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NASA FY2018 Funding Bill Advances in Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jun-2017 (Updated: 30-Jun-2017 12:48 AM)

The House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA approved its FY2018 funding bill today, while its Senate counterpart held a hearing on the request.  These are only the initial steps on a long road to a final budget deal, but there is no question that NASA continues to have strong bipartisan support from its appropriators. 

The House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee approved boosting NASA's budget to $19.872 billion, $218 million more than FY2017 and $780 million more than President Trump requested.  It adopted the draft bill released yesterday by voice vote without amendment. 

That does not mean the bill has universal support.  Overall, the bill provides about one percent less than FY2017 for all the departments and agencies it funds.  If NASA, for example, gets more money, others get less.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, José Serrano (D-NY), said that he could not support the bill in its current form.  He listed a number of cuts in the bill to non-NASA activities as objectionable, such as to the Legal Services Corporation, to the Census Bureau as it prepares for the 2020 census, and a 19 percent cut to climate science at NOAA.  As for NASA, he revealed that the subcommittee is cutting an additional $50 million from NASA's earth science budget compared to the request, which is already a reduction of $167 million from FY2017.  (Such details are not in the bill itself, but are in an accompanying explanatory report that will be released 24 hours before the bill is marked up by the full committee.)

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the top Democrat on the full committee, made a broader complaint about the bill -- that the House has not yet adopted a Budget Resolution setting the total amount of federal funding available for FY2018.  

Strictly speaking, the House and Senate are supposed to agree on a Budget Resolution setting that figure, after which specific amounts are allocated to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees to spend.  Republicans denounced Democrats for not passing Budget Resolutions when Democrats were in control, but have had their own challenges in doing so.  The chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), has been unable to get agreement even among her Republican colleagues.  There is broad agreement to increase defense spending, but not on compensating cuts to non-defense spending. 

Indeed, subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-TX) expressed hope that there will be a budget agreement that will provide more money for his subcommittee so it can "backfill some of the holes" in what was approved today.  Anything is possible, but Congress has a long journey ahead to decide on FY2018 funding and deal with increasing the debt limit this fall, all while the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act are in effect.

Lowey said the committee should not be "patting ourselves on the back" for moving forward on appropriations bills like CJS because there still is no Budget Resolution or "any semblance of a plan to keep the government funded and avoid a debt default."

Nonetheless, when the vote was called, none of the Democrats said "no."  That is not really surprising since today's action merely moves the bill from subcommittee to full committee where the debate can continue.  No date was announced for full committee markup.

Over on the Senate side, Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot fielded questions from CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL); the new top Democrat on the subcommittee, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), replacing Barbara Mikulski (who retired) as the Ranking Member; and other subcommittee members. 

This was the third hearing on NASA's budget request this month.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the House Appropriations CJS subcommittee each held their hearings on June 8. At all three hearings, concern was expressed about the Trump Administration's proposal to eliminate NASA's Office of Education and five earth science programs (PACE, RBI, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3, and the earth facing instruments on DSCOVR).  Support for the Office of Education is bipartisan, while support for earth science is primarily from Democratic members. 

Today, Senators from both parties made clear that they object to dismantling the Office of Education and its EPSCoR, Space Grant, MUREP, and  SEAP programs.  Lightfoot explained that NASA hopes to be able to continue engaging with students through programs in the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, but conceded they were not replacements for the terminated programs.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who won Mikulski's seat and now sits on the CJS subcommittee (though as a junior member) and Shaheen spoke out against the earth science cuts.  Lightfoot explained that he was given direction to cut the budget and decisions were made based on whether a program was recommended in the 2007 Decadal Survey for earth science, how the program was performing, or if NASA had other ways to get the needed data.  "With the budget box we were in .. that was how we made the decisions."  Shaheen was not convinced that was the reason for terminating the earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR.   She characterized it as a political decision.

The RESTORE-L satellite servicing program was also a topic of considerable discussion.  NASA had been planning to develop technology to refuel a satellite in low Earth orbit and demonstrate the technology by refueling the Landsat 7 satellite.  The Trump Administration wants to limit NASA to only developing the technology, not demonstrating it, and merge NASA's program with a different satellite servicing technology development effort at DARPA. 

West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R) along with Van Hollen debated that decision.  Lightfoot argued that NASA will develop the technology and turn it over to the private sector to use through a public private partnership.  The Senators were skeptical that the private sector would step in without more NASA involvement.  West Virginia University is involved in RESTORE-L, which is managed at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Shelby's questions illustrated his continued strong support for the Space Launch System and criticism of the commercial crew program.  At the end of the hearing, however, he asked a more general question -- what is NASA's biggest challenge today. 

