.2, Lightweight ULE primary Mirror
– Stable, Low CTE Composite and Invar Structures
– Actuated Secondary Mirror Positioning
– 1,700 kg mass, including Telescope and Outer Thermal Barrel
– 2 Flight Units Available, with Limited Parts for 3rd
Where is the equipment located?
The equipment is housed at the Excelis Division of ITT in Rochester, NY.
‘Who has direct control of the hardware?
The ownership of the equipment is managed by the J at Propulsion Laboratory for NASA HQ under our master contract with them.
Where is the Program/Project Office ta be located?
For now, the Program Office has not been designated for use of this equipment. The activities are being managed directly by NASA HQ using an interim Project Element at JPL for early study activities. A decision on Where a potential Project office will be established depends on the outcome of study activities to determine the best scientific utility of any potential mission using the equipment. Those studies will be guided by the community inputs based on the Decadal report, NWNH (New Worlds, New Horizons) and consultation with our science advisory structure.
Why did the NRO give this material to NASA?’
The NRO determined that the equipment was not suitable for future intelligence missions.
What is the value of the equipment being transferred?
The value of the equipment is in the avoided cost to a potential NASA mission that could use it. Typically it could cost between $100M to $300 (million) to procure this level of flight hardware. The NRO estimates the cost of the hardware at approximately $275M.
Seriously, What is it worth’?
The equipment as recently transferred has a book value of around $75M. That value is not to be construed as the investment expenditure, but the residual value as determined by contract elements.
What is NASA going to do with the Equipment?
NASA is looking into several missions and scientific investigations Within the Astrophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate. Until studies are complete, it is sufficient to say that there are areas of Dark Energy, exoplanets and traditional astrophysics that can make good use of the equipment.
What happens if NASA can’t afford to use the equipment? Is there a large cost to NASA for someone else’s left-0vers’?
The cost to the nation is negligible and would be borne by the country at any case. For NASA, the cost really involves minimal storage costs until we determine that we can use it. If the equipment can’t be used, it can be disposed of easily and at minimum cost. (Abandon in place is the usual least cost method)
If the material is at a specific contractor, does that mean that contractor has a lock on work with the equipment?
While it is easier to imagine using the assets of the organizations that developed the equipment, NASA is taking control of the design materials and tooling such that we could use our own internal facilities or those of other contractors for work as best fits the acquisition strategy and best interests of the US Government.
Are there other organizations involved with this activity’?
NASA is discussing potential collaborations with other government agencies the possibility of collaborative efforts in order to keep the overall cost of a potential mission as low as possible consistent with the science goals eventually established. As WC develop our concepts further. there will be opportunities for others to join our effort as well as potential for foreign partners to express an interest. For now, there no agreements in place with other organizations.
Who built the hardware? When was this hardware developed?
Exelis (ITT nee KODAK) developed and built the hardware between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
What other subcontractors or government agencies were involved in developing or building the hardware?
Numerous subcontractors, vendors, and parts suppliers contributed. NRO was the only government agency involved.
How long has the hardware been in storage? Are other items in storage, if so, what?
Due to classification or policy guidance, we cannot reveal how long the hardware has been in storage. The NRO stores many components from various programs for spare parts, reuse, design studies, anomaly resolution, and historical preservation. Due to classification or policy guidance, We cannot reveal the specifics of the other items in storage or their locations.
What NRO program produced the transferred hardware?
Due to classification or policy guidance, we cannot discuss the program office or directorate that produced the hardware.
Is this XXX program’s technology and/or hardware?
Due to security or policy guidance, we cannot discuss the program or directorate that produced the hardware.
Did NRO, ITT, or another organization remove anything from the hardware; of so, what was removed?
Yes, Exelis removed some classified components added to the telescope assembly after its completion that were not germane to NASA’s space science missions. We cannot discuss these components or what they were used for, as they are classified
What happened to the contract?
The contract ended and the hardware has been in storage since that time. Due to security and policy guidance, we cannot discuss when or why the contract ended
What will NASA use the hardware for once the transfer is complete?
