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What's Happening in Space Policy May 29-June 3, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-May-2017 (Updated: 28-May-2017 05:02 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 29-June 3, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

The United States observes Memorial Day tomorrow (Monday, May 29), where we honor the men and women who have died in the service of our country.  Federal offices and many businesses will be closed.  The House and Senate are taking the week off from legislative duties to reconnect with voters back home.

There's still plenty going on this week, though.

Two space conferences are scheduled in the U.K.-- the Interplanetary CubeSat Workshop (iCubeSat) in Cambridge May 30-31 and the U.K. Space Conference in Manchester May 30 - June 1.  The biennial U.K. Space Conference is still on as far as we know despite the horrific tragedy in that city last week (at a different venue).  It has an impressive set of speakers primarily from the U.K. and Europe, including ESA Director General Jan Woerner and ESA/UK astronaut Tim Peake.

Back here in the States, on Wednesday, NASA will hold a media event to make "an announcement" about a spacecraft it plans to launch next year that will be the first to "touch" the Sun.  Solar Probe Plus (SPP) will go into orbit around the Sun at a distance of 4 million kilometers from its surface, within its outer atmosphere.  Wednesday's briefing is from the University of Chicago, home to the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and to renowned space physicist, Dr. Eugene Parker.  NASA's press release didn't say what the announcement is about, but Kavli's website refers to it as a ceremony honoring Parker, one of the participants in the event.  It will be broadcast on NASA TV. The new head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, is a solar physicist himself so it would not be surprising to see NASA  give more visibility to this part of its science portfolio, which is often overshadowed by earth science, astrophysics and planetary science.

Things will be busy on the highway between space and low Earth orbit, too.  On Thursday, Space X will launch its next cargo mission, CRS-11, to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A (with pre-launch briefings the day before).  If launch takes place on time, it will arrive at the ISS on Sunday, June 4.  In between, on June 2, two ISS crew members will return home -- ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Roscosmos's Oleg Novitsky -- on their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.  Landing in Kazakhstan is at 10:09 am ET.  Originally Peggy Whitson was supposed to return on this flight, too, but she got an extra three months added to her mission because Russia has decided to keep only two, instead of three, cosmonauts aboard ISS until its science module is launched (a date that keeps slipping).  For this crew rotation, there was an empty seat as crew assignments got reallocated and she can return on Soyuz MS-04 instead in September. 

NASA's ISS Advisory Committee will meet in public session at NASA HQ in Washington from 2:00-3:00 pm ET on June 1.  Anyone can listen in, but you must contact Patrick Finley ( by 4:00 pm ET May 30 to get the dial-in info.

On the national security space front, Women in Aerospace (WIA) will hold an afternoon symposium on June 1 on "Entrepreneurship:  Revolutionizing National Security Operations" in Arlington, VA.  It features a keynote by Will Roper, Director of the Strategic Capabilities Office in the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) and a panel with representatives from OSD, In-Q-Tel, CIA, NGA, and the Institute for Defense Analyses.

If that's not enough, a very interesting symposium will take place next weekend, June 3-4, at Columbia University in New York City.  The "Dawn of Private Space Science" conference bills itself as "a new platform to facilitate communication between the private space industry and scientists."  Its mission is to open a conversation "to create new opportunities for scientific experimentation in partnership with the private sector."  The event will be livestreamed.  Some of the sessions sound quite intriguing.

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-Monday, May 28-29

Monday, May 29

  • Memorial Day, U.S. government and many businesses will be closed

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 30-31

Tuesday-Thursday, May 30 - June 1

Wednesday, May 31

Wednesday-Friday, May 31-June 2

Thursday, June 1

Friday, June 2

Saturday-Sunday, June 3-4

A Whole New Way of Looking at Jupiter

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-May-2017 (Updated: 26-May-2017 12:11 AM)

NASA released photographs of Jupiter today taken by its Juno spacecraft that show the planet in an entirely new light.  Juno is the first spacecraft to fly around the planet's polar axis and the view from there could not be more different than the familiar image of Jupiter with its red spot that fills textbooks everywhere.

Yes, this is Jupiter.

Jupiter's south pole as seen from NASA's Juno spacecraft at an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers).  Credits:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

The image was taken by the Junocam camera.  Juno was launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  A problem with its engine is preventing mission managers from moving Juno from its initial 53-day highly elliptical orbit into a planned closer 14-day orbit, but it is obtaining amazing data and images nonetheless.

