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White House Opposes Space Corps

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2017 (Updated: 12-Jul-2017 11:30 PM)

The Trump Administration informed the House that it does not agree on the need for the Space Corps proposed in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The White House Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) called the proposal premature because DOD is still in the process of studying potential organizational changes.  The White House used stronger language to object to two other space provisions in the bill.  The House began debate on the bill (H.R. 2810) this afternoon.

Section 1601 of the bill proposes creating a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy, and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  Proposed by House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and ranking member Jim Cooper (D-TN), it was strongly backed by HASC chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) during full committee markup of the bill.  It was opposed by others, however.  Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a former chairman of the subcommittee, offered an amendment to delete the provision, but it was rejected by voice vote.  Turner proposed his amendment again for consideration by the full House.   Such amendments must be approved by the House Rules Committee. As of press time, it is not on that committee's list of amendments that have been made in order for floor debate.

The What House SAP was gently worded, saying it appreciates HASC's concerns and "we understand the increasing threats posed to our continued use of space capabilities."  DOD is already considering "a wide range of organizational options, including a Space Corps," and the White House wants to wait until that assessment is completed before making decisions.

The SAP uses stronger language to object to two other provisions.  Section 1615 restricts the use of funding for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) to developing new rocket propulsion systems to replace "non-allied space launch engines" (a reference to Russia's RD-180 engines used for Atlas V) and modifications to launch vehicles to accommodate them.  The money may not be used for entirely new space launch systems (propulsion plus the rest of the rocket and associated infrastructure).  The Trump Administration "strongly objects" to that section because it "limits domestic competition, which will increase taxpayer costs by several billions of dollars through FY2027 and stifle innovation."   DOD already has a strategy for developing new launch systems that has "saved $300 million" and the provision in the bill would make that strategy "impossible to execute."

The Trump Administration also strongly objects to Section 1612 that limits DOD's ability to procure satellite services from certain foreign entities.  The bill prohibits buying satellite services if the satellite or its launch vehicle is designed or manufactured in a "covered foreign country," which for the purposes of this section includes Russia.  The SAP points out that three-quarters of DOD's satellite communications services are from "foreign-incorporated companies that make widespread use of international launch vehicles."

In total, the White House SAP listed 27 provisions in the bill it finds particularly troubling, but the tone of the statement is more friendly that many of those issued by the Obama Administration. This SAP repeatedly says the White House looks forward to working with Congress to resolve the issues, whereas SAPs from the last Administration often said if a bill was not changed, the President's advisors would recommend that he veto it.   That likely is because Republicans now control the House, Senate, and White House and this is the Trump Administration's first year in office.

SASC Wants New Chief Information Warfare Officer With Authority Over Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jul-2017 (Updated: 11-Jul-2017 11:33 PM)

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today released the text of the bill and report for its version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Unlike its House counterpart, SASC completed all its subcommittee and full committee markups in closed session, so this is the first time details have emerged.  Although the bill does not create a Space Corps like the House bill proposes, it has its own plan for dramatic change in how space programs are handled within DOD.

Section 902 would create the position of Chief Information Warfare Officer (CIWO) reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense (SecDef).   The CIWO would serve as the Principal Cyber Advisor to the SecDef and the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA). 

Both positions already exist. The Principal Cyber Advisor (PCA) was created by Congress in the FY2014 NDAA.  The position is filled by a deputy assistant secretary for cyber policy, though it is vacant at the moment.

The PDSA position was created by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work in October 2015 and is filled by the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF).  The office almost immediately came under criticism from Congress.  In the FY2016 NDAA, SASC required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the effectiveness of the office.  GAO concluded in a July 27, 2016 report that it was too early to tell, but skepticism remained.  SecAF Deborah Lee James was the first PDSA and there was speculation she might be the last as well.  However, current SecAF Heather Wilson now has the job.

Today's bill (S. 1519) and report (S. Rept. 115-125) make clear that SASC still is not convinced that PCA and PDSA are solving the problems.  SASC's concern is that in three areas -- information, space, and cyber -- no individual has the authority to set priorities. As the report explains:

"The committee has concerns that the existing organizational construct and resourcing authorities within [DOD] for space, cyber, and information are not commensurate with the organizational structure and resourcing required to meet the demands of 21st century warfare. ... Until there is an official in the [DOD] who can prioritize these missions, the committee is concerned that the priorities for space, cyber, and information will never receive the resourcing and senior level attention necessary to compete against the parochial interests of each individual Service."