Stability, Lightfoot replied.  While expressing gratitude for the strong bipartisan budget support for NASA on Capitol Hill, he noted that the Administration's proposal is for NASA's budget to remain flat funded at $19.092 billion for the "outyears" (the next four years after FY2018), without an adjustment even for inflation.  "We're not working on one-year programs here. When you look at things like flat outyears ... that's $4.5 billion in potential lost buying power.  How do I plan for that?"

House Appropriators Propose $19.9 Billion for NASA, Full Funding for JPSS and GOES

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jun-2017 (Updated: 02-Jul-2017 05:22 PM)

The House Appropriations Committee released the draft FY2018 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today, which funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.  The CJS subcommittee will mark up the bill tomorrow.  The draft proposes $19.872 billion for NASA. Although the dollar number for NOAA's satellite programs is not included in the bill, it does promise full funding for NOAA's two major weather satellite programs.

Those are the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) of polar-orbiting weather satellites and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series R (GOES-R) satellites.  The JPSS program funds the first two satellites in what is intended to be a series of four.  The other two have a different program name and funding line - the Polar Follow On (PFO) program. The GOES-R program funds four GOES geostationary satellite.

The Trump Administration supports full funding for JPSS and GOES-R.  The question is what will happen to PFO and a space weather follow-on program to build future satellites to replace the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  The Trump Administration proposed deep cuts for those.   The subcommittee's recommendation was not included in the bill text released today, but should become clear either tomorrow during the markup or when the accompanying report is released.

Trump proposed a substantial cut for NASA in his FY2018 budget request -- from the $19.653 billion provided by Congress in FY2017 to $19.092 billion for FY2018 and the same total for each of the subsequent four years.

The House CJS subcommittee recommendation is an increase not only above the Trump request, but also above the FY2017 level:  $19.872 billion.  The proposed House CJS subcommittee funding is as follows (see's FY2018 NASA budget fact sheet to compare with FY2017 and FY2016). 

  • Science:  $5,858.5 million, including $495 million for the Europa mission outlined in the most recent National Academies Decadal Survey (meaning an orbiter and a lander) with the requirement that they be launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2022 and 2024 (the same requirement included in last year's appropriations bill)
  • Aeronautics:  $660.0 million
  • Space Technology:  $686.5 million
  • Exploration:  $4,550.0 million, including $1,350 million for Orion; $2,150 million for SLS; $600 million for Exploration Ground Systems; and $450 million for Exploration Research and Development.  Of the funding for SLS, $300 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage.  EM-2 is to be launched by 2021.
  • Space Operations:  $4,676.634 million
  • Education:  $90 million, of which $18 million is for EPSCoR and $40 million is for Space Grant (Trump proposed eliminating NASA's Office of Education and funding for these and other programs funded by that office)
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services:  $2,826.2 million
  • Construction, Environmental Compliance and Restoration:  $486.1 million
  • Inspector General:  $37.9 million

The existing restrictions on NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding space cooperation with China remain.

The markup is at 2:00 pm ET tomorrow and will be webcast.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 26-30, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jun-2017 (Updated: 25-Jun-2017 09:17 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 26-30, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress is racing to complete action on a number of things before the July 4 recess.  Among them is making progress on legislation at the top of congressional priorities -- appropriations bills for FY2018 (which begins on October 1) and the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

By the end of the week, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will have completed their markups of the NDAA, positioning them for floor action once Congress returns -- one more step along the legislative path.  As we reported last week, the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee wants to create a Space Corps within the Air Force and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  Its Senate counterpart will markup its version of the bill tomorrow (Monday), but it is closed so we may not know whether it takes a position on that issue until the end of the SASC process later this week. The full HASC will mark up the bill, H.R. 2810, on Wednesday.   HASC markups are usually marathon sessions that last into the wee hours of the night.  They are open and webcast.

SASC, by contrast, does everything behind closed doors.  All of the subcommittee and full committee markups begin tomorrow and hopefully finish by Thursday, but they have Friday in reserve if needed.  The markups all take place in the same room and the first three subcommittees, including Strategic Forces, are scheduled just 30 minutes apart, suggesting that they already have decided what they are going to do and the markups are pro forma. Full committee markup, on the other hand, is a multi-day event.

The NDAA is an authorization bill, of course, that sets policy and recommends funding levels, but money only comes from appropriations committees.  The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will mark up the defense appropriations bill this week as well.  The overall budget battle over how much to add to defense and what cuts will be made to non-defense programs is far from over, but the committee is determined to move forward anyway. It already has approved the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill.

