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What's Happening in Space Policy May 22-27, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-May-2017 (Updated: 22-May-2017 06:34 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 22-27, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. [Updated with more information about Tuesday's contingency ISS spacewalk].

During the Week

The BIG EVENT this week is release of President Trump's complete FY2018 budget request, which will formally kick off debate thereon more than three months late.  Presidents are supposed to submit their annual budget requests to Congress by the first Monday in February, though the first year of a new President's term is almost always an exception.  Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" with the broad outlines of his proposal in March. (NASA and NOAA fared pretty well all things considered and defense spending overall would get a big boost.)  Without the details, though, the appropriations committees couldn't get started on hearings and deliberations.  

That will change on Tuesday when the complete budget is expected to be submitted.  Remember -- only Congress has the power of the purse. The President PROPOSES a budget, but only Congress decides how much money will be spent and on what. They are supposed to conclude their budget work by September 30 so the new budget is in place by the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, but that rarely happens.  For this year (FY2017), they finally got the budget done on May 5, seven months late.  Considering that this budget request isn't even being submitted until May 23, the chances of bills passing by September 30 are virtually non-existent.  Not to mention that quite a few Republicans and Democrats said the Trump budget was "dead on arrival" because of its substantial cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  It'll be another long budget debate complete with shutdown threats -- which already have been issued not only by Democrats, but the President himself who tweeted on May 2 that the country needs a "good 'shutdown' in September."  Hang onto your hats.

A Washington think tank, the Third Way, got a leaked copy of an Excel spreadsheet with the budget request numbers for budget accounts throughout the government and posted it on its website.  There's still not enough detail to know what the Administration has in mind for DOD or NOAA space activities, but the budget account breakdown for NASA is there. In the order presented in that spreadsheet (which is different from how NASA usually lists it):  

  • Space Operations - $4,740.8 million;
  • Science -  $5,711.8 million;
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services - $2,830.2 million;
  • Exploration - $3,934.1 million;
  • Aeronautics - $624 million;
  • Education - $37.3 million;
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance - $496.1 million;
  • Space Technology - $678.6 million.

That adds up to $19,052.9 million, which would round to the $19.1 billion advertised in the budget blueprint.  It's significantly lower than the $19.65 billion Congress appropriated for FY2017.  The Administration proposed eliminating NASA's Office of Education so it will be interesting to see what the $37.3 million is for. That's roughly how much money is in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) budget for its education-related activities, so perhaps it is being moved into the Education budget account instead of Science.  We should know on Tuesday.   DOD and NASA usually hold public budget briefings the day the budget is submitted, but we haven't seen any announcements of those briefings yet. We'll post any information we get.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the FY2018 request for the Department of Commerce on Thursday,  It will cover all of the department's activities, of which NOAA is only one part.  Might be interesting, though.

The Senate Commerce space subcommittee will hold a non-budget related hearing on Tuesday.  It will hear testimony from two panels of witnesses on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and whether it needs to be modified to reflect all that has changed in the intervening 50 years.  Witnesses include space lawyers and representatives of companies affected by the treaty's provisions.

On Thursday, the annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) gets underway in St. Louis.   On Friday, NASA will have a briefing on what's going up to the International Space Station (ISS) on the next SpaceX cargo mission, SpX-11. The launch itself is scheduled for June 1.

One of the two mulitplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay boxes on the ISS failed yesterday.  The crew is fine, but NASA wants to replace it sooner rather than later.  It announced today (Sunday) that a contingency spacewalk will take place no earlier than Tuesday.   A final decision on when and which astronauts will conduct the spacewalk is expected later today.  Peggy Whitson, currently in command of the ISS, surely will be one of the two. It would be her 10th spacewalk.  The question is whether her partner will be NASA's Jack Fischer or ESA's Thomas Pesquet.  We'll post more information when it becomes available. [UPDATE:  Whitson and Fischer will conduct the spacewalk on Tuesday, May 23, beginning about 8:00 am ET.  NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET.]

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

Tuesday, May 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 23-24

Tuesday-Thursday, May 23-25

Thursday, May 25

Thursday-Monday, May 25-29

Friday, May 26

Correction: The Space Diplomacy event on Thursday is in 2043 Rayburn, not 2062 as we originally posted.

Top Air Force Officials: Space Now is a Warfighting Domain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-May-2017 (Updated: 18-May-2017 05:26 PM)

New Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and three top Air Force space leaders told Congress today that space no longer is just an enabler and force enhancer for U.S. military operations, it is a warfighting domain just like air, land, and sea.

