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Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy September 5-9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Sep-2016 (Updated: 04-Sep-2016 02:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 5-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return to work on Tuesday.

During the Week

Monday is a U.S. Federal holiday, Labor Day.  Congress returns to work on Tuesday.  As we reported last week, its essential task is to pass appropriations legislation to keep the government operating past September 30 when FY2016 ends. They have a lot of work to do in the next four weeks.  None of the 12 regular appropriations bills has passed yet (see our table of where the 12 appropriations bills stand at this point). 

The House plans to go into recess again on October 1 and the Senate will follow suit before October 10 (the exact date is TBD).  They won't return until after the November 8 elections.   Whether they return at all in 2016 for a "lame duck" session or wait until the new 115th Congress begins in January 2017 is being debated.  This is a standard debate in election years.  Some argue that those who lost their elections should not continue to legislate and any issue not resolved before the pre-election recess should wait until the new Congress is in place.   Others insist that the nation's work must be done and that time is needed to pass critical legislation.  Congress is virtually certain to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the first part of FY2017, so whether or not there will be a lame duck session makes a big difference in how long the CR lasts.  Many in Congress want a short term CR that carries the government through to mid-December, meaning that Congress must still be meeting at that time to pass either another CR or, hopefully, final FY2017 appropriations. The most conservative House Republicans, however, reportedly want to push final FY2017 funding decisions into next year.  We'll see what happens, but if what's past is prologue, there will indeed be a lame duck session.

Labor Day marks the end of "summer" and signals a resumption of the usually busy schedule of space policy events in Washington, far too many to highlight here (see full list below).   One of special interest is Wednesday's hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on "Commercial Remote Sensing; Facilitating Innovation and Leadership." Witnesses include the former chair of NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES), Kevin O'Connell; the Executive Director of the Center for Spatial and Law Policy, Kevin Pomfrel; the President of Sunesis Nexis, LLC, Michele Weslander; University of North Dakota Assistant Professor of Space Studies Michael Dodge; and University of Mississippi School of Law Professor Emerita Joanne Gabrynowicz.  The committee is dissatisfied with NOAA's regulatory oversight of the industry (taking too much time to decide on company requests, for example), although there are no NOAA witnesses on the list.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce and the committee's Republican leaders recently wrote a letter to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker asking for a statutorily required report that is overdue by more than 3 months.  It is the fourth letter they have written to her about commercial remote sensing issues since February.

Congress's return is certainly important news, but Thursday's launch of the robotic asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx surely will take the spotlight.  NASA has scheduled pre-launch briefings over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and will provide live coverage of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch on Thursday evening.  The 2-hour launch window opens at 7:05 pm ET.  NASA TV coverage begins at 4:30 pm ET and a post-launch press conference will begin about 2 hours after launch.  The weather forecast as of today (Sunday) is 80 percent go.  (As we've said before, it's important not to confuse OSIRIS-REx with the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which also will return an asteroid sample to Earth, but is part of NASA's human spaceflight program, not its science program, and has very different objectives.)

Speaking of human spaceflight, three ISS crew members return to Earth on Tuesday night ET.  Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will land in Kazakhstan at 9:14 pm ET (7:14 am Wednesday local time at the landing site).  NASA TV will provide live coverage of undocking and landing.

George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation are having a seminar on Friday on U.S.-Japan Space Cooperation featuring government, academic, and industry officials from both countries.  It is part of a series of meetings of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum that began in 2014 to address how the two countries could work together to use space for common interests.

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

Tuesday, September 6

Wednesday, September 7

Wednesday-Thursday, September 7-8

Thursday, September 8

Friday, September 9

 

What's Happening in Space Policy August 29-September 9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2016 (Updated: 28-Aug-2016 04:16 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, August 29-September 9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

We have one last relatively light week before Congress returns on September 6.  The House and Senate leadership and congressional committees have not announced their schedules yet, but we should learn more as the week progresses,

Meanwhile, this week NASA has a press conference on Tuesday to introduce the three International Space Station (ISS) crew members who will launch in November (Whitson, Pesquet and Novitsky) and on Thursday NASA TV will provide live coverage of the second ISS spacewalk by Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins.   Two of the panels of the ongoing National Academies Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet Tuesday-Wednesday (Solid Earth, in Washington DC) and Thursday-Friday (Hydrology, in Irvine, CA).

