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SpaceX, SES Ready for First Launch of "Flight Proven" Falcon 9

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Mar-2017 (Updated: 27-Mar-2017 10:39 PM)

A successful static fire test of a SpaceX Falcon 9 today sets the stage for the company's first launch of a reused Falcon 9 on Thursday.  The payload is the SES-10 communications satellite.  The Falcon 9's first stage previously launched a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA in April 2016.  SpaceX refers to it as a "flight proven" rocket.

SES-10 will be launched from Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX leases from NASA.  The company continues to make repairs to Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), which is adjacent to KSC.  SpaceX leases that pad from the Air Force.  It was the site of an on-pad explosion last September during preparations for a static fire test of that Falcon 9, which was destroyed along with its payload, the Amos-6 communications satellite.  During a static fire test, a rocket's engines are fired for a short duration while hold-down clamps keep the rocket attached to the pad.  Such tests are routine.

The launch is scheduled for 6:00 pm ET on Thursday, March 30.  The launch window is open through 8:30 pm ET.  The weather forecast is 70 percent "go."


Falcon 9 static fire test March 27, 2017 at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex-39A.   Photo credit:  SpaceX tweet.

Advocates of reusable launch vehicles argue that they will significantly lower launch costs compared to expendable launch vehicles where the hardware is not recovered.  That promise was not achieved with the only reusable launch vehicle to reach operational status so far -- NASA's space shuttle.  Refurbishing each shuttle orbiter and their space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) plus the solid rocket boosters required a "standing army" of NASA and contractor employees that kept costs high.  (NASA will use the 16 remaining SSMEs -- or RS-25s -- for the first flights of its new Space Launch System, but will not reuse them.)

All other orbital rockets in use today are expendable.   SpaceX and other companies, however, remain convinced that the economics of reusability will prove out. Blue Origin has conducted several tests of its reusable suborbital rocket New Shepard and Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo also is reusable.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said last year that customers willing to launch on flight proven Falcon 9 first stages would receive a 10 percent discount, but the price SES paid for this launch is not publicly available.  SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX for many years and was its first commercial customer.

Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket.  The second stage is expendable.

SpaceX recovers the Falcon 9 first stages by firing their engines to descend back to Earth after they have separated from the second stage (which carries the payload the rest of the way into orbit).  The first stages land either on an autonomous drone ship at sea or on a pad at CCAFS, depending on their trajectory and how much fuel remains.

What's Happening in Space Policy March 27-31, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Mar-2017 (Updated: 26-Mar-2017 12:57 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 27-31, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

Before we get started on what's coming up, in case you missed it, yesterday President Trump used his Weekly Address to talk about NASA.  He signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act into law earlier in the week and the roughly 5 minute video continues the theme of expressing his admiration for NASA while sharing no information on his plans for the agency.  Apollo, Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are featured. JWST is, in fact, the only future program mentioned even though the President says "the future belongs to us."  He is speaking generically at that point, though, not about the space program specifically.  Nothing about the International Station Station even though there's footage from the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.  A space shuttle launch is shown, but nothing about SLS or any other launch vehicles.  The only science other than astrophysics that makes it into the video requires the viewer to be sufficiently in-the-know to recognize the JPL jubilation at Curiosity's successful landing on Mars.  Still, Presidents don't often talk about the space program in their Weekly Addresses or anywhere else, so it's worth a look. This was done the day after the Republican Obamacare repeal effort failed, so perhaps he was looking for some good news to convey.  He says at the end that "if Americans can achieve these things, there is no problem we cannot solve."

Onward.  This coming week is another space policy extravaganza.   Starting with national security space, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on the nomination of former Rep. Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force.  Trump announced her nomination back in January, but it has taken this long for all the paperwork to get to the committee. None of the service secretaries are in place right now.  The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because they could not disentangle themselves from their business interests.  Wilson's hearing is Thursday morning.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, a HASC subcommittee will hold a joint hearing with a House Homeland Security subcommittee on "Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security," certainly an interesting topic.  Witnesses are the former commandant of the Coast Guard (Adm. Thad Allen), the former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Joseph Nimmich), and the former commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command (Gen. William Shelton).  That's on Wednesday afternoon.  Allen is on the GPS Advisory Board, so that surely will be one of the topics.  GPS -- where would we all be without it?