Just 24 hours after being sworn in as the 24th SecAF, Wilson testified to the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Joining her were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Space Command commander Gen. John Raymond, and Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   The topic was military space organization, programs and policy and the Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) Cristina Chaplain was another witness.  She especially addressed long standing DOD and Air Force organizational challenges to effectively develop and implement space programs.

Dr. Heather Wilson during swearing-in ceremony to become 24th Secretary of the Air Force, May 16, 2017.  U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne A. Clark

A major theme was that space no longer is a "benign" environment that supports the warfighter, but a warfighting domain itself.  In their joint written testimony, the Air Force officials said:  "Clearly, freedom to operate in space is not guaranteed.  In fact, space is now a warfighting domain, similar to the more familiar air, land, and maritime domains our men and women are fighting in today."

Asked whether he thought it was time to create a Space Corps analogous to the Marine Corps to better focus attention and resources on what is needed for space, Goldfein said no -- the timing is not right precisely because of this transition in thinking about space from a benign environment to a warfighting domain.  "Anything that leads to separating space instead of integrating it" into the overall military framework would "slow us down," though it might be considered in the future.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked whether the United States should engage in an "international conversation about an international code of conduct."  Wilson replied that is a policy issue that reaches beyond the Air Force.  From her perspective, the Air Force's role is to be sure the United States can prevail "irrespective of consensus on international norms because there will be players who do not abide by those norms."

The Air Force leaders stressed the need to modernize space systems to maintain space superiority -- "a core USAF mission" -- to address gaps in space capabilities, strategy and  policy.  Although progress has been made on mission assurance and resiliency, work is needed on deterrence and 21st Century requirements.  Asked what countries pose the greatest threat to U.S. space assets, Goldfein not surprisingly identified Russia and China.  The open hearing did not delve deeply into those threats because details are classified.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a member of the subcommittee and also chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees NASA, said at a seminar organized by The Atlantic yesterday that the classified briefings on other countries' space weapons developments would "take your breath away." 

Wilson said the timing of the hearing was not ideal because the Trump Administration will not submit its complete FY2018 budget request until next week, so she could not talk about what it contains.  She said, however, that she expects space systems will receive a budget boost.

The organizational problems within DOD and the Air Force for space activities are well known.  Many reports have been written about them dating back at least to the 2001 Rumsfeld Commission report.  In October 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work created a new position of Principal DOD Space Adviser (PDSA) to be filled by the SecAF and reporting to the Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  SecAF Deborah Lee James was the first to fill it and there were rumors she also would be the last because it almost immediately came under criticism for being ineffective.

Wilson announced during the hearing, however, that she is the "principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense for space," so it appears SecDef James Mattis will keep the structure as it is for now. 

GAO issued a report in July 2016, prepared at congressional direction, saying that it was too early to judge the office's effectiveness.  However, it noted that there are 60 stakeholder organizations across DOD, the Executive Office of the President, the Intelligence Community, and civilian agencies involved in national security space activities, fragmenting leadership responsibilities. 

Chaplain indicated today that little has changed since that report was issued.  Among the consequences of fragmented responsibilities is ineffective program execution. For example, the satellite segment of a system may be completed well before the associated ground system, which "wastes capabilities."

Chaplin's written statement summarizes cost growth and schedule delays in a number of Air Force space programs, but the one that got the most attention at the hearing was the Operational Control Segment (OCX) for the new GPS III series of positioning, navigation and timing satellites.  OCX is nearly $2 billion over budget and 4 years late.  Asked if it was "too big to fail," Raymond and Greaves both said no, that the program was designed with milestone-driven "off ramps" in case there are further delays or the program is cancelled. 

Wilson added "we're not out of the woods" yet.

GAO Gives NASA Mixed Results for Management of Major Projects

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-May-2017 (Updated: 16-May-2017 11:20 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) gave NASA mixed results in its annual review of the agency's major projects.  Although cost and schedule performance for most of NASA's portfolio continues to improve, two projects -- InSight and an update of the space communications network -- have significant cost or schedule growth.  Eight others, including the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew spacecraft, are entering the phase of their development cycle where problems are most likely to occur.  GAO warned that cost increases or schedule delays for SLS/Orion could have "substantial repercussions" for NASA's entire portfolio. NASA announced a delay of the first SLS/Orion launch just last week.