Traditionally (but not necessarily) the House acts first on appropriations bills and, indeed, the Senate Appropriations Committee is still in the hearing phase.  The Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee will hold its hearing on the FY2018 NASA budget request on Thursday morning.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot is the only witness.  At exactly the same time, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on in-space propulsion.   NASA Associate Administrators for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) and Space Technology (Steve Jurczyk) will be joined at the witness table by former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz (of VASIMR engine fame), Mitchell Walker representing the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Joe Cassady from Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Anthony Pancotti of MSNW LLC, which is developing the NASA-funded Electrodeless Lorentz Force (ELF-250) thruster and the ElectroMagnetic Plasmoid Thruster (EMPT).

Lots and lots of other really interesting events going on, including the Space Weather Enterprise Forum in DC; the NewSpace 2017 conference in San Francisco; the IAA's Future of Space Exploration -- Towards Moon Village and Beyond in Torino, Italy; and Asteroid Day on Friday, June 30, with events worldwide and a 24-hour broadcast from Luxembourg beginning at 01:00 GMT (which is 9:00 pm ET June 29).

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, June 26

Tuesday, June 27

Tuesday-Thursday, June 27-29

Tuesday-Friday, June 27-30

Wednesday, June 28

Wednesday-Thursday, June 28-29

Thursday, June 29

Friday, June 30

Rogers Warns Air Force Not To Resist Space Corps Proposal

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2017 (Updated: 22-Jun-2017 05:29 PM)

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) warned top Air Force officials not to undermine his proposal to create a Space Corps within the service.  He characterized his blistering remarks about being "outraged" and "shocked" by their reaction as a "friendly warning," but it sounded more threatening than that.  Rogers chairs the House Armed Services Committee's (HASC's) subcommittee that oversees most military space programs. His remarks were made during today's markup of that subcommittee's portion of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The proposal became public on Tuesday when HASC posted the draft bill text and report language that the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces took up today.  All the HASC subcommittees are in the process of marking up their segments of the bill.  The full committee will mark up the final bill next Wednesday (June 28).

The idea is to create a Space Corps within the Air Force by January 1, 2019.  It would be analogous to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.  The Space Corps would be led by a Space Corps Chief of Staff who would report to the Secretary of the Air Force and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  That would be similar to the Commandant of the Marine Corps who reports to the Secretary of the Navy and is a member of the JCS.  The Space Corps Chief of Staff would be co-equal to the Air Force Chief of Staff.  The proposal also would create a U.S. Space Command as a subordinate unit of U.S. Strategic Command.

Rogers and the top Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), said in a joint statement on Tuesday that this reorganization is needed because "the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding."  They blame not only advances being made by adversaries, but the "crippling organizational and management structure" imposed upon the U.S. national security space enterprise by the existing organization of the Air Force.  They chastised the Air Force for not being able to "even recognize the nature and scope of its problems."

Rogers' interest in creating a Space Corps has been rumored for some time and the two top Air Force officials -- Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein -- were asked about it during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 17.   Goldfein said this was not the right time to create a Space Corps because he and Wilson are seeking to integrate -- not separate -- space into the overall military framework as they shift from a paradigm where space was considered a benign environment to one where it is a warfighting domain.  He insisted that separating space would "slow us down."

Yesterday, Wilson and Goldfein repeated those sentiments to the media.  As reported by Breaking Defense, Wilson said "the Pentagon is complicated enough" and the proposal would only add to its complexity.  "I don't need another chief of staff and another six deputy chiefs of staff," she was quoted as saying, while Goldfein repeated his concerns that at this juncture space must be integrated into, not separated from, the other warfighting domains (land, sea, air and cyberspace).

Rogers reacted harshly to those comments today.  "Well, the Secretary should tell me where in this proposal it says she needs to add six more deputy chiefs of staff. If she can't implement this proposal without creating six new deputy chiefs of staff, that's on her." 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), left. chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee during subcommittee markup of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, June 22, 2017.  Screengrab.

He said he was "outraged" and "shocked" by the response from the Air Force leadership.  He later asserted:  "Maybe we need a Space Corps Secretary instead of leaving it to the Secretary of the Air Force."

Rogers' lengthy statement acknowledged that he expected the Air Force to resist change, but insisted that "this is the same Air Force that got us into the situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space. We will not allow the status quo to continue."

He left an opening for Wilson and Goldfein, saying that he is willing to work with them to find a solution, "but, at the end of the day, whether or not they're in the room when decisions are made is their choice.  But they better shape up or they'll figure out who is in charge here.  I'll let you in on a secret: it's the branch of our government that controls the purse strings."

Under the Constitution, only Congress decides how much money the government will spend and on what.