On the civil space side, this is Space Science Week at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  All five of the standing committees that deal with space meet individually and jointly Tuesday-Thursday and there is a public lecture on Wednesday evening.   At the public lecture, JPL's Kevin Hand will talk about the Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth.  The lecture and the other Space Science Week events will take place at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (not at the Keck Center on 5th Street).

Space law is on the docket this week, too. The Legal Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space begins its annual two-week meeting in Vienna, Austria.  The first day features a space law symposium sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).  Closer to home, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is holding an afternoon symposium on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.   Henry Hetrzfeld (GWU), Steve Mirmina (NASA), Pamela Meredith (American Univ.), Ray Bender (independent arbitrator and mediator), Courtney Bailey (NASA) and Pete Hays (DOD PDSA staff) are the speakers.  SAIS doesn't often weigh in on space law or space policy issues.  Space law does seem to be in vogue these days, spurred by the anniversary and the innovative ideas commercial companies are espousing for space exploration and utilization and associated legal issues.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets, more briefly than usual, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.  Two of its committees meet earlier in the week, including Human Exploration and Operations (HEO).  NAC advises the NASA Administrator and a new Administrator has not yet been nominated.  Robert Lightfoot is Acting Administrator.  Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.) is the new Chair of NAC, succeeding Ken Bowersox, who served as Acting Chair after Steve Squyres stepped down last April.  Bowersox remains on NAC and resumes his position as chair of the HEO committee.  Lyles was an ex officio member of NAC for many years because he chaired the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB).  He completed his two terms as ASEB chair last year and now will continue advising NASA in this new capacity.  Public sessions of the NAC meetings are useful for catching up on NASA programs and the issues NASA managers are facing.  Anyone can listen in by telecon and watch via WebEx.  

We'll stop there because this is getting so long, but there are MANY other really interesting meetings on tap this week.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.  In particular we are awaiting word on when the OA-7 cargo mission to the International Space Station will launch.  The launch, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, has been delayed three times due to technical problems with one thing or another.  When a new launch date is announced, we'll post it.

Monday, March 27

Monday, March 27 - Friday, April 7

Tuesday, March 28

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 28-29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 28-30

Wednesday, March 29

Wednesday-Friday, March 29-31

Thursday, March 30

Thursday-Friday, March 30-31

Trump Signs NASA Bill, Pence Says Space Council Imminent

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Mar-2017 (Updated: 21-Mar-2017 09:10 PM)

President Donald Trump signed the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law today.  During an Oval Office signing ceremony, Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump will soon reactivate a White House National Space Council and has asked him to lead it.

The signing ceremony included about a dozen members of Congress who worked on the bill (S. 442) as well as NASA officials, including Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and astronauts. Among the members were Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representatives John Culberson (R-TX), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Brian Babin (R-TX), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Bill Posey (R-FL), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), and Mo Brooks (R-AL).


President Donald Trump signs the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law during an Oval Office ceremony, March 21, 2017.  Snip from White House video posted on NASA YouTube channel.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, chief of the astronaut office, presented the President with an astronaut flight jacket.

In his formal statement, Trump summarized key provisions of the legislation, particularly praising the jobs it will create and its reaffirmation of support for NASA's "core missions" -- "human space exploration, space science, and technology."  He did not mention earth science.  Later he said the United States would remain a leader in aviation.

He invited others to speak after he signed it and Culberson remarked that just as President Eisenhower is remembered as the President who created the interstate highway system, he (Trump) would be remembered as creating the interplanetary highway system. 

Trump replied:  "Well that sounds exciting.  First we want to fix our highways. We have to fix our highways."

That is reminiscent of what he said during the campaign. When asked about his views on space, he said he loves what NASA represents, but "we need to fix the potholes first."

Thus, his comments today did not shed much light on what he plans to do with NASA.  His budget blueprint suggests the status quo, at least for now.  He may be waiting for input from a White House National Space Council that Vice President Pence today said would be established soon.

At the end of the ceremony, Pence said that "in very short order the President will be taking action to relaunch the National Space Council.  He's asked me to chair that as Vice Presidents have done in the past and we're going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.  We have elected a builder for President and as he said America once again needs to start building and leading to the stars."

This is the first NASA authorization bill since 2010.  It sets policy and recommends funding levels for FY2017, which is already underway.  It does not provide any funding to NASA, however; only appropriations bills do that.  Congress is still considering the FY2017 appropriations bills.  NASA and other government agencies are funded right now by a Continuing Resolution basically at their FY2016 levels until April 28.  Congress must pass some other appropriations measure(s) by then to keep the government operating.