Today's report is GAO's ninth assessment of NASA's major projects since Congress directed it to conduct these reviews in a 2009 appropriations bill.  GAO gave NASA a nod for maintaining recent improvements in maturing technologies for its projects to the level recommended by GAO best practices and for improved design stability.  It also pointed to improved project management tools to manage acquisition risk, but cautioned that resource constraints have prevented NASA from implementing a best practice for monitoring contractor performance that GAO recommended in 2012.  It also continues to monitor the effect of NASA's 2015 decision to eliminate its independent program assessment office

For this year's report, GAO identified 22 NASA "major projects" on which the agency will spend a total of more than $6 billion in FY2017 and $59 billion over their lifecycles.  The report discusses 21 of them.  It excludes OSIRIS-REx since it has been launched already.   Sixteen of the 21 are in the implementation phase; the others are in formulation.  (A project transitions from formulation to implementation at the Key Decision Point-C or KDP-C milestone.)   Four of the 21 are assessed for the first time in this report:  Landsat 9; Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE); Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI); and Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).   Two of the projects assessed in the report have been recommended for termination by the Trump Administration:  PACE and the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM, part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission).

NASA won praise for overall management of its projects:  "The overall cost and schedule performance of NASA's portfolio of major projects continues to improve--a trend that began in 2013."  For the portfolio of 16 projects in the implementation phase, cost growth declined to 15.6 percent from 17.3 percent last year.  Average launch delay declined to 7 months from 8 months. 

However, the InSight Mars mission and the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) project are concerns. The launch of InSight was delayed two years because of a technical problem with one of its instruments.  Costs for SGSS are rising "due to continued problems with contractor performance."  Two others also are worrying:  ICESat-2, whose cost and schedule are under review because technical issues with its only instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS); and the commercial crew program, whose contractors (SpaceX and Boeing) have notified NASA that development and certification will slip from 2017 to 2018.

Also, GAO noted that eight projects are at the point where most rebaselines occur -- between critical design review and systems integration review.  They include SLS, Orion, and their associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), the three components of NASA's deep space human exploration program.

GAO warned that since SLS, Orion, and EGS represent more than half of the money in NASA's development portfolio, "a cost increase or delay could have substantial repercussions not only for these programs, but for NASA's entire portfolio." 

Indeed, NASA announced days ago that the first launch of SLS and Orion -- Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which will not have a crew -- will be delayed from November 2018 to sometime in 2019.  NASA is still determining when the launch will take place. 

In addition to an overview of NASA's management of its major projects portfolio, GAO provides a two-page summary of each of the 21 projects assessed in the report

  • Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission
  • Commercial Crew Program
  • Europa Clipper
  • Exploration Ground Systems
  • Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on (GRACE FO)
  • Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2)
  • Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight)
  • Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON)
  • James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
  • Landsat 9
  • Mars 2020
  • NASA ISRO -- Synthetic Aperture Radar
  • Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
  • Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE)
  • Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI)
  • Solar Probe Plus (SPP)
  • Space Launch System (SLS)
  • Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS)
  • Surface Water and Topography (SWOT)
  • Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
  • Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)

Cardin Vows to Continue Mikulski's Advocacy for NASA, NOAA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-May-2017 (Updated: 15-May-2017 11:12 PM)

Acknowledging that he has big shoes to fill, Maryland's new senior Senator Ben Cardin  (D-MD) vowed to continue the space advocacy exhibited by his retired colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski.   She was legendary in her influential support for NASA and NOAA activities in Maryland.  With her retirement, many worry that support for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD and NOAA's headquarters and other facilities in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC may wane.  Cardin made it clear that would not be the case.

Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House.  With Mikulski's retirement, he becomes the state's senior Senator and leader of Maryland's 10-member congressional delegation.  Chris Van Hollen, also a Democrat, was elected to fill Mikulski's seat and he is now the junior Senator.  The other members (seven Democrats and one Republican) represent Maryland's eight congressional districts.

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).  Photo credit:  Sen. Cardin's Senate website.

In his debut at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) today, Cardin sounded themes that would have been familiar to Mikulski.  He highlighted the number of jobs in Maryland due to space activities, saying that "if you're a Senator from Maryland, you better pay attention to space.  I get it."  He listed his priorities for NASA, all of which have a home at GSFC:  Landsat 9; the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) earth science program; the Hubble, James Webb, and WFIRST space telescopes; the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) for planetary defense; and the RESTORE-L satellite servicing technology development program. He also expressed support for NOAA's weather and space weather satellite programs and NASA's heliophysics research satellite Solar Probe Plus. 

Cardin does not serve on any of the Senate committees that deal with space activities, but he is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and noted several times the importance of many of these programs to national security.

It was evident that he is still getting up to speed on space issues, but he became more impassioned as his remarks turned to related topics - climate change science, privatization, and restoring "regular order" to Congress to enable passage of timely, bipartisan government funding bills. 