The CIWO would have a very broad portfolio. 

"The CIWO would have the authority to establish policy for and direct the secretaries of the military departments and the heads of all other elements of the Department on matters concerning: (1) Space and space launch systems; (2) Communications networks and information technology (other than business systems); (3) National Security Systems; (4) Information assurance and cybersecurity; (5) Electronic warfare and cyber warfare; (6) Nuclear command and control and senior leadership communications systems; (7) Command and Control systems and networks; (8) The electromagnetic spectrum; (9) Positioning, navigation, and timing; and (10) Any other matters assigned to the Chief Information Officer of the [DOD] not related to business systems or management, ..."

Separately, the bill would require the Commander of Air Force Space Command to serve a term of at least 6 years in order to provide continuity of leadership similar to that for the Navy's nuclear propulsion program and strategic systems program.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) also is proposing a major reorganization, although it is focused on space, not a combination of space, cyber and information. 

Its approach is entirely different, proposing creation of a Space Corps within the Air Force, and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  The House provision is very controversial.  It is strongly supported by the chairman and ranking member of HASC's Strategic Forces subcommittee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), as well as full committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX).  During markup of the bill at full committee on June 28, however, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a former chairman of that subcommittee, offered an amendment to delete the provision on the basis that it is premature and more deliberation is needed.  The amendment failed on a voice vote.  Turner has proposed it again for debate by the full House.  The House Rules Committee meets tomorrow to decide which amendments will be permitted.

What is clear is that both committees want dramatic changes in how space programs and policy are handled at DOD, but they have very different solutions.  Finding a compromise between the two chambers will be challenging enough, but the bill also will have to be signed by the President, so DOD will have its own say in the matter.

SIA: State of Satellite Industry is "Positive"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jul-2017 (Updated: 13-Jul-2017 08:31 AM)

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) released its annual report on the "State of the Satellite Industry" today with data on how the industry fared in 2016 compared with prior years.  SIA President Tom Stroup said 2016 "was once again a positive year," though results for the four industry market segments varied widely.  Global satellite manufacturing revenue dropped 13 percent, for example, while satellite ground equipment revenue grew 7 percent.

SIA released the 2017 report, the 20th in the series, at a press conference this morning in Washington, D.C.  The report was prepared for SIA by Bryce Space and Technology.

Overall, worldwide satellite industry revenue grew by two percent in 2016 to a new high of $261 billion, up from $255 billion in 2015.  The 2 percent growth rate is less than the 3 percent in 2015, however, and not all segments fared as well as others.  Satellite services revenue was flat, satellite manufacturing revenue decreased 13 percent, launch industry revenue increased 2 percent, and ground equipment revenue increased 7 percent.

Satellite services encompass consumer services (satellite TV, radio and broadband), fixed satellite services (transponder agreements and managed network services including in-flight services), mobile satellite services, and earth observation services.  Globally, that segment grew just 0.2 percent (hence the characterization as "flat"), from $127.4 billion in 2015 to $127.7 billion in 2016.   The U.S. share of the revenue was 40 percent, down 2 percent from 2015.

Earth observation services were singled out as one of the report's case studies.  Charity Weeden, SIA's Senior Director of Policy, noted that revenue increased 11 percent amid a growing number of companies and partnerships getting into the business.  The report lists six companies in the "large satellite" and 16 in the "small satellite" earth observation categories. 

SIA Senior Director of Policy Charity Weeden (at podium) discusses findings from 2017 State of Satellite Industry Report, July 11, 2017.  Photo credit:  tweet from Bryce Space and Technology (@BryceSpaceTech).

In 2016, of the four market segments, commercial satellite manufacturing suffered the greatest revenue loss globally -- 13 percent, from $16 billion in 2015 to $13.9 billion in 2016.  Although U.S. satellite manufacturing revenue dropped from $6.6 billion to $5 billion, its share of global revenues nonetheless grew from 59 percent to 64 percent.  SIA's report found that excluding cubesats, U.S. companies built 27 percent of the satellites launched in 2016.  If cubesats are included, U.S. companies built about 63 percent of the satellites launched.  A total of 126 satellites were launched in 2016, a significant drop from the 202 launched in 2015 due largely to delays in launches of very small satellites.