The markup session went on from there.  Several amendments were adopted, but only one concerned space programs.  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) offered an amendment that essentially urges the Air Force to think more positively about reusable launch vehicles.  It is not prescriptive, but requires the Secretary of Defense to brief HASC by March 1, 2018 on DOD's "plan to evaluate the risks, benefits, costs, and potential cost-savings of the use of reusable launch vehicles" for national security missions.  During his remarks on the amendment, Franks pointed to recent successful launches by Blue Origin and SpaceX of reusable vehicles and reminded his colleagues that NASA's space shuttle was reusable and it was utilized for national security launches.  Why then, he asked, would the Air Force pass up an opportunity to save money by using new reusable launch systems? 

The amendment was adopted by voice vote.  The text is as follows:


HASC Criticizes DOD Management of Space Programs, Wants Space Corps - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jun-2017 (Updated: 19-Jul-2017 10:43 PM)

The Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) plans to require the creation of a U.S. Space Corps as a separate military service within the Air Force, and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  It insists such steps are required to address an erosion of the strategic advantages the United States derives from national security space systems. [UPDATE:  HASC debated the proposal and defeated a Turner amendment to remove it.  The White House opposed it.  Nonetheless, the House passed the bill on July 14 with this provision intact.]

HASC's subcommittees are marking up their portions of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week. The Strategic Forces subcommittee oversees most national security space programs and released a draft of its proposal today.  The markup is scheduled for Thursday morning and will be webcast.

In a joint press release, subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and ranking member Jim Cooper (D-TN) said there "is bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding.  Not only are there developments by adversaries, but we are imposing upon the national security space enterprise a crippling organizational and management structure and an acquisition system that has led to delays and cost-overruns."

Efforts to reform defense acquisition in general, and for space systems specifically, have been underway for many years.  Congress and DOD agree that a better system is needed, but not on how to solve the problem. 

In October 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work created a new position of Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA) to be filled by the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) to strengthen the leadership of the space enterprise within the department.   SecAF Deborah Lee James was the first to hold that position, which is now held by the new SecAF Heather Wilson.

In April of this year, Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow announced that the Air Force would reorganize its own space leadership team and create a new "A-11" deputy chief of staff position to be filled by a three-star general.  Wilson made it official on June 16.  The new position will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations and the new directorate will begin operating in August.

At several hearings this year, Air Force officials have repeated the refrain that space no longer is a benign environment, but a warfighting domain.  At a May 17 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein was asked if 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.  He said no, that the timing is not right.  "Anything that leads to separating space instead of integrating it" into the overall military framework would "slow us down." 

That line of reasoning obviously did not hold sway with the HASC subcommittee.  Rogers and Cooper chastised DOD for "being unable to take the measures necessary to address these problems effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scope of its problems.  Thus, Congress has to step in."

The subcommittee's draft bill would create a U.S. Space Corps as a separate military service within the Air Force, analogous to the Marine Corps' position within the Department of the Navy.  The Space Corps would be responsible for national security space programs currently overseen by the Air Force and would be under the civilian leadership of the SecAF.  The draft bill would also establish a U.S. Space Command as a subordinate unified command within U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), "elevating the space mission to a four-star command and improving the integration of space forces."  USSTRATCOM itself is headed by a four-star general officer, currently Air Force Gen. John Hyten.  He previously was Commander of Air Force Space Command, also a four-star position, currently filled by Gen. John "Jay" Raymond.  Whether adding another four-star position as the subcommittee wants, and/or the three-star position the Air Force wants, will clarify responsibilities and streamline decision-making is an open question.

The HASC subcommittee's draft would also:

  • prohibit the Secretary of Defense from entering into contracts for satellite services that pose a cybersecurity threat, or services provided by satellites launched from covered foreign countries, or launched by launch vehicles designed or manufactured by covered foreign countries (meaning countries described in section 1261(c)(2) of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act -- China, North Korea or any state sponsor of terrorism -- plus Russia);
  • require development and implementation of a plan to enhance the resilience of GPS capacity, including adding the capability to receive signals from Europe's Galileo and Japan's QZSS satellites;
  • establish an annual "Space Flag" training event for space professionals to develop and test doctrine, concepts of operations, and tactics, techniques, and procedures. coordinated among the Secretary of Defense, Commander, Air Force Space Command, Commander, Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and Commander, Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command;
  • extend the pilot program for commercial weather data for another year; and
  • express the sense of Congress on the importance of a space-based missile defense layer.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 18-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jun-2017 (Updated: 18-Jun-2017 12:51 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 18-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will begin marking up the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week.  Most military space programs are under the jurisdiction of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.  Its markup is on Thursday morning.  Across Capitol Hill, Senate defense appropriators will begin drilling down into the budget requests from the three services.  They heard from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford last week about the broad scope of funding issues facing DOD.  This Wednesday they will hear from Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein specifically about Air Force needs.  Most military space programs are in the Air Force budget and Wilson is the Principal DOD Space Advisor.  Separately, Dunford will give a luncheon address at the National Press Club tomorrow (Monday) and Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will talk about space, nuclear and missile defense modernization Tuesday morning as part of the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute space breakfast series (one must register in advance to attend).