Next week begins with a U.S. Federal holiday, Labor Day, on Monday.  On Tuesday, Congress returns to work.   As usual, it is facing the task of passing some sort of appropriations bill -- probably a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- to keep the government operating when FY2017 begins on October 1.  They have four weeks to do it and it is possible that final agreement could be reached on at least one of the 12 regular appropriations bills -- Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA).  It has already passed the House and Senate, a conference agreement was reached, and the House approved the conference report. An attempt to bring the conference report to the Senate floor. however, failed even though the bill is the legislative vehicle being used to provide funding to deal with the Zika virus.  Senate Democrats assert that it contains "poison pill" provisions Republicans know Democrats will not accept.  Even if that issue gets cleared up by the end of September, there are still the other 11 regular appropriations bills.  Here's a snapshot of where all 12 stand as of today.

 

Status of FY2017 Appropriations Bills as of August 28, 2016
(prepared by SpacePolicyOnline.com)

FY2017 approps bill

House

Senate

Agriculture

committee approved

committee approved

Commerce-Justice-Science

committee approved

committee approved; floor debate began June 15, but suspended over gun control issues

Defense

Passed June 16

committee approved; 5 attempts to bring to floor defeated for variety of reasons

Energy-Water

Defeated May 26 over gay rights/gender identity issues

Passed May 12

Financial Services

Passed July 7

committee approved

Homeland Security

committee approved

committee approved

Interior-Environment

Passed July 14

committee approved

Labor-HHS

committee approved

committee approved

Legislative Branch

Passed June 10

committee approved

Military Construction-Veterans Affairs

Passed May 19; conference completed; House passed conference report June 23

Passed May 19; 2 attempts to bring conference report to floor defeated for variety of reasons

State-Foreign Ops

committee approved

committee approved

Transportation-HUD

committee approved

Passed May 19 (packaged w/MilCon-VA)

 

One issue is that the House Appropriations Committee approved more funding in its bills than allowed under the budget caps, so that will have to be fixed to avoid sequestration. The Senate bills are below the caps, though, so it can probably be resolved in conference committee(s).

There is little incentive, actually, for Congress to agree to final FY2017 appropriations before the election since who occupies the Oval Office and which part(ies) control the House and Senate will make a significant difference for the fiscal road ahead.  Similarly, there is little incentive for Republicans to allow their most conservative members to force a government shutdown, since that could undermine their goal of retaining control of the House and Senate. The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen said last week that he could not rule out a shutdown, however, because some Republicans strongly oppose the budget deal worked out among then House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Barack Obama last fall. That deal relaxed budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act and those Republicans want to stick by the original caps (even though, as noted, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding in excess even of the revised caps).  Still, convincing the electorate to let them retain control of Congress by showing they can keep the government operating probably will outweigh those complaints. Van Hollen said he hopes Congress will pass a CR that covers the time period past the election, with final resolution before the end of the calendar year.

Appropriations will be a key issue, but not the only one.  The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is in conference already and there continues to be talk of getting a new NASA authorization bill completed this year.   Plus a host of non-space related issues.  September promises to be a busy month before Congress recesses again to continue campaigning in advance of the November 8 elections.