Launch industry revenues were up 2 percent, from $5.4 billion in 2015 to $5.5 billion in 2016.  The U.S. share of those global revenues was 40 percent ($2.2 billion), an increase from 34 percent in 2015. The report signals troubled times ahead for the launch industry, however.  Only 14 commercial satellite launch orders were placed in 2016, down from 33 in 2015.  Just four were won by U.S. companies, down from 15 in 2015. That count does not include 11 orders for government satellites.

Ground equipment includes network equipment (gateways, control stations, Very Small Aperture Terminals) and consumer equipment (satellite TV dishes, satellite radio equipment, satellite broadband dishes, satellite phones and mobile satellite terminals, and satellite navigation stand-alone hardware). For this segment, global revenues were up 7 percent, from $106 billion to $113.4 billion.

The report also includes data on U.S. employment in the satellite industry:  211,185 jobs in September 2016, a decrease of 1 percent from 2015.

Stroup said in a press release that the growing number of operational satellites in orbit -- 1,459 at the end of 2016 compared with 1,381 a year earlier -- illustrates the "need for regulators to fully understand the critical importance of satellites.  Investment and innovation rely on lawmakers maintaining a spectrum policy regime that ensures the continued reliable delivery of vital satellite services to customers now, through the next decade and beyond."

Insatiable consumer demand for terrestrial mobile services like smartphones has created spectrum wars between companies offering terrestrial versus satellite services.  Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are enmeshed in the debate over how to allocate spectrum effectively.

SIA is a trade association that represents the commercial satellite industry.  The report is posted on SIA's website.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article stated revenues for satellite services and ground equipment in $millions.  The figures are in $billions and have been corrected.  


FAA Space Office To Get Budget Boost from House Appropriators - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2017 (Updated: 18-Jul-2017 05:12 AM)

House appropriators are recommending a budget boost for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  The office received $19.8 million for FY2017, but the Trump budget proposal for FY2018 is $2 million less.  By contrast, the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the office is proposing $21.587 million. [UPDATE:  the subcommittee approved that amount on July 11 as did the full House Appropriations Committee on July 17.]

The Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee will mark up the bill tomorrow evening.  In total, the bill allocates $56.5 billion for the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  That total is $1.1 billion less than FY2017 and $8.6 billion above the Trump Administration's request.

FAA/AST regulates, facilitates and promotes the commercial space launch industry.  Among its responsibilities is issuing permits and licenses related to commercial space launches and reentries.  With the burgeoning growth in both areas, advocates point to the need to provide the office with enough funding to hire sufficient staff to process applications in a timely manner.  Debate continues over whether to expand FAA/AST's role into non-military space situational awareness or regulating non-traditional space activities, but on a more fundamental level the question is how to ensure the office can effectively execute its current assignments.

The office received $17.8 million for FY2016.  The FY2017 request from the Obama Administration was $19.8 million and Congress eventually appropriated that amount in May 2017.  Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) were particularly influential in convincing House appropriators to provide that level of funding last year.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration was formulating its FY2018 budget request while Congress was still debating the final FY2017 numbers and FAA/AST was funded by a Continuing Resolution at its FY2016 level.  Thus, the Trump Administration may have viewed its FY2018 request of $17.8 million as level funding when in fact it would be a $2 million cut.

In any case, the T-HUD subcommittee's recommendation of $21.587 million is a boost over FY2017.  In March, Bridenstine testified before the subcommittee in favor of a $23 million budget, a $3.2 million increase above FY2017.  The $21.587 million proposed by the T-HUD subcommittee is a bit more than half of that.

FAA also funds commercial space transportation-related activities in two other accounts, but the draft bill released by the committee today does not provide sufficient detail to know how those requests fared.   The FY2018 requests are $1.796 million in Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) for AST's Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and other R&D related to safely integrating commercial space transportation into the National Airspace System; and $4.5 million in Facilities and Equipment (F&E) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) to acquire a Space Data Integrator tool that will enable ATO to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.  

Tomorrow's subcommittee markup is at 7:00 pm ET.  It will be webcast.


What's Happening in Space Policy July 10-14, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jul-2017 (Updated: 10-Jul-2017 06:44 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 10-14, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress and the space policy community overall are back to work in full force this week after a bit (but only a bit) of a break for July 4.

The House plans to take up the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) towards the end of the week. The House Rules Committee meets on Wednesday to consider which amendments will be allowed to be considered during floor debate.  As shown on the committee's website, 394 have been filed as of today.  Five are related to space activities. 