On the space science front, NASA will hold a briefing tomorrow (Monday) at NASA's Ames Research Center on recent discoveries from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope.  The briefing is in conjunction with the fourth Kepler Science Conference taking place there all week.  

Back here in Washington, NASA is sponsoring back-to-back briefings on Wednesday about the upcoming solar eclipse.  On August 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will pass over the United States.  The total eclipse will be visible in 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina.  The rest of North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see a partial eclipse. It is such a rare event that huge traffic jams and other disruptions are expected and it is vitally important that people wear special "eclipse glasses" to look at the sun.  NOT sunglasses.  You need eclipse glasses.  They are inexpensive and readily available from many retailers as a quick look on will reveal.  NASA has arranged these briefings two months before the eclipse so people have plenty of time to get prepared.  The first Wednesday briefing is on logistics and the second is on the science of solar eclipses.  They will take place at the Newseum in Washington and broadcast on NASA TV.

The space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a third hearing on commercial space issues on Wednesday (unfortunately at the same time as the NASA eclipse briefings as well as a very interesting CSIS seminar on "Small Satellites, Big Missions").  Subcommittee chairman Ted Cruz is holding a series of hearings under the rubric "Reopening the American Frontier."  The first two were on April 26 and May 23.  This one is focusing on partnerships between the government and the private sector.  Bob Cabana, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is the lone government witness.  He has been leading the conversion of KSC from a NASA center to a multi-user spaceport populated almost as much by other government agencies and private sector companies as by NASA itself.  Joining him at the witness table will be Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX (which leases KSC's iconic Launch Complex 39A from NASA), Jeff Manber from Nanoracks (which arranges to send cubesats to the International Space Station for deployment into orbit), Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin (an expert on space situational awareness), and Tim Ellis from Relativity (a company whose website says it is "reimagining the way orbital rockets are built and flown").

This is also Paris Air Show week with the venerable event taking place as usual at Le Bourget outside Paris, France.

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.

Sunday, June 18

Monday, June 19

Monday-Friday, June 19-23

Monday-Sunday, June 19-25

Tuesday, June 20

Tuesday-Thursday, June 20-22

Wednesday, June 21

Thursday, June 22

Thursday-Friday, June 22-23

Senate-Passed Sanctions Bill Includes Exception for NASA, Commercial Space Launches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jun-2017 (Updated: 15-Jun-2017 06:54 PM)

The Senate passed a Russia-Iran sanctions act today by a vote of 98-2.  During debate, the Senate adopted an amendment to clarify that the bill is not intended to prevent commercial launch service providers from using Russian engines on rockets that launch NASA or commercial payloads.

The amendment was sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and co-sponsored by his Democratic counterpart (Bennet), both Republican Senators from Alabama (Shelby and Strange), both Democratic Senators from Virginia (Warner and Kaine), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) spoke against the amendment.  His opposition to use of Russian RD-180 engines for national security launches using United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket is well known.  During consideration of last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he finally relented in his efforts to require ULA to terminate its use of those engines by 2019, agreeing to a more gradual transition as U.S. companies work to develop alternatives.

His passion to end U.S. reliance on Russian engines has not waned, however.  Today he turned his attention to the use of Russian engines for civil and commercial customers. 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).  Photo Credit: McCain's Senate Website

ULA's RD-180-powered Atlas V already is sometimes used for launching Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  In the future, it will be used by Sierra Nevada for Dream Chaser cargo missions and by Boeing for launches of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.  Atlas V is also used for NASA science missions and for NOAA weather satellites, as well as commercial customers.

Orbital ATK uses its own Antares rocket for Cygnus launches to ISS, too.  Antares is outfitted with Russian RD-181 engines.

Invoking the same rhetoric he used in the RD-180 debate, McCain insisted that buying engines from Russia puts money into the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "cronies."  He said the language agreed to in last year's NDAA put DOD on the path to eliminate dependence on Russia as soon as possible while fostering competition among American companies and "NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same."  Repeating it three times for emphasis, he urged a no vote on the Gardner amendment (SA 250).

He conceded that the amendment would pass despite his objections and he was correct.  It passed 94-6.

Gardner insisted that putting NASA on a path to phase out reliance on Russia is, in fact, the intent of the amendment, but just like DOD, time is needed for that transition to occur.   He characterized the amendment as an effort to avoid an "unintended consequence" of the underlying bill, S. 722.