He is concerned about cuts proposed by the Trump Administration to basic science across the government, not only to programs at NASA like PACE, but also to the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.  He said he was at the March for Science in April and stressed the need for Congress to get input from scientists to make good science policy.  His voice rising, he excoriated the politicization of climate change science asking why is it controversial when it is so important not only for the environment, not only for public health, but for national security and jobs.  "For some reason this has become a wedge political issue in American politics. ... Why would we want to deny you [scientists] the tools you need?"

Public private partnerships (PPPs) were another topic on which he has strong feelings.  He supports PPPs, but worries they lack public accountability.   "We need to have public private partnerships, but ...  I want to make sure we have governmental oversight and accountability. When you privatize you lose that. ... Government needs to maintain its role. We're going to fight to do that."

As for the budget, Cardin noted that Congress was able to work together on a bipartisan basis to finalize the FY2017 funding bill and argued that should be the model for future budget bills -- except they should be done on time. Congress needs to return to "regular order" where bills go through the traditional process of hearings and markups and members "work together and not allow any extreme group in the Congress to control what happens."  

"The worst results for the space program in Maryland" and for the nation overall would be if no budget passed and a government shutdown ensued, or a sequester went into effect, or there was a default on the debt, or the government had to operate on Continuing Resolutions.  A coordinated strategy is needed, he said, and he vowed to lead the Maryland congressional delegation to get a budget passed and advance the space program.  Although he does not serve on the committees that oversee NASA or NOAA, Van Hollen is a member of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds both those agencies and Reps. Andy Harris and Dutch Ruppersberger are on the House Appropriations Committee (though not on its CJS subcommittee).

Cardin pointed out the considerable differences between what is in the FY2017 budget and what the Trump Administration proposed for FY2018 in its budget blueprint or "skinny budget" in March.  With or without a coordinated strategy, therefore, it seems quite unlikely that Congress will be able to complete work on the FY2018 budget before October 1 when the fiscal year begins.  The Trump Administration has not even submitted the detailed budget yet.  The latest rumor is that will happen on May 23.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 15-19, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-May-2017 (Updated: 15-May-2017 10:36 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 15-19, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The D.C. space community looked forward every year to Sen. Barbara Mikulski's (D-MD) annual speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) to get her take on the congressional landscape for civil space.   She retired at the end of last year, making Sen. Ben Cardin the senior Senator from Maryland and he will take her spot this year.  His talk is tomorrow (Monday) at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, MD.  [Curiously, the MSBR website today does not show this event, but it seems to have reverted to a 2015 schedule instead of 2017.  MSBR assures us the luncheon is on.]

Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House, but left space program issues to Mikulski so probably is not well known to readers of this website.  He does not serve on any of the Senate committees responsible for NASA or NOAA, so this will be the first opportunity for many to hear his views.  Mikulski's successor, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, won assignment to the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee on which Mikulski served for so many years (sometimes as chair), but as a freshman will not have as much power as she did.  Cardin has 10 years of seniority in the Senate overall, so could be more influential even though he does not sit on the space committees. 

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  Photo Credit:  Senator Cardin's Senate website.

On Tuesday, a seminar entitled "On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space" will be held at the Newseum in Washington, DC from 1:00-5:00 pm ET and will be webcast.  For those planning to watch the webcast, note that the session itself is only from 1:30-4:00 pm ET. The rest of the time is for registration at the beginning and a reception afterwards.  It has an interesting lineup of speakers.  Among them are NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot; Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chair of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee; former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan; Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society; Chris Carberry of Explore Mars; Mary Lynne Dittmar of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

Heather Wilson was confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force last week and this week she gets her first turn at the witness table in that position.  On Wednesday, she will testify along with the top Air Force space leadership (Gen. David Goldfein, Gen. John Raymond, and Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves)  and Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office.  The hearing, "Military Space Organization, Policy and Programs," is before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  SASC usually webcasts its hearings on its website.   

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hasn't posted its hearing schedule yet, but the National Journal's Daybook reports that HASC will have a national security space hearing itself on Friday.  The witness list isn't available yet, but the title is "FY2018 Priorities and Posture of the National Security Space Enterprise."  We'll add more information to our calendar entry when it is available.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for President Trump to submit his full FY2018 budget request to Congress.  He sent up a budget blueprint or "skinny budget" in March, but the details were missing (this is common in a new President's first year).  There were rumors a couple of weeks ago that it would be submitted on May 15, but more recent rumors are that it will be May 22.  FY2018 begins on October 1, so everyone needs to get rolling on that.  If you thought reaching agreement on FY2017 was tough, that was child's play compared to FY2018 when, by law, the budget caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act are back in force.  Some congressional Republicans and Democrats declared the March budget request dead on arrival due to its huge cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency, all while sharply increasing military spending.  All things considered, NASA did pretty well in the budget blueprint.  NOAA's two main weather satellite programs (JPSS and GOES-R) also are OK, but cuts apparently are in store for NOAA's other satellite activities.