One is proposed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).  It would strike a provision in the bill that requires DOD to establish a Space Corps within the Air Force, analogous to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy, and a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command.  The provision is very controversial.   It was written by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's (HASC's) Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee's top Democrat.  However, it is opposed by the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff and is not included in the Senate version of the bill. 

Turner first tried to remove the provision during full committee markup by HASC on June 28.  His amendment instead would require DOD to study the need for such a reorganization and report to Congress next year. Turner is a former chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee and remains a member.  He argued that Congress has insufficient information to make such a major move.  Rogers, Cooper and HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) insisted the idea has been discussed for years and it is time to do it.  The amendment was rejected and the provision remains in the bill.  Turner wants the full House to have a chance to weigh in.  Will be interesting to see if the Rules Committee permits it.  Floor debate on the bill could begin late Wednesday or Thursday.

The House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee (T-HUD) will mark up its FY2018 funding bill on Tuesday, which includes the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  FAA/AST got $19.8 million in FY2017, a $2 million increase over the $17.8 million it received for FY2016.  Unfortunately, the Trump Administration formulated much of its FY2018 budget request before Congress finalized the FY2017 budget.  At that time, FAA/AST was funded at the $17.8 million level through a Continuing Resolution that held agencies to their FY2016 limits.  The Trump Administration may have thought it was proposing level funding for the office by requesting $17.8 million for FY2018, but Congress ultimately did give FAA/AST the $2 million boost it requested.  Now, if Congress funds the requested level for FY2018, it will mean a $2 million cut.  Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), a member of the full Appropriations Committee (though not the T-HUD subcommittee) and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) fought hard on FAA/AST's behalf last year to get the $19.8 million.  We'll see if they can convince appropriators to keep at least the $19.8 million this time.  (Bridenstine testified before the subcommittee in March in favor of another boost -- to $23 million -- for FY2018.)

The Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has rescheduled its hearing on commercial space partnerships for Thursday morning.  The hearing was scheduled for June 21, but on June 20 it was postponed without explanation.  The witness list is the same as before except that SpaceX SVP for Global Business and Government Affairs Tim Hughes will substitute for President and COO Gwynne Shotwell.  The other witnesses are NASA KSC Director Bob Cabana, fresh from hosting Vice President Pence last week; Tim Ellis from Relativity; Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin; and Jeff Manber from Nanoracks.

Off the Hill, but still in D.C., there are a slew of really interesting events, including the Secure World Foundation's panel discussion tomorrow (Monday) with industry perspectives on the space debris problem; the Satellite Industry Association's release of its annual State of the Satellite Industry report on Tuesday morning; an ISU-DC space cafe Tuesday evening with experts from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center talking about how we benefit every single day from data acquired by earth science satellites; the Future Space Leaders Foundation annual Future Space conference on Thursday; and a seminar sponsored by GWU's Space Policy Institute and the Aerospace Corporation on Friday morning on "Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space."

In other parts of the country, AIAA will holds its annual propulsion and energy forum in Atlanta and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA will hold a three-day symposium celebrating the center's 100th birthday.  The National Academies committee that is performing the mid-term review of the 2011 planetary science Decadal Survey "Vision and Voyages" will meet at CalTech in Pasadena, CA from Tuesday to Thursday.  Open sessions of the meeting are available remotely via WebEx/telecon.   NASA's Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) will meet via teleconference on Monday to review with the Mars science community the input it plans to provide to the Academies committee later in the week.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, July 10

Monday-Wednesday, July 10-12

Tuesday, July 11

Tuesday-Thursday, July 11-13

Wednesday, July 12

Wednesday-Friday, July 12-14

Thursday, July 13

Friday, July 14


Note:  This was updated to add the Defense One Tech Summit on Thursday.

Pence Promises Return to Moon, Boots on Mars, But No Specifics

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jul-2017 (Updated: 06-Jul-2017 06:47 PM)

Vice President Mike Pence promised today to "reorient" the U.S. space program towards human exploration, starting with a return to the Moon and "boots on the face of Mars," but provided no specifics on when or how that will happen or the source of the money to accomplish it.  The FY2018 Trump budget request for NASA does not include funding even for the modest lunar-orbiting Deep Space Gateway.  No announcement was made about who will be nominated to be NASA Administrator or who will serve as Executive Director of the White House National Space Council.