NASA is studying the use of this hardware for potential future science applications.
How did NASA learn about the NRO technology? Did NRO approach NASA, or did NASA approach the the NRO?
The NRO made NASA aware of the existence of this hardware; NRO was seeking a suitable disposition of this flight-qualified hardware.
Does NRO do other classified business with NASA?
This hardware transfer is not classified and does not imply NASA does classified work.
NASA spying on the American public or adversaries?
No. The NASA budgets and programs are public information. NASA has a wide portfolio of Earth and Space Science programs that study the universe in which we live.
How is NRO benefiting from this transfer of hardware?
The NRO is not benefiting from this transfer. As a good steward of government resources, NRO sought a new use for existing hardware assets no longer in use and approached NASA.
How is this hardware similar to the Hubble Space Telescope?
It is approximately the same size as Hubble but uses newer, much lighter, mirror and structure technology.
Can the press take photos of the hardware? If not, will NRO/NASA provide photos?
At NRO’s request, NASA will only provide photos of the hardware after its integration; there will be no photos of the transferred hardware alone.
Why does the hardware no longer have intelligence collection uses?
This hardware, developed in the late 1990s, does not fit within the current intelligence architecture or meet future mission requirements.
Hats off to the Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) Office at NASA headquarters, which speedily delivered this information to the public.
The NASA Public Affairs office last week denied a request for the document, claiming it was an internal document.
I’m not impressed. Whether NASA uses these obsolete NRO telescope parts is contingent on future NASA budgets, or perhaps monetary “gifts” from private industry.
I think these parts will be kept in storage forever, not used at all.
From the Washington Post:
The U.S. government’s secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope.
Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens.
They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.
The surprise announcement Monday is a reminder that NASA isn’t the only space enterprise in the government — and isn’t even the best funded. NASA official Michael Moore gave some hint of what a Hubble-class space telescope might do if used for national security:
“With a Hubble here you could see a dime sitting on top of the Washington Monument.”
NASA officials stressed that they do not have a program to launch even one telescope at the moment, and that at the very earliest, under reasonable budgets, it would be 2020 before one of the two gifted telescopes could be in order. Asked whether anyone at NASA was popping champagne, the agency’s head of science, John Grunsfeld, answered, “We never pop champagne here; our budgets are too tight.”
But this is definitely a game-changer for NASA’s space science program. The unexpected gift offers NASA an opportunity to resurrect a plan to launch a new telescope to study the mysterious “dark energy” that is causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate.
The scientific community had made the dark energy telescope its top priority in the latest “decadal survey” of goals in astronomy and astrophysics.
But the hoped-for telescope has been blocked by a lack of funding, in large part because of cost overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is still being readied for a possible launch later this decade. A new space telescope could also serve as a kind of scout for the Webb, Spergel said.
“It would be a great discovery telescope for where Webb should look in addition to doing the work on dark energy,” Spergel said.
The two new telescopes — which so far don’t even have names, other than Telescope One and Telescope Two — would be ready to go into space but for two hitches. First, they don’t have instruments. There are no cameras, spectrographs or other instruments that a space telescope typically needs. Second, they don’t have a program, a mission or a staff behind them. They’re just hardware.
“The hardware is a significant cost item and it’s a significant schedule item. The thing that takes the longest to build is the telescope,” Spergel said. He added, however, “A big cost of any mission is always just people. One of the reason that James Webb has cost so much is that when it takes longer to complete any piece of it, you keep paying the engineers working on it, and you have these big marching-army costs.”
NASA’s windfall takes the pain out of the planned demise of the Hubble, which has been repaired in orbit five times. NASA does not plan any more repair missions, and the Hubble will gradually lose the ability to maintain its position and focus. At some point NASA will de-orbit the Hubble and it will crash into the Pacific.
“Instead of losing a terrific telescope, you now have two telescopes even better to replace it with,” Spergel said.
Hmmph…makes you wonder what the NRO has so they can just give away their left-overs to NASA?
Not that NASA can do anything with them anyway…
Hat tip to NASA Watch.