During a media teleconference today, Juno mission scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA Headquarters described the startling data collected so far.  

"Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new," said principal investigator Scott Bolton from SwRI in San Antonio, TX.  "We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves" but now "we are finding Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders."

The images of the poles show they are covered in "Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together," but that is all that is known so far.  Bolton said the two poles do not look like each other, either.

The spacecraft has made five science passes to date and is revealing much about the gaseous planet, the largest in the solar system.  Although other spacecraft have flown by or orbited Jupiter, Juno is the first in an orbit that allows studies of its polar regions.

Artist's concept of Juno, with its three solar panels, orbiting Jupiter's poles.  Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

Other Juno data are surprising scientists about the planet's magnetic field and thermal radiation.  More images from today's teleconference and a link to press release are posted on NASA's website.


No Good News for FAA Space Office in FY2018 Request

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-May-2017 (Updated: 25-May-2017 02:41 AM)

After successfully fighting to get a budget boost in FY2017, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is back to the drawing board in the Trump Administration's FY2018 request.  The office won a $2 million increase to $19.8 million in FY2017, but the FY2018 request is back down to $17.9 billion. The FAA's budget request also includes funding for a space traffic management pilot project.

Advocates for AST have insisted for years that more resources -- money and people -- are needed for the office to keep pace with the growth in the commercial space launch sector.  AST regulates, facilitates and promotes that industry.

Mike Gold chairs AST's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), whose members are representatives of commercial space companies.  Gold told in an interview today that one issue on which all of COMSTAC's members agree is that AST needs more funding.  He noted that it is rare when companies actually ask that more money be allocated to their government regulators, but inadequate resources could "lead to needless delays, create regulatory bottlenecks and stifle innovation."

Mike Gold, Chairman, COMSTAC. Photo credit:  FAA website.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is another strong supporter of AST, which is part of the Department of Transportation and funded in the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill.  He testified before the T-HUD subcommittee on March 9 advocating for a $23 million budget for AST in FY2018.  His argument is that space transportation is part of the nation's infrastructure, launching satellites like GPS that are essential to everyday life, and AST needs adequate resources to execute its duties.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), an industry group of more than 70 companies and organizations, also is urging Congress to fund the office at $23 million. In a March 29, 2017 letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate T-HUD appropriations subcommittee, the CSF especially cited the need for AST to update outdated regulations.  "It is essential that AST not simply apply additional funds to existing licensing approaches, but in fact actually reengineer those approaches to reduce unnecessary burdens to AST as well as industry."  The funding increase should be used "to fix AST's obsolete regulations, and not simply grow its status quo workforce, nor pursue newer missions with a lower priority than the core licensing function."

The letter and Bridenstine's testimony were prepared before the Trump Administration's budget request for AST was publicly known.  The $23 million would be a $3.2 million increase from the FY2017 level, substantial in and of itself.  Now that the request is only for $17.9 million, winning congressional support to raise it to $23 million will be no mean feat.  Getting it back to its FY2017 level of $19.8 million might be more achievable.  Bridenstine and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) led the fight last year to get the $19.8 million. Kilmer is a member of the House Appropriations Committee; his Seattle-area district is home to companies like Blue Origin and Planetary Resources.  One factor is whether Bridenstine will remain a member of the House and in a position to fight for AST.  He is a candidate to become NASA Administrator.

AST also receives a small amount of money from the Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) portion of the FAA budget for commercial space transportation safety.  The FY2018 request is $1.796 million, a slight reduction from FY2017.  That money funds its Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and other R&D activities related to the safe and efficient integration of commercial space transportation into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Integrating commercial space transportation into the NAS is also funded in another part of the FAA's budget -- Facilities & Equipment (F&E) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), a different part of the FAA responsible for air traffic control. 

The FAA must clear the airspace around space launches and reentries and is requesting an increase in the F&E FY2018 budget from $2 million to $4.5 million to acquire a Space Data Integrator (SDI) tool that will enable the FAA to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.