A National Aeronautics and Space Council was created in the 1958 NASA Act, but President Richard Nixon abolished it in 1973.  Congress reestablished a National Space Council (without the aeronautics component) in the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act and President George H.W. Bush implemented it by Executive Order in 1989.  It was chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle.  The National Space Council (usually abbreviated NSpC to distinguish its initials from the National Security Council) still exists in law, but has not been funded or staffed since the end of that Administration.   Space policy has been overseen in the White House by the National Security Council (national security) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (civil and commercial) since then.

What's Happening in Space Policy March 19-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Mar-2017 (Updated: 19-Mar-2017 03:41 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 19-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's another one of those super-busy weeks, especially Wednesday.  Lots of action is in store inside Washington, outside Washington, and in Earth orbit.

Two are happening today (Sunday).  First is a Town Hall meeting at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LSPC) near Houston that is discussing the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander, a topic expected to be of congressional interest during debate on the FY2018 budget request. President Trump's budget blueprint specifically says it does NOT fund the lander, only the orbiter/flyby Europa Clipper. Second is the return to Earth of SpaceX's CRS-10 Dragon spacecraft.  It took about 5,500 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) last month and is returning 5,400 pounds of results from scientific experiments and other items needed back on Earth.  Dragon is the only one of the four cargo spacecraft that service ISS that was designed to survive reentry (since SpaceX designed it from the beginning to support crews).

Dragon's return is just one part of a busy time on the ISS.  Another cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-7, is scheduled for launch on either Thursday or Friday (the exact date is TBD depending on availability of the Eastern Test Range from which the launch will take place aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V).  At the same time, astronauts on the U.S. segment of the ISS are gearing up for a series of three spacewalks.  The first is on Friday.  NASA will hold a news conference on Wednesday at Johnson Space Center to explain what they will be doing.  NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will all take part in the spacewalks.  The other two are on April 2 and April 7.

The Europa lander Town Hall mentioned above is just the start of the week-long LPSC conference at The Woodlands, just outside Houston.  LPSC is the premier conference where planetary scientists gather to present the results of their research and talk about upcoming missions.  Unfortunately, it looks like there are no webcasts, so one must be there in person to hear about all the new findings and discoveries.  [There is a notice on the conference's website warning that no live streaming of presentations is permitted.]  NASA headquarters representatives will hold their own Town Hall meeting on Monday and NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group's (VEXAG's) Town Hall is on Thursday.

Back in Washington, brevity requires picking just two events to highlight, both among those taking place on Wednesday.  First, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) will hold a day-long symposium on "Space Security:  Issues for the New Administration."  It has a terrific lineup of speakers from CSIS, PSSI, the U.S. military, Congress, academia (U.S. and Japan), the Japanese and French governments, the European Space Agency, industry, non-profits and FFRDCs. The four main topics are space crisis dynamics, cooperation in space and missile defense, future of space launch, and space situational awareness and space traffic management.   Luckily, this event WILL be livestreamed so people everywhere can benefit. 

Second, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis gets his first chance in his new position to publicly brief the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on the state of U.S. military readiness and DOD's budget requirements.   Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) will also testify.  Not sure how much, if any, of the discussion will be about space activities, but it's a great way to get the lay of the land from their perspectives. The committee typically webcasts its hearings on its website.

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

Sunday, March 19

Monday, March 20

Monday-Friday, March 20-24

Tuesday, March 21

Wednesday, March 22

Thursday, March 23

  • VEXAG Town Hall meeting at LPSC, The Woodlands, TX, "lunchtime"
  • Two OA-7 Pre-Launch Briefings, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 1:00 pm ET (What's on Board) and 4:00 pm ET (Mission Status), broadcast on NASA TV (could take place a day earlier if the launch date moves up a day)
  • [The OA-7 launch could take place today, but is currently scheduled for tomorrow]

Friday, March 24

  • ISS Spacewalk (1st of 3, Kimbrough and Pesquet), Earth orbit, 7:00 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET)
  • Launch of Orbital ATK OA-7 Cargo Mission to ISS, Cape Canaveral, FL, 9:00 pm ET (launch could move forward one day to March 23)  NASA TV launch coverage begins 8:00 pm ET, post-launch coverage begins at 10:30 pm ET

SpacePolicyOnline.com Posts Free Fact Sheets on NASA and NOAA FY2018 Budget Requests

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Mar-2017 (Updated: 18-Mar-2017 05:08 PM)

SpacePolicyOnline.com has posted new fact sheets on the FY2018 budget requests for NASA and for NOAA's satellite programs.   They can be downloaded for free from the left menu of our home page under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports."  The fact sheets are updated as needed as the requests work their way through Congress.