President Trump reestablished the Space Council by Executive Order on Friday.  As Vice President, Pence is its chairman.  This was Pence's first space policy address in that capacity.  He said that he plans to hold the first meeting of the Council by the end of the summer.

Pence spoke in the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to a crowd of NASA and contractor employees along with members of Congress and other state and local politicians.  Among them were Florida's two U.S. Senators: Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R).  Rubio flew to KSC with the Vice President on Air Force Two, which landed at the Shuttle Landing Facility at KSC.  Also present in the VAB were Florida Reps. Bill Posey (R) and Ron DeSantis (R).  Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin also was there.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at Kennedy Space Center, July 6, 2017.  Screengrab from White House video.

Pence and Rubio were met by Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, KSC Director Bob Cabana, and KSC Deputy Director Janet Petro.  All three NASA officials and Pence spoke on stage with three space capsules as the backdrop:  the first SpaceX Dragon to take cargo to the ISS, NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) capsule that was launched on a test flight in 2014, and a Boeing CST-100 Starliner training module.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot at Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, July 6, 2017, introducing Vice President Mike Pence.  A SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Lockheed Martin Orion EFT-1 module, and a Boeing CST-100 Starliner training module are in the background.  Screengrab from NASA TV.

The speech was long on generalities about restoring American leadership in space, but contained only a few kernels that may indicate what this Administration is planning.

Pence said the Trump Administration will "reorient America's space program toward human space exploration and discovery." 

"We will return to the Moon.  We will go to Mars, and will go still further to places that our children's children can only imagine.  We will maintain a constant presence in low-Earth orbit, and we will develop polices that will carry human space exploration across our solar system and ultimately into the vast expanse of space." 

Later he added: "Like the pioneers that came before us, we will settle that frontier with American leadership, American courage and American ingenuity."

The bold words were not accompanied by timetables or funding projections, however.  Presidents George H.W. Bush in 1989 and George W. Bush in 2004 personally asserted that American astronauts would return to the surface of the Moon and someday go to Mars, but neither followed through with the requisite funding.  President Barack Obama eliminated the goal of returning humans to the lunar surface in part because of the high cost of building landers to take astronauts from orbit to the surface and back.  Instead he focused on the goal of sending humans to orbit Mars by the 2030s.  Lunar orbit -- not the surface -- would serve as a steppingstone to Mars, a pronouncement that was met by strong disapproval from many in the space community.

Today, Pence said "we will return to the Moon," but did not specifically state that he meant returning astronauts to the surface.  He had just referenced the Apollo 11 mission,so It could inferred from the context, but the words were not spoken. is seeking clarification from the Vice President's office, but no response was received by press time.

Trump's FY2018 budget request for NASA certainly does not include funding for such an effort.  It cancels Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission, a mission that involved astronauts in lunar orbit demonstrating technologies and techniques needed for a humans-to-Mars mission, but does not replace it with an alternative.  NASA officials have been promoting the concept of a Deep Space Gateway in lunar orbit -- a modest habitat that could be used as a testbed and as a node for missions to or from Mars -- but the FY2018 budget request does not include money for it.  The budget request only funds the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule for their first flights. 

As previous Administrations have discovered, announcing bold goals for human spaceflight is much easier than implementing them.

Another question is what the Trump Administration plans for NASA's non-human spaceflight programs.  Pence said they will "reorient" NASA towards human spaceflight, but it already consumes half of NASA's programmatic budget.  The FY2018 request, excluding the two accounts that fund agency and center operations and construction and environmental compliance, is approximately $15.8 billion.  Human spaceflight -- the International Space Station and Exploration -- account for $7.8 billion.  The rest is for science ($5.8 billion), aeronautics ($624 million) and space technology ($678 million).  Shifting resources from those activities to human spaceflight almost certainly would encounter resistance.

The Vice President praised NASA's partnerships with the private sector and vowed that "in conjunction with our commercial partners, we'll continue to make space travel safer, cheaper and more accessible than ever before."  It remains to be seen, however, how much the private sector will expect from the government in terms of development dollars or guaranteed purchases before investing their own capital.  NASA's commercial cargo and commercial crew programs require significant government funding despite their characterization as "commercial."

The Trump Administration has been in office for less than 6 months, so in one respect it is not surprising that details are not yet available.  On the other hand, President George H.W. Bush announced his commitment to returning to the Moon and going to Mars at about the same point in his presidency.   Space policy veterans undoubtedly are hoping that the outcome will be different this time.