Apart from the congressional schedule, the first week of September offers two especially interesting conferences and a very important space science launch.   The conferences are an aerospace workforce summit co-sponsored by AIAA and AIA to highlight issues for the next President, and a U.S.-Japan space cooperation seminar co-sponsored by the Mansfield Foundation and the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.  The launch is of the robotic asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-Rex, scheduled for September 8.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday, August 28, are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Tuesday, August 30

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday, September 1

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

Tuesday, September 6

  • House and Senate Return for Legislative Business

Wednesday-Thursday, September 7-8

Thursday, September 8

Friday, September 9

  • U.S.-Japan Space Cooperation (Mansfield Foundation/Space Policy Institute), Lindner Family Commons, 1957 E Street, NW, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 1:00 pm ET

House FY2017 Appropriations Bills Exceed Budget Caps by $792 Million

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2016 (Updated: 26-Aug-2016 06:17 PM)

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has informed the White House and Congress that the 12 appropriations bills reported from the House Appropriations Committee for FY2017 exceed budgets caps by $792 million -- $17 million in defense and $775 million in non-defense spending.  If enacted, they therefore would be subject to automatic reductions (sequestration) to bring the total in line with the levels Congress and the President agreed to last fall.  The companion bills reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee, however, are below the caps.

In an effort to curb deficits, the White House and Congress agreed to 10-year limits on federal spending in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  After a congressional "supercommittee" could not agree on how to implement the reductions, automatic cuts -- the sequester -- went into effect for FY2013. The consequences were sufficiently dire for both defense and non-defense agencies that agreements were reached to relax the limits for FY2014-2015 (the Ryan-Murray agreement) and FY2016-2017 (the Boehner-McConnell-Obama agreement).  Currently, the top line for defense spending for FY2017 is $609.868 billion and for non-defense (including NASA and NOAA) is $543.597 billion.

In a required "Sequestration Update" to the President and Congress on August 19, OMB reported that the House bills surpass the modified limits for FY2017 by $17 million in defense spending and by $775 million in non-defense spending.  The Senate bills are under the limits, however.  They provide $167 million less for defense and $2.032 billion less for non-defense.

Only one of the 12 bills (Military Construction-Veterans Affairs) has passed both the House and Senate.  Four others have passed the House (Defense, Financial Services, Interior and Environment, and Legislative Branch).  One other has passed the Senate (Transportation-HUD, as part of a package with MilCon-VA, but it was not incorporated into the House-passed bill). 

Congress will have to do something about appropriations before October 1 when FY2017 begins or the government will shut down.  The House and Senate reconvene on September 6, giving them four weeks.  They most likely will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at FY2016 levels for a period of time, although Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said earlier this week that he could not rule out a shutdown because of Republican opposition to last fall's Boehner-McConnell-Obama agreement.  His hope, however, is that a CR will be enacted to cover through the November elections, with final agreement on FY2017 funding levels before the end of 2016 and the 114th Congress.

How the House and Senate resolve their differences to avoid breaching the budget caps and what effect that will have on civil or national security space programs is unknowable at this point. The caps are not broken down by agencies, only into defense and non-defense categories.  It is up to Congress to decide how to allocate the funds, which involves a lot of give-and-take. 

At this point, FAA's space office, NOAA's satellite programs, and NASA have fared well in the House and Senate appropriations committees.  The committees have been especially generous to NASA when compared to the President's request for FY2017, although the amounts are similar to what Congress appropriated for FY2016.

The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill provides $19.508 billion for NASA and the Senate committee approved $19.306 billion.  Congress appropriated $19.285 billion for FY2016, but for FY2017 the President requested $18.262 billion in appropriated funds -- a $1 billion cut. (As explained in SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2017 budget request, NASA displays its request as $19.025 billion because it includes $763 million in non-appropriated funding from mandatory accounts and a tax on oil companies.  NASA has never received money from the mandatory part of the federal budget, which pays for programs like Social Security and Medicare, and how the White House imagined that it would this year is a mystery. The tax on oil companies was part of a White House "clean transportation" initiative that never materialized.  The inclusion of the $763 million is widely viewed as an attempt to obscure the fact that the President's request was a significant cut for NASA.)

Congress's ability to provide so much more than the request is largely because the budget caps were relaxed and NASA has powerful champions on the House and Senate Appropriations committees. 