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, May 15

Monday-Tuesday, May 15-16

Monday-Friday, May 15-19

Tuesday, May 16

Wednesday, May 17

Friday, May 19


Note:  This article was updated to reflect the confirmation from MSBR that the Cardin luncheon is, indeed, on for tomorrow, and to add the IAA Planetary Defense conference in Tokyo.

First SLS/Orion Launch Slips to 2019, No Crew

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-May-2017 (Updated: 12-May-2017 06:51 PM)

NASA announced today that its feasibility study of adding a crew to the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew capsule might be technically feasible, but, all things considered, it is better to stick to the original plan of launching it without a crew.  Even then, that flight, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will slip from November 2018 to sometime in 2019, with cascading effects for the next flight, EM-2.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert LIghtfoot and Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier announced the results of the study during a mid-afternoon media teleconference.  Lightfoot was effusive in his praise of the Trump White House for giving NASA the opportunity to look at the possibility of adding crew to EM-1, as well as its support of NASA's programs overall.  He said the decision to stay with the existing "baseline" plan for launching EM-1 without a crew was made jointly by the White House and NASA.

The two officials said that the feasibility study concluded it would cost an additional $600-900 million to put a crew on EM-1 and launch would have slipped into the first part of the year 2020.  Both stressed that the SLS/Orion program is focused on the long term objective of building infrastructure in cislunar space to support sustainable human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.  They cautioned against looking at any one launch individually in terms of either cost or schedule, but to consider the program as a whole.  In that context, and looking at the additional cost, risk, and schedule implications, they concluded that it was better to stick with the original plan.

Even without adding crew to EM-1, the launch date will slip into 2019, they confirmed.   NASA had already indicated such a slip in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released two weeks ago.  It did not say then, nor today, when in 2019 they are aiming for.  Gerstenmaier said NASA needs more time to determine that date and will in a month or two.  He cited production challenges and the effects of a February tornado at the Michoud Assembly Facility where the SLS core stage is being built as some of the reasons for the slip.  More generally, he argued that NASA and its industry team have already completed "phenomenal" work both on SLS and Orion and are making good progress building a complex system. 

The delay in the EM-1 launch will affect the next launch, EM-2, as well. NASA has an internal planning date of August 2021 for EM-2, but it will use a different upper stage than EM-1: the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) instead of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).  EUS is about 40 feet longer than ICPS and 33 months are required between the two launches to reconfigure the mobile launch platform at Kennedy Space Center to accommodate the EUS.  A new date for EM-2 will be announced several months after the new EM-1 date is determined, Gerstenmaier said.  (NASA officially committed to launching EM-2 in 2023 after the Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) review in 2015, but has been trying to accelerate that to 2021.)

NASA critics sometimes complain that the private sector --  companies like SpaceX -- can move more quickly than a government agency and should be the ones building new rockets for human exploration.  Asked how the agency responds to such criticism, Lightfoot said today as he has in other venues that it is not a matter of NASA "or" the private sector, but NASA "and" the private sector:  "we complement each other."

Gerstenmaier and Lightfoot said that the feasibility study is not in a report format and some of the information is ITAR-sensitive, so there will no public release of what they based their decision on.  They do plan to produce a summary that will be made public, but no time frame was offered for when that will be ready.'s attempts to reach key Members of Congress for reaction to the announcement were unsuccessful, which is not surprising late on a Friday afternoon.  This article will be updated if we get any comments after press time.

GAO Requested to Study Restoring FAA Commercial Space Office to Secretary's Level

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-May-2017 (Updated: 11-May-2017 12:36 AM)

Three members of the House have sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the feasibility of elevating the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) to the Secretary of Transportation's office. Advocates believe that would facilitate getting needed financial and personnel resources to allow the office to fulfill its duties as the commercial space launch business expands.

Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Washington), Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) and Ami Bera (D-California) sent a letter to GAO on May 8 asking that it examine the following questions:

  • the feasibility of moving AST back into the Secretary's office and what would be required to accomplish it;
  • the advantages and disadvantages of doing so in terms of AST's ability to coordinate and communicate with the FAA on airspace issues; and
  • the key practices identified by GAO in other reorganizations that would be instructive for a successful transition of this nature.