The text of the speech and a video from the event are posted on the White House website.

What's Happening in Space Policy July 2-7, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Jul-2017 (Updated: 02-Jul-2017 03:23 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 2-7, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

The week got off to a disappointing start for the Chinese space program today with the failure of its Long March 5 rocket.  This was the second launch for the rocket, China's largest.  Not only was it intended to place a new type of communications satellite into orbit, it was also a final test before China launches a lunar sample return mission, Chang'e-5, in November. That launch now seems likely to be delayed.  An investigation is underway. We will keep you updated this week as more information becomes available.

Tomorrow (Monday), SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth, ending the SpX-11 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  It was delayed one day because of inclement weather in the Pacific landing zone.   NASA TV will provide coverage of Dragon's release from ISS at 2:28 am ET, but not of the splashdown.

Tuesday, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States.  The Federal government is closed for the holiday, along with many state and local governments and businesses. 

Congress is taking this entire week off after a hectic pace last week.  The July 4 recess is one of those milestones on the congressional calendar by which they hope to get certain things done.  That may not be working out in some areas (like health care), but House appropriators made good progress on FY2018 appropriations bills, including defense (which cleared full committee) and Commerce-Justice-Science (approved at the subcommittee level).  The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is also considered must-pass legislation and both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees approved their versions of the bill.  All that legislation still has a long way to go -- especially the appropriations bills since there is no agreement yet on the total amount of money Congress will make available for defense and non-defense activities -- but it's a start.  We'll see what happens when they return next week.  FY2018 begins on October 1.  There is little, if any, expectation that the appropriations process will be done by then.

The big space policy event this week will be Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Thursday.  President Trump signed the Executive Order reestablishing the White House National Space Council, with Pence as its chairman, on Friday.  Expectations are high that Pence will have something significant to say about the direction of the U.S. space program while he's at KSC and perhaps announce who will be the Council's Executive Director.  NASA TV will provide live coverage of the visit.

Rumors about who will be NASA Administrator and when the announcement will be made have gone quiet.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is an oft-mentioned contender, so it was a bit of a surprise that he was not at the White House signing ceremony on Friday, but neither was Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.  Speculation is rampant about who was on the invitation list but couldn't make it on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend when many people and their families were already beginning their July 4 vacations, versus those who weren't on the list at all, and how to read those tea leaves.

Overall, it's a light week for space policy aficionados. A much needed break.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, July 3

Wednesday, July 5

Thursday, July 6

Second Launch of China's Long March 5 Fails

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Jul-2017 (Updated: 02-Jul-2017 12:11 PM)

The second launch of China's Long March 5 rocket (Y2) failed today.  A short statement by China's Xinhua news agency said only that an abnormality was detected and an investigation is underway.

The launch took place from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island at 7:23 pm local time (7:23 am Eastern Daylight Time), just after sunset.  The launch was televised live and appeared to go well initially (at 53:55 on the video). 

The rocket was intended to place the Shijian-18 (SJ-18) experimental communications satellite into geostationary orbit.  China also characterized it as a final test of the new rocket before November's scheduled launch of the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission.  A postponement of that launch would not be surprising considering today's failure.

Xinhua's statement said the launch was "unsuccessful. Abnormity [sic] was detected during the flight of the rocket ... Further investigation will be carried out."

The first launch of Long March 5 took place on November 3, 2016 and successfully placed the SJ-17 experimental communications satellite into geostationary orbit.  

Successful launch of the first Long March 5 on November 3, 2016.  Photo credit: China Xinhua News (@XHNews)

China has big plans for Long March 5, including launches of robotic spacecraft to the Moon and Mars and a modular space station in low Earth orbit.

Stay tuned for updates as more information becomes available.


China Readies Long March 5 for Second Flight Sunday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jul-2017 (Updated: 01-Jul-2017 04:40 PM)

China plans the second launch of its new heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket tomorrow, July 2.  It will place the Shijian-18 (SJ-18) communications satellite into geostationary orbit, China's heaviest satellite to date.  China describes the launch as a final test before the rocket is used to send a robotic sample return mission to the Moon in November.

Long March 5 is one of a new fleet of launch vehicles developed by China that use environmentally friendly propellants -- liquid oxygen (LOX)/kerosene instead of hydrazine.  China's largest rocket, it can place 25 metric tons (MT) into low Earth orbit (LEO) or 14 MT into geostationary orbit (GEO).   Launches take place from the new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island.