As a new President takes office and a new Congress convenes next year, decisions will need to be made on whether to change or eliminate the sequester rules.  They are set in law and will go back into full effect with the FY2018 budget, the first that will be submitted by the incoming President.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 22-September 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Aug-2016 (Updated: 21-Aug-2016 02:14 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, August 22-September 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

It is just two weeks until Congress returns for legislative business, so this edition of What's Happening covers only those two weeks with the expectation that activity will begin ramping up again and there will be new events to list soon.

Not that the rest of August doesn't have a lot to offer. First is the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) conference coming up this week in Raleigh, NC.  It is certain to whet the appetite with concepts for the longer term future.  When they say innovative, they MEAN innovative.  "Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester," "Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander," and "Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets" are just three of the novel ideas that will be presented. The conference will be livestreamed.

This Wednesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.  As we explained earlier, he is considered the front runner to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of the year.   Should be interesting to learn his views on the space program.  Considering how much government, private sector. and academic space activity there is in Maryland -- from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab to the Space Telescope Science Institute to Lockheed Martin corporate headquarters, to name just a few -- one could well anticipate that he'll be a strong supporter like Mikulski.  If elected, he won't have her seniority, though, so his influence on the outcome of, say, appropriations, likely will take some time to develop.

Next week, two of the panels for the Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet.  As we explained in our last issue, this is the second ESAS Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  The first was issued in 2007 and they are done every 10 years (a decade, hence "decadal"), so this one is expected to be completed next year.  Meetings of the other panels and two steering committee meetings now are scheduled through January 2017 as shown on our month-by-month FULL CALENDAR OF FUTURE EVENTS view (click on the link at the bottom of the Events of Interest list on our home page).

Those are the only four events we know about for the next two weeks as of Sunday morning (August 21) and are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks to see new events that we learn about later.

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

What's Happening in Space Policy August 15 - September 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Aug-2016 (Updated: 14-Aug-2016 12:41 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 15 - September 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

As described in our July 31 and August 7 editions, there's quite a bit going on this month even though it should be vacation time.  In addition to the events mentioned in those earlier issues -- including the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, AL (August 16-18), the NIAC symposium in Raleigh, NC (August 23-26), and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon in Greenbelt, MD with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (August 24) -- there has been one addition and one deletion over the past week for that time period.  This edition also adds the week of August 29-September 2.

The deletion is the return-to-flight launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket that was scheduled for August 22.   It has been postponed until the second half of September (date to be determined). The company said the delay was due to "a variety of interrelated factors" including continued processing, integration and testing of the re-engined rocket and the busy schedule aboard the International Space Station.

The addition is a NASA media briefing on August 17 to discuss the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission that is scheduled for launch on September 8.   OSIRIS-REx is the entirely robotic science mission that will obtain a sample of asteroid Bennu and return it to Earth in 2023 for scientific studies, not the Asteroid Redirect Mission that uses a robotic spacecraft to move part of an asteroid to lunar orbit where astronauts will obtain a sample and return it to Earth in the mid-2020s as part of NASA's effort to send people to Mars.  For the curious, OSIRIS-REx's full name is the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

The week added in this version of "What's Happening" includes meetings of two panels of the ongoing Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  This is the second ESAS Decadal Survey by the Academies.  The first was released in 2007.  Decadal Surveys are conducted every 10 years (hence "Decadal") for each of NASA's space and earth science disciplines (other agencies may be involved, too), so this one is due to be completed next year.  It has a steering committee and five panels on specific aspects of the topic. The two that are meeting within this period of time are solid earth (August 30-31) in Washington, DC, and hydrology (September 1-2) in Irvine CA.  The ESAS steering committee is co-chaired by Waleed Abdalati, University of Colorado-Boulder, and Bill Gail, Global Weather Corporation.  Again for the curious, the full name of the solid earth panel is Earth Surface and Interior: Dynamics and Hazards panel, which is co-chaired by Douglas Burbank, UC Santa Barbara and David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Hydrology is formally the Global Hydrological Cycles and Water Resources Panel and is co- chaired by Ana Barros, Duke University, and Jeff Dozier, UC Santa Barbara. 