President Ronald Reagan assigned responsibility for regulating the nascent U.S. commercial space launch industry to the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 1983, an action that was codified in law by the 1984 Commercial Space Transportation Act.  The Office of Commercial Space Transportation was established as part of the Secretary of Transportation's office at that time. In 1995, however, it was reassigned to the FAA, one of the eight administrations within DOT.

Similarly, the Office of Space Commerce in the Department of Commerce (DOC) was reassigned from the Secretary of Commerce's office to NOAA.  Bridenstine is one of three members of Congress circulating a discussion draft of a bill that would, among other things. restore that office to its previous status in DOC.  (No bill has been introduced yet.  What is being circulated is a draft bill for discussion purposes to obtain input from stakeholders.)

Congress has passed a number of laws over the past three decades that amend the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act or govern other commercial space activities such as commercial satellite remote sensing, most recently the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. Congressional action is continuing as the commercial space sector grows and many in Congress want to establish a regime with minimal regulation that provides regulatory certainty for potential investors.

FAA/AST is funded as part of the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill.  Kilmer is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  He and Bridenstine worked together to win a requested increase for FAA/AST's budget in FY2017 from $17.8 million to $19.8 million.  Earlier this year, Bridenstine testified to the T-HUD subcommittee to argue for an increase to $23 million in FY2018.  (At the hearing he also won an endorsement to become the next NASA Administrator from Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee that funds NASA).

Bera is the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Heather Wilson Confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-May-2017 (Updated: 09-May-2017 12:55 AM)

Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the next Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF).  The vote was 76-22.

Wilson was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month, but an unnamed Senator reportedly put a hold on her confirmation vote pending answers about a military installation in his or her state.  Apparently the answers were received and the vote was scheduled for today (May 8).

Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 with a bachelor of science degree.  She then earned masters and doctorate degrees in international relations as a Rhodes Scholar at England's Oxford University.  She served as a Captain in Europe and then joined the White House National Security Council staff under President George H.W. Bush.  A decade later, in 1998, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico's 1st district and served there until 2009.  In 2008, she had decided to run for the Senate, but lost in the primary.  She ran again for the Senate in 2012, but lost in the general election.  She has been President of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, SD since 2013, the first female President of the University.

Heather WIlson.  Photo credit: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology website.

Wilson will succeed Deborah Lee James as SecAF, who left at the end of the Obama Administration.   Lisa Disbrow, a retired Air Force Reserve Colonel with 30 years of national security experience including serving as a senior systems engineer at the National Reconnaissance Office, has been Acting SecAF since James's departure.

Wilson is the first service secretary to be confirmed in the Trump Administration.  The original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  President Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of criticism over comments he is said to have made that were offensive to the LGBT community and Muslims.  He denies the remarks, but said his nomination had become a distraction.

The Air Force is the major military service that builds and operates satellites and acquires launches for them.  It has been DOD's "executive agent" for space for many years, but an attempt was made during the Obama Administration to better coordinate space activities throughout DOD by creating the position of Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA).  As SecAF, James was named to that position in October 2015 in addition to her other duties.   It is difficult to assess the office's effectiveness in such a short period of time, but DOD continues to be criticized for not being organized effectively to deal with space matters.  It is not clear if the PDSA position will survive or if it will be abolished in the Trump Administration.

During her March 30 confirmation hearing before SASC, she said she was looking forward to serving in that position, however.  "One of the things I'm most looking forward to about this job is being the, potentially, the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense with respect to space and chairing the Defense Space Council.  There is no question that space will be a contested domain in any future conflict."   She added that she was a member of the House Intelligence Committee when China launched its anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007 "and I don't expect that things have slowed down since then."


Draft Bill Would Give Commerce, Not FAA, "Mission Authorization" Function

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-May-2017 (Updated: 08-May-2017 11:59 PM)

A draft bill being circulated for discussion would assign to the Department of Commerce (DOC) responsibility for registering non-government space activities to ensure, among other things, compliance with U.S. treaty obligations.  For more than a year, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) has been in the forefront of such discussions.  The draft bill instead would consolidate most of the government's authority for overseeing commercial space activities in DOC's Office of Space Commerce and elevate that office to a higher level in the department.

The draft American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 is a comprehensive commercial space regulatory streamlining bill being circulated for comment by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Brian Babin (R-TX) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).  Smith chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Babin chairs its Space Subcommittee.  Bridenstine is a member of both and a candidate to become the next NASA Administrator. 