In case you missed it, we also have a new fact sheet that tracks major space-related legislation in the 115th Congress.

The current versions of all three fact sheets are as follows:

JPSS and GOES Fare OK in Trump Budget Request, But Polar Follow On Uncertain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2017 (Updated: 16-Mar-2017 02:24 PM)

The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget request for NOAA maintains support for the two major weather satellite programs, JPSS and GOES, but expects savings from the Polar Follow On program according to a copy of the document posted by the Washington Post.  The "budget blueprint" will be officially released in a few hours.  It is an overview of what the President is proposing.  The detailed request is not expected to be sent to Congress for several weeks.

The information provided in the blueprint is not sufficient to ascertain exactly what the level of funding is for NOAA's satellite programs.   The text says only that the JPSS and GOES programs are to remain on schedule.  In NOAA's formulation, the JPSS program pays only for the first two satellites, JPSS-1 and JPSS-2.  The next two (JPSS-3 and -4) are funded in the Polar Follow On (PFO) program.  The budget blueprint says that "annual savings" will be achieved from PFO "by better reflecting the actual risk of a gap in polar satellite coverage" and that additional opportunities will be provided to expand use of commercially provided data to improve weather models.  The latter probably is a reference to the commercial weather data pilot program through which NOAA plans to acquire GPS radio occultation data from commercial sources.  Such data improves forecasts from polar orbiting weather satellites.

No dollar amounts were specified for any of the NOAA satellite programs.

The blueprint uploaded by the Washington Post spells out budget requests for other agencies, including NASA, which would receive $19.1 billion, including $1.8 billion for earth science research.  [UPDATE, March 16, 7:20 am ET:  The document is now posted on the White House Office of Management and Budget website.]

For more information on JPSS, GOES, PFO and the commercial weather data pilot program, see SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NOAA's FY2017 budget request for satellites.

Trump Budget Request Kills ARM, Supports SLS/Orion and Public Private Partnerships

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Mar-2017 (Updated: 16-Mar-2017 07:22 AM)
The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget blueprint proposes $19.1 billion for NASA, less than a one percent cut according to a copy of the document posted by the Washington Post.   It is good news considering the draconian cuts proposed for many other agencies.  President Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) would be cancelled and NASA's Office of Education would be eliminated under the proposal, but other NASA programs survived relatively unscathed.  The earth science program is cut, but not as deeply as many feared.

The blueprint is due to be officially released in a few hours, but the Washington Post was able to upload a copy early.  [UPDATE, March 16, 7:20 am ET:  The document is now posted on the Office of Management and Budget website.]

The key elements of the NASA portion are as follows:

  • "Supports and expands public-private partnerships as the foundation of future U.S. civilian space efforts."
  • "Paves the way for eventual over-land commercial supersonic flights and safer, more efficient air travel" providing $624 million for aeronautics.
  • Provides $1.9 billion for robotic planetary exploration, including Europa Clipper and Mars 2020.  No funding for Europa lander
  • Provides $3.7 billion for the Space Launch System/Orion/exploration ground systems program.
  • Cancels the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
  • Provides $1.8 billion for earth science, $102 million less than the annualized level in the FY2017 Continuing Resolution, terminating four missions:  PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder.  Reduces funds for Earth science research grants.
  • Eliminates NASA's Office of Education.
  • Restructures the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission to reduce cost and "better position it to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry."
  • Strengthens NASA's cybersecurity capabilities.

The budget blueprint is an outline of the President's budgetary plans.  The detailed budget request is not expected to be submitted to Congress for several weeks.

The President proposes a budget, but under the Constitution, only Congress decides how much money the country will spend and on what.  The request is the opening of a lengthy debate, and although NASA fared quite well compared to many other non-defense agencies, the lack of support for a Europa lander -- a favorite of Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA -- and elimination of the congressionally popular Office of Education are surely to encounter resistance.  While the cuts to Earth science are not insignificant, the level of support is so much better than many expected, it may engender less outcry than anticipated.