The bill, "An Act to Provide Congressional Review and to Counter Iranian and Russian Governments' Aggression," came out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  It imposes additional sanctions on Iran and on Russia, but as committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said, it also "reasserts congressional authority" over imposing or ending sanctions on those countries.  "For decades, Congress has slowly and irresponsibly ceded its authorities to the executive branch, particularly as it relates to foreign policy." 

Corker added that the bill provides the Trump Administration with "appropriate national security flexibility."  Its intent to prevent the President from unilaterally ending sanctions, particularly on Russia, however, is clear. Hence, the fate of the bill is in question.  It still must pass the House and be signed into law by the President to become law.  If it passes the House, it seems unlikely that any President would sign a bill limiting his authorities.  If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress could override it with a two-thirds vote of the House and of the Senate.  The 98-2 Senate vote today clearly would meet that margin, though voting to override a veto is quite different from voting on a piece of legislation at this stage of its development.   All eyes will be on the House to see what it does with the bill.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 11-16, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2017 (Updated: 15-Jun-2017 12:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 11-16, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. 

During the Week

This week it's DOD's turn to talk to authorizers and appropriators about the FY2018 budget request. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are the witnesses at each of the four hearings on successive days beginning tomorrow (Monday).  It's not clear whether military space programs will come up to any great extent, but the hearings should provide some sense of where space activities sit in DOD priorities. Mattis and Dunford testify to the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow, Senate Armed Services on Tuesday, Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday, and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Thursday.

On Monday, Orbital ATK and NASA will hold a briefing at Wallops Island, VA, home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the launch site for Orbital ATK's Antares rocket.  The briefing will provide an update on the next Orbital ATK cargo mission on a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), which will launch on Antares from MARS at Wallops. The launch is currently expected in September.  Orbital ATK has launched Cygnus on both Antares from Wallops and United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral.  At first, Orbital ATK used ULA's Atlas V while it was getting Antares back to flight after an October 2014 failure.  Antares returned to service in October 2016, but the company's most recent Cygnus mission used the Atlas V again reportedly at NASA's request.  Atlas V can lift more mass than Antares. 

Orbital ATK officials have said they are happy to use either rocket depending on the customer's requirements, but with this briefing, clearly are trying to highlight Antares and the MARS facility, which is located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, but owned and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight  Authority ("Virginia Space").  NASA Wallops Director Bill Wrobel and Virginia Space Executive Director Dale Nash will join Orbital ATK's Frank Culbertson and Kurt Eberly for the briefing, which will be livestreamed.  The briefing will take place one day after the most recent Cygnus mission ended.  After about six weeks attached to ISS and one week in independent flight, the S.S. John Glenn fired its engines for a last time today and descended into the atmosphere and disintegrated, as intended. Only one of the ISS cargo resupply spacecraft is designed to survive reentry, SpaceX's Dragon.

SpaceX's most recent Dragon arrived at the ISS last Monday and Russia will launch its next Progress cargo resupply mission this Wednesday (with docking on Friday if all goes well).  All these cargo spacecraft comings and goings illustrate the challenges of sending people on lengthy trips beyond low Earth orbit.  Tough enough to provide all the needed supplies and equipment when they are close to home.  It's going to take a lot of technology development for life support and other systems, and many logistics flights, to support such missions.

NASA's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) is meeting Monday-Wednesday at Goddard Space Flight Center.  Michele Gates is on the agenda on Tuesday for 15 minutes to talk about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which consumed a lot of SBAG's attention for the past couple of years.  Presumably her task at this point is just to inform SBAG that the Trump Administration has terminated ARM, but two aspects of it -- high power solar electric propulsion development and asteroid hunting -- will continue nonetheless.  NASA's Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green and Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson are also on the agenda along with many other presentations that sound quite interesting, including two by representatives of asteroid mining companies.  The meeting is available remotely through Adobe Connect.

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

Monday, June 12

Monday-Wednesday, June 12-14

Monday-Friday, June 12-16 (continued from last week)

Tuesday, June 13

Wednesday, June 14

Thursday, June 15

Friday, June 16

New Commercial Space Bill Clears House Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jun-2017 (Updated: 09-Jun-2017 12:20 AM)

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee approved the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 (H.R. 2809) by voice vote today.  Although the bill has bipartisan sponsorship, the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), offered a substitute version of the bill as an amendment, but later withdrew it acknowledging that there were not enough votes for it to pass.  Three other amendments were adopted by voice vote.

The three main sponsors/co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House SS&T committee; Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the space subcommittee; and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).  Joining them as co-sponsors are Republicans Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Randy Hultgren (IL), Randy Weber (TX), and Clay Higgins (LA) and Democrats Ed Perlmutter (CO) and Derek Kilmer (WA).  