The full list of upcoming events for the next three weeks is shown below.  Keep checking back to see additions that we learn about later and add to our Events of List interest (or those that get postponed).

Monday, August 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Wednesday, August 17

Thursday, August 18

Friday, August 19

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

What's Happening in Space Policy August 8-26, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Aug-2016 (Updated: 07-Aug-2016 10:46 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 8-26, 2016, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

It may be the dog days of August, but after a one-week respite, there's a lot happening, starting with the Small Satellite Conference in Utah.  It actually began yesterday with a 2-day pre-conference workshop that is being livestreamed.  It's not clear from the meeting's website whether the Monday-Thursday sessions also will be available that way.  Lots of creative ideas will be discussed, no doubt, at this, its 30th anniversary. Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) from Space News is on site tweeting if there's no livestream or you don't have time to listen in.

Last week we laid out all the meetings through August 19 that we knew about at the time.  They are all still posted on our Events of Interest list and in the summary below.  In this section, we will focus on August 22-26, a week that wasn't included last time.

At the top of the list is the scheduled return to flight of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket on August 22 from Wallops Island, VA.  It's a daytime launch (5:59 pm ET) so won't be as visible from surrounding areas as the night launches, but still could be viewable from the D.C. area (depending on the weather).  Orbital ATK often posts maps of where to look and we will add links to them to our calendar entry when they're available.  As anyone who follows space launches knows, plans can always change for technical or weather reasons.  We'll update our calendar entry with any news we get.  (Orbital ATK will discuss its 2Q 2016 financial results this Wednesday; more information may be provided at that time.) This is the first flight of the re-engined Antares (now using new Russian RD-181s instead of refurbished Russian NK-33/AJ26s) following the October 28, 2014 failure.  Orbital ATK has launched two Cygnus cargo spacecraft on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets in the meantime.  They were designated OA-4 and OA-6; this one is OA-5 and, as one may guess, was originally intended to launch in between those two, but was delayed.

If the Small Satellite Conference piques your curiosity with all those new ideas, another place to hear fresh views is the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) symposium.  It will be held August 23-25 in Raleigh, NC and will be livestreamed.

On August 24, the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) is hosting a luncheon with Rep. Chris Van Hollen that may be particularly interesting. He is widely expected to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of this year.  Van Hollen won the Democratic primary (against Rep. Donna Edwards) earlier this year.  He faces Republican Kathy Szeliga in November, but Democrats have held both Maryland Senate seats since 1986 and therefore is expected to win.  His views on the space program are not well known, so this will give the space community an opportunity to hear directly from him.  Mikulski is one of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, especially for earth science and other programs executed at Goddard Space Flight Center, so the extent to which her successor shares those views is important.   Whatever his views, though, he'll be a freshman in a system that thrives on seniority and it will take some time before he can attain Mikulski's influence, especially on the all-important Senate Appropriations Committee. She chaired the committee when Democrats controlled the Senate and is now the top Democrat there.  (For those interested in such matters, usually the highest ranking committee or subcommittee member of the party that is not in power is referred to as the "ranking member."  On Senate Appropriations, though, it has become common to designate that person as the "vice chairman" or "vice chairwoman" in a nod to bipartisanship, so Mikulski is currently vice chairwoman of the committee.)

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday (August 7) morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for events that we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Wednesday, August 10

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Monday, August 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18

Friday, August 19

Monday, August 22

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

 

Note:  This article was updated to add the August 19 spacewalk and the preview press conference on August 15.  It was later corrected with the name of Van Hollen's Republican opponent, who is Kathy Szeliga, not Katie McGinty.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 1-19, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2016 (Updated: 31-Jul-2016 12:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 1-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

Whew!  The conventions are over.  Congress is in recess.  It's vacation time!  For one week, at least.