The full blueprint as uploaded by the Washington Post describes the President's proposal for other government agencies as well, including NOAA's satellite programs. It "maintains" development of JPSS-1 and JPSS-2 and GOES "to remain on schedule," but "achieves annual savings" from the Polar Follow-on Program (JPSS-3 and -4).

Should Commercial Space Activities be Permissionless?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Mar-2017 (Updated: 14-Mar-2017 02:20 AM)

Witnesses at a House subcommittee hearing last week debated how – and whether – the U.S. government should regulate commercial space activities to ensure compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty while not stifling innovation.  No consensus emerged other than if there is governmental regulation, it should have a light touch.

Today, the only commercial space activities that are regulated are launch and reentry (FAA), use of the electromagnetic spectrum (FCC), and remote sensing satellites (NOAA).  With the emergence of ideas for private sector activities ranging from satellite servicing to mining asteroids, the issue of the government’s role in overseeing what companies do in space has taken on new urgency.

Section 108 of the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) required a report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on possible approaches to dealing with the issue while ensuring U.S. compliance with Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty.  Article VI requires governments to authorize and continually supervise activities of their non-government entities, like companies.

In an April 2016 report, OSTP recommended that the Department of Transportation be assigned responsibility for granting “mission authorizations” for commercial space activities not already under the jurisdiction of another agency.  DOT is the parent of FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), which currently regulates commercial launch and reentry.

Through much of last year, a consensus appeared to be developing among the commercial space sector – through FAA/AST’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) – and the government (FAA, the State Department, and the Obama White House) that issuing such mission authorizations would be the solution.  FAA/AST would review a proposed activity, authorize it (or not) after consulting with other agencies as appropriate, and conduct periodic evaluations to demonstrate continuing supervision.

In October, however, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee laid out an alternative viewpoint that essentially said the private sector should be able to do whatever it wants unless the government can demonstrate the need to restrict it.  The burden would be on the government, not the private sector.

Babin said he would hold a hearing on these issues and did so on March 8.

The five witnesses were Laura Montgomery, a former FAA attorney (and head of its Space Law Branch) now in private practice; Eli Dourado, Director of the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center; Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; Dennis Burnett, University of Nebraska-Lincoln adjunct professor of law; and Henry Hogue, Specialist in American National Government, Congressional Research Service.

The discussion focused less on long-term potential commercial space activities like asteroid mining and more on near-term issues in Earth orbit, especially concern about collisions creating space debris.  The fundamental debate, however, was over what the U.S. government must do to comply with Article VI of the OST.

Montgomery’s position is that because the OST is not self-executing, Article VI only comes into play if Congress passes legislation to implement it. Otherwise, non-governmental entities may do whatever they wish without regulation. Although Article VI states that governments must authorize and continually supervise non-government entities, it does not say how to do that or what activities are covered, she said.  It is up to each Treaty signatory to make those decisions.

She believes there is a widespread “misunderstanding” that the Treaty forbids private sector activities that are not authorized by a government.  Instead, she says, the Treaty does not prohibit private sector operators from conducting activities in space, does not say either that all activities or any particular activity must be authorized, and because the Treaty is not self-executing, does not create any obligation on the private sector unless and until Congress says it does. She did not argue against all regulations, only that they should not be established for the wrong reason – a misunderstanding of the Treaty.  Her solution is for Congress to prohibit any regulatory agency from denying a U.S. entity the ability to operate in outer space “solely on the basis of Article VI.”

Dourado’s expertise is in technology policy and telecommunications.  He likened new space activities to the development of the Internet, which benefited from “permissionless” innovation as described in a book by his colleague Adam Thierer.   The Internet evolved in a regime where there was "little prior restraint" on what business activities could be conducted and if "harms or failures occurred" they were addressed "in an ex post manner."  While acknowledging that the “freedom to experiment will result in some mistakes and failures,” in the long run “faster progress and more robust solutions” will result.   He advocated the same approach for space activities, with a “blanket authorization for all non-governmental operations in space that do not cause tangible harm to other parties.”

Tangible harm from space debris was Loverro’s focus.  He argued that some regulation is necessary if not because of the Treaty, but “for the good of America and for the good of American business and for the good of American national security.”  Citing the potential damage that could be caused by a cubesat colliding with a U.S. national security satellite or a foreign satellite, he insisted that a “laissez-faire approach to spaceflight safety has serious and non-quantifiable impacts that extend” beyond the investor, scientist or high school student that owns the cubesat.