According to the FAA's budget documentation, some of that money also will be used to initiate a pilot program "related to Space Traffic Management" (STM) that will enable FAA to "move toward the goal of monitoring space traffic and reducing the risk of space traffic incidents" and "enable the FAA to monitor space traffic services and their impact to aviation, consistent with the FAA's public safety mission."  The budget document describes the pilot program as funding acquisition of a high performance computing system composed of commercial and governmentally-developed analytical software.  "An initial space situational awareness system comprised of 4 analytical stations with the capability to store and utilize a dynamic orbital object database of roughly 500,000 individual objects will be developed."

STM is an extension of space situational awareness (SSA) -- knowing where space objects are and where they are going in order to avoid collisions.  The Air Force's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC) is currently responsible for SSA and computing "conjunction analyses" to warn of potential collisions.  It notifies not only U.S. military users, but commercial and foreign entities (CFEs) as well. 

The Air Force wants the FAA to take over SSA responsibilities for CFEs so JSPoC can focus on military requirements.  Bridenstine and AST Associate Administrator George Nield have been advocating for AST to take on the non-military SSA role for more than a year.  STM implies that an agency has the authority to require a satellite owner to take action to avoid a collision instead of only advising the owner that a collision is possible.  No agency has that authority today, but they view AST as moving into that role over time. 

The pilot program appears to be part of ATO's budget request, however, not AST's.  ATO seems interested in getting involved.  An ATO representative gave a presentation to a Space Traffic Management conference in November 2016 explaining its Commercial Space Integration Team (CSIT) and laying out an "ATO Commercial Space Roadmap."  The budget request does not clarify the respective roles of AST and ATO in this regard.

NOAA's Polar Follow On Bears Brunt of Weather Satellite Cutbacks

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-May-2017 (Updated: 24-May-2017 12:08 AM)

NOAA's FY2018 budget request shows a sharp decline in spending for its satellite programs.  Some of that is due to planned reductions as development programs ramp down, but the Polar Follow On program would suffer a significant cut and plans for new space weather satellites would not materialize. 

NOAA operates the nation's civil geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites.  For years, it has been developing a new generation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) through the GOES-R program, a set of four satellites (GOES-R, -S, -T and -U).   GOES-R itself was launched last year and redesignated GOES-16, but the series is still referred to as GOES-R.  The budget for that program declines steeply from $753 million appropriated in FY2017 to $519 million requested for FY2018, but it is a planned reduction that was projected in last year's budget.

NOAA is also building a new generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites - the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).  That program is also ramping down as launch of JPSS-1 nears.  It is scheduled for September 2017.  The FY2018 request for JPSS is $776 million, compared to $787 million appropriated for FY2017. 

The JPSS program funds only the first two satellites in the series, however.  The next two spacecraft, JPSS-3 and -4, are called the Polar Follow On (PFO) program. The FY2018 request is for only $180 million, a sharp drop from the $329 million it received for FY2017 and the $586 million that was projected for this program last year.  Projections for the next four years now are shown only as "TBD."

NOAA's budget documentation says the agency will "initiate a re-plan" for PFO and "work to improve its constellation strategy considering all the polar satellite assets to ensure polar weather satellite continuity while seeking cost efficiencies, managing and balancing systems technical risks and leveraging partnerships."

NOAA also is responsible for providing operational space weather data on solar activity that can affect space and ground systems.  It operates the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and began planning for new satellites to replace it.  The FY2017 budget request called for initiating a new Space Weather Follow-on program of two satellites, the first of which would be launched before DSCOVR exceeds its design lifetime.  The budget request was $2.5 million and Congress doubled that to $5 million.  The projection was for the Space Weather Follow-on to get $53.7 million in FY2018 and ramp up thereafter.  Instead, the FY2018 request is only $500,000.  The Senate just passed the bipartisan Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act (S. 141) to improve space weather forecasting, although it focuses on agency roles and responsibilities, not funding.

The budget request supports NOAA's commercial weather data pilot program, though only at $3 million compared to the $5 million appropriated for FY2017.  It also supports ground systems for radio occultation data (COSMIC-2), but not new satellites.

NASA Holding Its Own, But FY2018 Request Portrays Murky Future

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-May-2017 (Updated: 23-May-2017 11:19 PM)

President Trump's complete FY2018 budget request was sent to Congress today.  It confirms that NASA's budget for the next five years is projected to be flat at $19.062 billion, with no adjustment for inflation. That will complicate efforts to move forward on efforts to send people to Mars.  The request also would terminate a fifth earth science mission -- Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI).  Although NASA fared well compared to many non-defense agencies, it certainly will face challenges.