There is nothing on our space policy events calendar for this week, though we are keeping an eye on NASA to see if they issue an announcement about the results of the July 15 Key Decision Point-B (KDP-B) review of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).   NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting last week that the decision memorandum would be out this week or next. He said that cost growth in the program was forcing NASA to decide whether to accept the increased cost estimate or reduce program content to keep it at the originally promised $1.25 billion level.

Apart from that, one has to look all the way to Saturday for the next event of interest -- the annual Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University.  This is USU's 30th conference on a topic that is all the rage today, but three decades ago was of only modest interest.  It is aptly entitled "Pioneering an Industry."

Also of special interest during this time period is a presentation by the European Union's (EU's) Jean-Luc Bald, First Secretary for Space for the EU's delegation to the United States.  He will speak at an International Space University-DC alumni chapter "space cafe" on August 9.  (Note the new location for these ISU-DC space cafes -- Brixton, 901 U Street, NW -- instead of The Science Club on 19th Street, which closed in March.)  Inquiring minds want to know what if any aerospace-related impact will result from the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU, including future UK participation in EU space programs (Galileo and Copernicus).  Should be an interesting conversation.

Personally we're feeling a little overdosed with NASA advisory committee meetings after last week, but for those who can't get enough, the NAC Heliophysics Committee meets August 8-9 at NASA HQ in Washington and the Outer Planets Assessment Group will get together in Flagstaff August 11-12.  The heliophysics meeting will be available remotely through WebEx/telecom; the OPAG website doesn't say one way or the other.  Also on the planetary science side of things, the National Academies study committee that's reviewing NASA's Planetary Science Division's new Research & Analysis (R&A) structure holds its second meeting on August 16-18.  It will be at the Keck Center in Washington, DC.

On a completely different front, the annual Space & Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville is coming up August 16-18.  There is a resurgence of interest (in Congress, at least) in using space-based weapons platforms as part of a layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.  Last year's National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-92, Sec. 1685)) required the Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to begin concept definition of a "space-based ballistic missile intercept layer" providing a "boost-phase layer for missile defense" or "additional defensive options against direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, hypersonic glide vehicles, and maneuvering reentry vehicles."  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) doubled down on that in this year's bill (H.R. 4909/S. 2943). The House version, for example, requires the MDA Director to begin planning "for concept definition, design, research, development, engineering evaluation and test of a space-based ballistic missile intercept and defeat layer" and "for the research, development, test and evaluation activities with respect to a space test bed for a missile interceptor capability."   The idea of space-based BMD weapons platforms was studied extensively during the Reagan Administration's "Star Wars" era, but cost and technical feasibility issues moved them to the back burner. The Obama Administration is not persuaded that much has changed.  It issued a veto threat against H.R. 4909 and that provision was cited as one of the reasons.  In any case, the Huntsville conference could be particularly interesting this year.  MDA Director VADM James Syring will speak on Wednesday morning (August 17).   There's no indication if it will be livestreamed.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, July 31, are shown below.   Check back throughout the weeks for other events we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18

 

What's Happening in Space Policy July 25-29, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jul-2016 (Updated: 24-Jul-2016 02:08 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of July 25-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Week

Nationally, the big event this week is the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Not much is expected in the realm of space policy, although former astronaut Mark Kelly will speak on Wednesday.  He will appear with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011.  They have become leaders in the gun control movement and that is expected to be the focus of their presentation, not the space program (but one never knows).   None of the congressional Democrats with leading roles in space policy are on the speakers list as of today (Sunday), although Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will be there.  He represents the district that includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and is known as a strong supporter of JPL programs, but he no longer serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.  He moved over to the Intelligence Committee and his comments are more likely to focus on those issues.  The latest version (July 21) of the 51-page Democratic party platform has one paragraph about NASA that expresses pride in what it has accomplished and promises to "strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions into space."   We didn't see anything about either commercial or national security space activities in the document.