Last year, Bridenstine was championing the idea of expanding FAA/AST's responsibilities to include what is sometimes called "mission authorization" -- providing the authorization and continual supervision of non-governmental space activities required by Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. It was also the position of the Obama White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which was required by the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) to submit a report to Congress with recommendations on how to fulfill those treaty obligations.  OSTP submitted the report on April 4, 2016.  FAA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and OSTP recommended that DOT take on the mission authorization task. obtained a copy of the new draft legislation.  It does not use the term "mission authorization," but the function would be assigned to the Department of Commerce instead of FAA.  The bill is much more far-reaching, however.  It basically would reset U.S. government oversight and regulation of commercial space activities, consolidating most of it at Commerce and giving the department only a very light regulatory hand.

In a written statement to, Bridenstine said that although his American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) last year called for expanding FAA's regulatory role, he now is supporting the approach proposed in this draft legislation.  "I laid out one legislative solution in [ASRA], but my objective over the past several years has been to find a solution that can gain a consensus on Capitol Hill and achieve that policy outcome.  Working closely with Chairman Smith and Chairman Babin, we have developed proposed legislation to create certainty with minimal regulatory burden for the commercial space industry.  This is a strong starting point and I look forward to working with the chairmen and stakeholders to strengthen the bill."

Responsibilities today are split.  FAA/AST regulates and facilitates commercial space launch and reentries (but not what takes place in space).  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigns radio spectrum to commercial satellite operators ensuring compliance with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) requirements and promulgates space debris mitigation regulations. NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, licenses commercial earth remote sensing satellites.

The Office of Space Commerce (OSC) also is part of NOAA.  Created in the 1980s, originally it was part of the Secretary of Commerce's office, but later was renamed the Office of Space Commercialization and transferred to NOAA, one of the dozen bureaus and offices in the Department.  CSLCA restored its original name and this bill would restore its original status.  Instead of being part of NOAA and headed by a director appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, the office would be physically located at the same place as the Secretary of Commerce and headed by an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Space Commerce appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.  That person would report directly to the Secretary.

Today, OSC is a very small office with a budget in the hundreds of thousands rather than millions.  It is responsible for promoting commercial space activities, but its budget in FY2015 and in FY2016 was only $600,000.  The Obama Administration requested a $1.4 million increase for FY2017, bringing the total to $2 million, but Congress provided only $200,000 of that increase, giving the office a total of $800,000 for FY2017.

The revitalized OSC envisioned in this draft legislation would play a much bigger role.  U.S. non-governmental entities would need to register their activities with OSC, which could accept or deny the registration based on strict rules and timetables established in the bill.  For example, the Secretary of Commerce would have 60 days to approve an application or not.  If it is disapproved, a clear explanation must be provided and the applicant may reapply to address the shortcomings.  If the Secretary does not act within 60 days, the application is automatically approved. The Secretary could waive registration for a space object if it is "too trivial or minor to merit consideration" or would be operated in conjunction with another space object that is registered. 

Once a registration is approved, no other part of the government could prevent launch or reentry on the basis of national security, foreign policy, or U.S. international obligations. It is solely the Secretary of Commerce's responsibility to determine if the proposed activity conforms with U.S. international obligations such as preventing the launch of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, as required under the Outer Space Treaty.  In a sense, this is the mission authorization function envisioned by OSTP, although it is not called that in the draft bill.

The FAA/AST would retain its role in regulating commercial space launch and reentries, but no longer could review U.S. payloads for anything other than safety.  Its current authority to review payloads for safety, national security, foreign policy and international obligations would apply only to foreign payloads under this draft bill. The FCC would still assign radio spectrum, ensure compliance with ITU international obligations, and regulate communication satellite operations, but no longer would be involved in on-orbit space debris or end-of-life satellite operations or ensuring compliance with any U.S. foreign obligations. NOAA's Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs would be abolished, with OSC taking on those duties.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has already held several hearings on commercial space topics over the past year or so, including regulation of commercial remote sensing satellites. That committee took the lead in crafting and passing existing law on that topic -- the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act.   Despite its best efforts to set time limits on how long the government can take to approve applications to build, launch and operate commercial remote sensing satellites, however, national security agencies have "stopped the clock" on some applications, turning what should be a 120-day process into one that can take years.  Much has changed in the commercial remote sensing satellite marketplace since 1992 as well, making the regulatory environment ripe for review.