Last month, NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said that with a flat budget, NASA would lose $3.4 billion in buying power over that period of time (FY2018-2022).

President Trump may have been joking when he told Peggy Whitson that he wanted to get people to Mars while he was in office, but his budget request does not even support the Deep Space Gateway that has become the centerpiece of NASA's human spaceflight planning now that the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is being terminated.  While it is still conceptual, NASA officials describe it as a lunar orbiting facility that could support lunar surface operations by international and commercial partners (NASA still has no plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface itself) and be the embarkation point for astronauts heading to Mars on Deep Space Transports.

During a media briefing today, Acting NASA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Andrew Hunter said that while the term Deep Space Gateway has been "used externally," it does not appear in the budget request.  Proceeding with the concept is "somewhat inhibited" by the flat, non-inflation adjusted budgets projected for the future, he said, while expressing hope that the Trump Administration and Congress can be convinced to support it later. 

The budget requests for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft are slightly less than what Congress appropriated for FY2017: $1.938 billion requested for SLS compared with $2.150 billion appropriated in FY2017, and $1.186 billion requested for Orion compared with $1.350 billion appropriated in FY2017. That certainly is not the level of support needed to accelerate human missions to Mars or even to get there in 2033 as proposed in the NASA Transition Authorization Act that Trump signed into law in March.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said today that the budget supports plans to send humans to orbit Mars "in the 2030s."

One surprise in the request today is termination of a fifth earth science mission.  The budget blueprint released in March called for terminating four -- PACE, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3, and the earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR. The complete budget also calls for canceling the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) being built by Harris Corporation for NOAA's JPSS-2 spacecraft.  RBI is a scanning radiometer that would continue measurements of Earth's reflected sunlight and emitted radiation currently obtained by CERES instruments.  It is being terminated because of cost growth and technical challenges.

The budget request confirms that NASA's Office of Education would be eliminated. The request includes $37 million for Education, but that covers only close out costs for grants and salaries, for example.  Hunter said that no funding is included for the Space Grant, EPSCoR or MUREP programs. All are very popular in Congress.  He even conceded that NASA expects Congress to add back money for some of those activities and has not yet determined how they would be managed absent the Office of Education.

Lightfoot summed it all up by saying "The hard choices are still there.  We can't do everything, but we certainly can do a lot."  He characterized the message from the Trump Administration as "keep going."

The budget request is just that -- a request.  Presidents propose budgets, but under the Constitution only Congress decides how much money to spend and on what.  Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made that point today.  He said his committee would thoroughly analyze Trump's overall budget request for the government and hold hearings: "Only then can Congress put forward our own plan...."

More information about the NASA budget request is in's NASA FY2018 budget fact sheet.

NASA Planning Afternoon of Events for FY2018 Budget Request Rollout

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2017 (Updated: 23-May-2017 12:27 AM)

President Trump will submit his complete FY2018 budget request to Congress tomorrow (Tuesday) and NASA is planning an afternoon-long series of events to highlight what they are doing now and what the budget request proposes for the future.

Although a number of media outlets have stories tonight based on leaked portions of the request, nothing is official until it is released by the Government Publishing Office (GPO).  GPO will post it on its website at 11:00 am ET.   NASA will post its own budget material on its budget website at 12:00 noon ET.

At 12:30 pm ET, Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will give a State of NASA presentation to employees that will be broadcast on NASA TV. At 5:00 pm ET, Acting Chief Financial Officer Andrew Hunter will brief the media via telecon.  The audio will be livestreamed.

In between, each of the nine NASA field centers plus the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will give Facebook Live virtual tours of selected activities at 20 minute intervals.  The schedule and links to the Facebook pages are in a NASA press release.  First is Glenn Research Center at 1:30 pm ET; last is JPL at 4:30 pm ET.

What we know about the budget request for NASA so far is based on the budget blueprint or "skinny budget" submitted in March and an Excel spreadsheet leaked to a Washington think tank, the Third Way, and posted on its website.  As we reported yesterday, here are the top-line numbers for NASA's budget accounts (in the order they appear in the spreadsheet, which is different from how NASA usually displays them):

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

That adds up to $19,052.9 million, which would round to the $19.1 billion advertised in the budget blueprint. Although it represents a reduction of less than 1 percent from NASA's FY2016 funding, which was in effect at the time that was submitted to Congress in March, it is significantly less than what Congress ultimately appropriated for FY2017: $19.65 billion.