The first launch in November 2016 placed SJ-17, also an experimental communications satellite, into GEO.

SJ-18 is a 7 MT satellite that will test a new satellite platform, Dongfanghong-5 (DFH-5), developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) according to Andrew Jones at  He adds that the throughput for SJ-18 is 70 Gbps, overshadowing the 20 Gpbs of the SJ-13 experimental high throughout satellite launched earlier this year.  SJ-13 and SJ-18 both are testing space-based laser communications as well, he reports.

Jones tweeted that tomorrow's launch is expected at approximately 11:20 GMT (7:20 am ET).

China has expansive plans for Long March 5 that include launching robotic missions to the Moon and Mars as well as three 20 MT modules that will be joined together in LEO to form a larger space station than the 8.6 MT space stations (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2) China has launched so far.

The November lunar mission is Chang'e-5, the long awaited Chinese mission to robotically return samples of the Moon to Earth.  China hopes to return 2 kilograms of samples.

The Soviet Union conducted three successful robotic lunar sample return missions (Luna 16, Luna 20 and Luna 24) from 1970-1976, returning a total of 326 grams of lunar material.  Six U.S. Apollo crews brought back 382 kilograms of lunar samples between 1969 and 1972.

China conducted a successful test flight in 2014 in preparation for Chang'e-5 to demonstrate reentry and landing from lunar distance.  China already has launched two lunar orbiters (Chang'e-1 and -2) and a lander/rover (Chang'e-3/Yutu).  Chang'e is China's mythical goddess of the Moon.  Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit.



Trump Reestablishes National Space Council

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2017 (Updated: 01-Jul-2017 01:30 PM)

President Trump signed an Executive Order today reestablishing the White House National Space Council.  Created by law in 1988 and operational under the George H.W. Bush Administration, the Council has not been funded or staffed since the end of his administration in January 1993.  It was chaired during his Administration by Vice President Dan Quayle,  Now it will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence and Trump spoke at the White House during a signing ceremony for the Executive Order (EO) that sets out the Space Council's membership and purpose.  It also creates a Users' Advisory Group to obtain input from the private sector and other non-government interests. 

The EO establishes the membership as follows (in the order listed in the document):

  • Vice President, who shall be Chairman
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Secretary of Commerce
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Director of National Intelligence
  • Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
  • Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • heads of other executive departments and agencies and other senior officials within the Executive Office of the President as determined by the Chairman

The Space Council's purpose is to advise and assist the President on national space policy and strategy including to review U.S. government space policy and develop a strategy for national space activities; develop recommendations for the president on space policy and space-related issues; and monitor and coordinate implementation of the President's national space policy.

President Trump signs Executive Order reestablishing National Space Council, White House, June 30, 2017.  Photo credit:  tweet from Mark Knoller, CBS News White House Corresponent.  (Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is on Trump's left.)

Pence stated in March during the signing ceremony for the NASA Transition Authorization Act and again in June when NASA announced the new class of astronauts that the Space Council would be reestablished and he would lead it. In that sense. the announcement today was no surprise, but the White House kept the news to itself.  Rumors began circulating earlier this week that the announcement would take place today at 3:00 pm ET, but even this morning it was not listed on the President's schedule.  The White House press office asserted that it had no knowledge of the event as late as 1:30 pm, although Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mentioned it at the end of the daily White House press briefing that began at 2:00 pm ET (which was off-camera).

No live coverage was provided by the White House, NASA, or television networks, although a video was later posted on the White House YouTube channel.

President Trump enters the room (far right) during signing ceremony for National Space Council Executive Order, June 30, 2017.  Screengrab from White House YouTube videoVice President Mike Pence is in center, behind podium.

Most members of the House and Senate left Washington last night for the July 4 holiday, but based on the video, six Republican House members stayed in town for the event today:  Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds NASA;  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, which authorizes NASA activities and sets policy; Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the House SS&T Space Subcommittee; Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), member of the House CJS subcommittee; and two other members of House SS&T - Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL). 