Within the space policy community, the focus this week will be meetings of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees all week.  The meetings are at the Ohio Aerospace Center in Cleveland, but will be available by WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person.  This will be the first NAC meeting since Steve Squyres stepped down as chair.  Former astronaut Ken Bowersox has been appointed the interim chair.  He had been chairing the NAC Human Exploration and Operations (NAC/HEO) Committee and Wayne Hale has been appointed to fill that position.

The NAC/HEO committee meets tomorrow and Tuesday.  Michele Gates, program director for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is on the schedule for 2:30 pm ET tomorrow (Monday) to give an update on ARM, which just went through one of its milestone reviews -- Key Decision Point-B or KDP-B -- on July 15 to determine whether the project is ready to move into Phase B.  [A description of KDPs and project phases is in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7120 document for those keenly interested in NASA program management.]  NASA has not made any announcement about what transpired at the KDP-B review.  We were told nothing would be out until this coming week, so hopefully Gates will provide that information. 

The other NAC committees/task groups meet Monday-Wednesday in advance of the full NAC meeting Thursday and Friday.  Always interesting to listen to if you have the time.

AIAA's Propulsion and Energy Conference is also on tap this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Great line-up of sessions and speakers.   Winner for cleverest title in our view is "Launch Vehicle Reusability:  Holy Grail, Chasing Our Tail, or Somewhere in Between?"  The conference will be livestreamed.  Remember that Utah is in the Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) zone, which is two hours behind Eastern Daylight Time (i.e. 9:00 am MDT is 11:00 am EDT).

Those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to the Events of Interest that we learn about later.   For convenience, we're grouping all the NAC meetings together rather than listing them day-by-day.  They are listed separately in our Events of Interest list.

NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its subgroups, Monday-Friday, July 25-29, all at Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland, Ohio and available by WebEx/telecon

Other Events

Monday-Tuesday, July 25-26

Monday-Wednesday, July 25-27

Monday-Thursday, July 25-28

Tuesday, July 26

Tuesday-Friday, July 26-29

What's Happening in Space Policy July 17-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jul-2016 (Updated: 17-Jul-2016 02:23 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Week

The week starts off with a bang -- of rocket engines firing -- to launch the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo mission to the International Space Station at 12:45 am Monday.   Today (Sunday), NASA will hold a briefing on what's aboard the cargo ship at 3:00 pm ET and coverage of the launch begins at 11:30 pm ET.   Watch both on NASA TV.

SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage back on a pad at Cape Canaveral a few miles from the launch site. That feat has been done only once before. The other landings were on drone ships out at sea.  The landing burn begins 7 minutes 38 seconds after liftoff (following boostback and entry burns), with landing shortly thereafter.

The bang of a gavel will occur later in the day as the Republicans kick off their presidential convention in Cleveland.  The GOP has released its list of speakers, but it is just a list, not an agenda showing when each will speak.  Perhaps of special interest to readers of this website is that former NASA space shuttle commander Eileen Collins is one of the speakers.   If we learn the day and time, we will post it on our Events of Interest list.

Back-to-back conferences at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California this week will bring together experts interested in the scientific, robotic and human exploration of Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars (Monday-Tuesday), and then a broader group looking at human exploration of those celestial bodies as well as the Moon, Mars, and near-earth asteroids (Wednesday-Friday).  Neither conference website mentions whether webcasts will be available, but such information often is made available only at the last minute.

The 40th anniversary of the landing of NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars is on Wednesday, July 20.  NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will celebrate with a history panel on July 19 and a day-long symposium on July 20.  NASA TV will broadcast some of the sessions.

July 20 is also the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. The Space Transportation Association (STA) and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration will hold a meeting that afternoon where Orbital ATK's Charlie Precourt (a former astronaut) will talk about progress in developing the Space Launch System (SLS).  Orbital ATK is building the solid rocket boosters for SLS and recently completed a successful test firing.