It certainly does not support President Trump's exhortation to accelerate plans for sending people to Mars -- at least as a NASA program.  The money for the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft, and associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) comprises the "Exploration Systems Development" portion of the "Exploration" account.  Congress provided $4,324 million for Exploration in FY2017 of which $3,929 million is for SLS/Orion/EGS.  The Trump budget request for the entire account barely matches that.  The account also funds Exploration Research and Development, for which Congress appropriated $395 million in FY2017.

For FY2017, Congress provided more money in each of the NASA programmatic accounts than what the Administration is requesting for FY2018.  The only two accounts that would get increases in the Trump request compared to FY2017 congressional appropriations are for agency operations: Safety, Security and Mission Services and Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration. (See our FY2017 NASA budget fact sheet for details).

Overall, the Trump budget request provides significant increases for defense spending and compensating cuts to non-defense programs.  All in all, NASA fared pretty well.  According to reports tonight, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be cut approximately 20 percent, for example.

Presidential budget requests are just that -- requests.  Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power of the purse, deciding how much money the government may spend and on what.  Even though Republicans now control the House, Senate, and White House, this promises to be yet another difficult debate.

ISS Astronauts Ready for Unplanned Spacewalk

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2017 (Updated: 23-May-2017 12:27 AM)

Two NASA astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are preparing for an unplanned spacewalk tomorrow (Tuesday) to replace a failed data relay unit that was installed just two months ago.  Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer will begin their spacewalk about 8:00 am ET.

This will be Whitson's 10th spacewalk, tying her with Michael Lopez-Alegria as the NASA astronaut with the most spacewalks, also called extravehicular activity (EVA).   The EVA is supposed to last for about 2.5 hours.  Depending on the precise duration of the EVA, she would become second or third in terms of how many hours NASA astronauts have spent on spacewalks.  Lopez-Alegria currently holds that record at 67 hours 40 minutes.  Russia's Anatoly Solveyev holds the world record of 82 hours 22 minutes on a total of 16 EVAs throughout his career.

Whitson will be joined by NASA astronaut Jack Fischer on his second spacewalk.  NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:30 am ET.

The failure of the multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) box on Saturday was completely unexpected.  The ISS has two redundant MDM units and this one was just replaced on a March 30 spacewalk conducted by Whitson and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough.   The data relay box control ISS radiators, solar arrays, cooling loops and other hardware.  The other MDM is working perfectly.  A software problem is thought to be the problem.   Whitson, who is in command of the ISS, prepared and tested a spare MDM box on Sunday.

On the March 30 EVA, Whitson set a new EVA duration record for a woman, surpassing NASA astronaut Sunita Williams' record of 50 hours and 40 minutes.  Whitson extended her record on a May 12 EVA with Fischer.  She now has 57 hours 35 minutes of time on spacewalks. 

NASA astronauts Jack Fischer (left) and Peggy Whitson (right) preparing for May 12, 2017 spacewalk from the International Space Station.  Photo credit: NASA

Thompson New Head of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2017 (Updated: 22-May-2017 08:10 PM)

Lt. Gen. John Thompson took over as head of Air Force Space Command's (AFSC's) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) today, succeeding Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   Greaves is assuming command of the Missile Defense Agency.

Thompson was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate on September 15, 2016.  His previous post was commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, CA, SMC reports to Air Force Space Command and develops, acquires, fields and sustains military space systems. It employs about 6,300 military and civilian personnel and contractors.

Lt. Gen. John Thompson.  Photo Credit:  U.S. Air Force

A change of command ceremony was held today where the flag was officially passed from Lt. Gen. Greaves to Lt. Gen. Thompson.

Thompson has a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a master of science in industrial engineering from St. Mary's University in San Antonio.  Among his most recent posts, he served as Air Force Program Executive Officer for Strategic Systems at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Tanker Program Executive Officer and KC-46 Program Director, Tanker Directorate, AFLCMC; Air Force Program Executive Officer for Tankers, Tanker Directorate, AFLCMC; and commander of AFLCMC. 

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

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

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

During the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 23-24

Tuesday-Thursday, May 23-25

Thursday, May 25

Thursday-Monday, May 25-29

Friday, May 26

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

Top Air Force Officials: Space Now is a Warfighting Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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