Joining them were NASA astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew and former astronaut David Wolf (in blue flight suits to Pence's right), former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin (to Pence's left, with white beard), and former space shuttle astronaut Sandy Magnus (first woman to Aldrin's left).  Magnus currently is Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Others who were present include United Launch Alliance President Tory Bruno; Boeing CEO Dennis Mulinberg; Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson; Orbital ATK Director of Business Development, Launch Vehicle Division, John Steinmeyer; AMRO Fabricating Corporation CEO Mike Riley and President John Hammond; Futuramic Tool & Engineering Company Vice President John Couch; Cain Tubular Products Owner Mike Cain; Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) President and CEO Mary Lynne Dittmar; former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz; and former Congressman and lobbyist Bob Walker.  (Notable by their absence were representatives of entrepreneurial "New Space" companies.)

The only member of the Council other than Pence who was there was Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot was not present.  NASA said he was out of town and unable to attend.  In a press release issued after the event, Lightfoot called the reestablishment of the Council "another demonstration of the Trump Administration's deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole."

Pence said he was "honored and frankly enthusiastic" about taking on this role, adding that President Trump was recommitting the nation to "do what Americans have always done -- to lead, to push the boundaries of human knowledge, to blaze new trails into the unknown and astonish the world with the courage and leadership of the United States."

Trump himself said the announcement "sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America's proud legacy of leadership in space," and "space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation, but also our economy and our great nation's security."

Pence will travel to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 6 to tour facilities and speak to the center's workforce.  NASA TV will cover the event beginning at 12:00 pm ET. Pence's speech is scheduled for 12:50 pm ET. 

The value of having a National Space Council in the White House has been debated at length over the decades.  Congress created a National Aeronautics and Space Council in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA for civil space activities and assigned military space activities to DOD.  That Council's task was to coordinate between civil and national security space.  President Richard Nixon abolished the Council in 1973.  A new National Space Council, without the aeronautics component, was created by Congress in the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act and implemented through an Executive Order signed by President George H.W. Bush on April 20, 1989.  Today's Executive Order supersedes the one from the Bush Administration.

The Bush-era Space Council had a broader task since commercial space activities had emerged by then, adding a third sector.  That period of time (April 1989-January 1993) was marked by sharp disagreements between the Council, chaired by Vice President Quayle with Mark Albrecht serving as Executive Director for most of those years, and NASA Administrator Dick Truly.  Albrecht wrote a memoir about his perception of the relationship between the Space Council and NASA and why President Bush's Space Exploration Initiative to return astronauts to the Moon and someday go to Mars never materialized, placing most of the blame on Truly. That is only one view of what transpired during those years, but the relevant point is that the clash between the Space Council and NASA created friction that hindered more than it helped.

Many veterans of that era have mixed views about whether a new Space Council will be effective.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a long-time participant in space policy development and implementation, wrote in a March 14, 2017 op-ed for The Hill that the "White House does not, and never has, needed a space council to supervise NASA, but it does need a way to combine the separate strands of national security space programs, diplomatic engagement, commercial competition and civil space cooperation with a unity of national purpose and effort."

One key to the success or failure of the Space Council will be the relationships that evolve among its Executive Director and the leaders of the various government agencies, including NASA, and private sector companies involved in space. Pence did not announce who will serve as Executive Director of the Council and no announcement has yet been made as to who will be nominated to serve as NASA Administrator.

Another will be the extent to which the President listens to the Council's advice and backs it up during almost inevitable battles with other parts of the Executive Office of the President, such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For now, however, optimism is the watchword.

House SS&T Chairman Smith said in a statement to that the "reinstatement of the Space Council demonstrates the Trump administration's commitment to unlocking the great economic and scientific potential" of outer space.  He added that he looks forward to working with Pence and the Council "as Congress moves forward on important legislation for civil, commercial and national security space priorities."

Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), told that CSF "looks forward to working with the Space Council to showcase the innovation and value the commercial space marketplace brings to the space community."

In a press release, CDSE's Dittmar called reestablishment of the Council "another important step in solidifying our nation's continued commitment to NASA's deep space exploration program."  That press release identified many of the industry representatives who were at the event and are CDSE members, including suppliers like AMRO Fabricating Corp., Futuramic Tool & Engineering Co., and Cain Tubular Products.

AIAA also issued a press release wherein Magnus said the Institute views the Space Council as "an opportunity to create an integrated strategic approach to U.S. space endeavors" and "stands ready to support any and all efforts to facilitate discussions between our community and executive branch officials."

Correction:  The word "commercial" was inadvertently omitted from Eric Stallmer's quote and has been corrected.
Update:  Comments from NASA Acting Administrator Lightfoot from a June 30, 2017 NASA press release were added.


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