Twenty  companies and industry associations submitted letters of support for all or portions of the legislation, including the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the Satellite Industry Association.  Most of the letters are posted on the committee's website.

The committee circulated a draft of the bill to stakeholders several weeks ago.  Smith said the committee received input from companies, federal agencies, the Administration, and committee colleagues and incorporated "many if not most" of the recommended changes.

Smith characterized the bill as declaring that "America is 'open for business' in space."  The bill "establishes a legal and policy environment intended to unleash American free enterprise and business, assure conformity with Outer Space Treaty obligations, and ensure that the United States will lead the world in commercial space activities throughout the 21st Century."

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) at markup of H.R. 2809, June 8, 2017.  Screengrab.

The final bill is similar to the draft in that it designates the Department of Commerce (DOC) as the "one-stop shop" in the government for companies that want to engage in commercial space activities.  The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) would continue to facilitate, promote and regulate commercial launch and reentry, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would continue to assign radio spectrum to commercial users, but everything else would go through DOC's Office of Space Commerce (OSC).  OSC currently is part of NOAA.  It would be combined with NOAA's Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs and the merged office elevated to a higher level in the DOC.  The head of the office would be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce.  The two offices have a combined budget of $1.4 million for FY2017.  The bill would authorize $5 million for FY2018.

Among the changes from the draft that was circulated several weeks ago are the following:

  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to issue "certifications" instead of "registrations" for U.S. entities to operate space objects. The distinction between a registration and a certification is not clarified, but the term is changed throughout the legislation. The requirement for DOC to establish a registry of objects of U.S. entities that are authorized and supervised to operate in outer space is eliminated.
  • Strengthens a requirement for the Secretary of Commerce to consult with other agencies in deciding whether to grant certifications ("shall, as the Secretary considers necessary" instead of  "may, as the Secretary considers necessary")
  • Extends the time period by which the Secretary must decide to grant or reject a certification from 60 days to 90 days.

Until last fall, it appeared as though there was consensus in government and industry that responsibility for regulating new commercial space activities would be assigned to FAA/AST, which already regulates launch and reentry.  Bridenstine and George Nield, the head of FAA/AST, advocated expanding the office's role to include in-space activities and in a report required by the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), the Obama Administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) essentially recommended that course of action.  Bridenstine included that approach in a bill he introduced last year, the American Space Renaissance Act.

However, last October, Babin called for a "regulatory rethink" for commercial space regulation, which led to a hearing earlier this year on a "permissionless" approach to achieving the goal of ensuring that the United States fulfills its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty without stifling innovation.  The issues are complex and were also debated at a Senate hearing last month.

While there is general agreement that whatever regulation should have a light touch -- "maximum certainty with minimal regulation" -- debate continues over what federal agency should be in charge of whatever regulation there is.   This bill assigns it to DOC, but there are those who continue to view FAA/AST as the appropriate agency.

Johnson's substitute amendment was to assign it to FAA/AST.  She argued that FAA/AST already has the organization in place to take on these additional duties rather than starting from scratch at DOC.  She said her amendment "builds on the highly successful FAA space launch licensing process and provides a clean, straightforward path for the certification of these innovative space systems."  However, she withdrew the amendment saying "I can count, and realize that this amendment has very little chance of being adopted."  She expressed hope that Democrats and Republicans can work together to reach consensus as the bill moves forward.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX) at markup of H.R. 2809, June 8, 2017.  Screengrab.

Smith, however, said he was "more than disappointed" that she had proposed the amendment and defended the process by which the bill was drafted and made available for comment, including making changes requested by Democratic members.  He said her amendment would "strangle an industry at its early stages" and have other negative consequences.

Bridenstine clearly changed his views from last year and now supports giving this authority to DOC instead of FAA/AST.  He did, however, offer an amendment today requesting that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study of the pros and cons of elevating AST out of the FAA and into the Secretary of Transportation's office, where it originally was located, to give it added visibility and resources. The amendment was adopted.  (He wrote a letter to GAO with the same request last month.)

A Perlmutter amendment was also adopted that added a task to be undertaken by a Private Space Activity Advisory Committee created in the bill.  The committee now also would be required to identify challenges the U.S. private sector is experiencing with "access to adequate, predictable, and reliable radio frequency spectrum."