The United States should take the lead internationally in setting the rules for conducting new commercial space activities as it did with orbital debris guidelines that were adopted by the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), Loverro said.   “NASA developed a set of standards, guidelines on orbital debris, that we then took to COPUOS and convinced the rest of the world [to] follow.  That’s good for the U.S. and we should do it again here.” He expanded on that later in the hearing: “[T]he last thing I would like to see happen is for other nations to develop rules that we then become forced to follow. That is not good for our industry.  We need to lead. We need to develop rules that are right for the U.S., and then we need to convince the rest of the world that those rules are the ones they should follow.”

Burnett disagreed with Montgomery’s interpretation of Article IV.  He concluded that the Treaty “requires a minimum of some type of authorization and supervision.” He stressed that “minimum” is the key and cited the commercial remote sensing satellite regulatory process as a “cautionary lesson” to be avoided.

One of the criticisms of OSTP’s proposed mission authorization approach is that it requires use of an interagency process before approval can be granted, just as NOAA must do when considering applications for commercial remote sensing satellites.   NOAA’s process is strongly criticized because of its lack of transparency and time limits.  Although by law NOAA must make a decision on an application within 120 days, there are no time limits for the interagency process, tying NOAA's hands.  Restrictions on commercial remote sensing satellites are largely related to national security and the national security sector can simply decline indefinitely to act without explanation.

As Burnett said, “some of the decision criteria … are black boxes… The applicant must prove a negative, which is a logical impossibility.”   He recommended that Congress pass legislation establishing a clear list of objective decision criteria and a process through which the private sector can get “authorization at the speed of business.”

Other regulatory models exist.  Hogue described four alternatives to traditional government regulation: government corporations, nongovernmental standard setting, federally chartered organizations, and self-regulatory organizations.

One driver in the debate is that some of the private companies insist that potential investors want regulatory certainty before committing funds. Babin noted that “wanting certainty and wanting regulation are two different things” and asked Montgomery how those concerns could be ameliorated.  She said the uncertainty stems from the misunderstanding that Article VI prohibits private sector space activities and cited space tourism as an example of a commercial space activity currently taking place without regulation.

Several companies are planning to launch tourists – or spaceflight participants – on suborbital or orbital missions, but none have done so yet.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) pointed out that the only paying customers who have flown into space have done so on Russian government Soyuz rockets and spacecraft, “which puts it at a different level.” Montgomery agreed with his characterization of different levels of commercial space activities and there could be cases where “something is important or scary enough to be regulated.”  She also agreed that regulation could be needed if there are safety concerns, but not because of Article VI.

Bridenstine, who has been a leader in Congress on these issues for the past two years, made a case in favor of an interagency review process for some activities such as satellite servicing, which has national security implications since some countries might view it as potentially interfering with their assets.  He also argued in favor of Congress passing a law to create a permanent regulatory regime, whatever the specifics, so that it is not subject to change when new presidents take office.

Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, said that the goal should be to provide guidance.  Regulations “are not inherently good or inherently bad,” but provide guidance and clarity so companies understand the rules of the road.

Bera also said “we don’t want to stifle … creativity and innovation” and that is one of the few points on which everyone seemed to agree.

What's Happening in Space Policy March 13-17, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Mar-2017 (Updated: 12-Mar-2017 12:29 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 13-17, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session (the Senate for only the first half of the week).

During the Week

After last week's meeting extravaganza (stay tuned for more SpacePolicyOnline.com stories), this week is a welcome respite.  As of this morning (Sunday), at least, we are not aware of any space-related congressional hearings or major space conferences in the United States. [UPDATE: We forgot to mention that the White House is expected to release its FY2018 Budget Blueprint on Thursday.  We do not have a time or place for that, though.  We'll add it to our "Events of Interest" list when we do.]

There are two especially interesting seminars, though, both in Washington, DC.  First, a word of warning to anyone in DC or planning to come here.  Mother Nature decided to save the winter weather till now and there is a storm that could bring a significant snowfall Monday night into Tuesday.  The forecasters are hedging their bets -- this area is notoriously tough to forecast because the rain/snow line often goes right through here so it's hard to know which we'll get until the last minute -- but even a small amount of snow (or worse, ice) could snarl things.  If you plan on attending any events in DC early this week, check first to make certain they are taking place.