This draft legislation would streamline that process.  It states as U.S. policy that "to the maximum extent practicable, the Federal government shall take steps to protect the national security interests of the United States that do not involve regulating or limiting the freedoms of United States non-governmental entities to explore and use space, which shall include Federal government agencies mitigating against any threats to national security posed by United States citizen exploration and use of outer space by changing Federal government activities and operations."

The Secretary of Commerce, and only the Secretary of Commerce, is authorized to permit U.S. entities to operate commercial remote sensing satellites: "No other agency has the authority to authorize, place conditions on, or supervise space-based remote sensing systems."  Furthermore, the Secretary may not place conditions on the permits approved for such U.S. systems if substantially similar capabilities are already available or expected to become available in 3 years from other domestic or foreign commercial sources.  As with the other commercial space activities, the Secretary has 60 days to make a decision or the permit is automatically approved.  If the Secretary determines the system poses a "significant" national security threat, the permit may be granted with conditions to ameliorate those concerns, or denied.  The word significant is defined as imminent, cannot practically be mitigated by changes to federal government activities or operations, and is not currently presented by a foreign actor or expected to be within 3 years.

This draft bill builds on hearings already held by the committee, including one in March that aired different points of view on how to ensure U.S. compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.  Whether the committee will hold a hearing specifically on this bill or not remains to be seen.  The purpose of circulating the discussion draft is to gather input from those who would be affected by it and then determine the next steps.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 8-12, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-May-2017 (Updated: 08-May-2017 08:28 AM)

Here's our list of space policy events for the week of May 8-12, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

Although the House is taking a week off from Washington duties to check in with constituents back home, the Senate is in session.  Tomorrow (Monday) it is scheduled to vote on the nomination of former Congresswoman Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force. Her nomination was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month.  If approved, the Republican who represented the 1st district of New Mexico from 1998-2009 will succeed Deborah Lee James in that role.  Lisa Disbrow has been serving as Acting SecAF since James left on January 20 when the Obama Administration ended.  Wilson would become the first service secretary confirmed in the Trump Administration.  Trump's original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of opposition that developed in reaction to views he is said to have expressed that were offensive to the LGBT community and to Muslims.  Green denied them, but said his nomination had become a "distraction" and therefore withdrew.

Tuesday-Thursday is the 4th Humans To Mars (H2M) Summit, organized by Explore Mars and once again held at George Washington University in Washington, DC.  The event will be webcast.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will speak at 9:00 am ET on Tuesday, followed by a panel of NASA's Associate Administrators (AAs) for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier), Science (Thomas Zurbuchen), and Space Technology (Steve Jurczyk).  Gerstenmaier's deputy for policy and plans Greg Williams then will lay out NASA's current planning for a Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport.   And that's all in just the first two hours!  It's a jam packed agenda.  For those who will be there in person, Leonard David will have a book signing event on Tuesday at lunchtime for his National Geographic book "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet."   David will also be on a panel discussion at a pre-event on Monday evening (separate registration required) with Pascal Lee (Mars Institute), Penny Boston (NASA Astrobiology Institute), and Keith Cowing (NASAWatch).  On Wednesday morning, Jeff Foust (Space News), Frank Morring (Aviation Week) and your faithful editor will be on a panel moderated by former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan.  On Thursday morning, there's a panel on "Is the Moon a Good Step on the Way to Mars" with Scott Pace (GWU Space Policy Institute and former NASA AA for program analysis and evaluation); Doug Cooke (former NASA AA for Exploration Systems), Tony Antonelli (Lockheed Martin, former astronaut), and Peter McGrath (Boeing), moderated by Kathy Laurini (NASA Senior Advisor for Exploration and Space Operations).  Lots more than can be previewed here.  Check out the agenda.

For anyone who can tear themselves away from H2M on Tuesday, the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) is hosting a luncheon with a very interesting group of speakers on "Defense Space Priorities in the New Administration."  It's at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA (not to be confused with the Army & Navy Club on 17th St. in D.C.).  Moderated by Todd Harrison from CSIS, the speakers include: John Hill, Acting DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy; David Hardy, Associate Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space; Col. Sidney Conner, USAF, Deputy Director Space Programs Assistant Secretary (Acquisition); Chirag Parikh, Deputy Director, Counterproliferation, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; and Lindsay Millard, Program Manager, Tactical Technology Office, DARPA.  Hope you've got your tickets already.  Pre-registration ended May 5.

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, May 8

Tuesday, May 9

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 9-10

Tuesday-Thursday, May 9-11

  • Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit, George Washington University, Washington, DC, webcast  (pre-event activities on Monday, May 8, require separate registration)

Wednesday, May 10

Thursday, May 11

Friday, May 12

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »

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