The National Academies' Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable (STIGUR) will meet at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC on Thursday.   The agenda is not posted yet.

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

Sunday, July 17

Sunday-Monday, July 17-18

  • Launch of SpX-9, Cape Canaveral, FL, 12:45 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 11:30 pm ET July 17)

Monday-Tuesday

Monday-Thursday, July 18-21

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 19-20

Wednesday, July 20

Wednesday-Thursday, July 20-21

Wednesday-Friday, July 20-22

Thursday, July 21

Congress Departs for the Summer With Much Work Undone

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jul-2016 (Updated: 28-Aug-2016 02:39 PM)

The House and Senate headed out of town for the summer today, leaving a great deal of work unfinished.  In particular, none of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government have cleared Congress yet.  They will have four weeks to do something about appropriations when they return after Labor Day.

The extra long (seven week) recess is because of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions that will be held in the next two weeks.  The Republican convention begins in Cleveland on Monday and runs through Thursday (July 18-21).  The Democratic convention in Philadelphia is the following Monday-Thursday (July 25-28). 

The conventions will be followed by the traditional congressional August recess, which, in election years like this, is used mostly for campaigning.

The appropriations bill score sheet looks good in terms of committee action.  All 12 have been reported from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.  Floor action is another matter. 

The House has passed five of the 12 FY2017 appropriations bills:  Defense, Financial Services, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (Milcon/VA), Legislative Branch, and Interior/Environment.  A sixth bill, Energy-Water, was defeated over inclusion of a gay rights/gender identity amendment to which many Republicans objected.

The Senate passed the Energy/Water bill, and a single bill that combined Milcon/VA, Transportation-HUD, and funding to deal with the Zika virus. 

The two chambers came close to final passage of a compromise Milcon/VA bill that included the Zika funding (but not the Transportation-HUD bill).  The conference report passed the House, but did not survive a cloture vote in the Senate, so is stalled.

Attempts to bring the defense appropriations bill to the Senate floor for debate also failed cloture votes.

The Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, did reach the Senate floor, but was derailed by the gun control debate (as its name conveys, the bill also includes funding for the Department of Justice).  The House version has not gone to the floor yet.

Both chambers return on September 6 and will be in session the rest of that month.  Fiscal Year 2017 begins on October 1, so something -- likely a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- will need to be passed by then. 

This outcome is not unexpected.  Congress's difficulties in passing appropriations bills is all too well known.  The only question is how long the CR will last.  Almost certainly past the November 8 elections.  Depending on which party wins the White House, the House, and the Senate, final appropriations could be completed by the end of the calendar year, or pushed into 2017 when the new Congress convenes and the new President takes office.

One bill that has made progress is the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House and Senate have each passed their versions and formally agreed to go to conference to work out the differences.  Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that, but the NDAA is influential in the decisions made by the appropriations committees.  Conference negotiations on the NDAA are expected to take place at the staff level during the recess.

There has been no action on a new NASA authorization bill this year, although Republican and Democratic Senators at yesterday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on NASA and American leadership in space expressed enthusiasm for passing a bill before the end of the year.  The House passed a FY2015 (yes, 2015, not 2016) bill last year that could be a vehicle for Senate action, or a completely new bill could be introduced.  Although time is getting short, if there is agreement on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill, a bill can pass quickly.  The goal is to provide stability to NASA programs during the presidential transition.  A major area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is NASA spending on earth science research.  Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill argue that it should not be a priority for NASA because other agencies can fund it while NASA focuses on space exploration.  The White House and congressional Democrats argue that earth science research is an essential NASA activity and a critical element of a balanced portfolio of programs.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article stated that the Energy-Water bill passed the House.  That information was based on Congress's own congress.gov website that has a table showing the status of appropriations bills.  That table indicates there was a vote, but not that the vote failed.  This article has been corrected to state that the bill was defeated.