The committee's verbatim summary of the bill's key provisions as published in its press release is as follows:

  • Create a single authority for U.S. authorization and supervision of nongovernmental space activities located at the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce
  • Establish a transparent certification process in the least burdensome manner possible
  • Provide greater certainty to assure nongovernmental space activities conform to the United States’ Outer Space Treaty obligations
  • Address concerns that certified activities may pose a safety risk to existing federal government space systems
  • Reform the space-based remote sensing regulatory process
  • Preserve ability to condition remote sensing operations to protect national security
  • Enhance national security by ensuring insight into operations and capabilities by creating a competitive environment that discourages offshoring

New Astronauts, But No News from VP Pence

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Jun-2017 (Updated: 08-Jun-2017 12:22 PM)

Vice President Mike Pence attended a NASA event at Johnson Space Center (JSC) today introducing the 12 new astronaut candidates NASA selected from a pool of approximately 18,300 applicants.  His remarks evoked patriotic images of American leadership in space, but provided no news about the reestablishment of a White House National Space Council, the nomination of a NASA Administrator, or detaiis of what the Trump Administration plans for NASA.

Pence joined Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and JSC Director Ellen Ochoa at the event, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Brian Babin.  Cruz, Smith and Babin are all members of the Texas congressional delegation.  Cruz chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation space subcommittee.  Smith chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and Babin chairs its space subcommittee (he also represents the congressional district that includes JSC).   Texas Governor Greg Abbott also was there along with other local Texas officials.

The spotlight was on the new astronaut candidates -- they will become astronauts, available for assignment to missions, after two years of training -- but Pence's participation raised expectations of an announcement of some sort at the national level.   Pence said in March during the Oval Office signing ceremony for the NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump would reactivate the White House National Space Council "in very short order" and he (Pence) would chair it.  Two months later, the space policy community continues to wait.   Today, Pence said only that it would happen "soon." He said nothing about a NASA Administrator nominee.

Pence spoke in general terms about American leadership in space and promised that the Trump Administration would provide the resources for NASA "to push the boundaries of human knowledge and advance American leadership to the boundless frontiers of space."   America "will lead in space once again and the world will marvel."   The video of Pence's speech is posted on the White House YouTube channel.

Vice President Mike Pence (center) with NASA's 12 new astronaut candidates, Johnson Space Center, TX, June 7, 2017.  Photo credit:  NASA

The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget request is an almost 3 percent cut from FY2017, however.  The request is $19.092 billion not only for FY2018, but each year through FY2022 with no adjustment even for inflation.  Proposed funding for the systems needed to send humans beyond low Earth orbit -- the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion -- is less than what Congress appropriated for FY2017 even though the programs are still on the upslope of their development funding curves.

No bold statements about reaching Mars at any particular point in time were made.  In fact, Pence told the 12 NASA astronaut newcomers that they "may" return to the Moon or travel to Mars, not that they "will."  Even NASA's press release omitted any mention of specific destinations beyond low Earth orbit.  After two years of training the astronaut candidates could be assigned "to any of a variety of missions" including research on the International Space Station, flying on the SpaceX or Boeing commercial crew vehicles, or "departing for deep space missions on NASA's new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket."  The Obama Administration's goal was to send humans to orbit Mars in the 2030s.

Advocates of restoring the lunar surface to U.S. human exploration plans nevertheless might be cheered by Pence's mention of that possibility.  NASA currently has no plans to return humans to the surface of the Moon, only to lunar orbit as a steppingstone to Mars, although it hopes that it might be able to join international and commercial partners that have their own lunar surface plans.

Commercial space enthusiasts also were probably pleased by Pence's assertion that with "increased collaboration with commercial space industries we can seize opportunities that will benefit" the country for years to come.

The day really belonged to the new astronaut candidates and their aspirations, not budget realities or policy arguments. 

NASA's 2017 class of astronaut candidates.  Photo credit:  NASA

  • Lt. Kayla Barron, U.S Navy, 29, submarine warfare officer, flag aide to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy
  • Zena Cardman, 29, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow working on doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University, marine sciences
  • Lt. Col. Raja Chari, U.S. Air Force, 39, commander, 461st Flight Test Squadron, director F-35 Integrated Test Force, Edwards AFB, CA
  • Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Dominick, U.S. Navy, 35, department head, Strike Fighter Squadron 115, USS Ronald Reagan
  • Bob Hines, 42, NASA research pilot, Johnson Space Center
  • Warren "Woody" Hoburg, 31, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, MIT
  • Lt. Jonny Kim, U.S. Navy, 33, resident physician in emergency medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Robb Kulin, 33, leads the Launch Chief Engineering Group, SpaceX
  • Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, U.S. Marine Corps, 33, H-1 helicopter test pilot, quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, Yuma, AZ
  • Loral O'Hara, 34, research engineer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
  • Maj. Francisco "Frank" Rubio, U.S. Army, 41, surgeon, 3rd Battalion, Army 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, CO
  • Jessica Watkins, 29, postdoctoral fellow, California Institute of Technology where she collaborates on the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover

Events of Interest

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