That said, on Tuesday, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) and the University of Arizona are holding an afternoon discussion on "Congested, Contested, and Competitive: The Future of Security and Commerce in Space."  Among the speakers are Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), DOD space policy advisor Josef Koller, FAA/AST Associate Administrator George Nield, and Lockheed Martin's Robie Samanta Roy. That's at the Army & Navy Club on 17th Street, NW (not to be confused with the Army Navy Country Club across the river in Arlington, VA where NDIA is holding a breakfast meeting featuring Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Thursday). 

On Wednesday, the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) is holding a lunchtime meeting on Capitol Hill (2325 Rayburn) on "Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Reform: How Changes Can Enable Growth in the U.S. Commercial Satellite Industry."  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), the chairman and top Democrat, respectively, on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, will speak along with representatives of Planet and DigitalGlobe.  Be sure to RSVP in advance (light refreshments will be served). 

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, March 13

Monday-Tuesday, March 13-14

Tuesday, March 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 14-15

Wednesday, March 15

Thursday, March 16

Bridenstine Argues for FAA/AST Funding Increase, Gets Endorsement for NASA Administrator

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2017 (Updated: 10-Mar-2017 08:12 AM)

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee today making the case for a funding increase for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).   He won praise from subcommittee members and one, who also happens to chair the subcommittee that funds NASA, endorsed Bridenstine to serve as the next NASA Administrator.  Bridenstine is said to be one of the top candidates, although the White House has not nominated anyone for that position yet.

Bridenstine is a leading member of Congress on space policy issues across the civil, commercial and national security sectors.  He introduced the American Space Renaissance Act last year and plans to reintroduce it this year.  He describes it as a bill that is not expected to pass en toto, but instead serve as a repository of provisions that can be inserted into various pieces of legislation as appropriate.  Ten of the provisions of last year's bill were incorporated in the FY2017 national Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

He particularly advocates for an expansion of FAA/AST's budget and regulatory authorities, including making it responsible for regulating in-space activities in addition to launch and reentry, and for managing space situational awareness for non-defense entities.

FAA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and funded in the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill.   During debate on the FY2017 appropriations bill, he and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) convinced the House Appropriations Committee to provide FAA/AST with the full amount of its funding request ($19.8 million) after the T-HUD subcommittee approved only half of the requested increase. 

President Trump has not submitted his FY2018 budget request yet, but the various House Appropriations subcommittees are in the midst of "Members' Day" hearings where their fellow Members of Congress testify on issues of interest to them.

Today, Bridenstine testified to the T-HUD subcommittee in favor of increasing FAA/AST's funding to $23 million in FY2018.  The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is a member.  Culberson also chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA.


Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) testifies to the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee on the FY2018 budget for FAA/AST.  March 9, 2017.  Screengrab from committee webcast.

Bridenstine made the case that space launch is part of the nation's infrastructure considering that satellite systems are essential to how the country does navigating and communicating, produces food and energy, and provides security and disaster relief.  "What used to be the domain of government -- space -- is now the domain of private operators and commercial operators," he explained.  FAA/AST oversees commercial launches and needs the resources to execute its duties, he continued, especially considering the burgeoning business expected in the near future.

He pointed out that although the Appropriations Committee approved the $19.8 million for FY2017, since Congress did not complete consideration of the FY2017 appropriations billl, FAA/AST remains funded at its FY2016 level ($17.8 million) under the Continuing Resolution (CR), further constraining its activities.

No commitments were made by the T-HUD subcommittee members, but Diaz-Balart praised Bridenstine for his effective work with the subcommittee: "We appreciate your involvement, we appreciate your hard work."

Culberson also lauded Bridenstine for his work on behalf of the commercial space sector, but went further and endorsed Bridenstine to head NASA:  "Jim would do a superb job with that position and I want to strongly express my endorsement and support ... and hope to see you become the new NASA Administrator and look forward to helping you in that role."

Culberson holds a powerful position with regard to NASA funding, but the process of selecting and confirming agency heads is the purview of the White House and Senate.  First the White House must submit a nominee, then the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee -- which oversees NASA in the Senate -- will consider the nomination before heading to a vote by the full Senate.

Although Bridenstine's name has been often mentioned (along with others) since soon after the election, the President has not nominated anyone yet.  That is not surprising.  Filling the position of NASA Administrator is not usually at the top of the list for action in a new administration.  Cabinet-level and top DOD  positions typically are dealt with first.  The Senate has not yet finished action on all of the Cabinet appointments and only one nomination for the three service secretaries is pending (Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force.)  The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy both withdrew their names because of difficulties in disentangling from their business interests.

Events of Interest

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